This discussion is both the most obvious thing in the world… and the most difficult to manage.
On some level, I think the discussion of how women writers are harassed on the internet is a bit myopic. Comments all over the web, focusing on all kinds of writers, regardless of whether the writing is “important” or trivial, tends to the horrifying. It doesn’t get any worse than, say, “Duck Dynasty” comments… or really anything that is defined as “left-vs.-right” or “religious-vs.-non-religious.”
On the other hand, calling a women author a “cunt” is no better or more acceptable than calling a black writer a “nigger.” And none of this is any more offensive (or less) than challenging someone’s sexuality as a way of disagreeing with a piece of writing or idea that has nothing to do with sexuality. And there’s always the ready leap to ‘Hitler should have finished the job” aimed at jewish (and sometimes, non-jews that idiots assume are jews) that we have seen over many years.
The level of discourse on the internet, driven in no small part by anonymity, is often brutal. Women have plenty to complain about in this regard. Lazy threats of rape and other physical abuse directly connected to gender are unacceptable. But so is the lazy use of “faggot” or “ass-fucked” that rhetorically abuse homosexuals even when they are not aimed specifically at people who are gay. And as we go further down the rabbit hole, the question of whether anal sex, for instance, should reflexively be assumed to speak to male homosexuality complicates the situation even further.
I think that being any one group assuming the position of being the most offended is always a problem. This is why I always try to remember to refer to “the jewish holocaust” and not just The Holocaust… because it is not the only holocaust, even if history tends to use other words for other holocausts.
The abuse of the ideas of others on the web – and by extension, of the authors of those ideas – is gross. And as a First Amendment absolutist, I am not sure what I would like to see done. I don’t think monitoring for specific words is the answer… or authoritarian comment approval.
The thing that jumps out to me as the best option is to remove anonymity… to make people post under their own names. But that also has problems, as there are good elements to anonymity, even if it is mostly abused. Moreover, it isn’t clear that there is a functional way to force people to post under their own, real names on a consistent basis.
I feel like I have been very lucky with this blog. I can count on one hand the number of people whose posts have even been blocked or removed from the comments section. It can get pretty contentious and personal, but mostly, I think that over the last 9 years or so this has been a blog, the commenters have been respectful of one another, if not always of me.
I run onto more “unacceptable” comments on the DP/30 YouTube page, which interestingly, allows other commenters to mark comments as “spam” or “offensive.” Sometimes, I find the removed comments to be unoffensive, but just out of step with the opinions of fans of whatever film or person the DP/30 interview is about. I re-approve a couple of those most weeks.
And yes, the majority of the bad language and nasty stuff is aimed at women or people of color. Most often, this is inappropriate sexual comments that seem to be intended as complimentary, but are actually invasive and unacceptable… worst of all with underage actresses. But women make a lot of “objectifying” comments about make actors as well, albeit very rarely in such rhetorically aggressive terms. The racial stuff is seriously disturbing.
So… what say you? Is there a good idea for how to cut down on the ugliness of web commenting without eliminating the free exchange of ideas?
Do you agree – as I think Amy Wallace really does – see this as a broader societal issue than women being called names and being wildly threatened on websites?
Or are we stuck in rhetorical traffic, so surrounded by humanity that we just have to accept that some idiot is always going to cut you off at some point on the way home?