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.