Sometimes things come together. Yesterday I read an excellent article on the blatant misogyny of much of the rhetoric about computers and the attitudes of men in cyberspace [Brillo], which equates computers and the Internet as feminine objects to be sexually used and controlled by men, and in which men use the technology as a high-tech way of harrassing anyone who identifies as female (particularly in chat rooms and by e-mail). And today I just read an article in the New York Times on a growing number of recent cases in which high school boys are using web sites to slag young women with sexual gossip, cruel personal details, and more. At one site set up by private school students in Manhattan, students voted on which of their classmates was the most promiscuous–and out of 150 names voted on, young women outnumbered boys 3 to 1. At another, a huge list of young women’s names, phone numbers, and comments on their looks, rumored sexual preferences, embarassing personal information, eating habits, and even their parents’ marital problems. The latter was so bad that the students were arrested on charges of aggravated harrassment. (Gruff sidebar: if the information posted on this website constitutes aggravated harassment–and I agree that it does–then why in God’s name is the Nuremberg Files counted as
protected speech when it not only posts all kinds of personal information but also carries an overt threat of violence?)
I talk a lot about how great the Internet is for building new, democratic spaces, and I still believe that’s true. But, we’ve got to be aware that it also enables a lot of bullshit. I’ve talked to a lot of friends of mine who use nicks on IRC that identify as female, and they have gotten all kinds of unsolicited, harassing private messages over IRC, sexually harassing e-mails from strangers visiting to their web pages, etc., simply because they are female. As an experiment, I tried joining a large general chat channel (Dalnet #chatzone) with a female-identifying nick (AndreaGrl) and logged the private messages that I got. After 15 minutes, with no more prompting than having said
hi on the public channel, I had received unsolicited messages from 38 different people, 18 of which were spammers sending porn site and sex channel ads that to everyone on the channel, but a full 20 of which were individual boys who all assumed that just because I was identifying as female, I wanted to give all kinds of personal details and help them jack off online.
One earnest young fellow decided to give the perfect summary of the Internet catcaller’s mentality:
^Mr-Sexybulletfirstname.lastname@example.org: hi wanna cyber
AndreaGrl: right, i’m a female so i have nothing better to do with my time than have cybersex with every random, anonymous jackoff who msgs me.
^Mr-Sexybulletemail@example.com: thats true