I’ve been thinking about Kathy Sierra’s situation
and the anonymous graphic death threats she got. I’ve been thinking about my comment policy, and being a woman on the internets. I’ve been thinking about what a zero-tolerance policy means. But mostly I’ve been thinking about what I’d’ve done if I’d seen the situation happening. And what I would want people to do if it were happening to me.
My understanding is that Ms. Sierra’s writings on technology earned her a lot of attention; some small part of that from what is likely to be one man who has made sexually violent threats against her. I’ve seen the threats, they are far beyond the pale. That is very clear. It is also helpful that her writings are technical; nice not to have this clouded up with allegations that she has presented a sexualized version of herself and what can you expect of men who encounter a sexualized persona? (Which I object to as a bullshit assessment of men.) But that’s about all I am clear on.
So. Occasionally I write things that provoke reactions. Sometimes, people reprint them to strangers who don’t give me the benefit of the doubt. Those strangers then write things about me, the person, rather than whatever I wrote about. I mostly don’t mind; ‘fact, I mostly think their conclusions are funny. But last week, when Peter reposted my TSA rant, I was glad
he didn’t post my gender. People assumed I’m a man, and I got responses like “What a fucking idiot.” But when I get negative responses from people who know I’m a woman, I get two more things. I get ‘she must be physically unattractive’, and I get this nasty descriptive scare-stuff. So far, no threats directed at me, but definitely stuff intended to keep me scared of an unidentified but menacing man (‘you won’t be so proud of your tkd as you feel his thick fingers rip your larynx out of your neck’ type-writing). In small doses, I can dismiss that stuff easy. It doesn’t conform to my perceptions of the world. In large doses, it would change my perception of the world.
I don’t expect to have large doses of that vileness turned on me for my usually benign dorkiness. (But, I imagine, neither did Ms. Sierra, for her tech writings.) If I run into it, it’ll likely be as a spectator. In that case, what would I do? Well, if I had run across the site with the threats against her, I probably would have backed the hell out of there. It was foul and mean and I guard against exposing myself to foul meanness. Would I have dropped a line to Ms. Sierra, expressing sympathy? No. I don’t know her or of her. Would I have posted something, saying this is unacceptable? No. I wouldn’t have wanted to alert them to my existence. Would I have written to the site administrator, saying ‘what are you doing, allowing this on your site?’ No. Well, just barely maybe (10% chance) if I’d seen a very large email address next to something about how they want feedback on what should be allowed in the comments. Yep. I would have done nothing and clicked back to my people.
What would I want people to do, if pictures of me mutilated were posted with sexually violent text? Well, I would want them to speak up. I’d want them to write to me, post comments, write to the administrator, saying that is unacceptable and they will not tolerate it. I would want them to make noisy withdrawals, explaining why they are shunning a site and then truly shun that site. No even-handed links for bad people. Let them wither in proportion to their vileness. Or become concentrated and isolated.
So, what’s the deal with me not acting the way I would want people to act? Well, like any protest, it would take some (minimal) effort, and alone it wouldn’t accomplish much, and there is some (slight) fear it will re-direct the nastiness to me. Strangely, I’m over that in the real world. In the last month I’ve gotten out of bed to call the cops and intervene in violence on my street. I think of Kitty Genovese and I act. I could do that much on the internets. I will do that much on the internets.