Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop Cyber Bullying Day!

My friends and family know how much I love the online world. While I am aware of the various dangers, the balance, for me, is extremely positive. There's the knowledge and community and just plain fun. It's also meant fulfilling work for me, someone who could not work outside my home. It's brought love and adventure on a breaktaking scale I could never have imagined.

But I can't ignore the negatives either.

There has been a LOT written on this lately all over the blogosphere. Friends Karoli and Denise share their views and research and background links so take a look to get a fuller picture of why this is being discussed again and what others are saying.

I'm going to focus on one aspect of cyber bullying based on my own experience and observations over the years: Misogyny.

It's an ugly word and much like 'homophobia' or 'bigotry', no one wants to accept that label and most men and women don't even want to admit it even really exists in our western world. Sure, it happens elsewhere, but not here, right?

I am a white, middle-class woman who was born in Canada. I live a relatively privileged existence compared to the majority of women in this world. Most of my friends and coworkers are the same.

Lately, I've been more in tune with the ill-treatment of women in other parts of the world and in other cultures (between local and international news, if one's paying attention, you can't get away from it) so I am profoundly grateful for all we have here. It would be stupid not to be.

But we still have a long way to go.

The misogyny here is more behind closed doors and behind computer screens but it's there, always there.

I CAN'T THINK OF A SINGLE WOMAN I PERSONALLY KNOW OR HAVE KNOWN WHO HAS NOT BEEN A VICTIM of physical abuse, rape (stranger or known), sexual abuse, or infidelity on a scale that would put Charlie Sheen to shame. Or all of the above. Not a single one. And that's me in my comfy white middle-class western world. Personally, I've dealt with childhood sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse. All by men who supposedly loved/cared for me.

There's a line from a Paul Simon song that goes something like this:

"In my life it's so common, it disappears."

That's what happens, or at least what happened to me. I forgot. I can't go through my life in hyper-awareness of this. I know it's out there, some really awful experiences are even recent, but I like men and always have, I have two grown sons, I do not think most men are bad, I can't stand the 'men are stupid ha ha' jokes that have become so commonplace in the last decade or so and refuse to share them. Men are not our enemies. Misogyny is. (Another aspect of this is that it's not just men who are guilty of it; women keep it alive and thriving too, with their self-hatred and hatred towards other women/girls - but that's a whole other ugly aspect better left for another day.)

All of the recent attention to this issue has brought it back into the light for me.

I've also been the victim of cyber bullying.

I am a message board moderator and have been for over a decade at various large online sites, some geared towards teens, some towards adults. The general behavior is much the same whether I'm dealing with 14-yr-old boys, young women, or older men. Most are great - fun, thoughtful, giving, creative - some are not. And some are downright vicious.

An old boss used to call it 'net rage', much like road rage; the anonymity results in no real accountability and that gives implicit permission to rage to people who might otherwise never act out.

With the internet, women have found their voices, on message boards, sites like myspace, blogs, etc. They are making themselves heard again. And they often speak with or hold positions of authority.

How dare they?

That's what I've seen, over and over and over again. Again, the majority of men are great. But there are always some men, young and old, who have great difficulty with a female moderator simply because she IS a female. If a man were to say the same things, do the same things there would be less of a problem.

I know this for a couple of reasons, the first being that every place I've worked have had strict guidelines on what moderators can or cannot do. We are always held accountable (and often have to provide evidence) for our actions. So our gender often doesn't enter into how we present ourselves and certainly not in the actions we take.

But I mostly know it because of the kinds of attacks women moderators will be subjected to.

Aside from the usual 'nazi' and 'communist' accusations, these are not unusual:

  • my sexuality called into question
  • I need a good fuck and all would be well
  • I need to be raped and all would be well
  • I must be fat and ugly and therefore lonely and that's the problem
  • I need all sorts of things penetrated into me to teach me a lesson
  • email campaigns to my bosses to get me fired because I'm an emotional woman
  • I must be suffering from PMS or menopause

And that's the short list.

Many years ago I worked on a site where some members were not happy with how things were going with their favorite game. Avid gamers can be among the most fanatical people you can encounter on the 'net. And that's saying something. A few decided to get personal in their attacks (silly; it's like yelling at the secretary of the automobile manufacturer because your car broke down), one decided to take it a step further.

At the time I used my personal email address and real first name. None gave away my home address or last name but it did leave me more vulnerable. (This is no longer the case with the company I currently work for, and that's a very good policy even while I find it rather constraining at times.) So when the attacks escalated, on the boards, in email (to me and to my bosses; the latter calling for me to be fired), I was unnerved. This person didn't know exactly where I lived but who knew how serious and diligent he could be? Death threats, threats of torture and rape. Was he some teen living on the other side of the continent just enjoying his 'fun' with no intention or ability to actually act on it all or was he someone more serious? We don't know when we're subjected to these things and IT DOESN'T MATTER. The impact is the same because we don't and can't know.

I did not 'know' Kathy Sierra until all this hit the fan. I don't like or dislike her. But I feel for her. She was public enough and attackers knew where she would be at given times. That's scary. And it has changed her life, online and offline.

The saddest part is that these idiots operated protected by others who should have known better and who still refuse to see this as a BIG DEAL.

Men don't know. They really don't. They don't know that women must never forget they don't live in a safe world. They don't know what it's like to know that some men will always see women as 'less than' and available for raping, beating and killing. They can forget but we never can. If we do forget, we often pay a very high price.

Dr. Parker has some thoughts on this and how to keep yourself and your children safe. Don't forget these lessons as you create your myspace pages. Don't forget these lessons as your kids create their own. Don't share last names, locations, school names, team names, pictures that are identifying. Every time you post to a message board to your friends, ANYone can read it. Protect your personal sites which contain pics of you or your kids, etc., with passwords.

In the words of the Sarge on Hill Street Blues:

"Let's be careful out there."

Technorati Tags: Misogyny, Cyber Bullying


Blogger Karen said...

I stumbled onto your blog by accident. It is very well done. It makes a great read. Keep writing!

5:20 AM  
Blogger SwampHag said...

Thank you, Karen! It's always good to 'meet' someone new. (I've subscribed to your blog now too. Good luck with your novel!)

9:55 AM  

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