The harassment of women who speak their minds is not new. Women who have strong opinions, on either side of a debate, are subject to sexist slurs and personal attacks, especially if those women use the Internet as their soap box. Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle wrote an article yesterday proposing that the real threat to women who write online isn't the rape threats or vulgar commentary, but how much more easily women’s ideas are dismissed and taken less seriously. McArdle argues that real problem “is that women attract an undue amount of nonsexual rage and denigration from people who don’t like the opinions they hold.”
A few months back, Salon writer Anna North theorized that this Internet harassment of female writers was so bad that it might explain why there are so few female journalists and women who are willing to put themselves out there. Even though this article is, in my opinion, flawed, it outlines the hazards of having an opinion while being female. Police have been called in for concerns of personal safety after death and rape threats, female authors are mercilessly taunted about their appearance, relationship status, and sexuality, and, sadly, this type of abuse has almost come to be expected by unapologetic or controversial female bloggers.
In sum, the Internet is a safe place for pathetic trolls to air their most sexist and hate-ridden vile at women who speak out. But these extreme practices are just that; extreme, and the unequal treatment of women on the Internet cannot be explained by these circumstances alone.
She makes the point that it’s hard for us to confront sexism in any capacity that’s not extreme, like when it looks like harsh disagreement with an argument but is really based in anger that a woman is voicing a strong opinion. We all know that sexism is wrong — but we don’t all know what it looks like or how to deal with it when it’s not in it’s most obvious forms. It’s hard enough for someone to realize that their extreme anger or even reflexive dismissal of a women’s ideas might be rooted in sexism, but it’s even harder to find the right way to approach and confront this bias.
McArdle entitles her piece “You Can’t Have a Conversation About Sexism at Gunpoint,” analogizing the threat of being sexist with being held at gunpoint, because “the power of an accusation of sexism, particularly when a woman is accusing a man, is such that it’s very hard to have anything approaching an actual discussion.” In other words, everyday sexist behavior merits a conversation about sexism and its roots rather than a blanket apology by the offender, but that conversation is difficult to have when the only way we know how to interpret sexism is as a harsh accusation.
As a solution to this problem, McArdle proposes that we “have a conversation about subtle structural sexism” and convince those who "justifiably" rage against opinionated women, or dismiss opinionated women to ask themselves if perhaps their reaction is based in a discriminatory outlook on women as a whole. If not- rage on; everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion. But if so, that previously mentioned conversation is important — now the question is, are we bold enough to have it.
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