When we women get too uppity in the blogosphere, there are anonymous, lurking men out there who will try to take us down:
As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms -- a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said. [...]
A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. [...]
Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, "it's been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men." [...]
[T]he effect of repeated harassment, bloggers and experts interviewed said, is to make women reluctant to participate online -- undercutting the promise of the Internet as an egalitarian forum.
What's this about? (I should say first of all that in two years of blogging I have never once personally encountered it. My age and my microbial insignificance in the grand scheme of things have no doubt protected me from hostility and consigned me to indifference. Ah, freedom.) Despite all the political heat in the blogosphere, the harassment of women is particularly intense in the tech sector, where popular blogger Kathy Sierra -- who reached no.23 in Technorati's Top 100 -- has suspended her blog, Creating Passionate Users, after receiving sexual and death threats in her comments. If you're not familiar with that depressing story, you can read it here.
Another prominent tech blogger, Robert Scoble, who went on strike for a week in support of Sierra, offered a clue:
[Scoble] said women have told him that harassment is a "disincentive" to participate online. That, he said, will affect their job prospects in the male-dominated tech industry. "If women aren't willing to show up for networking events, either offline or online, then they're never going to be included in the industry," he said.
Yes. I think it's about territory. There's nowhere men can go anymore -- the police force, the firehouse, the boxing ring, the military, the boardroom, the fishing boat -- and not find women, often women competing with them. I think some men feel that the very territory formerly called masculinity is being cut away under their feet. And I think there is decades' worth of free-floatiing rage out there, primarily among the most insecure -- emotionally, economically, and/or sexually. The anonymity of the Internet gives it an outlet.
Can we speculate that the geek sector is disproportionately stocked with guys who are not terribly comfortable or even familiar with the living, breathing opposite sex -- guys who spent their teen years in their bedrooms with their computers? That slur aside (and yes, it is below the belt -- it is hard to read this, being female, and stay fair and dispassionate), evidently the male sense of exclusive entitlement to those occupations that are hot, competitive, lucrative, and important -- an entitlement that now feels aggrieved and violated -- has not died away. Comment trolls are acting as enforcers, as rapists act to curtail women's independence, freedom, and confidence on the actual streets.
"Will we see a decline in women blogging? I think we will," says Susan Herring, a professor of information science at Indiana University. No. We need to listen to Michelle Malkin, also quoted in the WaPo article: "Keep blogging. Don't cut and run."