April 12, 2007

Newsflash: Rape And Death Threats Not Funny

Oh, you know, just, screw it.

I wasn't going to say anything about this, for some reason, but then I read the comments. I'll explain. First, this public service announcement from Kip, of Long Story, Short Pier, regarding Markos Moulitsas declaration that receiving death and rape threats online is just a big, ridiculous joke:

... it’s not like I even have the knowledge to say for myself whether this is the stupidest thing Markos Moulitsas has ever written, but I hope to God it is, because it’s staggeringly, mind-bogglingly stupid. ...

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wampum has a good reaction roundup with most of the feminist blogosphere's all-stars pitching in. None of whom, one might note, are on the blogroll* of a blog that says it's all about electing Democrats.

Now the Democrats, you will remember, are a political party that depends hugely on the goodwill of female voters to get into office. They also depend on the votes of disaffected Republican women, perenially outraged when they discover that, holy canoli Batman!, *their* state's Republicans weren't kidding about wanting to outlaw abortion and go after their ability to get the Pill, either. Markos has long seemed to wish that this just wasn't the case anymore, and that the Democrats could get elected solely by appealing to angry libertarian males.

Well, too frakking bad.

Every time this happens, every time he marginalizes feminist concerns, he pushes people away from Daily Kos who absolutely should be part of the dialogue of a strong progressive movement. Every time, he makes them feel like their concerns aren't welcome. I've watched it over and over. I love that community, and I love having a place to go for my daily news that focuses on substantive concerns and promotes intelligent discussion. And it irritates me no end that many people whose voices I've come to value over the years no longer feel comfortable there.

To me, that means that the community they're building there is weaker than it could be. Less connected than it could be. Not quite the ringing clarion call for justice that it might yet become.

Is that too overwrought for you? Too sodding 'hysterical?' Again, too bad. This past week, I've just about had it up to here with hearing women put down that way to marginalize their points and concerns.

So, I'm reading through the comments of what may or may not be the stupidest post Moulitsas has ever written, and these are some of the things that I find:

... When people gripe about tough words, I try to remind them that hearing rude/insensitive/nonsensical/offensive stuff is a small price to pay for living in a free society. Perhaps they would prefer a non-free society, where speech is limited along with everything else.

Emigrate to Saudi Arabia, perhaps.


tough live with it. She is not a 12 years old and she has many expert friends.

I for one think she is trying to create controversy to sell something. Get the hype going and then create solution. If NYTimes start becoming a "concern troll" trying to suggest remedy for blogging.

be VERY alert. A game is being played. Publishing business is in tough situation, they need a hit.


If she is afraid and there is true danger. The usual thing, and everybody knows it, is shut up and stop digging hole. Start contacting expert and police. (like I say, she is not innocent and defenseless. She is in the usual territory) But instead she is antagonizing her own group bloggers.

Her very own blogging inner circle.


I read up on this situation when it first occurred. I was puzzled by Sierra's response. I agreed with her calling the cops and that the emails directed towards her were actionable assault and way beyond offensive insults. What surprised me was the obvious fear and surprise she showed despite being a public figure in a public arena, and that such things would stop her. She let the bastards win.


Risk has to be accepted if the "game" is worth it. That's a logic part of game theory. I think Kos' point was "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" and that such things were bound to occur in Sierra's position on the internet (the 'what planet are you on' problem). I sympathize with the problem women have of being raised to seek acceptance and then being confronted with opposition and power plays. The acceptance need as identity appears to be either disappearing or being situationally modified in younger women.


People need to develop a thicker skin and a sense of humor.


Quite frankly I have three words for the young women who find themselves being threatened online followed up by three more, self defense course and conceal carry permit. A blogger code of conduct won't protect them if some nutball were to take umbrage to their remarks and decide to make a visit sans an ugly email. If you are that worried by threats you really have two options 1) give up blogging (which gives the nutballs what they want) or 2) ensure you can defend yourself if some psycho were to manage to track you down. ...

Get a thicker skin. Hunker down. Learn to defend yourself. Don't antagonize people. Don't crave acceptance so much. Be more confrontational. She was asking for it. Yeah, whatever. As many of the responses to this have noted, this doesn't happen to men. Not like this. They do not routinely get threatened with rape. They don't get as many threats. Nobody's been telling them since they were little children that there are an awful lot of things they have to do to keep themselves from being physically violated in public, in private, in churches, in schools, at work, in buildings late at night, when walking down the street, while walking in the woods, when going to the park, in parking lots, at parties, at concerts, when you're alone, when going on dates, while going out with friends of the opposite sex, in bars, when taking cabs, in your own home, in nightclubs, at sporting events, while jogging, when wearing the clothes all the perfect fashion models and actresses wear, when your blouse is too low, when your skirt is too high, when your clothes are too tight, when you're wearing sexy shoes, when you've got on too much makeup, when you look good, when you're wearing shorts, while breaking up, if you're too nice, if you're too bitchy, if you flirt too much, if you draw too much attention to yourself, when visiting an ex, on becoming a public figure, when getting into a male-dominated field, while near construction sites, near waterfronts, at amusement parks, when getting into your car, et-frakking-cetera.

Are you getting the picture yet? Is there a single man reading this post that's grown up taught to be at least a little afraid of every place that he could conceivably show his face, because someone might assault him? No. If raised in the U.S., not unless he were black and grew up when lynchings were common.

Women live in a culture of fear. Every. Damn. Day. We are told a dizzying array of often contradictory things to do to keep away the fate that lurks in waiting at all times. Our mothers tell us. Our friends tell us. Don't. Don't do that, you're just asking for trouble. And when women tick people off, or sometimes just show up in the wrong place, these are the kinds of threats they disproportionately get. Rape and brutal murder. The kinds of things that it's disturbing to know go on in other people's heads.

And unless that woman happens to have powerful friends, she's probably going to be told to get a tougher skin. It's just a joke. A fark. Nobody really means anything by it. Until they do.

It isn't funny. It isn't a joke. It isn't the fault or the responsibility of the people that it's done to.

As Bitch PhD says:

... you should know that women online--not just bloggers, but women in chat rooms or commenting on blogs or on internet forums--get twenty-five times more harassment than men do. That's not 25%; it's 2500%. ...

Twenty-five times more harassment, just for having a female username. If you're a woman, as Twisty might say, sometimes men hate you just for that. And the owner of the biggest progressive community site out there thinks this is all just a bunch of stupid whining. Thanks, Markos. Thanks a lot.

* FTR, I am explicitly not decrying this blog's lack of a link on the Daily Kos blogroll. For one thing, this isn't primarily a feminist blog, anyway, and so falls outside the scope of my point. For another, I don't care.

Posted by natasha at April 12, 2007 07:33 PM | Blogging | Technorati links |

Damn right natasha... I saw that you had commented on the post as well. I was utterly shocked by Kos on this one. It is by far his worst post I have ever seen.

He did the post without really digging into the situation. I have been following some of story on Feministing and a couple of others and it is not just death threats. It was a threat of sexual violence against her. She should be scared and look for support from her fellow bloggers. We should all be a little scared that this could happen.

Posted by: Aaron at April 12, 2007 08:44 PM

Of all the posts I've read today, this has hit home the hardest. Thank you, N. I read your post last week on Kos, and although I recommended it, couldn't comment, due to my own history. But I know you, and I, "get it".

Posted by: MBW at April 12, 2007 08:45 PM

This is a great post, Natasha. I came here via your comments on the Kos thread--which were among the few keeping my head from exploding. Thanks for speaking up.

Posted by: Kate H. at April 12, 2007 09:22 PM
Are you getting the picture yet? Is there a single man reading this post that's grown up taught to be at least a little afraid of every place that he could conceivably show his face, because someone might assault him? No. If raised in the U.S., not unless he were black and grew up when lynchings were common.

Women live in a culture of fear. Every. Damn. Day.

Bitch Ph.D. has an excellent post on this.
Every time this happens, every time he marginalizes feminist concerns, he pushes people away from Daily Kos who absolutely should be part of the dialogue of a strong progressive movement.
He does this sort of thing often? I'm surprised, and would love to see some links.

Great post, but your point on the political implications is especially salient. One wonders why blogs that are all about pumping up new voters and Democratic activists don't embrace and utilize the feminist base.

I think Nezua is right on, in calling out that this kind of harassment has a silencing affect on speech. It is especially because of this one would think Kos would be more attuned to a feminist perspective.

Posted by: Dan (Fitness) at April 12, 2007 09:24 PM

Guess I'm glad I decided to write about it, then. Thanks.

MBW - At least things have moved from 'where are all the women bloggers?' to 'are those whiny chicks still complaining about sexism?'

Dan - The canonical incident was described by Melissa, as she linked to in her post today, here: The pie fight synopsis.

You may have heard references to the pie fight before. It was ... brutal. It resulted in a great many people leaving dKos. Umbrage flowed like bad mead at a Ren Faire. When someone makes a mention there of pie, pi, 3.14159, or whatever, it's an allusion to this massive and wrenching flame war. Minor flareups happened in between, and snarking over similar issues had broken out before, but there were definite differences in the BP and AP eras of dKos.

See, like today, hardly anyone even seemed to have bothered bringing this up in a diary to challenge him. Including me. There was one, but it scrolled off the page before I even saw it (went searching just now) and only got 14 recs. Time was, (You kids, get off my lawn!) people would actually talk about this sort of thing over there and the discussion would stay on the recommended list for hours. Now it's like, 'Oh, frak it. Not again. Where's my latest indicted Republican story?'

Go read the comments to his post and even Plutonium Page, one of his staunchest longtime defenders, is on there saying how angry she is. "Maybe I was too polite. No way am I defending this. If you knew why I'm pissed off... if you only knew. Why do you think I learned how to defend myself? And why do you think I used to teach women self-defense? ..." But where's her own post on it?

In most representative groups of liberals, his post (or words if he'd said that aloud), would have drawn a lot more comment. That they didn't indicates to me both that a lot of people who'd care about the issue don't bother visiting anymore and the people still there are tired of banging their heads against that wall.

I guess we'll see if any apologies are forthcoming tomorrow. I won't hold my breath, but maybe a miracle will happen. That'd be nice. I like miracles. And in spite of everything, I really, really meant it when I said that I love that community. I don't want this to be what people think of when it comes up in conversation.

Posted by: natasha at April 12, 2007 11:12 PM

Natasha... wow. Plutonium Page's comment is pretty damning. An interesting question about the post, both on Plutonium's part and Kos'.

My immediate thought was if there was to be a response, it would either be immediate to display responsiveness, or very well thought out and tomorrow to maximize impact. I am in your boat. I really like the community over there, and the overarching mission, and I really hate to see this.

I find it somewhat encouraging that many of the trollish comments have lower rates than the ones correcting them and pointing out how serious the threats Kos downplayed were. We might not see Kos apologize, but we might see more activity on this from other dailykos bloggers.

Posted by: Dan (Fitness) at April 12, 2007 11:45 PM

"Markos has long seemed to wish that this just wasn't the case anymore, and that the Democrats could get elected solely by appealing to angry libertarian males."

You nailed it. kos wants to be a power player and a Dem strategist, and the overwhelming consensus from his blog seems to be that women, especially pro-choice women, are an electoral liability, and if only we make it clear that issues that affect women are silly and marginal and we don't care about them, we'll get an unbelievable deluge of anti-choice and MRA votes and we'll be golden forevermore. Good luck with that.

"When someone makes a mention there of pie, pi, 3.14159, or whatever, it's an allusion to this massive and wrenching flame war"

It's actually more of a statement of "remember how upset those silly hysterical women got over an AD?" No matter how many times it's explained that it wasn't about the ad, it was about the outpouring of really nasty, hardcore sexism that occurred when somebody complained about an ad and kos flipped out. It wasn't the ad, it was the treatment of members of the "community."

Posted by: Zamel at April 13, 2007 12:42 AM

Natasha, I'm glad you wrote this post. Markos definitely has some blind spots and he and those commenters miss the fact that the problem of misogyny is real. Even more, he totally misses why this particular slippery slope is so dangerous.

Orcinus' Sara Robinson wrote about Kathy Sierra the other day and connected the threats to hate crimes where the perpetrators of these threats feel like they've been sanctioned to act on their anger and bullying. This stuff turns into real world violence.

Men have always used the threat (and, too often, the actuality) of violence to keep women in line. Perhaps we were naïve to think that Web culture would somehow be any different. But what we're seeing in the Sierra episode also violates some essential meat-world community norms in ways that we should find particularly disturbing.

I've been reading too many books about how easy it is to go from the threats to actually acting out the hatred and violence to take this type of hate language as anything but a real danger.

Posted by: Mary at April 13, 2007 07:33 AM

It's sadly absurd that people, in particular so-called progressives don't understand the seriousness of these threats. As other people have said, vague threats against liberals in general don't compare with focused, specific, personal attacks like what Ms. Sierra was hit with. Yes, the majority of threats like these never amount to much more than idle words from pathetic loser blogging away in his mom's basement, but with this sort of wide spread piling on by a whole community making sport of publicly, brutally attacking her, a serious reaction on her part and the blogging community as a whole is completely warranted. It only takes one unbalanced wacko spurred by the mob to turn the threats real. Women have died because they didn't take threats less blatant then those lobbed against Ms. Sierra, and anyone questioning her reaction apparently have never had to deal with this sort of threat directly or against someone that they know, or have never really suffered at the hands of a bully.

People tell Ms. Sierra that she should "Toughen up; get a spine". Why should she have to? She's a tech blogger, for god's sake, not even someone who puts herself out into the political fray. If the cost of saying anything, even completely apolitical tech material is the threat of violence, then we're going to lose a lot of great online material from people who have worthwhile stuff to contribute but no stomach for the fight. And that's a loss to all of us.

This whole event is just Yet Another Example of the pattern of marginalizing & belittling the opinion of non-white-males by attacking their non-white-maleness. It's the same behavior behind making snarky fashion commentary on Valarie Plame during her testimony to congress, or the constant stream of bitterness about Hillary Clinton for exhibiting personality traits that would be lauded if she were a woman. The main focus in these cases isn't even the specific target of the attack; it's the whole class of people that they represent. I hate to use the well-overused "T" word, but the intent here is to terrorize women in general, through the bullying of one, from exercising their rights to speech, political involvement, and their place as rightful equals to males in society.

I don't expect that Tim O'Reilly's call for civility in public forums is going to amount to much, though. Ultimately, it's incumbent on the immature to act mature, which is a doomed path. On the other hand, it's reasonable for bloggers who wish to maintain the respect of mature readers to start implementing some of his suggestions, particularly those regarding disallowing anonymous posters, shutting down threads that turn vicious, and stepping up to defend civil discourse and condemn attacks like what Ms. Sierra endured. In general, the community can safe itself from itself by lifting its own expectations. It's their right as moderators, and their responsibility to the community that they've created. I like Mr. O'Reilly's quote of how "Free speech is enhanced by civility". It increases the signal to noise ratio and makes speech worthwhile.

The liberal left has rightly complained over the last 20+ years about the vitriol that has come from the right-wing mouthpieces of talk radio. We’ve complained about the cheapening of political dialog and the bile that comes out of the mouths like Michael “Weiner” Savage & Rush Limbaugh. And we’ve been right. But the blog world is largely ours, and we’ve let vast swaths of it descend into the same quagmire of ugliness. We’ve looked the other way, and in some cases even applauded when our brethren have made scathing, unfounded attacks against the right on a level that right-wing talk radio personalities could only dream of making. This only serves to discredit the blog world, which at the moment is the progressive movement’s best opportunity to reach the hearts and minds of reasonable people.

Posted by: mike at April 13, 2007 10:12 AM

"Freedom of speech" has to do with governmental suppression, not wits some philosophical "freedom" that allows all comers the right to spew anything they want.

Just try to do a liberal show on Fox, if you think there really is "freedom of speech".

Imus found out that advertising dollars rule. Just how naive was he, anyway?

Posted by: Scorpio at April 13, 2007 12:56 PM

Every time this happens, every time he marginalizes feminist concerns, he pushes people away from Daily Kos who absolutely should be part of the dialogue of a strong progressive movement.

Thing is, Markos is not part of a strong progressive movement. He sure ain't a progressive.

Posted by: Kynn at April 13, 2007 04:40 PM

markos is not progressive nor ever has been. he wore the mantle of progressive politics in the early days to gain support, writers and subscribers to his blog, so he could point to them with the big boys and say "look how powerful i am, give me a seat at the table."

now that he has a (marginal) seat at the table (many in the media recognize him now and the $$$ he can get flowing to candidates) he throws off the mantle of populus politics faster than huey long could undress a stripper in the looziana statehouse.

Posted by: skippy at April 13, 2007 06:22 PM

Natasha, thank you. I'm saving your post for my scrapbook. Your list of cautions to women hit me really hard. It is the truth.

Posted by: JoyB at April 14, 2007 10:16 AM