Thursday, April 17, 2014

Without Representation

“I think this woman is wrong about something on the Internet. Clearly my best course of action is to threaten her with rape.”

That’s crazy talk, right? So why does it happen all the time?

Honest question, dudes.
Andy Khouri, “Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment
Honest answer - it's the nature of anonymous Internet. I know that it's unsatisfying, but that's the way it is. There is nothing especially evil about comic book fandom or other aspects of "geek culture." It's simply a diverse, and rather large, group of people. And - there is no group of people large enough to have entered the public consciousness that is small enough to not have any jackasses in it.
How do we fight this war? We stop enabling. We check ourselves and, when necessary, wreck ourselves.
Okay then. Want to win this war? Time to give up on the idea of Internet anonymity. Because as with most such things, the sexual harassment of women online (which isn't limited to geek subjects, of course) isn't really enabled by the silence of people other than harassers. It's enabled by the ability to commit a crime and not be held accountable because no-one knows who the perpetrator is, and they lack any means to find out. Mr. Khouri lays out a list of men who need to be "checked" for not being properly respectful of women, and, judging from the number of times that his piece has shown up in my social media feeds, he has a lot of the choir nodding their heads and calling out "Amen."

But it's one thing for fandom to stand up and applaud someone who tells us to take actions that, honestly, most of us will never need to take. It's another thing to stand up and decide that the problem is how we, as a society, pay for an anonymous Internet.

People like Janelle Asselin, Kate Leth and Heidi MacDonald, just to name a few of the people listed in Mr. Khouri's piece are paying the price for internet anonymity. We live in a society where the ability to say something, and not be known to have said it, is often considered an affirmative good. It makes it easier for people to shed light on the dark places and back rooms where things are going on that we really ought to know about. But what protects the whistle-blower and the journalist also protects the stalker and the bigot. And we accept that trade-off because it makes our lives easier. It's easier to trust people to speak anonymously than it is to protect them against those who would discredit or retaliate against them.

But it means that while we all can reap the benefits on anonymous internet, the costs are not even distributed. Some people pay more than others. There is a special tax placed on certain people. And we ask them to pay it because we find that more palatable than the alternative.

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