megpie71
megpie71
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October 2017
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Trolling and Privilege

Julian Burnside writes a very interesting response to the problem of hate mail and the sorts of vicious comments which are made to people who stand up for causes in public in The Conversation today.

His response was (to put it bluntly) fascinating. He chose to engage with those people who sent him hate mail over the asylum seeker issue, treating them as reasonable individuals, seeking to find out why they felt as they did. Oddly enough, by treating these people as though they were reasonable individuals, he discovered the vast majority of them were reasonable individuals, able to engage in civil discourse, and discuss a position calmly and in a considered fashion.

Which is great, but before people go around recommending that (particularly) women who are harassed and abused and trolled on the internet make efforts to discuss things civilly with their tormentors in an effort to bring them back to the path of light and reasonableness and politeness, let's just consider a few extraneous factors in the case. Firstly, Mr Burnside is male. He's white. He's a lawyer who is well-enough off to be able to afford to perform copious amounts of pro-bono work. All of these things mean he has privilege in our society. He is, in fact, extraordinarily privileged, with a high amount of social status.

All of this means if Mr Burnside goes to the police with, for example, a collection of abusive emails all emanating from the same email account, he's going to get a different reception than I did when I tried it. He's going to be treated with a lot more respect if he brings a screenshot of a tweeted death threat than, for example, Caroline Criado-Perez was when she brought the torrent of abuse she was handed to the attention of police. He'll get a more concerned and sympathetic reaction to someone publishing his address and other personal details online than, for example, Kathy Sierra did. If he's assaulted physically, the police will take this much more seriously than an assault on someone who is, for example, indigenous Australian.

Plus, of course, any abusive communications Mr Burnside receives are coming at him from a different angle to the ones received by women like me.

The abusive emails and letters Mr Burnside receives are examples of what I'd call "shouting up" - shouting up at the windows of the privileged from the street. The primary goal is to be heard, and to be taken seriously. A white man who sends an abusive email to Mr Burnside is hoping to catch Mr Burnside's ear, to be heard. When Mr Burnside does listen, and does engage with them, they're polite - they've achieved their aim, which is to begin a discussion.

By contrast, people who are identified as women, or people of colour online are abused for an entirely different set of reasons. Generally, this abuse is what could be termed "shouting down" - an attempt to silence the persons speaking up against the power dynamic in our society. A white man who sends an abusive email to a woman, or a person of colour, will generally react with rage and escalated abuse if they respond by attempting to engage, because this is precisely contrary to the intent of their action. They don't want to talk to us. They don't want to even HEAR us. They want us to shut up and go away and stay shut up, and stay away - and they'll keep up the torrent of abuse and harassment until the point sinks in.

Or, to put it even more bluntly: Mr Burnside receives abusive email when he speaks up on disputed topics. Women and people of colour receive abusive email when they speak.

So Mr Burnside's solution to the troll problem, while fascinating in its particular context, is not scalable to deal with the larger issue.

This entry was originally posted at http://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/37710.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
An Open Letter to the People Defending the Steubenville Rapists

(Or indeed to anyone else saying any of a number of victim-blaming things about the young woman who was raped by the rapists in question).

I've been reading a bit about the Steubenville rape event in various blogs and articles. Not too much - I'm not really in a psychological space where I can take the stress at the moment - but enough to get an idea of what's being said. I'm hearing an awful lot about the victim of this rape - about things she should have done, things she shouldn't have done, attitudes she should have held, behaviours she should have avoided. Things she could have done to avoid being raped, and thus avoided this whole mess coming to light, and "ruining" the lives and careers of two young men who apparently thought rape was a permissible thing, and bringing to light an entire town subculture wherein being part of the high school football team gives a person social licence to act as though the normal rules of society are not applicable.

The young woman in question was going to a high school party where members of the local high school football team (who were local heroes, and from what I can discover, practically deified in the local area) were going to be present. I sincerely doubt she thought of herself in context as "a sheep among the wolves". These were people she went to school with. People she attended classes with. People she knew. She most likely thought of herself, if anything, as a human being among other human beings.

She thought she was safe. She didn't know she wasn't safe. She found out AFTER THE EVENT she hadn't been safe.

How the bloody hells was she supposed to have known she'd be targeted for this sort of thing? How was she to know nobody would be looking out for her? She thought these people were her friends. She thought, more importantly, she was their friend, that she mattered to them. She found out, sadly, she wasn't their friend, and they weren't her friends, in the worst possible way.

And victim-blaming strangers say "she should have known better than to get drunk in the presence of rapists". SHE DIDN'T FUCKING KNOW SHE WAS IN THE PRESENCE OF RAPISTS, YOU SELF-IMPORTANT FOOLS!. She thought she was in the presence of friends.

Now, I learned at a very young age I couldn't trust other people to be looking out for me. I learned at a very young age if someone said they wanted to be my friend, they were most likely either attempting to lull me into a false sense of security, or trying to trick me outright. I learned I can't trust other people to stand up for me, to stand by me, or to take my side.

I know I'm broken.

But I'm broken in possibly the only way that might have protected this young woman from what happened to her. If she'd been broken in the same way I'm broken, she probably would have been suspicious of an invitation to such a party. She would have either said no outright, or more likely she would never have been asked to the party in the first place (because the kinds of bullies who are adept at setting up victims get pretty good at recognising the ones who won't take the bait).

You know what? I wouldn't wish my brokenness on anyone, not even my worst enemy. But you seem to think this is a necessary and vital state for all young women who want to be able to avoid rape.

I'm broken. I'm unable to function as a social animal, because I can't trust people. I'm able to fake it for a bit, but I will never let people close to me. I'm broken, and I'm child free by choice, and I've made the deliberate decision that my line of brokenness stops with me, because I know I'm not capable of functioning as a parent or a caregiver. I'm constantly depressed, I'm constantly miserable. I wake up every morning and my first thought every morning is "oh damn, I'm still not dead".

And you seem to think my state is somehow a desirable and necessary one for other people to be in, so they can avoid being raped.

From the depths of my misery, I LOATHE you.

This entry was originally posted at http://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/36048.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Current Mood: furious furious
Current Music: "Crucify" - Tori Amos
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