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.