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.