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Politics and gender imbalance online: women are not participating

Let me tell you this: you are going to be called a cunt. Or, like I was, you are going to be invited to kill yourself because you are a waste of humanity. You are going to be threatened with rape. Your photos, if you happen to be a public figure, are going to be distributed as further proof of your ugliness and in a baffling case of transitive relation, this supposed ugliness is going to be used as proof that your opinion is invalid. If you are queer, your sexuality will be pointed out as a flaw. If you are trans, you will be dehumanized to the point of not being seen as a subject, but as a set of characteristics that third parties are entitled to discuss and speculate about. If you are single, your singledom will be nothing but an affirmation of your character deficiencies. If you are a mother, single or not, you are, of course, nothing but a self serving breeder who should not have public opinions about anything because both you, and your child, are a nuisance. If you are a minority (i.e. not White), your ethnicity will be generalized and used as a stereotype to qualify your opinion. And you will always be a slut and a bitch. Because online, we are all hypersexualized bitches who should just know their places and shut up.

I am, of course, talking about women who write or comment about politics. Because, needless to say, this is a manly man cis (and preferably White) pursuit that should be preserved as such.

In case you think I am exaggerating, well, I am going to tell you, I am not. A couple of weeks ago, a new study that makes exactly these points, was released in the UK:

Gender and Digital Politics, published today by the Hansard Society, examines the online political participation of women and men and concludes that the gender imbalance online is the result of wider political exclusion, not digital exclusion. Gender and Digital Politics examines overall levels of internet access and activity and finds generally similar levels across the genders. However, when it comes to more active online political participation, such as writing blog posts or commenting on blogs, the figures are usually male dominated.

The conclusions of the study are staggering:

  • 80% of MPs’ (Members of Parliament) blogs are by men
  • 85% of political media blogs are by men
  • 93% of councillors’ blogs are by men
  • 85% of individual blogs in Total Politics Political Blog Awards 2010 were written by men
  • 79% of blog posts and 90% of comments on Lib Dem Voice blog (to November 2010) were written by men

Oh, did I just hear a small cry of victory because this study is not pertinent due to its focus on UK politics? Fear not because, coincidentally, this week the political blogosphere has been shaken up with a related subject that crosses borders and domestic issues.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy kick started the ruckus with a post that touches on this very subject:

The lack of female commentators in international relations has been raised this past week at the Lowy Institute.[…] This time it began with a comment to our strategic communications manager regarding the paucity of female ‘talent’ for public lectures about international relations. Plenty of white, middle-aged males, but not many women who appear willing to write or talk about such issues in public fora.

Torie Rose DeGhett has done a great job compiling all the responses to this inflammatory post. Caitlin Fitz Gerald at Gunpowder and Lead sums it up very well in the title of her response: On “Women and the commentariat”: we’re here, we’re commenting, but are you listening?

I think many are indeed listening. And mansplaining all the ways in which you are wrong and all the ways in which you should be corrected and preferably do some penance in the form of swift sandwich making. The moderation queue on this very blog for the past week or so has been an excellent example of the way in which women will be “put in their place” if they dare express an opinion. Special virulence will be reserved if said opinion happens to be perceived as threatening of manhood. In that regard, I have some more bad news for you: on the internet, in lieu of physical attributes to emphasize bravado, cis manhood is defined by one’s personal interests and the degree of aggression one is willing to display to defend them. Oh, you say there are women who will act as aggressively towards other women with whom they disagree? Well, I am afraid that’s the price we pay for participating. In order to succeed online, you have to act like a brodude who mansplains their way in comments. Or else, go back to my first paragraph on this post, because that’s what’s reserved for you. Alternatively, you can disguise yourself by picking either a gender neutral pseudonym or a male name. However, that might not protect you, as the corporations that provide the platforms on which we communicate are moving towards enforcing a policy of disallowing users who prefer not to use their government names.

So really, what’s the incentive? Why should more women participate in online political discussions when internet dynamics make it so unpleasant and, just plain unsafe? Why should women put themselves in a position where threats and insults are normalized and widely accepted as part of the way in which we discuss politics? This gender imbalance, of course, means that women do not have a voice in the discussions of issues that are very relevant to them. Reproductive justice, healthcare, childcare, maternity leaves, all of these topics have been in the news lately due to legislation that threatens to limit or eliminate access. And it is cis men dominating these discussions because women have been pushed away, silenced by a system that enforces oppression by either coercing us to “act like men” or shut up. This “acting like men” is of course, a very specific and narrowly defined form of manhood. It’s the manhood of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, also the same set of attributes celebrated in the likes of Ann Coulter. It’s the manhood of the status quo that has deemed “women with political opinions” to be threatening and deserving of punishment.

And so, in the interest of our own self preservation, we retreat. We limit our participation to blogs and forums that focus on issues that interest us. We comment on spaces that have been made safe through an enforced moderation policy. However, the brodudes discussing the legislation that affects us can choose to ignore us. We are left with our niche sites while “they” get to play in mainstream media. And again, as seen on this very blog in the past few days, many women are happy to be part of these enforced pile-ons. Even women who self identify as feminists or progressives.

For all the talks of empowerment on the internet, for all the discussions of how Social Media has made so many voices relevant, there is one oppressive side in which progressives and non progressives alike are complicit: the silencing of disagreement through hostile and antagonistic rhetoric. Disagreeing on the internet is not enough. In order to feel like a worthy human being, you need to crush your opponent, through whichever insult or hatred gets the job done. And we already know how to silence women, it’s been done for centuries already. After all, the gender imbalance in online political discussions is just another exponent of the world at large.


  1. Erik wrote:

    I don’t have much to contribute here besides saying how much I appreciate the strict and fair comment moderation on this blog. You all do a fantastic job of making sure that all relevant opinions are heard, and of making this a safe space to comment. This is one of the only blogs whose comments section I read thoroughly, and I hope that you all keep up the great work that you’ve been doing after what sounds like a difficult and dispiriting week.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  2. Lynne wrote:

    Hear, hear! Wonderful post, Flavia. And I agree with Erik: thank you for moderating this blog. I am limited in how much I can read online (eyestrain issues) so I read very few blogs, and even fewer comment sections. I appreciate this being a safe place to read both.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink
  3. Sady wrote:

    Yes. I would just like to add my PERSONAL thanks to Flavia, and everyone else who wades into the mod queue, for the work they do here. Because it is work! And it is emotionally and mentally draining work! And people do it anyway, and that is how not all blogs end in comment catastrophe and self-inflicted deletion.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  4. Kathy wrote:

    …many women are happy to be part of these enforced pile-ons. Even women who self identify as feminists or progressives.

    This is so true. I don’t necessarily feel freer to comment on “safe” sites than I do the larger, more mainstream blogs with lax comment moderation.

    I’m old. I’ve been online in some fashion for almost the past two decades — half of my adult life. Only in the past five years or so, I’ve been commenting under my real first name, and not a gender ambiguous handle. This was my “safety net,” and not surprisingly, I was thought to be a dude. If I’m being completely honest, outside the feminist/SJ blogosphere, I still use a non-gendered user name.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  5. Flavia, this is important and amazing. Thank you.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    PS Flavia: I have my personal theories about how this is used to knock specifically feminist voices out of the running? That is: I think some people just contribute to pile-ons either unaware of the potential consequences of their actions, or just for the immediate satisfaction of being mean to someone on the Internet, or just to feel included in the pile-on that is already happening and thus to feel powerful. BUT, I think some people are playing the long game here.

    Because: You speak up. You receive [X] number of rape threats, statements that you should be punched or beaten, statements to the effect that you’re evil or stupid or ugly or whatever names they can think up. You will probably receive some legitimate criticisms, too; unbelievably, there are smart and constructive people on the Internet sometimes. But after you’ve received [X] number of comments to the effect that you are a cunt who should shut up forever and take a sandwich-making class or something, you actually stop being able to absorb this. People who live in a continuous state of self-defense don’t actually become better, more receptive, more empathetic people for it; the culture’s need for a “perfect victim” is always going to be unfulfilled. Therefore, eventually, you stop seeing injustice as a matter of mostly well-intentioned people doing bad things to each other because they simply don’t know better — which is the way injustice tends to actually look — and start seeing it as a matter of frothing male rage-junkies wishing rape and death on you and all of your loved ones. And once you’ve reached this point, anything you say is justified, anything anyone else says is evil, and anyone who points out your ever-more-obnoxious messiah complex is just trying to stop you from SAVING THE WORLD.

    I mean. In theory. AHEM.

    But, of course, the stereotype of feminists is that they are close-minded, dude-hating hysterics with messiah complexes, so… there you go. Whether or not you keep writing, you’ve knocked yourself out of the game. With substantial help. I think a lot of pile-on culture is just, basically, 21st-century bear-baiting: You poke the thing with sticks until it snaps, so everyone can gawk at the snapping. It’s very frustrating. We shouldn’t wonder why feminists or women are bad at “taking criticism” on the Internet; we should be wondering why anyone is able to participate constructively, at all.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  7. Susan wrote:

    Yes! Thank you for moderating the comments. In the online places I hang out, “Don’t read the comments” is such a common warning when linking to anything off-site, it could be a catchphrase.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  8. @Susan, and everyone else, of course: I am not the only one moderating comments. Sady have carried the brunt of the past few posts actually.

    I wrote about this because I cannot help but see a connection between these studies and blog posts about women in online discussions with the wider picture of what’s been happening here. What we have seen here is a sample size of what the internet at large reserves for women who have an opinion. Bonus hostility points if those opinions happen to somehow challenge mainstream ideas. Then the virulence is multiplied by infinite factors. People on the left (i.e. progressives) like to think we are somewhat “better”, we are “right” and “they”, the non progressives are of course backwards and very, very wrong. Wait till you challenge anything progressives hold dear and/ or an accepted premise. Then we get the full blown hostility.

    @Sady, you are certainly right about pile-on culture. However, I’d like to address the big elephant in the room as well: jealousy. If you are perceived as somewhat popular, the virulence of the pile on will be directly proportional to said perception of popularity. Even if the pile on is baseless or uncalled for. Or just a matter of personal opinion (i.e. stating that one does not like Harry Potter). Also, many people equate personal interest or taste with identity. So, an attack on ones interests is equated with an attack on the person hirself. HOW DARE YOU NOT LIKE HARRY POTTER WHEN HARRY POTTER IS THE ONE THING THAT DEFINES ME??!!! That is something else I find utterly puzzling, how we shifted from a culture of subjects to one of consumers of pop culture and how this consumption defines us.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  9. Sady wrote:

    @Flavia: Yeah. I try not to write anything off as “UR JUST JELIZZZZ” automatically, because hey! A lot of people are perfectly happy doing what they’re doing, and are just using the Internet to blow off some steam! But there can be some of that going on. Also, there’s the fact that as your name becomes more well-known, people stop thinking of you as a fellow Person On The Internet and start just thinking of you as a product that they’re consuming. They don’t hold back, because they don’t think of themselves as powerful enough to hurt you. Me hating IKEA is not going to stop IKEA from existing or ruin IKEA’s day. Like, people going “[YOUR NAME HERE] is the worst” is fundamentally no different than going “[THIS SHOW] is the worst” or “[THIS STORE] is the worst.” What I like to do is to replace all mentions of my name, mentally, with a retail outlet I dislike. “Sady IKEA is the worst! I cannot stand her posts their couches!” Once you do that, it becomes apparent how little you ought to take it personally. But I still do! Because, damn it, I will NOT be compared to IKEA! They are THE WORST!

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  10. Lynne wrote:


    Brilliant. Sad, but brilliant.

    There’s a forum I have gone to for years, moderated. People feel they know each other. But it is still not a good place to post about feminism. Not that any rape threats happen, or anything in the league you are talking about, but people always get sarcastic and snarky.

    I think I’m too thin-skinned for the internet. But I’m 59 and my skin is unlikely to thicken now, so I am careful what I say, when, and to whom.

    I just admire the heck out of you and others who keep speaking out.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  11. Raemon wrote:

    I think that when actual c-words and rape threats are getting used (and the people using them not getting insta-banned), the forum in question usually doesn’t have anything resembling productive discourse in the first place. The dialog between cis males might be less blatantly offensive but it’s still going to be a shouting match.

    (I realize part of the issue is the sheer volume and ubiquity of the people posting that – I gather that there are plenty of nasty comments on this blog that never see the light of day, thanks to the moderators. But if you’re on another site where the mods aren’t making that effort at all, I don’t think there’s value in trying)

    I think the issue Lynne brings up is more relevant to our actual goals – places with decent discussions and reasonable decorum that we could conceivably WANT to be talking about feminism in, but the common response is snark and dismissal.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  12. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    I wonder if it would be possible to do a study of internet consumption (not posting, but reading & commenting). Because I know that over the past 5 years my reading has almost totally migrated to feminist sites because almost all of the male-dominated parts of the progressive blogosphere are beyond hope.

    So — this isn’t helpful to high-profile writers like Sady, who are the targets of most of the sick crazy rage. But the existence of feminist blogging is *fantastic* for its audience, which – I suspect – is just going to get bigger and bigger.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  13. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    I also think it would be useful to know how many of those many blogs written by men have a readership.

    To explain why I think it would be heartening to know, using completely made-up numbers: let’s say 90% of political blogs are written by men. But maybe 75% of that 90% have fewer than 5 regular readers. If the other 10% are written by women, suppose 75% of that 10% have more than 50 readers. (Because women bloggers have something to offer the MSM doesn’t, and are differently motivated than the average blowhard guy who just feels sure the world needs to hear his opinions.)

    Over time, the blogs with bigger readerships are more likely to continue than the blogs with tiny readerships; over time, maybe the “ecology” of the internet will shift. My figures are totally invented, of course, but I suspect if we did have the real numbers they might trend this way, and we might feel cheered up by them.

    Or maybe the internet just looks increasingly excellent-lady-filled to me cause I increasingly read only excellent ladies.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  14. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    May I take back the phrase “sick crazy” above, with appropriate shame. My thoughtless linguistic baggage, sorry for showing you it.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink
  15. James wrote:

    It seems to me that there are several issues being conflated here. That’s not to suggest that they aren’t each worthy of discussion, but I think it might be useful to tease them out somewhat.

    First, a preliminary observation: the Hansard paper notes that when adjusted for their representation in Parliament, female and male MPs make similar use of Twitter. The paper does not note – but the data would appear to indicate – that the same is true of blogs maintained by MPs. Also of relevance the paper cites a study indicating generalised female dominance of Facebook: 61.1%/38.9%

    Drawing from the above and other data, the paper concludes that there is no evidence of digital barriers to female participation in political discourse per se, rather that the imbalances noted reflect broader issues of political engagement, i.e. number of MPs in parliament, interest in and (self-assessed) knowledge of politics, etc.

    So, the distinct issues as I perceive them:

    1. In accounting for the data the paper suggests an explanation very much in line with traditionally conceived notions of gender: men more than women are willing to engage in conflict; women network, men egoise.

    The questions: to what extent is this explanation accurate, or otherwise satisfactory? To what extent is politics – and by extension political discourse – gendered in this fashion? To what extent is the nature of politics in this respect immutable, i.e. what can be done about it?

    2. Regarding the hostility faced by women in expressing political opinions in traditional venues, to what extent does this differ from the nature of the hostility that men receive? To what extent are gendered slurs directed at women in such spaces ‘weapons of opportunity’ and to what extent do they express (usually masked) misogyny and/or the belief that politics is men’s work and that women should stay out or be driven out? What and whose interests are served by a dearth of women participating in mainstream political discourse?

    3. The paper notes that women may be discussing politics in spaces typically perceived as non-political: ‘Mumsnet’ is cited as an example. Assuming that there is some truth to this – which seems likely – a question arises regarding the non-coverage or acknowledgement of such spaces in the media and in broader political discourse.

    That question being to what extent is this non-coverage of much of what constitutes female political discourse an inevitable consequence of its fragmented and hidden nature, and to what extent does it reflect problematic biases in the media and political frameworks themselves?

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  16. @James, that’s what I attempted to address the fact that women retreat to “niche sites”. Niche in the sense that they give prevalence to political issues that interest women but also in the sense that they foster a respectful discourse through moderation policies.

    Of course that means that since these sites are perceived as “niche”, mass media can ignore them as “not representative”.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  17. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    Also, many people equate personal interest or taste with identity. So, an attack on ones interests is equated with an attack on the person hirself.

    Learning that something can FEEL personal, but not actually BE personal has been one of the hardest lessons of my adult life.

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink
  18. orlando wrote:

    Some people might find this related discussion on Hoyden About Town two years ago interesting. It’s not about the abuse you will cop for blogging while female, but about the way women blogging on politics doesn’t get called “political blogging”. The comment thread got quite intense, but quite revealing:

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  19. Romie wrote:

    My real-world name (also my name here) is gender ambiguous, because I’m a chick named after my grandad, plus the name itself is one not many people have run across (particularly not the way I spell it). I don’t tend to hide my sex or gender, but tend to get addressed as Mr. by anybody who hasn’t met me in person, even when I’m talking about feminism, editing a feminist magazine, writing feminist fiction about female characters, etc.

    It’s like I need to change my name to Romie “a bisexual lady” lastname online just to make my community visible, even though I’m not trying to sleep with the people on comment boards and they don’t need to know anything about my genitals when we’re talking about, say, photographic techniques.

    I don’t mind being addressed as Mr.; I find the whole Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss divide problematic to begin with, and Mr is no worse than anything else. I also don’t mind being mistaken for a dude, because I have nothing against dudes at large, just individual dudes. But it certainly does draw my attention to the persistent othering of women when I’m considered a man by default, sometimes even after I’ve reminded someone several times that I’m female, because I “just seem normal.”

    Monday, September 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink
  20. Amgine wrote:

    The internet encourages self-applied blinders. It is extremely easy to filter the internet and spend time generally with like-minded individuals who have similar belief structures, mores. We tend to ascribe value to the statements of those whose opinions are in apposition, while avoiding and/or denigrating those whose worldviews are in opposition.

    Intellectually living in a convent/monastery neither improves us or changes the world. It’s just more comfortable.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  21. @Amgine, so, the implication of your comment is that women should just endure the hostilities in the name of accessing a “diversity” of opinions? This is another very flawed argument I usually see thrown around. I’m afraid that not all opinions are equal. When an opinion is voiced in a way that includes threats, insults, agression, then it no longer holds any value. Why should we expect women to subject themselves to such environments? Because it will make them “better”?! Exactly how is that supposed to happen?!

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  22. Perla Buttons wrote:

    Thank you for this post. I really appreciate this space and your moderating efforts.

    Because I’m a politically minded nerd who recently had to take medical leave from undergrad study for a while, some of my family members encouraged me to start blogging. I have always rejected the idea. I just don’t have it in me to deal with trolling and thrilling encounters with folks like Professor Feminism.

    The blog I had to set up for a media analysis unit last semester? I shut it down as soon as I could, just in case.

    It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what kind of “attention” I would attract as an uppity brown feminist leftie Aussie woman with a mental illness (I’m not aiming for bingo, honest!). I just don’t think I could do it.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  23. orlando wrote:

    Perla Buttons, I think you sound fab, and I would read your blog.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  24. samanthab wrote:

    I read Daily Kos because, as a very large site, it has posts on a range of subjects that are of interest in me. I tend to comment, however, only if I get pissed off, which being reactive in the manner characteristic of ADD, is not entirely infrequent. I think about zero attention is paid to my comments there and responses, at least from the cis men that constitute the significant majority, tend to be laden with condescension. But I’m a stubborn, probably difficult by nature; stubbornness is a legitimate survival skill for someone with the number of learning disabilities, mood disorders, etc. that I’ve always lived with. It gets misapplied quite frequently, as my boyfriend will reasonably point out, but again it’s something I’ve needed to survive.

    So while I very, very much appreciate the bulk of this post, I get a little squicky at the idea of what constitutes “brodude” aggressiveness. First of all, I tend to think that there’s potentially an ableist component to it if you understand much about certain manifestations of ADD; reactivity in varying manifestations is just fucking part of the package. Secondly, I tend to think there’s an element of gender policing to that understanding. Whose to say that women aren’t entitled to be assholes on occasion as well? And isn’t anger a legitimate emotion that women are so consistently taught to internalize, often in incredibly destructive fashions. Sure, anger is something you should work through and not hold on to over time- but working your way through it via written commentary seems like a valid enough response to me.

    I’m far, far from endorsing the nastiness to which women writers are exposed to on the internet just because it comes from other women. I do, however, think it’s important to allow women a spectrum of personalities. I’m a massive Le Tigre fan, for example, but I also get squicky when Kathleen Hanna intimates that women have to be aggressive or they’re fucking enablers. There’s a shy lady part of me that is conflict averse (I’m complicated just like most people.)I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of that; there shouldn’t be one “right” way to be appropriately womanly. We should be entitled to every bit as much of individualism as men are in society. We shouldn’t be told Courtney Love’s not feminine because she’s angry, or that Joanna Newsome is part of the patriarchal system because she’s introspective and soft-voiced.

    I dunno, you haven’t spent extended paragraphs on what constitutes “brodude” aggressiveness here so maybe I’m reading things into what you’ve said here? I’ve just always been someone whose been judged for outspokenness in some areas because I’m a woman (was a girl,)and I really don’t feel like it was a choice I made. I’ve been that way since I was a child, and I certainly don’t remember ever feeling like I wanted to emulate boys or men. To the contrary!

    (An apology: I didn’t really intend to get so personal in my commentary, but my own complicated personality is what I can speak best to here.)

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  25. @samanthab, I meant the kind of rhetoric that’s in my first paragraph and the mansplaining, which goes beyond a mere disagreement and instead, aims at telling women what constitutes a “proper” opinion. And of course, I used the examples of Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, whom are easy to think of as outliers because their ideologies are repellent and alienating. However, the methods they use to silence disagreement are quite common across the board. Perhaps those on the more progressive side are even more insidious because they do so under the guise of being on “our side”. Still, the misogyny might be dressed differently but it stinks all the same.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink
  26. Sady wrote:

    @samanthab: I’m all for allowing women a spectrum of personalities too, but as someone who still struggles to find the balance between “takes too much shit” and “gives too much shit to others,” I think there’s a difference between saying that women CAN be assholes (and are often seen as assholes for reacting predictably to hurtful behavior, or standing up for themselves) and saying that women SHOULD be assholes, just to keep up with the men. In an ideal world, no-one is an asshole. Just because men are enculturated to be more comfortable with pomposity or assholery, doesn’t mean women should suddenly start seeing those characteristics as desirable because they’re held by the folks in power. I think there’s a lot of bad stuff about the way women stereotypically have conversations — swallowing their “undesirable” emotions, relying too much on indirect statements, relational aggression, being conflict-averse even when conflict is necessary to clear the air or resolve an issue — but there’s a lot of good stuff there, too, like being receptive, and routinely, explicitly relating opinions to personal experience, and not trying to dominate the discussion, and thinking of discussions as exchanges of ideas instead of competitions to “win” or “lose.” (I’ve had men tell me they disliked me or avoided me because they thought our relationship was about “one-upsmanship,” and they were upset that I “won” discussions too often, or that they couldn’t “outsmart” or “out-argue” me, when I didn’t even know we were arguing, let alone competing. My having good ideas or eloquence was not a positive thing, because it made them feel small, which is Sexism 101, but also just a really unfortunate way of viewing conversations and disagreements, generally. And when I think about how unpleasant men on the Internet can routinely be even to each other, it makes a lot more sense when I think of them as competing with each other, not talking.) I think men, Men On The Internet, and The Internet generally could learn a lot from those more receptive, collaborative modes of conversation. And I’m upset about how much of that stereotypically female approach to conversations I’ve lost or given up, and how hard I’ve become, just by moving my voice onto the Internet and having to field tremendous hostility as a part of every normal day, just like every other woman out there.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  27. Amgine wrote:

    @Flavia: I don’t know how to respond to your comments, as I did not suggest any of the things you ascribe to me. That ‘women’ should endure, &c. is only one of many possible implications. Another is that insular communes of like-minded individuals on the internet are likely both inevitable and mutually invisible.

    And frankly, if I can live in a world where I never see any violence or experience discomfort, I’m going to do it. It won’t mean there isn’t violence or uncomfortable things, just that I won’t experience them. A fantasy world, a self-centered one too, but it sure would be nice.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  28. Joel Reinstein wrote:

    “Alternatively, you can disguise yourself by picking either a gender neutral pseudonym or a male name.”

    Dudes: for a little social experiment fun, try this in reverse. Pretend to be a lady, and see how people react. It’s a unique experience to say the least.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  29. Raemon wrote:

    >Dudes: for a little social experiment fun, try this in reverse. Pretend to be a lady, and see how people react. It’s a unique experience to say the least.

    I think I’m going to try this out. Maybe create two new accounts on a fresh forum, one male, one female. I’m not sure how best to design posts to be good controls of each other without being identical.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  30. J wrote:

    @James: 80% of MP blogs are maintained by men. 80% of MPs are men (144 female MPs, 506 male MPs at present). As you/the Hansard paper noted, that’s not an issue of barriers to participation but rather reflective of larger issues.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  31. KittyWrangler wrote:

    @Orlando, thanks for the link, that was really interesting.

    This was a wonderful post!

    “We limit our participation to blogs and forums that focus on issues that interest us. We comment on spaces that have been made safe through an enforced moderation policy.” You could say the same of male-dominated political spaces, from comments and blogs to MSM and Congress. A space is created where niche male interests are catered to, and moderation (or lack thereof)in blogs and IRL creates a safe space even for bullheaded fringe male POV’s. In this sense men and women are doing the same thing, the only glaring difference being that one space holds massive power and the other does not. “Politics” IS a niche political interest.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  32. samanthab wrote:

    @Yeah, I totally fucking agree. A little balance is a lovely thing. When self-identified feminists tell me they’d rather have boy children because they have easier lives, I can’t help but think, ick. I actually think it must kind of suck to *have* to be an asshole per cultural perceptions. Sure, a little in the moment assholishness is human and well enough, but it’s not a healthy, happy way of life

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink
  33. I was also thinking after I posted this and with the conversation that followed how we (we as in generic we, not just the people on this thread) have kind of accepted the fact that we are confined to niche sites. And of course, I cannot help but make a connection between these niche sites and the traditional relegating of women to indoors activities, supposedly for their own good (out of sight; out of mind). Under the pretension of protecting us, but in reality, instilling fear with this constant reminder that the outside is dangerous and a risk, women were removed from public spaces so that they would not challenge, so that they would not dispute power. In a sense, the same dynamics have been replicated on the internet.

    And I wonder if one of our basic feminist tenets, that the personal is political (which I 100% believe in), has not been distorted and misused to turn it against us so as to relegate our political views to the terrain of well, personal blogs, special interest spaces, etc.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  34. Caitiecat wrote:

    I think we have to remember, though, that our readers when we write feminist political blogs aren’t just passive consumers of the served-up ‘wisdom’: many go out and apply the principles they learn, explain the ideas to other people, and so on. While we may be putting ourselves in “niches”, we are also concentrating the likelihood of positive, active/activist response to our words.

    If I post an article at CommentIsFree, yes, I’ll reach more people than I do at Shakesville. But the incidence of people taking in my ideas, and putting them into practice and spreading them around, is going to be MUCH lower, probably to the point where it would be better, from an achieving-progressive-goals point-of-view, to have simply posted it on the progressivist site (such as here at TBD, or at Shakesville, or any of the other strongly feminist places around).

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  35. Caitiecat wrote:

    Oh, also, great post, Flavia, thank you. And being a mod at Shakesville, I have to say how much I appreciate the similarly-fierce moderation policies here, and what I know personally to be a ferocious amount of hard work maintaining that. Bravissima/o to the mods and contributors here.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  36. Perla Buttons wrote:

    @ Orlando: “Perla Buttons, I think you sound fab, and I would read your blog.”

    Aw, thanks! I forgot to mention another factor.

    At my uni, the idea that “ANYTHING you put on the internet WILL be found by employers and WILL get you FIRED/NOT HIRED” is drummed into us relentlessly. So, yeah, there’s that to add to the equation.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  37. Pidgey wrote:

    @Sady I recently read a book on verbal abuse which investigated the same “He thought we were having an argument and a competition, I thought we were having neither” dynamic you described. The book said that often times each partner was living in a completely different reality from the other. One partner saw the relationship as a power struggle, and the other saw the relationship as one of mutuality. It sounds like you might already know this from personal experience, but such relationships tend not to be healthy and do not work out.

    The title of the book is The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans, in case anyone was interested.

    Disclaimer: The book assumes that verbal abusers are male and the victims are female, and it is very heteronormative. I cannot recall whether it even recognized that same-sex couples can exist, let alone that they can be abusive.

    P.S. If you often think “I didn’t know we were even arguing!” it does not necessarily mean you are in a verbally abusive relationship. We all can get a little nasty from time to time, and I do not want to label anyone’s experience.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink
  38. alula_auburn wrote:

    One of the things that infuriates me is when people respond to posts like this with accusations that demands for basic respect in discussions means a desire to be cloistered, for an echo chamber, to live in a self-indulgent “fantasy” world. Because firstly, of course, we do deal with these kinds of bigotry plenty in the real world–the awesome modding here or at Shakesville hardly means I’ve somehow entered a utopia where I don’t still here that crap everywhere else (apparently this is also why we need to read rapetastic fantasy books, too, because white male middle-aged authors clearly have Very Important Things to tell me about rape and misogyny, dammit.) And I would venture that a good portion of women who blog on politics/international relations have careers or other roles that also bring them up against this same garbage in their offline lives.

    But more than that, especially from my fellow progressives, why is the bigotry of offline spaces not only something to accept and preserve, but enhance via anonymity and pile-ons? So what if the real world is full of bigotry and misogyny? Why does it make sense to say, amongst people engaged in bettering the real world, that this kind of behavior is not only inevitable and acceptable, but deserves our active protection, lest we be accused of being weak, selfish fantasists.

    So sure, I’ll cop to it–I “fantasize” about a world where women who express their opinions won’t be met with threats of rape and other specifically gendered insults and threats of violence. I also fantasize about world peace and an end to world hunger and a world where every child is born wanted and corporations aren’t abetted to run roughshod over people. So I talk about all those things. So why can’t I talk about this?

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  39. Crys T wrote:

    Wow. What Alula_Auburn said.

    X about 1,000,000.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  40. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    add my hallelujah to the chorus, too.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  41. Jenn wrote:

    I’m always wary of the proposition that because the world is shitty in certain ways, everything that you yourself can create should also be shitty in those same ways. For the sake of what? Is shittyness now a virtue in and of itself?

    Reminds me of the post Sady did a while back on Game of Thrones. Just because there was a ton of sexism and rape in Medieval Europe doesn’t mean that all fantasy in that setting, for the rest of time, must also contain the same shittyness.

    Just because people in real life are sexist, violent assholes doesn’t mean that it’s somehow virtuous to host a blog that encourages, or at least doesn’t discourage (which is almost the same thing, in my book) that kind of behavior. You want to display the world as it really is? Host a goddamned art show full of all the shittyness you like to wallow in. Don’t push it on the rest of the internet, and then whine about how women are too sensitive to deal with it.

    I gather that there really isn’t anyone out there that values shitty behavior because it’s “realistic.” I get the overwhelming sense that they’re just too fucking lazy to moderate their blogs to screen out violence and trolls, because that requires effort and listening to women — neither of which they have any interest in. If you listen to violent sexist assholes, let them soapbox in your space, and then don’t defend the people they inevitably hurt or condemn their behavior… CONGRATULATIONS, you are a sexist asshole.

    Seriously though. The studies above could be titled “people who run blogs are sexist assholes that think sexist assholes, but not women, have such important things to say that they can’t be bothered to moderate them.”

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  42. slutego wrote:

    And Alula_Auburn wins at the internet!

    Excellent post.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  43. Amgine wrote:

    @Catiecat: that’s a great outlook – I agree being a good example and engaging with readers can cause cultural change. I’m not sure I can agree a niche community increases the effectiveness of a progressive person (either through concentration or more receptive audience.) It seems to me the larger the audiences the greater potential effect, full stop. But also the greater risks, stress, and discomfort.

    On the third hand, *every* effort, every thing we do to improve our society, is important, of worth. If we are not the change we wish to see, who will be?

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  44. samanthab wrote:

    Amgine, I think “niche” blogs (actually the larger feminist blogs cover a pretty expansive terrain, per my reading) help galvanize my opinions and keep me educated and informed me in ways that affect how participate in the internet across the board. I do worry that well-known politicians, political theorists, environmental leaders, etc.- pay attention to and are engaged with the larger, male-dominated political blogs, and that’s part of why I feel compelled to stubbornly get my opinions in the mix, however little attention they may receive. Eh, I dunno that I have the answers here, but that’s why I keep my feet/toes gingerly in the male-dominated blog pool.

    Friday, September 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  45. Sugel wrote:

    They remained and remain so valuable in part because of the comprehensiveness of his efforts. This is because Aristotle believed that ethics and politics were closely linked and that in fact the ethical and virtuous life is only available to someone who participates in politics while moral education is the main purpose of the political community. We are likely to regard politics and politicians as aiming at ignoble selfish ends such as wealth and power rather than the best end and many people regard the idea that politics is or should be primarily concerned with creating a particular moral character in citizens as a dangerous intrusion on individual freedom in large part because we do not agree about what the best end is.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink