food for thought: civility and harassment continued

Just a few pieces this week, continuing to look at the online dynamics of civility and harassment.

First up, Rosie @ Make Me a Sammich reminds us all that men who harass others online are men not “trolls” or “boys” whose actions can or should be explained away by the logic of the less-culpable:

By calling these people “trolls,” we are basically letting them off the hook. It’s a lot like the “boys will be boys” mentality that helps to keep rape culture thriving, but it’s also different, because boys are expected to be human. By calling these people “trolls,” we relegate them to non-human status, and we make it clear that we don’t expect them to live up to the same behavioral standards as human beings.

So, who are these assholes? Well, the subset of the population we refer to as “trolls” is mostly (almost exclusively, in my personal experience) made up of men who—for reasons that range from angry entitlement to I-don’t-know-what—make it their business to perpetrate harassment and abuse on targets who are mostly not men.

Fannie @ Fannie’s Room reflects on the power and limits of civility to allow for true learning in online spaces:

I think people can be genuinely jerky about call-outs, but oftentimes, there is no way to gently educate, as deBoer suggests, other people (especially those with various privileges) about something problematic they said or did without that person perceiving it as an attack on themselves.  When I was a resident lesbian, feminist guest blogger at the conservative-leaning Family Scholars Blog, we seemed to have these conversations on practically a weekly basis for at least a year!

No matter how tepidly we tip-toed around the dreaded b-word (bigot, that is), no matter how many assurances I and other pro-LGBT folks gave that we believed equality opponents could still be generally kind people, if we admitted that we thought their opposition to equality was “anti-gay,” they perceived that label to be an abhorrent attack meant to silence them. The term bigot and anti-gay were, to many of them, hostile. Abusive. Harassment.

(Full disclosure: I, too, was a guest blogger along with Fannie at the Family Scholars Blog. An invaluable experience in engaging with those who disagreed with most of my life choices.)

And if you haven’t read Mark Oppenheimer @ BuzzFeed on the subject of misogyny in the atheist / skeptic community, you should. Apart from the fact that these issues are obviously of primary importance to those within the atheist / skeptic community, the dynamics and issues at work there are at work in so, so many other sectors of our culture.

If all one did was read the blogs, this would seem to be a very political fight, about feminism, libertarianism, and other isms. But many grassroots activists, mainly men, simply regret the loss of a tiny, bygone community of eccentrics. This disappearing world was heavily male, and perhaps quite sexist, but it was also a safe space for science geeks, political dissidents, and other kinds of misfits. It’s understandable that some would feel nostalgia for that romanticized world; for 50 years, freethought was where one could say things forbidden elsewhere. These are the people, after all, who stand up and tell evangelical Christians that there is no god. Many of their fellow Americans would say that’s far worse than saying “cunt.” So for open atheists, free speech is not trivial. And because they are usually on the receiving end of witch hunts and oppression, they are understandably wary of purging their own members.

But according to PZ Myers, atheists and skeptics may be uniquely unable to recognize their own flaws. “You’ll find the atheists who say, ‘I’m rational, therefore I’m better than everybody else,’” Myers said. “They take it for granted that all of their beliefs and positions are founded on rational thinking.”

And finally, y’all should march on over to Cracked and read “5 Things I Learned as the Internet’s Most Hated Person” by game developer Zoe Quinn:

Long story short, the Internet spent the last month spreading my personal information around, sending me threats, hacking anyone suspected of being friends with me, calling my dad and telling him I’m a whore, sending nude photos of me to colleagues, and basically giving me the “burn the witch” treatment.

So-called “#GamerGate” is, of course, specific to the gaming industry and subculture; but like with the atheist / skeptic community issues described by Oppenheimer, we would be foolish to imagine that any subculture or profession is immune to this type of behavior — as foolish as assuming that we can fully free ourselves of racist attitudes in a society that marinates us in such notions from the cradle.

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