(Do not) speak out about sexism

For those of you who missed it, No Right Turn covers a study into sexism among physicists, and the results that it had for the woman who published it. Given that there’s been yet another incident… now is probably a good time to speak out about speaking out.

Is the fact that they tracked down her home address scary? Yes, but not shocking. Call me burnt out, but this is what happens when people challenge sexist assumptions in semi-anonymous venues. Women have had to deal with it all the time: When there is an assumption that a pursuit is a “male space”, for instance in certain sports, in online gaming, in science, and in mathematics, (not to mention in the business world) women not only have to work much harder to be successful, and get passed over for promotions and other similar privileges, but if they draw attention to this sort of behaviour without significant backup, (like lawyers, online moderators, organised feminist backup, or male allies) they get intimidated, harassed, or even assualted. This is not by any means the first time I’ve seen a woman’s real life details dug up when they say something that a man doesn’t like- it happens semi-frequently online, and people bother to look up personal details for women in situations where they’d only leave an angry reply for men.

Having been a forum moderator for a reasonably popular online game that was relatively friendly to women, I can say that even in female-friendly parts of the web, people still try to pull this sort of thing off. The difference is that we actually track through and delete that sort of thing after a couple of hours or days. You can do everything right to protect yourself and people can still pull strings and bring up your details online. (And that’s ignoring the reality of what can happen out on the street…)

There seems to be the assumption that women who will stand up for the small things are somehow dangerous. The assumption that there’s not enough success or dignity in the world to share by merit. The assumption that every woman except your daughter/wife/mother is (The) Other, and that if she steps out of line- either by sexualising herself independently, or by questioning male authority, she is to be attacked and put back into her place.

What’s the best way to deal with that? It’s simple, if not easy. Stop staying silent. Don’t let them bully women. Turn the mob against them, as it’s their only protection.


2 Responses

  1. Well, obviously if you can vigorously discourage people who step a little out of line very few will step far out of line. It’s the broken windows philosophy in a different guise. It’s also how a lot of gender policing happens from all sides. But the treatment of women on the net does seem a bit dramatic – I wonder how much is simply because the evidence is persistent in a way that “normal” victimisation isn’t. If the boys at work just verbally hassle you for being a woman that’s hard to show evidence of, but if they do it in email … you have the emails to print and show.

    I do wonder whether boys are more impressionable than girls, or whether it’s just more acceptable to use harsher methods on them…. boys often have it beaten into them at a young age that showing emotions is a bad thing, for instance.

  2. Partly better evidence, moz, partly the fact that the internet is anonymous so it’s not even a he-said-she-said type of thing- you can just make a throwaway identity and argue that you share IP addresses.

    Are boys more impressionable? I haven’t seen any good research suggesting that yet, and I’m sure there are plenty of cases of girls being quite impressionable, too. (one of my sisters’ favourite colour changed to pink right after her first day at school, for instance)

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