Last month, a humorous article on one woman’s misadventures in her search for Mr. Right (“Shaadi Dot Kya”) generated a storm of comments online. While it is always gratifying to be able to engage our readers, it was immediately apparent that several commenters wanted to weigh in, not on the issue itself, but on the personal traits of the author. In a short span, the discussion was in danger of being hijacked and diverted to ad hominem attacks and accusations of misandry.
Is incivility, engendered by anonymity, merely the norm of online discussions? Or do women bloggers attract particularly vile responses? When Rebecca Watson, founder of the Skepchick website, casually related her discomfort at being approached by a stranger in an elevator late at night, she was called a diva, an attention seeker, and other hateful appellations that cannot find a place in this magazine. Rekha Basu, a columnist at the Des Moines Register, was subjected to such vitriol that she changed her commenting policy to require real names. Even harmless (read: non-provocative) mommy blogger Heather Armstrong received such negative comments that she decided to compile them in an ad-supported site aptly termed “Monetizing the Hate!”
Male bloggers and writers like David Yepsen and Nick Coleman agree that they get their fair share of attacks, but point out that these attacks are rarely personal. In contrast, blogger Lena Chen classifies her hate mail as body-snarking, vengeful, racist, resentful, and sociopathic (the last segment spewing misogynistic fantasies). I checked out an online forum called datinghookup.com, where one male blogger referred to his dates as “Smokey” and “Psycho.” The response? Commiseration and sympathy. When Maureen Dowd, columnist for the New York Times, asked Alan Dundes, a renowned folklorist, about the unwarranted attacks on female writers, he replied, “Women are supposed to take it, not dish it out.”
The feminist movement in the United States is nearly half a century old, but women are still significantly underrepresented in traditional media, which means our perspectives are still rarely heard. But the Internet has proved to be a boon to female voices that cannot find mainstream outlets. These new voices may be perceived as a threat to the established patriarchy, which could explain the hatred and sexism. But the numbers are growing and the gravy train of the privileged majority might soon be on its way to be decommissioned.
Meanwhile, all comments will be moderated!