Monday, January 13, 2014

Women Are Uneasy Citizens in Cyberspace

The male mindset, captured in the wild: arrested development?

I read four articles this weekend on online harassment of women, often professional, respected writers, and the picture is not pretty. In fact, it's pretty horrifying.

First, I read Jil Filipovic's piece at TPM Cafe. Filipovic, a lawyer and journalist, has been harassed in online forums and comment threads in ways a man would rarely experience.

Next, I read a Ross Douthat op-ed at the New York Times. His piece was the usual thoughtful, earnest piece, which as is often the case devolves into a moralistic morass coupled with a weird "liberals do it too" component. I applaud him taking on the issue but wish he'd avoid the moralizing and politicizing. In the end, he allows that the solution falls on men. Good.

Douthat, in his article, offered up a link to demonstrate that liberal feminists aren't the only victims, that conservative and libertarian women are victimized, too. While I have no doubt what he says is true, I was disappointed that a Megan McArdle piece at Atlantic was the destination. McArdle, as muddled a conservative libertarian as you'll likely find, went into "liberals do it too" mode rather rapidly. Read it to experience another angle on this story, but bring an ice pack with you.

Finally, I followed a link from the Filipovic article to Slate's Amanda Hess' lengthy piece in the Pacific Standard chronicling her experience online. Again, it's eye-popping. She goes on to paint a vivid picture of the extent of both the problem and the difficulties of working with law enforcement to forge solutions.

After Douthat and McArdle's insistence on an ideological slant, I checked the Filipovic and Hess pieces and found them devoid of ideological references. For them, these were women's issues, human issues, a position I would hope conservatives and libertarians might adopt.

I've observed, through reading blogs early on, that sexually charged rhetoric and commenting were commonplace. I had no idea how utterly debased and debasing the trend had become. As a man -- not to channel Chris Christie -- I find my own sex's behavior humiliating and embarrassing. Hey, knock it off, is too slight a recommendation. I taught high school for some years and recognize that this behavior is both immature and bullying. Its roots are in the adolescent male mind, coupled with a more evolved sexual pathology. At the extreme, it is a dangerous pathology; as an ordinary way of communicating, it's a corruption of language and intent, exacerbated by the seeming anonymity on the Internet space.

This is beyond my area of expertise, but I hope men on the net would think and think hard about the consequences of their words and avoid being vile. It's corrupting and spoiling what's so liberating about the Internet. We, as men, should be accepting, encouraging, and empowering women. They're going to end up, sooner or later, owning half of the worldwide space, as they should.

To channel Gavin Newsom, it's gonna happen, whether you like it or not. I say grow up and like it. As men, when women win, we win.

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