Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs

grafHi all,

Thanks for your overwhelming response to this series of blogs I’ve posted investigating online bullying and threats made to bloggers, particularly those who define themselves as feminists.

If you wanted one link to share with people you think should give these a read, this is it.

Here you will find the links to:

Part 1: The internet as a level playing field

Part 2: The Public Woman

Part 3: Individual responses to online harassment

Part 4: How feminist bloggers are responding – the movement for a safe Internet

Part 5: An example of a collective feminist blog site and how they keep their space safe for their users

Part 6: The Carnival of Feminists

Part 7: Is there a solution: the choice between freedom and regulation?

Part 8: A Conclusion

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 8)

vaw This is the final post in this series on feminist bloggers and online threats and violence. I attempt to draw some conclusions about the examples I’ve covered and the conversations that are currently taking place about these difficult issues.

Part 8: The Conclusion

The balance between regulated, safe spaces and the freedom for feminist discourse is not an easily achieved one. I hope these posts have shown how complicated the issues can be, and also how innovative the responses to online harassment can be. Felix Stalder, in "Between Democracy and Spectacle: The Front End and Back End of the social web", discusses how online shifts in behavior can only come from online participants themselves. "The social meaning of the technologies is not determined by the technologies themselves; rather, it will be shaped and reshaped by how they are embedded into social life, advanced and transformed by the myriad of individual actors, large institutions, practices and projects that constitute reality". The social meaning of the internet and this paradoxical balancing act is still under construction, and opinions on the issue vary widely.

Kathy Sierra, who as previously mentioned, was a high profile technology blogger until she decided to leave the blogosphere following threats of sexual and physical violence, believes the way to respond to online harassment and bullying is with more open debate on the issue, and not with legislated limits. “It would be tragic is this incident were used as a weapon by those who would limit free and open exchange…This could be an important moment if we stop, think, and talk about the kind of future we really want online, and make certain we don’t give up something more important in the process”. When you take into account that the threats she received in part stemmed from her participation in a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete ‘impolitic’ comments posted on personal blogs, we can see how heated this debate has been.

blog This issue was discussed in length on the Making Light blog, following Sierra’s withdrawal from the blogging community. Making Light is a collective blog site which manages to provoke large numbers of comments on their posts, without the nature of the comments becoming abusive or threatening. The author of “Moderation Isn’t Rocket Science”, and founder of the site Theresa Neilsen Hayden, states her position as one of withdrawal, “I can delete this kind of crap in my own comment threads. Individually I can’t do much to suppress it in other venues. What I can do is refuse to respect bloggers and other site administrators who let it flourish on their own sites, or who provide cover for the anonymous vandals who post”. One comment, posted in response by ‘Albatross’ seems to relay the most common view on the issue; “We probably can’t make everyone be nice, and an attempt to use the law to try would probably end up being hijacked and used to suppress unpopular ideas and opinions. But individuals and small groups can and do build working communities. That’s worthwhile even if we can’t make everyplace on the net such a working community”.

From a personal perspective, I am encouraged by the optimism of feminist bloggers who continue to discuss, vent and analyze, particularly those who do so in the face of continued harassment. I also fear the overregulation of the internet, sharing those concerns outlined above regarding who gets to regulate what spaces and what implications is has for freedom of speech. I do think that the blogosphere is liberating in its plethora of choices for sites of discourse, and part of entering an online community is an acceptance of the norms and behaviors already established. In this way, the internet cannot be both safe and inclusive simultaneously. If a site has a priority of safety, and as such have strict moderators and regulations, then you tacitly accept those when you join.

It is clear however that the intensity and sexualized gendered nature of online harassment and bullying, poses an immediate threat to the internet as a site of praxis. Those who engage in such behavior should understand the impact they are having on those they threaten, and their behavior should be dissuaded by the site community, however that community has decided to deal with the issue. The movement to create a safe internet needs to be nurtured and encouraged further, despite the achievements that have already been achieved.

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 7)

This is the penultimate blog in this series examining the relationship between online bullying and blogging, particularly the violent threats directed at feminist bloggers. In this section, I speak to one blogger who received horrific intimidation and threats online, about how she thinks we can reconcile the two and whether there is a choice between the internet as an open forum for discussion and keeping it a safe space.
Part 7 - Is there a solution: the choice between freedom and regulation?onlineanon
In researching this paper, I spoke at length with a number of feminist bloggers who experienced harassment. The majority did not want their comments recorded, nor did they want to take part in any formal interview, regardless of assurances of anonymity, for fear that their participation might spark further threats. This fear served to underscore the seriousness of the harassment experienced by the bloggers. I did speak at length with one feminist blogger who was willing to share her experiences and views on this subject. All quotes are directly taken from personal correspondence between myself and Sian.
Sian is a member of the Bristol Feminist Network, and is the spokesperson and media contact for the group in addition to having her own blog. In personal correspondence she told me that “pathetic and abusive comments [are] fairly common on my blog or on Twitter”, however one incident gave her enough concern to involve the police and pursue legal action against the bullies. Following press coverage of her comments regarding the closure of a Hooters in the town, Sian received threats via the group’s Facebook page that were violent, “nasty and aggressive”.
onlineanonymity It was when the comments took a turn for the more serious that Sian took the decision to involve the police. “Then this guy posted that I was a cunt, and he was going to find out my address and post it on 4chan with exhortations to ‘make me pay’”. Sian was surprised at the severity with which the police treated the incident as she “didn’t expect something that was happening online to be treated as serious”. She wrote a post about her experience for the Guardian newspaper’s online blog section ‘Comment is Free’, which again received comments Sian describes as hostile and vicious.
I asked her what steps she would like to see taken to reduce experiences of online harassment and bullying. I have chosen to include her answer in full as her response shows hope and an analysis from an individual and structural viewpoint. “It's tricky, I don't know the answer. One thing that came across when I received the 'apology' from the guy that wrote the threats was that he simply had not considered that I was a person, who would read that and be upset, be scared. It sounds absurd but people simply don't think that what they type from behind their screens has an impact. They just throw the words out there and they simply don't care that what they are writing is a threat. But it is.”
“One of the reasons I wrote about it for CIF and why I write about online harassment on my blog is because I think one way to stop it is to speak out, say this is happening, point to where it's happening and why it hurts. And also that it's particularly a sexism issue. A male blogger friend of mine always says that the negative comments he receives are nothing like the level of abuse that women get. One that always stands out for me was a guy writing that he hoped 'some cunt rapes you'. Men don't really get that type of abuse. So I think steps can be taken to reduce it by keeping what online abuse looks like, and the impact it has, in the public eye.”
masklaptop “There's been some high profile arrests though where people have tweeted really nasty things about celebs online and I'm always a bit uneasy about this. I don't think arresting people for their nasty opinions is necessarily an answer. I mean, I called the police because it was a threat. I didn't at that point know whether the threat would be carried out or not. I think we need to understand that difference between threats - like Hooters - and just nastiness, like the comment i mention above. I think change will come through education - and, of course, by overthrowing the patriarchy!”.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 6)

In this final section looking at how the feminist blogging community has responded to threats of online violence and bullying, I look at Blog Carnivals. You can read about my investigation into the rise of collective blog sites here, and a closer look at one in particular here and the tactics they use to create an accountable, not safe, online space.

Part 6: The Carnival of Feminists

imagesCA0PPWJK Blog Carnivals are one way that feminists are using the internet to bring feminists together across nationality, sexuality, race, gender and ideology, providing an opportunity for the generation of collaborative, transnational analysis. The volunteer host blogger makes a collection of outstanding blog writing from across feminist blogs. In addition to the host trawling the Web and using her contacts to find material, bloggers may submit their own pieces or nominate the work of others for consideration.

Many blog carnivals are organized around a specific theme, for example the fifteenth Carnival of Feminists addressed the theme “Shut Up! Sit Down!”. Even when the content is more general, posts are often grouped thematically, with the host blogger introducing and linking to each post. The introduction may include a comment from the host blogger, a brief quote from the piece, or simply a title and a link.

This method of connection can be understood in the same way as a curator choosing the exhibits for a collection. Although the choice is a conscious one and will be underpinned by ideology and pre-existing prejudices, a conscious curator can include sources that challenge hegemonic powers.

vinylfeminism Blogger and founder of Carnival of Feminists, one of the most visited carnivals, Natalie Bennett feels that the carnival has done much to help new feminist voices online. She states that the carnival helps to encourage and support new feminist voices, citing some who have gone on to mainstream media writing and others who have grown to be major parts of the mainstream blogosphere.

She also believes it helps the general visibility of women bloggers, describing how the carnival is not infrequently cited or its participants cited, in the mainstream media as representing in some way ‘young’, ‘new’ feminist voices, although the age range of participants is quite evenly spread from late teens to say 50s.

moonlightacrobats by Marcio Melo 2004 A quick online search for the term Carnival of Feminists reveals a significant range and departure from the original, with a bi-monthly Carnival of Feminist Parenting, looking at writing around the world on raising offspring with feminist principles and practices, and a very popular Carnival of Radical Feminists, being widely cited across the web.

The critique of feminism online is something Bennett has tried to respond to in her own attempts to extend the reach of the Carnival of Feminists. In an interview with Georgia Gaden for 'thirdspace: a journal of feminist theory & culture', Bennett states that she “started out hoping to get a real dialogue going between bloggers in the developed and developing world, and that really hasn't worked out.” To date, the Carnival covers and has been hosted on four continents, and she is keen to involve bloggers in Africa and South America.

Whilst I am not suggesting that either this response or the example of collective blog sites really accomplish entirely the overall aim of providing an online space for safe transnational collaboration, sharing experience and reflexivity, they go some way to reaching towards establishing these principles as fundamental tenets of internet usage.

womenunite The achievement of these principles would allow increased visibility and participation from all individuals. The critique that the feminist blogosphere mirrors the practices of off-line privilege, begins to be addressed whilst simultaneously self-regulating the behavior of those who enter the spaces provided. The blog carnivals are another innovative technique of including voices from outside the hegemonic hierarchies of power replicated online.

The real test of this will be the inclusion of bloggers from the parts of the world so far not yet reached by the carnivals held to date, and also the sustainability of the relationships formed during these online events. If the interactions online lead to increased participation on a regular basis from feminists not yet included online, it will be proof that these efforts are having an effect.

The final part of this investigation will look at the trade off between online safety and space for discussion which challenges us. Is the approach the best answer? Is there a better way to keep the internet as a level-playing field but one in which violence and online threats are not tolerated? These questions and more in the next post!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 5)

IgrafIn the previous post, I looked at the rise of the collective blog sites as a tool for creating a space for feminist discourse online whilst protecting the participants from threats of violence and bullying, as discussed in the earlier posts in this series. I now examine one collective blog site, in greater detail.

Part 5: An example of a collective feminist blog site and how they keep their space safe for their users was launched in 2004 and is an example of a collective blog site, funded by donations and community members. It is aimed at younger feminists and calls itself an "online community for feminists and their allies. The community aspect of Feministing – our community blog, campus blog, comment threads, and related social networking sites – exist to better connect feminists online and off, and to encourage activism." The site is highly explicit about its activist intentions, a feature which has won it both praise and awards from the blogging and activist communities.

feministing Founding Editor Jessica Valenti described Feministing's purpose as "a way to get through the mommy filter" and make feminism more accessible to young women through providing a space for young feminists to have an Internet presence. The founders make an explicit connection between feminist ideology and activism, stating that the Feministing community seeks to provide a forum for a variety of feminist voices and organizations. The writing on Feministing is not exclusively political, but also concerns feminist perspectives and observations from the staff's daily lives.

Site members are told when they register that the site editors can’t guarantee a completely safe space on Feministing, they can strive for an accountable space. This means that members of the site are held to account for their behaviour on the site by other members, measured against the site’s mission statement. The differences of opinion between contributors is welcomed as long as it is respectful and thoughtful. "We expect civility, respect, and patience for your fellow readers and for this space – please remember that we are all here to grow and learn from each other. There is enough hate and oppression out there in the real world – we don’t need any extra of it here!"

WOmenworking2-1As with a number of collective blog sites, operates a strict policy regarding posts deemed to be harassment or unsafe. In order to maintain a progressive and safe discourse on the site, anti-feminist comments, posts, and profiles are not permitted. The priority placed on this belief by the blog editors is communicated by the inclusion of the following statement in the site's 'About Us' page: "the Feministing editors believe that racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and hate speech constitute anti-feminism and have no place on the site." If participants are seen to be in breach of these guidelines, the user's posts are removed, along with their access to the site.

This issue was the subject of a post on, published by Jos, in August 2009. Titled ‘There are no safe spaces’, the author makes a number of interesting points pertinent to this discussion. They states that “I have come to believe that creating safe spaces is an unrealistic goal and that labeling a space as safe is highly problematic”. Jos finds the idea of safe spaces on sites with high traffic incomprehensible. If we recognise that we all wear different hats at different times, and that the process of working out who we are and how we define our own identities is a complicated one, then safety can never be guaranteed and so shouldn’t be promised.

fem The author’s opinion is that instead of striving for safe spaces, we should be discussing how to make the spaces online accountable, a viewpoint consistent with the policy. “Accountability means being responsible to oneself and each other for our own words. It means entering a space with good intentions but understanding that we all screw up and need to accept responsibility for our mistakes. It means being OK with and open to being called out.” This sheds further light on how we can understand the philosophy behind this particular collective blog site’s approach to this issue, however it is not the only approach, and many sites have much stricter moderation standards.

In the next blog I will take a look at an innovative, different approach to creating space online for feminist discourse which deals with the criticisms of the early feminist blogosphere’s narrow representation of feminism – Blog Carnivals.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 4)

Rosie_The_Blogger Parts 1-3 of this series of blogs examining online bullying and violence have looked at what sort of experiences feminists and other women bloggers have had online, and some of the tactics they have used to try and minimize their exposure to the threats. I now want to look at what sort of responses feminists have come up with whilst working as a community or any association larger than individuals. The first one I want to take a closer inspection of is the creation of feminist collective blogs sites, initially with a wide lens however tomorrow I will examine in more detail how they maintain their sites as safe online spaces for discussion. I will then turn to other collective or community responses to bullying online.

Part 4: How feminist bloggers are responding – the movement to create a safe internet

One difference between the use of the internet as a site for transnational feminist discourse in the late 1990s and the late 2000s is the rise of what I have termed 'collective blog sites'. One characteristic of early feminist blog sites is that there was an online plethora of individual feminists, acting and interacting as individuals. One argument is that despite the interaction between bloggers, the structure of the feminist blogosphere was one of a huge number of solo bloggers using free platforms with low blog views, and a small number of media companies-owned blogs with enormous page views. I would argue that the structure has changed to include a middle layer of collective blog sites, who look to form feminist communities online and combine the best qualities from the two other layers.

These collective blogs sites allow for a limited amount of the individual freedoms of personal blogs. They call for submission of articles from all readers however the final decision often rests with an editing board. Regular posts are commissioned from invited bloggers. Many offer those registered with the site the opportunity to comment on posts, with customizable profiles, the ability to add profile pictures and control their own identity in their online interactions. On collective blog sites the personalization allows for networks to be built by tracing the posts and comments made by individual users.

I recently received an email from TheFWord blog, a UK-based collective blog site, asking for contributions which I have included a screen shot below.


It is interesting to note that they are specifically looking for underrepresented voices in the blogosphere to come forward, however have chosen to illustrate their appeal with a photograph of a white, female, child, who is playing on the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ character. This appeal seems at odds with the choice of image, especially when one considers the iconic, mainstream nature of the character.

The collective blog sites also demonstrate certain features of the large, highly-funded corporate blogs, firstly, that they do possess a certain amount of infrastructure and financial backing. This allows for functionality not available to the free software used by individual bloggers. This functionality allows for a community to be constructed, and for collective political action to be pursued. For those sites not dependent on corporate or media group sponsorship, they are more likely to depend on fundraising conducted through the online community, further tying in community members to the site. New members are often recruited to the sites organically, as the sites often operate email newsletters or highlights of interesting posts which members can forward on to their contacts.

libertyThis community structure of the collective blog sites allow for a clear policy regarding online behaviour, setting the perimeters for discourse, and are often self-regulated by the community members. This means that the contributors are protected from harassment and the conversation is intended to contribute positive analysis. Ronak Ghorbani from the Third Wave Foundation believes this rise of collective blog sites to be a shifting to a new feminist consciousness, through sites such as Jezebel and Feministing. She states that she believes these sites to be flourishing as a result of participants joining a community of people actively working for social justice.

A July 2008 article in the Ottawa Citizen included Jezebel as one of several sites launched as part of the "online estrogen revolution", referring to a comScore finding that community-based women's websites were tied with political sites as the Internet's fastest-growing category. It is interesting that these sites are measured in this research as being community-based women’s sites, despite many of them having a collaborative, political agenda. The article also cited Ad Age's research showing that women's Internet use is outpacing men's. These sites quickly became some of the highest profile online collective blog sites, although Jezebel in particular has been critiqued for not having a coherent feminist agenda or guiding ideology.

The next blog in the series will take a closer look at, one of the highest profile collective blog sites, and the mechanisms they use to prevent the levels of violence threatened to feminist bloggers, as seen in earlier parts of this series.  I will also be looking at Blog Carnivals and other innovative methods of creating safe online spaces. The final blog in the series will turn to matters of whether censorship is always necessary for safety, and what direction I think the future discussion will take

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 3)

The third blog in this series looking at online bullying and feminism. You can find Part 1 here, which discussed the internet as an idyllic level playing field, and Part 2 here, which examined the concept of the ‘public woman’ and the sexualised nature of threats and bullying.

dictionaryI now turn to the varying responses to online bullying or threats of violence. The tactics used in creating a safe online space, vary by personal preference, skill level and opportunity. It would appear that there are a variety of different approaches feminists have taken in response to online harassment and bullying, however I will examine two in closer detail.

Part 3: Individual responses to online harassment

The first approach I will discuss are those tactics which have been deployed by individuals, the second are collaborative or community responses. Whilst it would be misleading to say that this distinction also conforms to the timeline of the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 perfectly, it is also true that some of the community responses would not have been possible without the technological advancement made widely accessible at this time. It is also true to say that the individual responses are still being as widely used as they were in the Web 1.0 era, and that some technological advances have made these obsolete on some platforms, the width and breadth of the internet means that these responses will always be available as means of resistance.

gender One tactic against online harassment that female bloggers discussed at length during the late 1990s is that of degendered blogging and internet usage. S. Luckman, writing in 1999, identified the fact that the principle mode of self-presentation on the Internet "occurs textually rather than through physical appearance" and that "this capacity for identity exploration has been opened up in ways not possible through face to face, televised and audio communication". Experimenting with the presentation of gender, or in some cases, attempting to completely degender blogging, was met with mixed results. The personalization of our online identities now is often not textual only and social media has removed part of this freedom.

Luckman finds that whilst some female bloggers adopted male designations and assumed the privileges associated with this identity, hoping to reveal that "speciousness of gender binaries and the inequalities of power constructed around them", in practice she finds that this merely serves to affirm the status quo. "It is men's agency which remains unquestioned online". This view is shared by L. Jean Camp, who states that "on the internet, as in life, men dominate discussions about women. Too often when women try to create spaces to define ourselves, we are drowned out by the voices of men who cannot sit quietly and listen". The possibility for critical analysis of online power structures that bloggers were hoping to reveal was not made possible through the use of degendered blogging and it was not a tactic that was promoted widely after the rise of social media and Web 2.0.

imagesCAXQVNS5 One of the other key tactics used by feminist bloggers is the adoption of pseudonyms and the protection of identity through anonymity. L. Jean Camp discusses this in detail from her personal experiences as part of The Systers mailing list - one of the first women-only spaces online. This women only list was regulated by restricted invitation, with membership offered on the request of an individual or recommendation of existing member. She believes that "computers can give you a degree of anonymity, which may give some women who have never spoken up in public the courage to express themselves". Despite this though, she goes on to explain that anonymity is an isolation and creates a "level of invisibility". She firmly believes that defining gender and identity should be in the hands of those being defined. "You do not want people to define you, especially not by simply looking at your name and guessing your gender".

danah boyd, in her discussion of "Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle", outlines the experiences of a friend who was HIV positive and blogged anonymously about his experiences. She points out that although the blog was anonymous, his friends knew where to find it online and the anonymity allowed him to negotiate social boundaries in a new way. "Technology doesn't simply break social conventions - it introduces new possibilities for them".

I make a distinction here between the previous discussion of degendered blogging and anonymous blogging as some of the highest profile bloggers have taken pseudonyms or blogged anonymously without attempting to adopt a 'male' gender, or a 'genderless' persona. Examples of these include the Girl With The One Track Mind, a blog written under a pseudonym by an author identifies who herself as a sex positive feminist and, through the blog, wants to counterbalance the existing double standard for male and female sexuality.

In asking for contacts on Twitter to share their experiences of harassment online, I was introduced to an anonymous blog which advocates gender neutral child rearing techniques. I asked them via Twitter about their decision to blog anonymously. They told me one of their professional lives prevented them from expressing these opinions publically; however anonymity hadn’t prevented them from being bullied online. I replied expressing an interest in the balance between wanting to protect yourself and wanting to be honest with the other online voices. They replied, stating that they believed the online harassment (also known as trolling in some internet circles) to be gender biased, particularly that directed at feminists and that anonymity did not prevent that. It would appear that although they felt that the anonymity provided a certain amount of freedom for expression online, as a tactic it had not prevented online harassment.

Part 4 of this series looks at collective and community responses to online violence, to be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Feminism Online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 2)

Part 1 of this series of blogs discussed how the open, accessible nature of blogging, that leads to the opening up these sites of interaction and allegiance, have also opened the bloggers to threats of violence, death threats and sexual abuse. Some argue that the blogs therefore no longer continue to be safe spaces for critical analysis, and the exodus of women from blogging, particularly women of color, leaves the online world mirroring the hegemonic hierarchies of power of the offline world.

internet safety Despite this, there are attempts to address these critiques and online movements have sought to end the subjectivity using a range of tactics which I intend to briefly discuss throughout this series. These include degendered blogging, anonymity and pseudonyms, 'carnivals' and global connections, an adoption of a mass zero tolerance to threats of violence online.

The relationship between feminism and the Internet is a multifaceted, complex hydra, and whilst this won't be a complete picture, it will also provide a greater understanding of the movement towards creating a safe internet for all users.

Before getting to that, I wanted to know what it was about feminist bloggers that invoked such hate and particularly sexualised threats of violence.

Part 2 - The Public Woman

Many female users of the Internet found that their presence online, particularly when they were expressing views outside of the 'mainstream', was met with overt threats of violence, often taking the form of sexualized violence. As Jill Filipovic, blogger, writer and student, describes in her account of her own online harrassment, these threats reproduce treatment of women offline, "these tactics - the rape threats, the manufactured First Amendment outrage, the scrutiny over physical appearance, the shock at women asserting themselves, the argument that people who take threats seriously are overreacting, the assertion that women want and like sexualized insults - are long-standing tools used to discredit and cut down women who transgress traditional gender roles and challenge male authority".

Filipovic’s article also raises an interesting concept in seeing feminist bloggers as the next manifestation in the evolution of the ‘public woman’. She quotes an interview she conducted with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi, in underscoring her argument that the abuse and harassment feminist bloggers are subject to, particularly the sexualized threats, are the result of a wider effort to intimidate them and spark their removal from this public space. “The public woman was originally a prostitute…Women, if they wanted to maintain their honor did not speak in public. Here we see vestiges of that. You have women who are speaking out, and they’re attacked for their sexuality. Basically the subtext of all the vitriol they’re getting is ‘you whore’. What’s changed?”. Filipovic contends that it is the audacity of the women to participate online that leads to their becoming victims of threats and bullying, stating that sexual harassment has always been critiqued by feminists as a tool for the broad social oppression of women. “At the heart of this aggression seems to be a more generalized offense at women’s public presence in ‘men’s’ spaces – in politics, at law schools, online”.

stopsexualharassment It is important to note that the sexualized nature of the harassment and bullying of feminist bloggers is the one defining characteristic that makes feminist bloggers unique as victims of this behavior. Filipovic notes that “Men are generally attacked for their ideas of their behavior, when Internet aggressors go after women they go straight between the legs” and it is a common theme within the literature that the nature of the threats received by feminist bloggers is that this sexual harassment is a reminder to all women of their place in the hierarchy of power and privilege.

Questions were raised about the contradictory aims of providing a space for open dialogue and a lack of regulation surrounding these subjective, personal, online attacks, which in the main, have been documented as causing significant distress to those receiving them. Stephanie Brail is another feminist blog user who discussed the impact of these threats of violence on her life, "I certainly know how easy it is to make an enemy on the Internet, and I stopped participating in alt.zines (a listserve equivilent) long ago. I'll probably never post there again. And that's the true fallout: I've censored myself out of fear". She and many others like her, who had initially embraced the internet as a site of freedom, were closing themselves off from it, finding that the gains they made from their online interactions were being overshadowed by the harassment they were receiving.

At the same time that this departure was occurring, a number of feminist blog sites came under fire from other bloggers, academics and commentators, who provided a critique of the 'cyberfeminism' that the early online feminist community had come to be known by. Faith Wilding, in her discussion of cyberfeminism in context of feminist histories, finds that "the new media exist within a social framework that is already established in its practices and embedded in economic, political, and cultural environments that are still deeply sexist and racist. Contrary to the dreams of many net utopians, the Net does not automatically obliterate hierarchies through free exchanges of information across boundaries".

This view is echoed by Janell Hobson in her discussion of "Digital Whiteness, Primitive Blackness: Racializing the Digital Divide in film and new media". She believes that the power dynamics that exist offline get reproduced online and in dominant media in "disturbing and retrogressive ways". This undermines the understanding of the Internet as a progressive site that allows for "transcendence from race, class, gender and other markers of difference". Feminist blogger Natalie Bennett in an interview commented on the attacks, “From what I've seen it tends to be women bloggers from ethnic minority communities who have the toughest time online, suffering from a high level of abuse and troll attacks. Not everyone can face this, however, and not everyone is ready for it”.

fallen woman

In researching this piece I found a wonderful series of engravings from the end of the 18th century, discovered when Google image searching for ‘public woman’. This information comes from Off The Pedestal: Images of Victorian Women.

“Thomas Bewick's large-scale boxwood engraving began a new era in illustration and many of these illustrations focused on women. This focus was sometimes used to inspire awe, pity, or to arouse good people to good work. Often these illustrations were used to arouse readers in other ways. Publishers and booksellers were imprisoned on obscenity charges stemming from images in this collection.

Social issues were explicitly detailed in reform tracts from suffragettes as well as salacious images in tales of "fallen women."
In other cases, opinions were embedded in postures or portraits, and became ways to communicate expectations to and assumptions about various groups”, specifically societal treatment of women. Regardless, I think they are stunning artefacts and wanted to show just how long these assumptions have been held for.

Part 3, published tomorrow, will look at how individual bloggers have responded to bullying and threats online.

Feminism online: the bullying and the beat downs (Part 1)

imagesCASXR1BKLast term I took a class in Feminist Social Movements. It was taught by Professor Kasturi Ray, and was thought provoking and challenging. It helped me articulate how I see the world with better language and a more complex lens of analysis.

My research paper for the class focused on feminist bloggers, the threats and bullying they receive online and the many innovative ways they fight back. I’m really proud of the paper, and so I’ve decided to share it here, broken up into manageable chunks and edited to read less like a research paper and more like an article. By no means do I think it even comes close to scratching the surface of the problem, and I am fully aware that my personal experience has been limited by my own positions and privileges within the blogging world, but if you bear that in mind, I hope what I’ve found will be informative and thought provoking.

Part 1: The Internet as a level playing field

There are many different ways in which the internet and blog sites in particular, are said to have allowed feminists and associated social movements a platform from which to engage in critical analysis of current hierarchies of power. A blog, or weblog, is generally understood as simple webpage which functions like a journal, with reverse chronological ordering of posts or entries. Marshall Brain, blogger for, claims that the fascinating thing about blogging is the practice of interlinking, which takes place when bloggers comment on or reference other blogs. He goes on to state that “all this tight interlinking has created a phenomenon known as the blogosphere…which consists of all the cross-linked blogs”. Feminist bloggers have formed links and alliances through blogs that would not have been as easily as possible in the 'offline' world. blog These are connections across race, gender, nationality, class, making the internet an idealised public sphere; a space epitomising the much heralded 'level playing field'.

It has been said that it is comfortable for feminists to use blogging as a way of reconciling the private with the public. The use of blogs is cited as a natural tool for political activism. An article from Emily Nussbaum of the New York Times claims one impact of feminist blogging has been a transformation of feminist conversation, reviving an older form of activism among younger feminists. This view is shared by blogger and columnist Kira Cochrane, who in the UK's Guardian newspaper, made the bold claim that Third Wave feminism has moved online, citing the internet as providing a "bewildering range of topics" on which reflexive analysis and discussion actively takes place.

The confessional tone of blogs are part of feminist political discussion and many feminist blog sites appear to be fond of the expression 'the personal computer is the political computer’, a clever play on words demonstrating the opportunities for political engagement through internet usage. As Saskia Sassen points out, "digital technologies enable women to engage in new forms of contestation and in proactive endeavours in multiple realms, from political to economic".The number of articles and posts online relating to the same issues, themes and motifs can act as powerful case studies, allowing for collective reflexive examination. It can be said that feminist bloggers straddle a middle ground between activist, journalist, protester and reporter.

Understood in this way, the feminist blogosphere allows for the inclusion of previously excluded voices and experiences. Stone-Mediatore discusses the value that “marginal experience narratives” have in liberatory politics. She states that “experience becomes public knowledge through an exchange of stories in which specific people, in the context of historically specific social and cultural institutions, relay their views of events in a particular rhetorical style to a specific audience”. Feminist blogs and the blogosphere as a whole represent multiple interpretations of knowledge, and also recognize the decentered structure this produces. In her book “Transnationalism Reversed: Women Organizing against Gendered Violence in Bangladesh”, Elora Halim Chowdhury furthers this understanding of the power of marginal experience narratives, as she believes that this recognition can “disrupt given analytic categories to open up new possibilities for political thinking and action”. She believes that if attention is given to the ways in which the different experiences are shared and discussed, a greater insight can be gained into the shifting relations of power. I believe that feminist blogs can be examples of marginal experience narratives.

vaw Paradoxically, it is the freedom and open access that the internet provides that can also be ascribed to contributing to a mass exodus of feminist bloggers, commentators and participants in the late 90s and early 00s. Literature examining the activities of feminism online appears to be split into two distinct time frames, the first from approximately 1996-2000 and the second from 2006 to present time. This is roughly in correlation with the transition from Web 1.0 platforms to Web 2.0 platforms.

One of the highest profile instances of online harassment was the experience of technology blogger Kathy Sierra, who stopped blogging and cancelled appearances at technology conferences after receiving threats of rape, throat-slitting and suffocation. Her home address, social security number and other personal information was posted online, alongside an altered image of Sierra with a noose around her neck. After speaking out about her experience of harassment and violence via her blog, she received comments including those which told her she’d “Better watch your back on the streets whore…Be a pity if you turned up in the gutter where you belong, with a machete shoved in that self righteous little cunt of yours”. In a statement made to CNN in 2007, shortly following this experience, Sierra stated that she believes that internet users have become desensitized to the harassing and bullying behavior online, and this was the reason she felt people couldn’t understand why she felt threatened. “But if we dismiss every cruel, vile, sexually threatening comment as simply the work of an anonymous troll, we will no longer be able to recognize a real threat”.

The next section, to be published tomorrow, will look at the concept of ‘The Public Woman’ and how the feminist blogosphere interacts with the public perception of femininity and feminisms.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Shirt Parade Day 21 - Why are pirates called pirates? Because they arrrrrrrrrrrgh!

Arrrrrrrrrrgh. Proud to be a part of the Pirates Press family. I'm actually shocked that a PP or Pirates Press Records shirt hasn't come up so far. Sometimes our entire washing load is comprised of either SParrer or Pirates Press shirts so it's fair to say that these will come up again before the end of this project.

If by now you're still not entirely sure what the pirates get up to, you should check out their website
We've had some adventures, we've travelled near and far, we know how to live. That pretty much sums it up to be honest.

- Fine me on Twitter @hannahmcfaull

Shirt Parade Day 20 - I love London

It's been a while since I shared with you the increasing collection of black t shirts I've acquired over the years. Having just unpacked from a festively overindulgent fortnight in London, I'm approaching this project with a renewed vigor and a resolution to be better at this!

I love this shirt, it's one of those hideously touristy ones sent to me by my amazing friends Meesh and Al. I turned it into a halterneck, using my completely useless T shirt altering skills, because to be honest I have plenty of black t shirts and not enough halternecks...

This photo is from Christmas Day. It may take some explaining but I'm wearing the Christmas cone/chimney of shame, part of one of our annual games. The sunglasses are a health and safety feature. I said it would take some explaining. In this case some things are best left to the imagination.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad