Ways of Silencing, Reasons for Outing

For my course on procreation and parenthood, tomorrow's reading is a chapter from Jenny Saul's book Feminism.  It's about "the politics of work and family" and starts with an important distinction.  A workplace can be discriminatory on the "difference model"--that involves blatant discrimination on the basis of gender.  A workplace can also be discriminatory on the "dominance model."  Everything appears to be egalitarian, but policies have the impact of excluding women.  For example, a company might demand that managers work erratic schedules, so that primary parents (more often women) can't rise to that level.

Lately women have been writing about being excluded in another "place"--the internet.   Much of the time the exclusion works on the difference model.  Women are targets of overtly sexist and misogynistic attack.  They start withdrawing from participation to reduce stress and anxiety.  The amount of this that goes on is appalling, and more apparent to me now than ever before, thanks to last summer's "elevator-gate" controversy.   

In order of importance, perhaps the overt misogyny comes first, but I submit that there's also a lot of exclusion on the dominance model.  People who want to devote time to exchanging juvenile insults are more often male, I think, and so even if the insults are all-purpose, women wind up being driven away from conversation.  I am the target of that kind of thing pretty regularly, and I think that's a feminist issue too. 

What to do?  Here's a post and long conversation about outing anonymous and pseudonymous commenters who are misogynistic abusers.  My vote: yes, in some cases that's justified.  I would enlarge the category of people who deserve to be "outed" to include people who exclude women on the dominance model, instead of the difference model.  (And then I'd enlarge once more--if I am personally being excluded by some anonymous abuser, I'm entitled to do something about it, even if I can't establish a larger sexist pattern.)

People hide their identities to free themselves to speak out more openly.  They can be extra uninhibited, because what they say has no impact on their reputation.  If they exploit their anonymity to rob me of my voice, I'm entitled to self-defense.  Surely.

Now, I shouldn't use unnecessary force. If I can just warn them or ban them or stop the problem without exposing them, then  going further is unjustified.  I also ought to be careful to unmask only someone who's truly silencing or excluding me.  We shouldn't publicize names just to punish people for the content of what they write. But in principle, outing anonymous people is sometimes justifiable.

Periodically I get curious about anonymous commenters who are abusive (rarely here, I'm talking about other blogs), so make use of the powers of Google to figure out who they are.  I am sitting on three, count 'em three, identities.  One day, if the need arises, I might reveal them.  Or might not.  I think people who are abusive behind the mask of anonymity ought to at least be on notice. You can lose the right to be anonymous, if you exploit it to deny other people a voice.


Wayne said...

I'm an avid video gamer, and I was reading on one of the video game blogs, about how "fag" is used as a generic insult to everyone. The article was written by a gay gamer, who reported his experiences of being harassed and discriminated. It was was really moving, and hard not to be sympathetic to him. In the comments.... A million people simply calling him a fag and being juvenile. A couple of days later, a woman writes a blog post in response to the vitriol that the other blogger's post generated, and how the same thing happens to women... And the same thing happens to her.

I'm sure you can chalk part of it up to immaturity of the average "gamer" but I think the anonymity of the internet really puts to the test Glaucon's "Gyges' Ring" parable.

Russell Blackford said...

We just need to be careful, though. As was seen with both the Tom Johnson affair and Elevatorgate, often people on both sides of a dispute are angry because they think that the other side is trying to silence them (or people with whom they identify). E.g., doubtless some sort of case can be made re Elevatorgate that Rachel Watson was the victim of some silencing behaviour ... but then again much of the anger against her was because of what was seen by lots of people (including me) as her own silencing behaviour towards Stef McGraw.

And it certainly appeared that there was a lot of silencing behaviour aimed at people (many of them female as it happens) who wanted to support McGraw.

The result was that some of us, including McGraw herself, withdrew early on from the public debate. A lot of the more reasonable pro-McGraw voices (including mine) actually were silenced quite quickly.

In the Tom Johnson dispute, Chris Mooney may have felt that he was being subjected to silencing behaviour. But there was a background where he had called for certain kinds of things not to be said ... and even earlier his mate Nisbet had quite literally and explicitly called for Richard Dawkins to go silent in public. Mooney's ready acceptance of the false Tom Johnson story, which seemed implausible on its face to many of us (including me), was itself widely seen as part of a campaign to silence forthright criticism of religion - the Tom Johnson story was supposed to be Exhibit A, or whatever it was, for the case that forthright criticism of religion will lead to terrible consequences in real-world situations. I don't think I need to say anything about the You're Not Helping blog, which was a dishonest attempt to demonise the speech of various people (most notably Ophelia Benson).

Not only that, much of the anger towards Mooney, as things went on, was because he banned Ophelia from commenting on his blog - another form of silencing (though of course it didn't stop Ophelia from continuing to criticise him elsewhere).

It should also be obvious, I hope, that quite a bit of the silencing behaviour that goes on is actually done by women. I can think of quite a few prominent examples, but I'm sure some obvious ones will also come to your mind. Often, indeed, we see women doing it to each other.

I think the lesson in all this isn't so much one about gender relations, though I don't entirely discount that aspect.

Women dish out a lot of the silencing behaviour (including to each other) and men receive a lot of silencing behaviour. We may not get rape threats, but we get everything else, including death threats. Oh, and not all men are comfortable with the kind of outright immature name-calling that we see on the internet. It may well tend to be more abrasive to women's sensibilities, but I'm pretty sure that Richard Dawkins, for example, dislikes it ... and I can tell you for a fact that I dislike it.

Partly it's that people will get angry when they think that they, or others with whom they identify, are being silenced. And once you get a group of people seeing themselves as victims of silencing behaviour, they will probably lash out angrily (and probably in ways that will themselves be seen as silencing behaviour by the "other side"). Silencing behaviour begets more silencing behaviour.

Partly, it's just that we should all be much more willing to welcome reasoned criticism of our views, and to engage courteously with it. Imagine how differently Elevatorgate would have gone if Watson had welcomed McGraw's critique!

Partly, it's that we should all be aware that some of the behaviour that we engage in that seems righteously justified to some of us as individuals may be seen as "silencing" behaviour by someone else.

And it would be good if everyone, male or female, who might be something of a role model to others took these lessons on board. To your credit, Jean, you're a good model for the rest of us in this respect.

Jean Kazez said...

Russell, Yes indeed--to all of that. There is silencing that's overtly sexist, and silencing that's covertly sexist, and then silencing that has nothing to do with sexism...and you're quite right that women do some of the silencing.

About Chris Mooney--yes, he made people feel like he was trying to silence them, but you could say atheists in the blogosphere essentially try to silence accommodationists. I sort of understand that, but not entirely. So, silencing, silencing, silencing. There's a lot of it, and I agree we shouldn't assume that overtly misogynistic silencing is the only kind, or even the kind that does the most to exclude people and destroy open conversation. Then again, the people engaging in that stuff can be literally scary--as in, lock the doors and shut the windows. So--I don't want to deny there's something particularly worrisome about them.