July
22nd 2008
Gender, sexuality, and commenters on feminist blogs

Posted under: Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, race, wankers

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gendering of the internet, and the ways in which women’s blogs (and feminist blogs in particular) are subject to more intense and more personal attacks by male commenters on the blogger and other blog commenters than blogs by men or that don’t address feminist issues.  Since we’re all feminists here, we probably agree that men (in general) are much more presumptuous about monopolizing or claiming women’s bodies, time, and space (in general) than vice-versa, because that presumption is a large part of the definition of male privilege.  Although it’s no longer technically legal in most cases, male privilege thrives and it it enforced by many men, and women too (sadly).  And this presumption works in similar ways in the blogosphere, as it works in real life.

Historiann was forced to ban a commenter here a few months ago, and in order to clarify things I instituted some rules for commenting.  (Rules which were implicitly understood and observed by the rest of you as the rules of civilized discourse by all but the banned commenter, and an occasional troll here or there who never came back.)  Unsurprisingly, other feminist blogs suffer periodically (or chronically) from one or more presumptuous commenters who identify themselves as male and then go on to lecture the blogger (and/or fellow commenters) about what feminism is, what the problems with feminism are, why her post is totally wrong about X or Y, or her/their utter and complete misunderstanding that men are equally oppressed, etc.

The comments on this post at Echidne are very instructive about how some male commenters can be extraordinarily presumptuous (see the comments by “swampcracker” in particular).  The main techniques are these:  1) assuming that if someone makes a comment that doesn’t exactly describe his life or his point of view, that it’s totally without merit, and 2) being blithely content to jack the thread away from its original point to talk about the issue that he knows he’s right about, no matter what any other (women) commenters have to say about it.  (Other popular themes:  “I’m the father of daughters/a daughter myself,”  “My feminist friends agree wtih me”–a variant on the ever-popular “some of my best friends are feminists”–”I’ve been discriminated against too,” and the always popular tactic of writing longer, angrier, and more patronizing comments the more your comments are mocked or disagreed with.)  This was also a big problem over at Shakesville this spring, where comments on one post in particular about misogyny in the Democratic primary were taken over by men who apparently just couldn’t stand to let feminists talk it over amongst themselves.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen obnoxious or patronizing comments from men who identify themselves as gay–overwhelmingly, the problem commenters seem to be men who identify as straight.  (Maybe my gay men friends and commenters are just especially down with feminism, because they tend to be all scholars in the humanities, but I haven’t run into femophobic or antifeminist gay men on the feminist blogs.)

I guess my question is this:  since these guys can’t just agree to disagree, why don’t they start their own damn feminist (or antifeminist) blogs, if they’re such experts on feminism and gender issues?  Why bother feminist bloggers and their other commenters, when we clearly disagree?  Do you really think you’re so smart or so important that you’re going to change my mind about the most important intellectual issues in my life?  Yeah, nearly 40 years of life experience as a girl and a woman, and twenty years of academic training in American history, women’s history, and feminism, and I’m going to see the light because of an anonymous a-hole on the internet?

That seems to me to be pretty much the definition of male privilege on the world wide timewasting web–the earnest belief of random a-holes that their superior knowledge and rhetorical skills can change the minds of all of us silly, deluded women out there–but I’d like to hear from the rest of you about this.  What are your experiences as either a blogger or a commenter on blogs, and how do you think your sex (or perceived sex/gender identity) has affected the way you’re treated in cyberspace?  What are the other issues that come up for out gay and lesbian bloggers?  Do white commenters plague African American and Latin@ bloggers with patronizing lectures on race?  (I think I know the answer to that one, since so many WOC/POC bloggers moderate their comments…but I’d like to learn more.)  What have you seen or heard?  Sing it, sisters and brothers.

25 Comments »

25 Responses to “Gender, sexuality, and commenters on feminist blogs”

  1. servetus on 22 Jul 2008 at 8:29 am #

    There is a real tendency toward the behavior you describe above between religious and non-religious bloggers–or even between bloggers of different religions or sects of the same religion.

  2. GayProf on 22 Jul 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Alas, some gay men can be as misogynistic as their straight male counterparts. They probably are just less invested in reading/rebutting feminist blogs than the heteros.

    For my blog, I have noticed that entries on race receive far less discussion (positive or negative) than entries on gender or sexuality. I have never been certain what that means.

    One of the other things that has really struck me is how often people question whether the fabulous blogger Angry Black Bitch is a) really Black and b) really a woman. It seems to me such questions are based on racist-sexist privilege that permits individuals to dictate who qualifies for particular identities.

  3. Historiann on 22 Jul 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Really? People doubt Shark-Fu? That would never occur to me! Her blog is one of those texts–like Mary Rowlandson’s _Sovereignty and Goodness of God_, or like Frederick Douglass’s autobiography–where the personality leaps out from the pages and grabs you around the throat, even across space and time.

    And servetus: thanks for the intel on the religious/non-religious blogs. That strikes me as an even LESS productive waste of time and energy (arguing about religion) than arguing about feminism, if that’s even possible. Maybe I’m just too conflict adverse, but I think people are either believers, or they’re not, so it’s not something you can really argue people into or out of.

  4. The_Myth on 22 Jul 2008 at 11:21 am #

    Historiann asked, “I guess my question is this: since these guys can’t just agree to disagree, why don’t they start their own damn feminist (or antifeminist) blogs, if they’re such experts on feminism and gender issues?”

    The_Myth answers, “Because no one would read it!”

    ;-)

    In general, most discerning readers can detect nutbag-looneys…and avoid them.

    I find most blog-trolls have an almost religious zeal for ramming their point of view down everyone’s throats. It’s proselytizing, plain and simple. And isn’t proselytizing rather male-inclined to begin with? The impulse to convert by force, rather than coercion.

    Or is this gender-stereotyping too?

  5. Historiann on 22 Jul 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    It’s hard to avoid essentializing at some point, isn’t it, The_Myth? I think all right-minded men (like GayProf, Indyanna, RadReadr, FratGuy, and my other regular male commenters) understand that I’m not saying that all men do this all the time, but that it’s a hazard of male privilege that some men manage to avoid or tamp down, and others don’t.

    For example, I was considering adding a paragraph in this about how men and women may see the blogosphere very differently, with women perhaps seeing their blogs as their living rooms or salons where they have conversations with like-minded people, whereas men may see it as more of a space for Mortal Kombat-type debates, and relish the insults and ad hominem attacks. But, I thought that sounded too Carol Gilliganish and essentialist, so I didn’t. There are plenty of women who relish food fights more than I, and there are plenty of men who see themselves as salonnieres too.

  6. ortho stice on 22 Jul 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    Historian wrote, “That seems to me to be pretty much the definition of male privilege on the world wide timewasting web–the earnest belief of random a-holes that their superior knowledge and rhetorical skills can change the minds of all of us silly, deluded women out there–but I’d like to hear from the rest of you about this.”

    I think you’re also hitting on white privilege, which is often inseparable from male privilege. The men who attempt to force their opinions on me, or proselytize the virtues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are always older, white men. I just walk away, because I know I cannot convince them that they’re wrong and I’m right. If I walk away, they disappear.

    Unfortunately, I cannot walk away from annoying white men on the Internet. Many have visited my blog to call me a “Liberal Scumbag.” My mom, the wisest person in my world, always said, when you make people angry, you know you’re doing something right! With that in my mind, I say: “Keep on doing what your doing, Historiann!”

  7. Historiann on 22 Jul 2008 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi Ortho–I think you’re right about race, absolutely. (But, of course male privilege and white privilege are separable, unless you’re only talking about white men!)

    You bring up another interesting variable, that of age. I think that’s much more visible in person than on the ‘net. After a while, I can usually figure out about how old someone is (as in which generation, or maybe decade, an internet commenter or correspondent was born). But, it takes getting to know someone a bit. I’ve never been lectured to by my elders in the comments–there are commenters older than me, and I appreciate it when they share their longer historical memories and perspectives.

    You’ve metioned the Buffy proselytizers before–what is it with religious zelots and Buffy fans? Either you’re into it, or you’re not, and who really cares?

  8. Cero on 22 Jul 2008 at 10:07 pm #

    My most striking experiences are IRL. Two men – one an ex, and one a professor – have told me that my blog is smarter than I am and that I should stop writing it because it misleads people into thinking I am smarter than I am.

  9. Rad readr on 22 Jul 2008 at 11:15 pm #

    The anonymity of the web and the option to hit a quick response on email/listsrvs facilitates flaming and rude behavior. I have sent some nasty e-mails over the years, but in some cases I have also apologized. My point is that blogs give people the opportunity to say things they might not say in other public forums because they do not have to face down the person with an opposing viewpoint.

    I find most people in this society, including many with PhDs, are completely oblivious about privilege in general and male privilege in particular. So the blog scenarios you note play out in many other contexts — but to take a stab at your question…for someone to refrain from lecturing or interrupting people with a different viewpoint — to back off from someone else’s feminist blog — requires a recognition of privilege and giving others a public discussion space. The flip side is that if too many people decide to walk away from the discussion, then the result could be another desert-blog, lonely and desolate with nothing movin but the tumbleweeds.

  10. Gavin on 23 Jul 2008 at 7:36 am #

    I touched on some of this in this post where I mentioned the difference in the way that commenters treated me and Esther MacCallum-Stewart. Esther’s comment below is particularly worth reading.

    I can confirm what The_Myth said. A certain anti-feminist troll who attacked the Berks conference last month had several sockpuppet blogs which hardly anyone read because they weren’t very good, but some of us thought we had to read them because they were relevant to our field.

  11. Historiann on 23 Jul 2008 at 8:11 am #

    Hi Gavin–thanks for stopping by to comment. That femophobic person apparently didn’t understand simple blog etiquette, which is that if you’re commenting on something you saw at Historiann.com or disparaging Historiann, it’s only common courtesy to link to her…so, I never felt the need to respond directly. I’ve heard that that whole thing was a big fraud and that others are investigating–what have you heard?

    Hi again, Rad! Good to hear from you. Controversy and debate are good, but what I found (in the case of my banned commenter) is that every time he showed up to comment, all of my other commenters skittered away, and I ended up (foolishly) arguing with him, and unsurprisingly, no one else was really interested in getting into a food fight with him.

    And, Cero: your story about the 2 men is really strange. It’s as if they think your blog is somehow a life form of its own, unconnected to your brain and powers of analysis? Very weird. (Do they think you have a ghostwriter or something?)

  12. Roxie on 23 Jul 2008 at 8:20 am #

    This thread brings up issues that are near and dear to my heart and much on my mind as I reflect back on what happened in the “progressive” blogosphere during the Democratic primary battle this year. It was disappointing and shocking to see how quickly those mostly friendly spaces broke down into warring camps of (mostly male) Obamaniacs and (mostly female) Clintonistas. Comment spaces became absolutely toxic in a lot of blogs, and the toxicity was highly gendered. Pro-Hillary feminist bloggers in many cases introduced comment moderation as a way to police the trolls, but it was all sad to see.

    Over in my happy little corner of the blogosphere, we didn’t attract a lot of this kind of attention, perhaps because it’s hard for readers to get too mad at America’s cutest pro-Hillary queer/fem dog blogger. As you know, though, Historiann, we did have moments of significant tension in comments, particularly involving a young pro-Obama guy who seemed pretty tone-deaf about how to talk to much older, politically experienced, disappointed Clinton supporters. The whole thing got us thinking about the issue of blogs as enclaves — spaces where mostly like-minded people gather to consult with one another — and comments as places that are actually very bad for managing real tensions, conflicts, and differences of opinion. I think points others have made here about privilege, age, and the anonymity of the Web help to explain this, but it’s something I’m going to continue thinking about and am hoping to blog about soon.

    I also think Historiann gets at something really important about gender in this remark: “I was considering adding a paragraph in this about how men and women may see the blogosphere very differently, with women perhaps seeing their blogs as their living rooms or salons where they have conversations with like-minded people, whereas men may see it as more of a space for Mortal Kombat-type debates, and relish the insults and ad hominem attacks. But, I thought that sounded too Carol Gilliganish and essentialist, so I didn’t. There are plenty of women who relish food fights more than I, and there are plenty of men who see themselves as salonnieres too.”

    I don’t blame you for not wanting to go all Gilliganish, but surely there is something to be said for gender-role socialization and different ways of behaving in discussion. I am betting you observe such differences constantly in your classrooms. I know my moms do.

    Thanks for giving an old dog a tasty bone to gnaw on!

  13. Historiann on 23 Jul 2008 at 8:32 am #

    Hi, Roxie! Good to hear from you. Yes, as in real life, thus it is in blogs, only moreso because the anonymity means that you can say/write things to/about people that you wouldn’t say in their living rooms.

    I guess what I’ve come to is that in my comments, people need to accept the limits of what is debateable and what isn’t. For example: it would be perfectly OK for someone to show up and say that ze doesn’t think that gender works on blogs the way I see it, but it’s not OK to say that ze thinks gender is totally irrelevant and that feminists talk too much about gender. The latter is a perfectly fine thing to debate, just not here, and not in this space.

  14. James Brettle on 24 Jul 2008 at 8:13 am #

    Gavin ought to be more careful. His blog – Investigations of a Dog – is about as politically correct, gender-obsessed and boring as it is possible to be.

  15. Historiann on 24 Jul 2008 at 8:41 am #

    Well, James–there’s an easy answer to your frustration. Stop reading! Stop reading it now! And, stop reading here, too, why don’t you?

  16. Leslie Sean on 27 Jul 2008 at 1:46 am #

    If you believe in cyberspace as an arena for free speech and debate on all issues, it is wrong to preclude discussions on topics you think are “inappropriate”. Facing up to the claims made by those we disagree with is a key element in the processes of debate. You and Gavin Robinson of “sockpuppet and troll” fame should reflect on what Milton said in Areopagitica.

  17. Historiann on 27 Jul 2008 at 10:54 am #

    Hi again, “James Brettle!” (Gavin–please note: “James” and “Leslie” have the same IP address! What a coincidence. BTW, James/Leslie, effective sock puppetry involves more than just different names and fake e-mail addresses! Why not just pop down to your local library to get a different IP address on your posts!)

    I’m not about censorship–please note, I am not the state, and this is not a government blog. I’m about preserving safe spaces for likeminded people to talk about what they want to talk about. My blog is a salon, and all are welcome to join in so long as they stay on topic and refrain from insulting one another and using bad language. This is my blog, and as in a classroom, I get to set the rules. I have no intention of letting hostile strangers abuse me or my commenters or jack my threads.

    I also don’t understand why people who aren’t wanted and whose contributions aren’t appreciated would keep coming around. The great thing about the non peer-reviewed internets is that you can find likeminded people if you really want to–so find blogs where your comments are appreciated!

  18. steveeboy on 28 Jul 2008 at 6:47 am #

    It seems to me that this pretty much sums up where I come from on blog comments:

    “women perhaps [see] their blogs as their living rooms or salons where they have conversations with like-minded people, whereas men may see it as more of a space for Mortal Kombat-type debates.”

    suburban guerilla set me straight that she thought it was more like the living room situation, I told her I thought it was more like a bar room where I would argue politics in exactly the same way.
    –and I know I blew it when I lumped in historian with some of the more extreme kooks at no quarter and confluence without actually taking the time to figure out that there was a more serious discussion of issues and an academic focus here.

    I believe you asserted at one point that I just had a problem with women bloggers–which I thought was bunk, but since I didn’t want to write some dumb ass cliche I just dropped it–and of course, I couldn’t respond because the blog in question would not permit me to…

    It does seem as though the obama-clinton split led to a lot of angst and unpleasantness, but I find that the level of bullshit currently being leveled at obama from some quarters is totally out of hand and far beyond the slights–real and imagined–that were leveled at clinton.

    I have seen some female bloggers and commenters do the following:

    refer to the russert debate as a “wilding” because hillary clinton got unpleasant questions about her policy views on illegal immigrants and driver’s licenses.

    claim that a candidate scratching his face was really him another candidate the finger.

    claim a WNBA fight in which a male coach broke up the fight as he would in an NBA game was evidence of obama’s misogyny since he himself liked to play basketball.

    that seems to be a bit much–in my mind.

    But, all of the above discussion is a helpful reminder to make sure one’s register always matches the level of discourse of the blog in question and to not just lump all together on the basis of something stupid like a particular candidate preference.

  19. Historiann on 28 Jul 2008 at 7:34 am #

    Hi Steeveboy–thanks for your comment, and your reconsideration of this blog. When I suggested that you may have a problem with women bloggers, that was because you left a pretty harsh comment that didn’t reflect that you had read much of this blog and then just went away, so it just seemed like you were a nasty drive-by. I don’t get a lot of those, but I get enough to see the pattern described above.

    In the anti-Obamasphere and the skeptical-of-Obamasphere, it’s not just women bloggers who have made the claims you list above. Lots of men have made those claims, too, and lots of Democratic men still would prefer Clinton as the nominee. I think the reason you saw many women bloggers gravitate to Clinton, or write sympathetically about the beating she was taking from the media, is because of the obvious, rampant, pathological misogyny that her campaign revealed. And for feminist bloggers, that’s an issue whose history and importance goes way beyond one election campaign!

  20. Historiann on 28 Jul 2008 at 7:42 am #

    And, I should add: not preferring Clinton is not and was never interpreted here as evidence of misogyny. There were plenty of policy and political reasons not to support Clinton, and/or to support the candidacy of her opponent/s. However, those reasons were subordinated to discussions of her voice, her hair, her clothing, her cleavage, and/or her husband very often. Most of us were just disgusted by the obviously unequal treatment she and her campaign received. I think the reason for the PUMA movement, which I’m not a part of, is the reasonable perception that it wasn’t a fair fight, especially with so many Clinton voters’ preferences being denied or erased by the DNC in May (FL and MI) on top of the incredible media bias that Clinton was subjected to. That’s my analysis, anyway–not a defense of PUMA.

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  22. Suzie on 01 Aug 2008 at 5:56 pm #

    Thanks for mentioning the discussion at Echidne’s site. As a fairly new blogger, I sometimes get frustrated and alienated by the progressive men who tell me I’m wrong.

  23. Historiann on 01 Aug 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    Suzie–you can just point out that they’re not actually progressive, if they have problems with women whose opinions differ from theirs!

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