The Guardian had a piece on their website yesterday about what to do with sexist abuse online.
The Guardian panel provide mostly reasonable suggestions that warrant further discussion. But the first woman, Helen Lewis-Hasteley’s comment about “Why should people pay for you to promote that opinion?” completely misses the point of how the internet works. The advertisers are paying for people to promote any opinion they like, on sites that aren’t moderated at least. On sites that are moderated, advertisers are paying for the moderators to be there so that some sort of order and civility is built into discussions. God knows people on the internet are far less able to be reasonable and measured than people in the street. The internet is like real life except with the thrill of anonymity that sitting behind a screen provides. It removes some of the humanity from others and you feel free to see them as words you hate rather than a person with whom you disagree.
You would never say, if someone were to yell obscenities in the street, “I can’t believe the council are maintaining the pavement for the person to stand and yell abuse.” Of course the abuse online is often more explicit, more threatening and less legal. Helen Lewis-Hasteley does not refer to that type of abuse when she says that advertisers shouldn’t pay, although of course illegal threats are covered in what she says. She specifically says that people shouldn’t be allowed to call her “shrill or ugly or whatever.”
I agree that rudeness is hardly an upside to having an opinion online, but I wouldn’t expect advertisers to stop paying for it any more than I’d expect local authorities to whip the pavement from under the person who pushes in front of me in the bus queue or starts a highly original and catchy chorus of “oi, ginger.” It’s tempting of course, and far easier to do online, but I think general ass-hattery in the form of assuming any woman with an opinion is shrill and ugly and whatever is very different than assuming every woman with an opinion deserves to be raped and beaten.
I think moderated comments online are necessary to a degree but censoring sexism doesn’t make it go away. If you’ve ever run into someone who’s convinced that women run the world, like… Beyonce…
censorship would be counterproductive in the extreme. Confronting and challenging sexism like the woman in the video doesn’t even make it go away. I would never suggest that she stop trying, because that’s an awesome video.
So, violent rape and death threats to women with opinions. Bad. V. bad. Should be removed. Sexist asshattery? Leave it be and point out how absurd it is. If someone tells me to shut up and make them a sandwich when I disagree (it’s funny the first fifty times, after that, not so much) or to get in the kitchen where I belong or any number of stereotypes that died before the commenter was born, I’ll have a word. Several words. A couple of expletives if need be. If we hide stuff like that away, it isn’t a problem and we don’t need to deal with it. Maybe that’s why we do.
I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the fact that every post here seems to revolve around me addressing some issue to do with my chromosomes. One day I’ll go on a website and see some great injustice involving unfair distribution of puppies and rainbows. That’d be nice.