More on Misogyny on the Internet

Yesterday, I linked to Amanda Hess’s article about the disturbing and horrible comments and threats that she’s gotten from men in response to her articles. Hess ascribes a certain amount of the hate to the fact she writes about feminism and sex. But the nastiness also extends to women who write more generally about politics and economics.

For the record, I haven’t gotten the level of garbage that Hess has received. I’ve gotten a share  of angry comments, but nothing to actually scare me. I did get a little creeped out when a commenter told me that she knew where I lived, but it was in the context of a warning to be more careful. When I spoke out against certain aspects of higher ed, some idiots in a political science chatroom made some personal (and false) comments. However, I have largely flown under the radar in the blogosphere; my topics are too egghead-y or too parent-y to gain too much attention. Other women writers have a bigger stage and, as a result, are a target for world-class creeps.

In the Atlantic, Connor Friedersdorf talks about the crap that Megan McArdle got when she wrote for that magazine. Yes. Megan has had her share of scary trolls in her comment section, who like Hess’s creeps, refer to her looks and are strangely sexual. Megan has also received flack from more established areas of the blogosphere that were… let’s just say disproportionate. Her adversaries would not have spoken to a man in the same condescending, rude manner. Misogyny comes in many different forms.

We need a female perspective on the Internet. We need to have conversations about feminism and sexuality, as well as a woman’s perspective on economics, politics, society, and foreign policy. We need conservative, liberal, and libertarian female voices. We need more than the token chick on the sidebar of Internet websites and newspapers. Unless there is a change in how we respond to female commentary, women writers are going to silo themselves up in a protective bubble of other women. Who needs that crap, when the payoff is so small?


23 thoughts on “More on Misogyny on the Internet

  1. Laura said:

    “Megan has had her share of scary trolls in her comment section, who like Hess’s creeps, refer to her looks and are strangely sexual.”

    Some years ago, there was one of the Atlantic trolls that at some point I told something like, “You sound like your car trunk contains a hack saw and lots of trash bags and you’ve got a thing for Jodie Foster.”

  2. This is hardly confined to the internet. Female politicians atttract lots of hostile, sexually-themed comments. Unfortunately, most people have no principles of general applicability, so most people on the left don’t condemn Sandra Bernhardt for speaking about gang raping Sarah Palin, and most people on the right don’t condemn Rush Limbaugh for referring to Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog.” Etc. (I could dredge up a lot more examples.)

    Even if public figures who made sexually hostile comments about women in the public were shunned (which would be a good thing), it wouldn’t do much to prevent anonymous commentary. I do believe, however, that the level of crudity in public discourse encourages and legitimates the even cruder anonymous commentary.

    1. I don’t usually read there, but I noticed the sidebar had a link to an article entitled “The Upside of Body Odor,” which has the best quote I’ve seen a while.

      ““The bad smell was obtained by soaking the T-shirt in a solution of human sweat, beer, hydrogen sulfide and fart spray,” they note.”

  3. I think that comments sections have to be moderated to be useful. The NY Times comments section sometimes yields interesting and useful information, with a high enough signal to noise ratio that I can usually skip the ad hominem attacks. The Wash Post, on the other hand is often not very readable.

    I found MM’s comment section at the Atlantic fairly unreadable, for the troll/ugliness described. Though I agree that the sexual harrassment/antagonism against female writers is sex-specific, I think there’s a lot of condescending obnoxiousness against everyone (most notable in discussions of Krugman, where I find there’s a significant group of anti-Krugmanites who treat him in an amazingly condescending way, and, he’s a white man, with as about as much credentialing as you can get. There’s something about the internet that encourages people to engage with writers as though they were people you know very well but have no respect for.

    1. I gave up reading the Atlantic’s comments section a few years ago. It’s particularly nasty. All those angry men trying to insult and condescend to everyone in sight. I don’t have the impression that many women write comments there at all.

      Yes, comments need someone to remove the bad actors.

      As to your last paragraph, it sounds like the internet needs female editors.

  4. Of course, Paul Krugman said that John Cochrane (who teaches at Univ. of Chicago) was making a freshman econ mistake in one of his analyses, so condescension rules pretty much all around. I think the sexually-themed hostility deserves special condemnation, however.

    Here’s an interesting question: do black male bloggers attract hostile racial comments? I mean of the really crude kind, like calling people “nigger.” I truly have no idea if this happens. Female minority bloggers sometimes attract combined racial and sexual hostility, like when Wonkette compared Michelle Malkin to a Filipina whore who put ping pong balls up her vagina.

  5. A long time ago (in blog terms), I read a lot of back and forth between MM and Henry at Crooked Timber.

    I have a friend who’s now a lobbyist and used to be a Republican operative; back in the day he tried to argue that Dan Quayle’s spelling of potato was an acceptable one because it was widely used in very old texts, and that Quayle himself knew this.

    MM’s arguments reminded me a lot of my Quayle-defending friend’s. That is, if you stood on your head and closed one eye and squinted and blinked the other, you could almost see things from the perspective being offered, but partisan hackery was a much simpler (conservative, if you will) explanation. I know you like her, Laura, but that’s how she earned her 100% discount rate in my book.

    1. “…that’s how she earned her 100% discount rate in my book.”

      What–you don’t trust her judgment on savory ice creams?

      I have 90% trust in MM on her judgment of kitchen stuff. (My 10% discount is due to my total disbelief in the power of $2,000 kitchen widgets.)

    2. MM has a very good piece today on this very subject. Down toward the end, she has a very interesting insight about how it’s not simply women, but “women on the other side” that people struggle to give a fair shake.

      “To see what I mean, consider this. I frequently see lists of “writers I like” or “bloggers I like” or what have you, and there’s usually a spot for “Folks on the other side who I enjoy.” Sometimes that’s a whole post or article of its own. These are staples of blogging.

      “And in the decade-plus I’ve been writing on the Internet, I have almost never seen a woman in those slots. Not never-never: I think I made Kevin Drum’s list once, and I am sure I am not the only one who has crossed the aisle in that way. But it’s really rare, either in proportion to the number of women writers, or the number of other women on these lists. Though it’s true that political writing and blogging trend heavily male, these lists usually do contain women — just very rarely in that slot. I think the same holds true for minority writers, though I am less sure of that. And what are the odds of this happening by chance?”

      Note that MM’s presence on that Kevin Drum’s list is an exception that proves the rule, as MM is not Ms. Conservative or even Ms. Libertarian. She runs with a pretty liberal crowd in DC (when Matthew Yglesias got mugged in DC, it was while coming home from a party at MM’s place).

    3. I’m also done with The Economist for similar reasons; their coverage of the US got to be so awful that I concluded I couldn’t trust the rest of the book either.

      1. Their coverage of China is equally terrible. I recently read an article on migrant workers that read as if they’d gotten all their info on migrant workers from a Shanghainese investment banker. Oh, wait…

      2. Actually, make that a Shanghainese investment banker who’d been living in London for the past 15 years. The lack of knowledge of current Chinese policy was shocking.

  6. Presumably, Nobel Laureates are allowed to be condescending to one another if they choose (and, anyone is allowed to point out econ 101 mistakes that anyone else makes, if they are right, though done to excess it’s like correcting a teacher’s spelling or grammar).

    It’d be interesting to see what kind of comments the Atlantic deleted from MM’s, Sullivan’s, and Coates’ blogs to analyze the differences in their comment sections (you know, before they left the Atlantic).

    I have mixed opinions about MM’s writing and work (and disagree with her politically and can see where Doug sees perspectives that depend on squinting your eyes and standing on your head). But, recently, I heard her speak on an NPR show on the differences between the whole foods/trader joes/costco v walmart models (with respect to workplace rights and treatments). She made wonky sense, on her opinion (i.e. Wallmart has to exploit its workers, even though Costco doesn’t, or Wallmart’s model will fall apart). She had done the research and had numbers to offer. Her opponent (though we can complain that the choice was part of the problem) had nothing real to offer in return. I’m guessing that the show had invited her because she had something to say, and then invited someone else for balance, without really finding someone with knowledge on the topic. She needs wonky folks arguing the other side, too, or people will believe her perspective, regardless of its squint-eyed nature.

  7. PS: If, as we might guess, MM’s comments were more sexually loaded and nastier than even the other two minorities, I think it says something about gender on the internet, especially since, MM is not writing from the perspective of being a woman (unlike Coates & Sullivan, who do write about being black and gay).

  8. Wonkette is/was female, right?

    So is it a male-commenters-making-sexist-derogatory-comments-to-women issue, or male-and-female-commenters-making-sexist-derogatory-comments-to-women issue?

    How often do male writers write about sex? Do male writers who write about sex face s-d-cs? How’s Dan Savage’s comments section (if he has one)?

    What will happen when the generation watching Miley Cyrus and listening to really crude rap music start commenting on the Atlantic?

  9. Online harassment seems like a problem that keeps getting worse, with no end in sight. I know a few years ago South Korea tried mandating the use of real names online in the hopes of limiting the problem, but as I understand it the law was struck down by the courts and it had no discernable impact anyway. From the safety of a keyboard at home people are willing to say all sorts of horrible things they’d never say in person.

    This article from last fall discusses similar problems in the video game world. Lots of these people aren’t really public online at all. They don’t blog, write publicly much or anything. But they made a game someone didn’t like so they are the victims of this kind of harassment. Some of them quit jobs or quit the industry as a result.

    1. Interesting article on the video game problem.

      You know, I’m not that surprised at death threats to game developers. The teachers at my kids’ school have claimed that brain research shows that reading activates the same brain regions performing an activity activates. I have heard many athletes now mentally practice actions, in the belief that such mental practice improves performance.

      “Video game” makes the games sound harmless, like Pac Man or something. They aren’t. People playing many of these games are practicing killing other people–life-sized, with sound and blood spatter. They spend hours, weeks, months doing this. Every violent action they perform has been planned and choreographed by the game design team.

      Are you surprised trained killers react with threats and violent words? I’m not. I also find it willfully naive of people in the industry to issue pleas for people to be more civilized. Civilization is a learned behavior. The games industry profits by catering to people’s most primitive instincts. They may think they are creating amusing fictions, but that’s not all they’re doing.

      1. Argh, I want to add that military forces take great pains to enact draconian, effective discipline for their trained killers (and it doesn’t work perfectly, of course.) The video game world has none of that–do any games enact, say, trials and tossing you from the game world because you dissed a superior? Or trials for murder when you kill a civilian? Or refusal to allow you to join the game, because you aren’t mentally stable? No.

        So, I want it understood that I mean no disrespect to trained killers in real life.

  10. A few years ago, I wrote an editorial on extreme right wing political parties in Europe and got some of those “we know where you live” type comments. My husband asked me if I really thought it was worth the risk to continue publishing these sorts of pieces, given that we still have kids at home, etc. I find myself wondering how many women in particular — and members of ethnic minorities — have scaled back the extent of their public writing or blogging due to these kinds of worries. I wonder how many voices we will never hear on the internet because some people will look at how other women and minorities are treated there and decide simply not to put their ideas out there. I guess what I”m trying to say is that when one woman is harassed online, it’s not just her who is hurt. IT’s everybody else who decides it’s not worth it to participate, given what has happened to that one woman as the result of her participation. IT’s everybody who observes and thinks, “what an awful, hostile, unpleasant environment. Why would I want to wade into that?”

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