One more time, the trolls and troglodytes are harassing women on the web. This time, sex columnist Violet Blue came in for a bunch of unwarranted crap. She fought back late last week with a column that’s worth reading in its entirety (so go check it out). The proximate cause of it was this chivalrous comment in an online chat about sex scandals:
“Sorry, but being an unattractive skank is not enough to make you an expert. Watching Violet is like watching the female version of Bill Gates expound on sex — something you just don’t want to see. Or hear (thank God we don’t have smell-o-vision!)”
Eew. Thank God we don’t have to see what this guy is insecure about! Does he look like the Geico caveman? Or is he just an ordinary guy who’d be lucky to get a date with a smart, witty, attractive woman like Violet Blue who knows way more about sex than he ever will?
See? I can play that game too. But mostly, when women attack men online, we go after the substance of what they’ve said. We do sometimes take aim at their personal qualities, especially when they’ve got a long track record of assholery and dipshittery. I’m speaking now mostly about liberal women, not wingnut women, who generally inhabit a different Internet than I do.
Women aren’t angels. Online, plenty of women indulge in ad hominem attacks, launched at each other as well as at men. That’s part of the general coarseness and incivility that online anonymity seems to breed in people. (For a particularly vile example of this, see this comment thread at Pandagon, which in general is one of my favorite-most blogs.)
But liberal women don’t generally attack people’s appearance as a first or even last resort, and I have yet to see a woman threaten another poster with physical and/or sexual violence. While men, too, can take the brunt of nasty and even bullying behavior online, I don’t know of any case involving a man that went as far as the death threats that dogged Kathy Sierra and forced her to quit tech blogging.
Violet Blue’s response to the targeting of women online was inspired – and inspiring:
I just write and talk about sex. But every woman on the Internet gets called slutty and ugly and fat (to put it lightly) no matter what; all we have to be is female. …
The problem is, with so many women I talk to, the trolling is effective. The number of times I’ve talked down a crying girlfriend after she’s been trolled in her comments about being fat, ugly, skanky, slutty or stupid is higher than I can count (no matter what she writes about). Trolls watch too much mainstream porn and TV, and believe stereotypes are real; they slap us with it and then we believe it, too. …
In Margaret Cho‘s “Beautiful” tour, she talks about recently being on a radio show and having the host ask her point-blank, live, on the air, “What if you woke up one day, and you were beautiful?” When asked, he defined beautiful as blonde, thin, large-breasted, a porno stereotype. Cho says, “Just think of what life is like for this poor guy. There’s beauty all around him in the world, and he can only see the most narrow definition of it.”
So maybe if you’re a woman, you’re just going to be fat and ugly on the Internet no matter what you look like, say or do. Of course, I could swap out my SFGate bio photo for Jenna Jameson’s. Then maybe we’d have some serious discourse about sex culture around here.
(I quoted at length because it’s all spot-on, but do read the rest here.)
Right. It’s a classic double bind. If you’re sexy, you can’t be smart and serious. If you’re smart and serious, you’d better not reveal your sexy side or you won’t be taken seriously. And yet, when women don’t combine all those things at once, we fall short of what Anna Quindlen called “effortless perfection.”
I’m not suggesting the guys need to shoot for perfection, too. But how about we all cut women a little slack, and let us be our imperfect, sexy, smart, silly, sassy selves – out loud, in public, without fearing attacks on our person or safety.