Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Women and online harassment

Given that Michelle Goldberg wrote the much-maligned piece titled Feminism's Toxic Twitter Wars, it's not exactly clear who the target of this piece is because it looks a lot like the former, but blames Gamergate and MRAs instead of other feminists. All are capable of harassment, but unequal in the ways they dole it out. I'll get to that later, but first I want to highlight this:
Women who want to brave the toxic stew face a dilemma. Online, the easiest way to get their message out is to make it personal. From Dunham to Sandra Fluke to Emma Sulkowicz, the most prominent feminist figures of recent years have all opened their lives to public scrutiny. First-person essays by women are huge drivers of Internet traffic. “I have tried to mentor a couple of young female writers,” [writer Jessica] Valenti says. “They were trying so hard to get their first pieces published, and then they write something about their vagina, and all of the sudden the doors open up.”
This is something I have a huge issue with, and I think online feminism is a huge enabler.  The personal is political, and the personal brings hits. But at least writing about feminism in a professional capacity offers the protection of feminism. For women at the fringes, there is no safe space. But that protection comes at a high price. For one, it's difficult to criticize big feminism except in proscribed (albeit valid) ways: its history of excluding or failing to address the needs of women of color, poor women, trans women, etc., but anything short of ideological purity and you're branded an apostate.

I'm not trying to deny that women face myriad indignities online for just daring to have an opinion, but it's a mistake to classify it as gendered violence only or even mostly because, as Goldberg has written before, women can be just as abusive toward each other. It makes me wonder if this piece is sort of retribution for the last, which was pretty polarizing, to say the least.