Gender Divides

There are a few topics I try to avoid on this blog; Israel, monetary policy, cats. But I suppose the most glaring omissions are feminist concerns (closely followed by Darfur, a topic about which I have long struggled to write without much success). I’m not going to offer some lame excuse like “I just don’t understand women,” even though I don’t—ha!

An ex-girlfriend once accused me of being if not exactly a misogynist, something less than a feminist. I’ll come right out and state my two major problems with feminism: first of all, as a old-fashioned lefty, identity politics of any stripe evoke a visceral reaction because they screw with working-class solidarity. Second, I’ve received a lot of contradictory testimony over the last decade over whether or not men can in fact be feminists at all.

My ex informed me, and rightly so, that these exceptions I was taking were bullshit. I write about gay and black issues, even though I’m neither. Somehow these identity-related concerns are more accessible to me than feminist issues. I will not make any apologies for finding the idea of gender inequality abhorrent—and that cuts both ways. Women aren’t ‘better’ than men and men aren’t ‘better’ than women. (Sidebar: the “feminist theory of international relations,” which held that everything would be better if women were in charge and we would have world peace doesn’t hold much water, e.g. Ghandi, Meir, Elizabeth, Boudicca.)

So here’s the question—are gender disparities the same as gender inequalities? And we must always bear in mind what Martin Luther King said about equal treatment:

The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but he should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up.

…and note the use of “a man.” By which I mean to say that people may face systematic societal barriers no matter how equally I as an individual treat them.

I mention this in reference to my previous post about the idiotic ‘new age of civility’ proposal. I did notice, although I didn’t say anything about it, that women were at the forefront of this issue—the travails of blogger Kathy Sierra were an impetus, and the guidelines were based on those compiled for the BlogHer network. In the two days since I wrote that piece, a little left-wing internecine skirmish has begun between ‘Kos’ of Daily Kos and several feminist blogs, such as Feministing, Bitch PhD, Ampersand, and other blogs which I read and generally enjoy. Notably, almost everyone involved thinks the ‘civility’ project is a bad idea; that’s not what got them all riled up.

What ignited this firestorm was Kos’ post where he echoed my call for those who cannot stand the heat to get out of the kitchen:

Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you’ll get idiotic emails. Most of the time, said “death threats” don’t even exist — evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said “death threats”.

Now, I’m a guy and I’m reading this and I don’t see anything gender specific about that statement in and of itself, other than the fact that he made it right after mentioning Sierra, who, became the target of various threats on a site called MeanKids (the sites where these things happened have all been taken down weeks ago).

Kos wrote,

I’m in and out of commission, so I hadn’t heard of this so-called “death threat” thing. So I looked it up.

Prominent blogger Kathy Sierra has called on the blogosphere to combat the culture of abuse online. It follows a series of death threats which have forced her to cancel a public appearance and suspend her blog.

Ms Sierra described on her blog how she had been subject to a campaign of threats, including a post that featured a picture of her next to a noose.

Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you’ll get idiotic emails.

If you think Kos is talking about Sierra here specifically (and not “you”), you have to wonder whether that was the last article he looked up about the ordeal, because all the sources he links to in the article are rather vague about the threats. The most specific the BBC gets is that “The police are investigating while the blogosphere has launched its own enquiry,” and “a post that featured a picture of her next to a noose,” although it certainly discusses the gender issues of her harasssment.

Majikthise and I, for example, are in complete agreement on the proper way to deal with these things:

As Markos says, a lot of bloggers get abusive email. I know I do. Several times a year, I emails from people who say they hope I die, or express other similarly vague pro-attitudes towards my demise. Legally, those are threats. I forward those to the FBI and the ISP of the sender. I’m not the least bit scared, but man, do those threats make me angry. These shmucks are trying to intimidate me. It doesn’t work, and I take great satisfaction in creating a paper trail.

It’s just as illegal to threaten someone by email as it is to call them or send them snail mail. If we chide people for taking email threats seriously, we’re coddling their abusers. Threats should have consequences, regardless of the medium used to deliver them.

I can safely say that I have been receiving death threats over the Internet much longer than any of the bloggers who have commented on this issue, beginning with my Bill Gates Is Satan website (1995-2002, R.I.P). I’ve been getting e-threats before there was such a thing as a blog (and don’t even get me started on Usenet again). So, when I think about this stuff, I think about the assholes who told me they were going to grind my Communist ass into fertilizer for Bill Gates’ giant lawn. Certainly, with women, the threats are often sexualized (as were some of those against me), but the issue at hand (I thought) was about threats of any violent nature.

Then in university, as a joke/proof-of-concept, I created a page that would crash any windows 95/98 computer just by accessing it. (I’m an asshole, I know.) Someone forwarded this page to what I will politely refer to as a forum for “gun-toting redneck psychos.” What ensued was a two-week long death threat fest.

I was vaguely scared, but I wasn’t annoyed as much as I relished these threats as a badge of honor, and I didn’t follow the above advice and call the cops, either. So, I got to thinking, is that a typically male reaction? Are we conditioned to react differently to threats of violence? I might think I’m pretty street-smart, but the fact is no man has balls big enough or upper-body strength sufficient to stop a shotgun blast. I should recognize that the way men and women have been socialized to react to these things is different, and not based on physical differences between sexes.

Then there’s this response by Echidne of the Snakes:

To many misogynists a woman saying anything at all is controversial shit. Women, like Kathy Sierra, who blog on tech topics are not actually saying that much that should be controversial.

Most of the time, said “death threats” don’t even exist…

Perhaps not. But there is a whole slew of crime statistics on misogynistic harassment, rape and worse in the real world. There is very little that can be compared with that in terms of real-world attacks against controversial male bloggers. Women may be justified in taking threats of harm more seriously than men, just because of this.

If they can’t handle a little heat in their email inbox, then really, they should try another line of work.

What if it is a lot of heat, like the kitchen on fire, but this heat only burns the female bloggers and commenters, because they have to work against the kind of harassment Markos mentions AND the kind of harassment their gender creates?

It seems like someone’s straying a bit here (not to mention pushing the metaphor), but I was curious about the statistics. So I looked it up:

Homicide by gender, 1976-2004

Victims Offenders
Male Female Male Female
All homicides 76.5% 23.5% 88.7% 11.3%
Victim/offender relationship
Intimate 36.5% 63.5% 65.3% 34.7%
Family 51.7% 48.3% 70.6% 29.4%
Infanticide 54.5% 45.5% 61.8% 38.2%
Eldercide 58.3% 41.7% 85.3% 14.7%
Felony murder 78.2% 21.8% 93.3% 6.7%
Sex related 18.8% 81.2% 93.6% 6.4%
Drug related 90.1% 9.9% 95.6% 4.4%
Gang related 94.6% 5.4% 98.3% 1.7%
Argument 77.9% 22.1% 85.5% 14.5%
Workplace 78.3% 21.7% 91.1% 8.9%
Gun homicide 82.7% 17.3% 91.2% 8.8%
Arson 56.3% 43.7% 79.1% 20.9%
Poison 55.6% 44.4% 63.3% 36.7%
Multiple victims or offenders
Multiple victims 63.1% 36.9% 93.5% 6.5%
Multiple offenders 85.6% 14.4% 91.7% 8.3%

I invite you to (anonymously) post your conclusions. From what I can tell, sex-related homicide rates pretty much mirror argument- and workplace related homicides except that there are slightly more female offenders for argument-based murders, which is presumably how an actual comment-related murder would be classified ceteris paribus.

The upshot to all this, by the way, is that the logic expressed above only underlines my point about the importance of preserving anonymity on the web, because it cuts both ways. Should people have to deal with harrassment? Of course not. Now, does not acting surprised when something happens excuse it? No.


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