Thursday, May 1, 2008

Anonymity, Internet Enable Sexism

Cross-posted at XXBlaze

Anonymity gives people the gall to do and say what they would never think of doing if it had their real face and name attached to it. I suppose I am as guilty as many; I usually avoid frontal head shots in profile pictures or using my very distinctive surname. I like to use this anonymity to say things that I do not have the courage to say, or to say the things that I feel I have no real audience for. After all, no one in my Jewish family really wants to hear any negative thoughts about Palestine, do they? More importantly, anonymity allows me to act the way I wish, instead of how I think that others expect me to act. I am free to share my same-sex relationships here, away from people that know me, because of the judgment that I fear will follow me in my professional pursuits.

This anonymity has allowed me to grow as a person. I can be who I feel like I need to be, and say what I want to say without a fear of consequence. I can stand up for what I believe and what I think and not be just another cog in the machine. I have taken this opportunity to be anonymous with open arms, embraced it, and turned it into a marvelous experience of self-awakening and growth.

However, I increasingly find that this use of anonymity is fairly rare on the internet. In my public face-to-face feminist protests and meetings, very little negativity is said to my face. Most people have tact so instilled in them that they will not say something sexist to a very vocal feminist's face. I am increasingly aware that this does not mean that they do not hold their misogyny very close to their hearts, and perhaps talk about that "bitch of a cunt at that Vagina Monologues table on Senior Lawn" to their friends. Most of all, I am very aware that if given the opportunity of anonymity, the expression of their patriarchy socialization knows no tact.

Anonymous message board postings have ruined my chance at an elected position in our large campus Democratic organization by references to my "feminazi adherence to Hillary Clinton" and the worry that I will "vote with my vagina" in university matters as well.

Myspace bulletins helped drive a high school classmate of mine to a suicide attempt when it was leaked that she was about to prosecute a high school teacher, the coach of the nationally placed soccer team, for sexual assault. Messages like "whore", and "stupid slut, ruining an the life of an important part of our community" were commonplace. The case was dropped, the man who tried to rape an ex-student after plying her with alcohol goes free, and the combination of the injustice, betrayal, and shame land someone I brushed elbows with in Pre-Calculus in the hospital with charcoal and aspirin being bumped out of her stomach.

A political forum I frequent claims that I "give feminists a bad name", urges that I "lighten up and remove that stick from your vagina", or that I should "listen up you cunt". JAP (Jewish American Princess), slut, attention whore, feminazi, Daddy's girl are common slurs and double as argumentative tactics. A large group of seemingly liberal and educated politically-minded people find no fault with attacking a woman for daring to be a feminist in a public space, for having the gall to accuse them and their society of misogyny.

These are only my personal experiences. I do not doubt that most of you have had similar, and perhaps even more serious instances of shaming, assault, insult, harassment, and sabotage by expressing your adherence to women's issues, by not having a penis, or any combination of the above. Once respectable communication outlets and blogs like DailyKos is overrun with bigots and trolls that harass female bloggers. TIME magazine mocks the feminist movement. The lowest of the low,'s random image board (very NSFW), is populated by anonymous users that share rape porn, inform women "[show us your] tits, [or] get the fuck out", and circulate pictures of underage girls with cries to "stick it in her pooper"!

Meanwhile, new studies are showing that sexist jokes, the very kind of low-brow excuse that sexist pigs use when called out on their bigotry, foster discrimination towards women and higher toleration of sexism. Our days are littered with the corpses of thousands objectified and mocked women, and still it seems that nobody seems to grasp that there is some sort of negative consequence for the defense of the patriarchy that masks itself in humor and anonymity.

We have known for a long time that the streets are not safe for women. Public forums do not welcome those that do not adhere to their feminine socialization and titter appealingly at sexist slurs and demeaning groping. Even in our own homes, we are not safe. Not only are women at risk of being assaulted by their brothers, fathers, and husbands, they are verbally assaulted every day under the excuse of the First Amendment and humor and enabled by anonymity in chatrooms, by email, and in social websites.

The internet has allowed me to be who I truly am. However, the internet has also allowed many others the same opportunity, and it seems that they truly are sexist pigs.


Lindsay said...

It's so disappointing that promises of anonymity make people feel like it's appropriate to share the most vile thoughts they have. It reminds me of wearing a KKK hood - people feel free to do whatever they want as long as no one knows their identity.

I think it's far more gutsy to put your name on something and stand by it, to take ownership of your actions.

The internet is great for being anonymous as long as you're not engaging in harmful activities, and sometimes that anonymity is important because of backlash in real life. It's just sad people take advantage of that.

Andrew said...

This is a brilliant post, and was needed after the ignorant and callous remarks of a certain recent anonymous user.

And I completely agree with Lindsay -- it takes real guts to own up to your words, which I think all of the posters here do on a regular basis.

Keep up the good work.

Amelia said...

This post is highly appropriate on this particular blog where anonymity clearly shows its benefits and drawbacks.

I didn't really think twice about allowing for anonymous comments on this blog because I wanted to allow for the most people to comment as possible, but it has proved incredibly frustrating in that there have been numerous comments that have called contributors names and have made absurd and incorrect generalizations about feminists in general.

As you pointed out, anonymity can definitely have its benefits, but I will not try to deny its drawbacks.

The internet, also, has the great potential to disseminate valuable information and viewpoints (as is the goal of this blog), but it also allows for the propagation of hatred and lies (by allowing comments, etc. that sometimes go unchecked).

I have to say that I think the benefits outweigh the negatives because when it comes down to it, it is up to the readers to determine what they believe, and what ideas and viewpoints they will take at face value. If we teach internet users how to read information/websites more critically and recognize hatred when it shows itself, perhaps the ugly comments will be less effective in the future.

Jen said...

I agree Amelia. It's also important, to some extent, to allow anonymous posting so that what we say is directly substantiated by the insipid remarks of bigots.

What is distressing is that I feel recently that the majority of information exchanged via the internet is nothing more than tripe and human stupidity. The kind of shit I find posturing as rational thought while I surf is nauseating. I am hardly surprised; for even non-anonymous mediums seem to dissemble hate and propaganda more readily than truth.

We have an easy job here because it's quite easy to see that the fecal matter posing as "thoughts" posted by some anonymous users required nowhere near the amount of introspection and rational effort that the original poster and non-anonymous commenter display regularly. I wish all the places I interacted online where so easy to separate into smart and stupid.

Amelia said...

I wonder what it is about the internet that seems to make it so appropriate for "tripe and human stupidity." Perhaps the ability for all people (with some restrictions, of course) to access it and post their ideas? Does that sort of "informality" make it more comforting to bigots and just plain idiots?


Andrew said...

As to why it's so easy for people to post "fecal matter posing as 'thoughts'" (well said), I think it's probably because they will most likely never have to face anyone that they insult on the internet. It has always amazed me how incredibly hostile some conversations can so quickly become -- I've never witnessed anything like it in real life.

But in an attempt to be positive, I would like to point out that, though confrontational users (anonymous or otherwise) can be frustrating, they do provide the opportunity to hone one's skills in dealing with such ignorance.

Lindsay said...

I agree; I think it's important to allow for anonymous comments. To take away that ability means less bullshit comments, true, but it also takes away the anonymity from people who might actually need it and who wouldn't feel comfortable saying something otherwise.

(The Korean) Andrew said...

I would like to point out that the misogyny, as well as all forms of bigotry, on are essentially meant to be ironic. The whole tone of /b/ is meant to be the opposite of what decent human beings in our society would accept. My roommates, girlfriend, and about 10 of my friends from campus, both male and female, gay and straight, are "/b/tards" as denizens have come to be known.

Also posting child porn gets one banned and IP sent to the FBI.

"Anonymous," the iconic collective will of /b/, would most likely break my passwords, screw with my blog, and fill my mailbox with inappropriate spam, if Anonymous knew I posted this.

I will actually have an opportunity to meet with one of the senior mods from /b/, at Anime Central in a few weeks. I would be more than happy to present questions on the Impersonators' behalf (I already have a long list, myself).