07:17 AM

Women speak up about Kathy Sierra

Blogger, erotica writer and fetish model Violet Blue writes in the Chronicle about Kathy Sierra and the many other women online who have been harrassed.

Imagine being a girl and working really hard to earn the reputation of a respected voice in the world of tech journalism and blogging -- a world populated by disproportionately more men than women -- and to find yourself the target object of a hate-filled Web site. The tone and content of the hate site centers around sexually threatening you, suggesting ways you could be killed and have your corpse defiled, stating that you are a "slut" and that your gender is also in question. Your straight male colleagues don't have this problem.

Then the person running the hate site blogs about every word you say, every time you make a post or publish an article. And targets your friends. And posts the names of your family and Google satellite maps of your family's homes. They deface your Wikipedia page at every opportunity, with sexual slurs, objectifying you at every possible chance. It's enough to make a girl choose not to be a tech journalist.

What I described above is a true story, one I have lived through with one of my closest female friends for over a year now.

She has problems with Sierra's decision to hide away as a result of her online victimization, though.

She describes herself as feeling so helpless as to have to run and hide. ... My friend did not characterize herself as helpless at any point, and neither have I. And with my friend, there was (and still is) no "bloggers-stick-togetherness" in our corner of Blogistan. The question is, Do we women need to portray ourselves as victims to garner support when men threaten to defile our corpses if we gain notoriety?

Sierra's haters -- and the man behind the hate, in my friend's case -- are doing this not because they're immature. They're doing it because they want women out of their worlds. Every female tech and sex writer I have contact with knows this -- every girl whose work has been Dugg, Slashdotted or commented on in a forum that allows trolls to fester. When someone goes this far, to make death imagery and maintain a 24/7 hate blog, we're not talking about a lack of social skills, we're talking about a desire to destroy.

At HorsePigCow, Tara Hunt writes:

There ARE sick and evil people who see this ‘bad behaviour’ and can’t decipher between mean joke and real threat and they will act on it. I think it’s time to take responsibility for our actions.

About a year and a half ago, I didn’t understand this. I was witness to a distraught Mena Trott on stage at Les Blogs 2, talking about this very subject. She put a call out for civility in the blogosphere and was called ‘bullshit’ on it. That was an ill-informed and incredibly irresponsible reaction. We found out later that she had been on the receiving end of many of these types of awful threats. I felt terrible for being a part of the audience who supported the ‘bullshit’ position, and I’ve learnt since then what Mena was talking about, but hadn’t had taken the time to bring it up until now. I was one of the cowards who stood by and watched the bad behaviour be justified. I was as bad as the perpetrators themselves.

We cannot tolerate these attacks any longer. Sites like DIGG and Slashdot and instant chatrooms on sites are filled with awful dialogue. Sexist, racist, hateful stuff. Stuff that, I’m sure, these people wouldn’t dream of saying if their identities were revealed.

When we see personal attacks, we need to speak out. We need to tell the commentors and the people in the chat rooms that these statements are NOT okay. We can disagree with ideas, but attacking people personally is NOT okay. If you have a ‘friend’ who is engaging in this type of activity, you have to tell that person it is NOT okay. What is not okay in ‘real life’ is not okay in virtual life. If the virtual space is truly that democratic, of-the-people, world changing, Read/Write wonder that we proclaim it to be, we need to clean it up.

And from corporate spokesperson Heidi Miller:

On my personal blog, I've been subject to similar attacks. I've been called similar names and have been at the receiving end of some venomous postings attacking my character with a similar violent and sexualized overtone (I won't repeat the language here, but you can guess the gist). In my case, however, I was able to track down the attacker, who happened to belong to a group that I was a member of. Since the attacks violated our by-laws, the attacker was requested and (under great protest) agreed to remove the posts.

And I'll admit that it was a difficult decision, in my case, to make the group directors aware of the situation. I felt, as it seems Kathy did at first, that this was just words and not a real threat and that I should be able to be thick-skinned and handle the conflict on my own without publicizing it.

In the end, I'm glad that I did as Ms. Sierra did and made the authorities aware. In fact, I'm ashamed that I even considered tolerating that kind of language and behavior as acceptable or dismissable. Name-calling and threatening language should simply not be tolerated--there is having thick skin, and then there is taking responsibility for one's own self and for making the blogosphere a safe place for everyone to talk.