January 12, 2014

When the very thing you were just saying nobody talks about anymore turns up as the subject of the new Ross Douthat column.

I was going to do one of those blog posts about noticing something that was a big topic that's gone away, but I never got around to it. Douthat notices the topic because someone on some lesser website wrote an article dredging up what was one of the big blog topics of 2005: "Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet."

Douthat calls that "a candidate for the most troubling magazine essay of 2014." In a world of scandals and suffering, women not feeling welcome on the internet is supposed to be the most troubling thing? But we troubled our asses off over the lack of women-welcoming on the internet a decade ago.
[Amanda] Hess takes a reality many people may be only dimly aware of — that female writers come in for an extraordinary amount of abuse online — and fleshes it out with detail, data and personal experience. The anecdotes, her own and others, range from the offensive to the terrifying, but there’s also a thudding, soul-crushing sameness to them: graphic threats of sexual violence, rape and murder, intertwining and repeating.
Douthat goes on about "how online forums should police abuse" and how "the Internet itself" is a "magnifer" of hate, etc. etc.

It's all been said before, but I think I was consistent back in the old days expressing the view that threats and stalking can be serious, whether they arrive by phone or by internet, and when they are, call the police. That's what I've had to do a couple times. But distinguish what we call in First Amendment law a true threat from other kinds of verbal aggression.

There's so much fighting over politics and ideology and whatever on the internet that it's absurd to hold back until you feel welcomed. The people who are already there have territorial feelings and would love to make you feel you can't enter. If you say you're holding back until people stop being so mean, you'll never get in.

In case you don't remember the old discussion that got discussed out, here's the classic "Women and Blogging" post by Kevin Drum that got everyone talking back in March 2005. I see that piece links to something I wrote, here, which linked to something Maureen Dowd wrote in a piece called "Dish It Out, Ladies." That was back before Ross Douthat was her office mate.

ADDED: A funny thing about that old post of mine is the way it ends with me talking about how I "definitely turned off my comments long ago and after a very short experience with them, because I was not going to tolerate people talking to me like that on my own blog." That got me to a post I'd been looking for last summer, when I had to turn off comments for a while (because I had an otherwise uncontrollable harassment problem). In that post, I itemized "things people who were not being reasonable were saying about me":
1. I claim to be a moderate, but I'm only posing as a moderate for some nefarious reason.

2. I think I'm so great because I'm a moderate, and I keep showing off by doing this whole "I'm a reasonable person" routine — which is obviously a manipulative trick.

3. I am outrageously right wing, and this is especially bad because my parents served in the military during or just after WWII.

4. I'm showing off by writing about legal matters, and I think I'm so great because I know more than other people about such things, and I'm taking unfair advantage by resorting to the use of this knowledge.

5. It's bad of me to indulge in humor if I'm writing anything that tinges on the Iraq war.

6. I shouldn't express outrage about art unless I first express outrage about things that are more outrageous — chiefly the war.

7. I shouldn't be writing about whatever I'm writing about because I should be expressing outrage about the war.

8. I don't know anything about country music because I heard Shania Twain and thought it was Melissa Etheridge.
About a year later, I turned the comments back on because of something — no kidding! — Judge Posner said. I had a tougher skin by then and had woken up from the fantasy that people would be nice or somewhat nice to me. What I learned in that year, 2005 to 2006, is something I wish I'd learned when I was young. Don't wait to be welcomed. Get in there and compete. They'll hurt you if they think they can, so don't let them see that it hurts. You can feel it, but don't stop. Go forward.

A corollary: If someone commits a crime against you, call the cops!

These insights make sense together. Criminals are never going to care about a culture of civility. They will victimize you. The culture of civility could only possibly persuade people who like the idea of cultivating civility, and there will always be some writers who are going to be scathing, and there should be, so don't wait, be tough, and choose the writing style you want and go. If your thing is niceness, do it, but don't expect the whole internet to shift to niceness for you.

44 comments:

Revenant said...

*Nobody* feels "welcome" on the Internet. Cowboy up, women.

traditionalguy said...

Lady bloggers who can't do three comment pull-up/push-backs shouldn't expect to become special forces bloggers.

On the other hand Seal is a female name.

jimbino said...

The Althouse Blog is one of the best I've found on the Web, and certainly one of the very best maintained by a woman.

Ann is like the only female chess master, the only woman awarded the Econ Nobel Prize. As a physicist, I'm quite used to the absence of women in most every area of interest in my life, from cabinetmaking to rough travel.

I don't hold it against her that she's a lawyer, but I'd sure like to see her forgo the endless doggie stuff.

Michael K said...

I quit reading leftist blogs, like Drum's, when they began to delete my comments. The comments were no more intemperate than those I post here. One special example was when they discovered that I had posted a whole series on health reform on my own blog. Several of the commenters at Washington Monthly went there, read the posts and were outraged that I didn't support single payer. It may have been a coincidence but that's when my comments began to be deleted.

HuffPo does the same thing. The left cannot tolerate other opinions.

On the other hand, NRO comments are dominated by lefty trolls which is driving me away from that site. This blog seems to have a good balance.

I even remembered to buy a math book through this site.

cubanbob said...

I second what Jimbino said.

traditionalguy said...

Come on guys...the beautiful dogs are necessary when pure reason dominates the rest of the blog. Zeus is the best dog, and no one Deletes Zeus pictures!

somefeller said...

So, what did Derve say back in the day that required deletion? And is he back?

Anyway, don't be too hard on Douthat. Back in 2005, he was in grade school or something like that and probably wasn't paying attention.

Michael K said...

" somefeller said...
So, what did Derve say back in the day that required deletion? And is he back?"

Who ?

tim in vermont said...

Those last few sound like the reasons that Dylan dumped Baez. She pressured him to make every performance and every song about ending the war in Viet Nam.

This is a great blog and you don't need to change anything. If somebody wants to read a genuinely right-wing female blogger, there are lots of choices, like SmallDeadAnimals.com, for example. I like her blog, but nobody could read that blog and this blog and think this blog was right wing without somehow perverting the definition.

Another good female written blog is JudithCurry.com She is also a moderate, a department head at Georgia Tech in atmospheric science, who is trying to bridge the gulf between climate skeptics and believers in impending catastrophic global warming. Of course she gets accused of being a tool of the oil industry, or a running dog of the climate nazis, but she writes some very intelligent articles.

somefeller said...

Michael: Click through the link. Someone named "Derve" had their comment deleted by the blog administrator.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

I was going to do one of those blog posts about noticing something that was a big topic that's gone away, but I never got around to it. Douthat notices the topic because someone on some lesser website wrote an article dredging up what was one of the big blog topics of 2005: "Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet."

It isn't "a big topic that's gone away" for a lot of people, and I suppose the reason you're reading it via Douthat as opposed to Hess or Megan McArdle (whom Douthat links) is that not everyone reads the same blogs.

I'm not in the least sure that this is worse for lefty female bloggers than for conservative female bloggers. Some of the crap sent to Michelle Malkin is ... well, it's hard to believe that there are people capable of writing such things in public.

Any, McArdle's piece,from some days ago, is a good overview, shorter than Hess's.

Me, I am not really sure that this is gendered in quite the way some people think it is. I think that a lot of it is just resorting to the weapon nearest to hand, and the environment of some parts of the Internet encourages -- or, at least, doesn't discourage -- atavistic "Use whatever weapon will hurt most" behavior. My middle school bullies took that as a given, and the nastier sort of commenter -- male or female -- behaves exactly like a middle-school bully, only without the plausible threat of the principal calling the parents.

Michael said...

Here is a tip, ladies. We are not in charge of your feelings. You have to control your own emotions.

Michael K said...

"omefeller said...
Michael: Click through the link. Someone named "Derve" had their comment deleted by the blog administrator.
"

I looked at both links. Still don't get what you are saying. It's OK Forget it.

gadfly said...

So - while Amanda Hess seems only to relate to her personal perspicacity as a woman - my first gut reaction is to ignore her question of "Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet." Idiot Ross Douthat would be best served to withhold comment toward all such "group grope" journalism but he cannot since he writes for the bankrupt NY Times.

I will admit to bias with regard to female fiction writers - I simply am to old to keep finding emotional causes interspersed in their writings.

On the other hand, put downs aimed at conservative and libertarian females such as Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and Michelle Malkin get noticed - especially since females probably only make up about 20% of right-wingers in all media. Who wants to defend ugly old men when there are talented and comely women around.

Birches said...

Perhaps women just take things more personally. I just read McArdle's article and I'm surprised she receives so much "hate mail." I find her comment board to be a lot like this one: a lot of intelligent discussion with an occasional crazy.

Birches said...

Of all the "bloggers" I frequent, it seems like James Taranto receives the most vicious insults and comments.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I will admit to bias with regard to female fiction writers - I simply am to old to keep finding emotional causes interspersed in their writings.

I think maybe you're reading the wrong fiction. I have, honestly, little use for "chick-lit," but a great deal of use for P.D. James and Elizabeth George and Catherine Aird and Ruth Rendell, and even (yes) for Sara Paretsky, even given the ideological content, which can get a bit out of hand. The woman can write, and besides, all her books are set in Chicago, and boy does she run with the varieties of corruption available there.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Birches,

Of all the "bloggers" I frequent, it seems like James Taranto receives the most vicious insults and comments.

I'm surprised. (Never dipped into comments at the WSJ; maybe now I have to.) Taranto strikes me as a reasonable guy with a lot of smarts and enough literature and history in his head to make puns that aren't based entirely on pop culture. Those of us who also have enough literature and history in our heads to crave the occasional pun or joke not based entirely on pop culture like that.

Apropos of nothing, this set me cackling for a minute on end. That's Taranto-esque humor. If he hasn't seen it before, I bet he will soon. He reads Althouse :-)

Paco Wové said...

"...if I'm writing anything that tinges on the Iraq war."

"Tinges on"? Is that one of those obscure OED usages?

Birches said...

On Taranto, the WSJ boards are actually mostly good. He has a couple of trolls there all the time. Anytime he writes about feminism however, there is always more than a few comments about how he is unmarried and overweight. Some of the comments can become fairly offensive. He has a lot of twitter trolls (I suppose most people in politics do though---that's why it's not a man/woman issue). I've heard Andrew Breitbart's twitter trolls were legendary. Another man.

betamax3000 said...

Only Althouse Has a Betamax3000.

Birches said...

That is a funny clip. I'm not surprised most of the voters on Funny or Die rated it "die" though.

betamax3000 said...

Ross Douthat's Skirt-Girl Robot Says:

Ross treats Me So Well: When I Bring Him His Coffee Five Sugars He says "Thank You" and "You Got it Just Right, Sweetie." He Compliments Me on My Skirts and When I Get on the Step-Ladder in My New Clingy Skirt to Get a Book from the Top Shelf He is SO Appreciative, He Nods and Nods and Offers to Help and Hold the Ladder But I Can Do it By Myself, I am Empowered, He Tells Me So When He Rubs My Shoulders. People in the Office Laugh and Say He is Just Trying to Look Down My Blouse, But I Know Him Better, Breasts in Frilly Bras Do Not Interest Him, That Is What All the Secretaries Say.

betamax3000 said...

Ross Douthat's Skirt-Girl Robot Says:

I Once Had a Thigh Cramp at the Office and He Let Me Lie on His Couch. He Offered to Massage the Cramp Away But I Said it Wasn't Necessary But He Did it Anyway: He Really Cares.

betamax3000 said...

Ross Douthat's Skirt-Girl Robot Says:

Ross Once Was Going to Write a Column on Women and Tattoos and Asked Me if I Had Any Tattoos He Couldn't See in My Business Clothes, It Was Research. I Told Him About the Three Stars and the SeaHorse and He Wanted To See Them to Help Write His Column But I Was Too Shy and said 'No.' He Was Okay With That, it Just Was His Stomach Was Upset and That Was Why He Was So Long in His Office Bathroom.

betamax3000 said...

Ross Douthat's Skirt-Girl Robot Says:

Ross Once Accidentally Touched My Breast Through My White Translucent Silk Blouse, He Was Mortified: He Had to Reenact His Movements Numerous Times to Show me How it Had to Be an Accident and Sure Enough He Brushed My Breast Every Time.


betamax3000 said...

Ross Douthat's Skirt-Girl Robot Says:

Ross Once Was Crying in His Office Chair, He Said He Had Just Heard Bad News and Could I Just Hold Him for a Moment, Not as a Secretary But as a Friend. How Could I Refuse? I Held His Head to My Chest and Gently Rocked Him Back and Forth, Back and Forth But He said Unfortunately My Bra Was Interfering With the Comforting. I Started to Take My Bra Off But My Phone Rang and I Had to Answer It, It Was My Best Friend and She Had Just Discovered a Rash on Her Knees: I Had Told Her That Her Carpet was Abrasive, That and the Cat Hair.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Birches,

That is a funny clip. I'm not surprised most of the voters on Funny or Die rated it "die" though.

Probably because they have either never heard of Anton Chekhov, or vaguely have, but can't remember what this is about and resent jokes that assume that anyone minimally educated watching ought to know the point.

Or, of course, because it's a joke involving a gun. Can't have that.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Birches,

I just read McArdle's article and I'm surprised she receives so much "hate mail." I find her comment board to be a lot like this one: a lot of intelligent discussion with an occasional crazy.

Yep, me too. That comment section and this one and Volokh's are pretty much the only ones I bother with now. That dynamic, with people from across the spectrum but relatively little plain spite, is surprisingly rare. If you find a forum like this one, stick by it.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I should've added that McArdle's problem is likely troll-accretion from her rapid shifts from employer to employer, from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast to Bloomberg. Every moved picked up a fresh troll accretion, and even though most of them don't bother a few months after a move, there's a, shall we say, persistent residue.

Bob Ellison said...

Douthat...I've heard that name before. Seems to me it used to be Brooks.

"When" as a sentence-starter is a thing, kinda like "that moment". It means "I'm going to type something self-centered and try to make it into something others will talk about."

Seeing Red said...

How much of it is that for some odd reason some women might rather discuss recipes children and soft subjects not hard subjects?

Birches said...

should've added that McArdle's problem is likely troll-accretion from her rapid shifts from employer to employer, from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast to Bloomberg. Every moved picked up a fresh troll accretion, and even though most of them don't bother a few months after a move, there's a, shall we say, persistent residue.

Yes, the trolls I've noticed seemed to be bothered by her work history, not with the fact she's a woman.

I've never gotten into Volokh. There always seems to be a lot of bloviating in the comments section when I've read something: people tossing around really big words to how off those fancy law degrees.

Birches said...

show off

Jupiter said...

Amanda Hess is a blogger. She can write what she wants to, and put it where lots of people can read it, without permission from anyone, because there are no gatekeepers on the internet. She says "Twitter is the place where I laugh, whine, work, schmooze, procrastinate, and flirt."

She can really see only one thing wrong with the internet, which is that there are no gatekeepers to prevent people - men, to be precise - from using it. They can write anything they like, and put it where she can read it. Amanda Hess doesn't like that. She wants that to change. There are a lot of people she thinks need to be suppressed, and she is not shy about saying so.

Amanda Hess is a woman, and she wants to have her cake, eat it too, not gain any weight, and have someone else pay for it.

Anglelyne said...

I've always liked the Internet because it's the place where you can say what you think and it doesn't matter if nobody likes you. Maybe they're talking about a different Internet. Or maybe I just find it impossible to feel any sting of ostracism or insult from the strangers in my laptop.

Carl Pham said...

It's a little-known empirical law of physics that there is no profession, pastime, sport nor entertainment of any shape, size or description whatsoever about which women will not complain they are maltreated.

Kirk Parker said...

"Douthat calls that 'a candidate for the most troubling magazine essay of 2014.' "

It may well be a winner, even; just not for the reason Douthat thinks.

MayBee said...

Patterico and Aaron Worthing might have a thing to say about gender and harassment from internet trolls.

Breitbart was hounded-just hounded- constantly on Twitter.

I think these women are seeing poor behavior toward them and saying "this is happening because I'm a woman". Even though many of the trolls may say gender-based insults, I don't think that's *why* they get them. I think haters just say the most hateful thing they can think of.

Kirk Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Parker said...

Maybe, MayBee not.

Russell said...

I guess I should read the source column before commenting, but at the risk of over interpreting a headline, I'll note that I don't know what he's even talking about. 'The internet' is a big thing that contains far more than political blogs and debate forums. This whole discussion has a very 1997 feel to it, never mind 2005. BTW, Facebook is on the internet last I checked. So is pretty much every app you have on your phone.

My wife is on dozens of internet boards that cover many topics, but are usually communities formed based on topics such as birth or motherhood. They are not officially exclusive to women but that's pretty much who they attract. And believe me, the debates can get nasty, so I don't know that this 'problem', if there is one, is about emotional fragility. Its probably just about what interests people and what sort of forum they want to plan their flag.

There are probably plenty of generalizations that could be made on this that I'll attempt to avoid. I think women are just fine and welcome on the internet. They may just be avoiding the Ross Douthat's of the world, for whatever reason.

Perhaps Ross Douthat and Maria Shriver can solve this problem together. Sounds like we need a study and a committee and some press junkets to figure it out.

Christopher B said...

MDT and Birches

I've been reading Megan McArdle for a long time since her days working as an admin on the 9/11 clean up and blogging at Assymetric Information. It's not just her employeer switches that seem to get her in trouble.

She's got very definite libertarian beliefs (she married an associate editor of Reason) but the people publishing her work have tended to be fairly well know as editorially liberal. She takes a fair amount of abuse when she deviates from the Accepted Wisdom. With that said, she also has taken some fairly liberal positions such as generally questioning Iraq War Volume 2 and apparently voting for Obama (twice). This gets her (maybe somewhat milder) abuse from people who follow her because they like her libertarian wonkish side.

I also often find her writing style to be almost overly informal even for a blog. I don't know that this singles her out for abuse so much as it sometimes makes her seem just a little bit too earnest in wondering why anyone would misunderstand or object to the things she writes, since they are really so reasonable, and of course it's just her opinion ...

Birches said...

Even though many of the trolls may say gender-based insults, I don't think that's *why* they get them. I think haters just say the most hateful thing they can think of.

That was McArdle's conclusion too. Another reason why I like her so much.

@ Christopher B

I think most libertarians were opposed to the Iraq War and voted for Obama (at least the first time).

But The Daily Beast was really a bad fit for her. Bloomberg is a little better. That's where I noticed most of the abuse. Although for The Daily Beast commentariat, hurling insults seems to be the default position. Stopped following RCP links to there a long time ago.. .