27 June, 2007

Misogynistic Blogosphere?

CDR Salamander poses an interesting question that has been swirling in parts of the blogosphere for awhile, and asks for my input:

Is there an undercurrent of misogynistic behavior in the blogosphere? One that the anonymity of the medium encourages?

I'm only a bit player and usually soft-pedal politics, so I doubt think my experience is necessarily illustrative. Still, there are certain patterns I have noticed.

Most of the trolls I encounter here come via links from larger and almost always male bloggers. Though I don't usually spot it, my protective male readers have been quick to believe that many of those trolls choose me to attack specifically because I'm female--that they will come and say obnoxious things on my little blog, but not "discuss" the same issue among the big dogs. For example, when William Arkin linked me, Blackfive and Donald Sensing amid accusations of MilBlogs being "bought" by the Army, it was strangely my little blog that became the center of attention. This pattern has been repeated in smaller incidents of sudden attention from big sites.

On a personal level, I have seen a random troll tailor his attacks to me as one unique by gender among a group he singled out for particular attention. One troll cut a wide swath through my fellow bloggers this past year, collecting them as links in his sidebar (after someone pointed it out, I noticed the vast majority were small blogs by female authors) and then focusing on a handful for special treatment. He was a stereotypical leftwing nutter with a fingernail's grasp on reality, directing bigoted, condescending and vitriolic politically-focused emails and comments to several big bloggers in the Milblogsophere.

But Mr. Troll had something special in mind for me: Having taken a close and continuing read of the more personal posts in my blog, he proceeded to aim for the very softest spots of my self-image at a time when I was full of self-doubt and vulnerability. He never alluded to it in public, but his private emails were deeply personal attacks designed to have enough of a whisper of truth to wound me. Though I never responded to him, he continued the nastiness and skated the line of criminality until threatened with legal action.

Would he have done the same to a man? I doubt it; though he directed emails of spittle-flecked hatred, threats and bile at some of my male co-bloggers, nothing approached the effort he expended in researching and targeting the deeply personal attacks he reserved for me. One male friend and blogger described it as pure bullying.

What does this all mean? I'm not really sure, but I don't believe the blogosphere somehow fosters and reinforces misogyny. More than anything, I think it comes down to the anonymity of the blogosphere allowing people to be jerks in general, misogynists or not. To the extent that women-haters may come to the fore for female bloggers, it's just that in the blogosphere they can get away with being themselves. Having had their emotional "buttons" pushed by some random issue, they quickly revert to their darkest parts.

Maybe I just don't push their emotional buttons in the way people like Michelle Malkin, Cassandra, and other bigger bloggers do. I mean, I've received nothing like the kind of disgusting, violence-endorsing sludge that they deal with on a regular basis. If I did, I might quit, as many women have. Not because I'd go off in a huff about my mistreatment or because I'd take what the jerks said to heart. Rather, there's enough ugliness in the world, and it leaves its mark on all of us; I'd have to stop and ask myself whether having to wade through it on a daily basis was worth it.

I suppose feminists would be disappointed to see how I have coped with the implied misogyny o my few trolls: I have often stepped back and let my protective male readers tell the trolls to go take a flying leap. In the case of the borderline stalker, I let someone else deal with it entirely. But that comes more from a recognition that it was an effective technique for dealing with them, and a desire to just make it all go away, than from a feeling that I needed anyone's protection (welcome though that protection is).

Yes, the blogosphere outside of personal webpages is male-dominated. But so is much of the "dead tree" publishing business, and so we deal with the same issues in both arenas (I think of times I've had to two-step my way through interactions with a couple bigoted SOBs offline). Though the Internet by its nature gives all types an amplified and self-reinforcing platform, I think it's still just a reflection of our society as a whole.

In short, I really don't think there is an "undercurrent of misogyny" any stronger in the blogosphere than there is anywhere else. For every misogynist who rears his ugly head here, there's a misogynist out there who's not treating the women in his "real life" very well, either.