Image from Reddit posted by user Lunam with the text "What my super religious mother got me for Christmass..."

When a young girl put a picture of herself, holding a book she had just gotten as a present, on the social networking site reddit, she was immediately subjected to intense verbal sexual assault by reddit readers who aptly demonstrated how awful it can be when boys and young men are left to say and do what they want without the social control of anyone knowing who they are. When Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson casually tossed out some relationship advice for clueless young men attending conferences they mistook for meat markets, she and anyone perceived as a friend, colleague, or ally of hers were subjected to relentless pounding with misogynistic language and faux threats of sexual violence. These are two relatively spectacular recent (and ongoing) examples of behavior that is widely considered unacceptable in our society. This behavior was probably much more common in the past, in workplaces, schools, and other places where humans gather willingly or not. But over time, most institutional and commercial settings have made rules against harassment and implemented systems to monitor and detect poor behavior of this sort, then deal with it. Human Resources (HR) departments, training programs, and diversity-aware hiring practices have reduced (but certainly not eliminated) this kind of horrible behavior. Our society is changing, and hearing men blurting out overt sexual come-ons, carrying out verbal sexual assaults, or haranguing others who do not subscribe to their particular set of behavioral rules is now rare. Young men still shout obnoxious things from passing cars (I just witnessed an example of that last night at the local grocery store’s parking lot) and there are probably workplaces where bad behavior is still much more common than it should be (dog fighting matches, certain locker rooms, and all male dinner parties in private rooms with certain senators come to mind as possible examples). But for the most part our society has moved beyond times when obnoxious, sexist, and misogynistic behavior is the norm

So, if society has moved on, where did all of these horrid people come from, and who are they? Do these people act like this in real life, and if so, where are they doing this? Or do they lead a dual life, one in which social constraints from family, friend, and the HR department keep them in check and the other the Internet where such constraints don’t exist? And, most importantly, does the Milieu of the Internet provide an incubator for poor behavior, or is it simply a place where that which already exists becomes visible?

One way to address this question would be to first find out who these people are. However, there is a problem with that approach, and that problem may be an important clue. Most (but certainly not all) of the misogynistic hoards are anonymous or at least, use pseudonyms which may or may not have been comprised. This indicates that they are not willing to link their real life in meatspace, with their on line life. They may have families or co-workers who would be embarrassed at their bigoted and hateful language. This indicates that the Internet is a milieu that allows for things to happen that otherwise would not happen.

There are also indications that some, perhaps many of the misogynistic masses spend significant amount of time in a different Internet community where their behavior provides less conflict than when they interact with actual human beings. They are serious gamers, often “professional” gamers. (There seems to be an industry where people get paid to play online computer games.) I know a fair number of gamers in real life, and they are not sexist jerks always trolling for opportunities to unleash verbal sexual assaults on unsuspecting victims, so I don’t think this is a “gamer thing.” But it may be the case that some gamers spend enough time shooting, blowing up, slapping around, and raping people or things in virtual reality that they think they can do this in real life, or at least, in discussion forums or other places that allow them to interact with the keyboard and screen but still from a place, alone, in their basement, with the door locked and the light off or whatever else it is they need to bring themselves into the mood.

I do not want to suggest a particular analytical result here: There is controversy over the effects gaming has on young minds, and I don’t mean to draw a specific conclusion here. There is a literature, there are debates, and this is not the place for that discussion. Even if one in 1,000 young men become demented blogospheric haters by playing video games, a small percentage by any measure, there could still emerge hundreds or thousands of such trolls and their energy level is rather high.

Misogynistic males also come from the community known as the Mens Rights Advocates (MRA) subculture. These are often men who have been wronged by women, sometimes with sexual violence as part of that: men raped by girlfriends or their mothers or female strangers for example. Others are men who have gotten caught, as many men have, in the societal adjustment that comes with fairness. Men have spent a lot of effort keeping women out of many job markets. As fairness prevails and women are let in, it becomes harder to get jobs for everyone, and in some cases, a period of time will pass where most jobs that come up in a certain field are given to women in order to balance representation. This is both necessary and not without its negative side effects for some, and this has embittered some men. MRA’s are among the most severe in their hatred of women, and to some extent, society in general, and of any man that does not agree with them. They are a driving force in this mass of mostly men who hate, adding a special xenophobia and an edge of screaming irrationality that even annoys the gamers some times.

Yet another contributor to this community are N’th wave feminists, women who think that the best way to fight sexism is to be as sexist as any man might be, and to demonstrate that their own strength is so great that they can live comfortably in a world where everything is a meat market rape is always around the corner … but not for them because they are the Xena-like Warrior Princesses.

Does the Internet, or in particular, the part of the Internet where self-styled “skeptics” and their in live, need an HR department? Obviously, yes. Can it have one? Probably not. Over the last couple of years, certain conversations on the Internet have either drawn misogynists out of their hiding places or tipped individuals who were otherwise not spending any time threatening and harassing women (and others) over to that sort of behavior. This serves a purpose. It reminds us that no matter how far we may have come in many of our social institution, bigoted hate is not far below the surface (or around the corner or in the basement or wherever). I don’t think the Internet is where we are going to solve these problems, but the activity on the Internet has shows us they still exist, indicated where in meatspace they may reside, and given us clues as to how to address them.

Comments

  1. #1 glugglugglug
    May 13, 2012

    You are such a desperate moron.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    May 13, 2012

    Ah, Victor Ivanoff, welcome to my blog. You’ve made your point well.

  3. #3 CommanderTuvok
    May 13, 2012

    The thing is Greg, there is nothing here about condemning bullying against women who voice dissent against what you or Rebecca are saying.

    Until then, it falls on deaf ears.

    I realise you have simply regurgatated this puff piece because you got “called out” in your comment about Greece.

    It is also noted that you lend your support to discrimination. But I guess it is the “right sort” of discrimination, after all.

  4. #4 Anthony
    May 14, 2012

    Its easy to forget that people on the internet are people in “meatspace” too, even in regard to oneself. As soon as the wall of anonymity is broken, things suddenly seem much different. Here is a link to a great example of a community attempting to correct itself:

    http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/22786_To_My_Someday_Daughter.html

    And a more recent one:
    http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/23928_Women_In_Magic_The_2012_Edition.html

    Gaming/the internet has its own culture which, like any culture is formed and influenced by the behavior of all of its members, and by the most prominent members in particular. The interesting thing is that as those members gain prominence, they may also gain awareness, or at least the ability to have their poor behavior challenged.

    http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/sexual-harassment-as-ethical-imperative-the-ugly-side-of-fighting-games

    I think you’ve framed the question poorly. Stamping out hatred and bigotry within the mind of a given individual is impossible, but the cultural environment at large can change to shame anyone who voices such an opinion. The anonymity possible on the internet is the only thing that has delayed its cultural progression, but the links I included show that it is in the process of regulating itself. Shame and career loss are rapidly becoming real consequences in the communities that incubate this sort of behavior. Of course thats not to say that we couldn’t step up the pace a bit.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2012

    Anthony, thanks for that link. I’m not sure if an essay by a woman that says “I wrote this article nearly a year ago, saying that as women Magic players, all we want is to be treated the same. But we’re not. Even in 2012, we’re not. Everything we do, everything we accomplish, must always, somehow, be weighed against the measure, “But didn’t this happen just because we’re women?”” is an example of success (yet) but it is an example of something going on. It will be interesting to trace this down and see how Jackie Lee fairs over time. The comments are interesting, and support my point.

    I think you’ve framed the question poorly. Stamping out hatred and bigotry within the mind of a given individual is impossible

    That simply is not true. I’ve been working with students and teachers in areas of race and gender bigotry for a couple of decades, and I’ve seen it happen in bull blow adults overnight, though that rapid transformation is rare. Over weeks of time, it is very common for individuals to arrive on the scene with a fair amount of misogyny or racism in their day to day behavior and thinking and come a long way.

    Having said that, I agree and I’ve said that changing the cultural environment can be effective because when people change from speaking their bigotry out loud and having it yay-sayed by friend, families and colleagues, the young or newly joined learn that it is the “right” thing to do. When established members of the community learn, or a pressured as the case may be, to keep these thoughts to themselves then larger scale (social level) change is possible.

    Our society is changing, and hearing men blurting out overt sexual come-ons, carrying out verbal sexual assaults, or haranguing others who do not subscribe to their particular set of behavioral rules is now rare.

    “The anonymity possible on the internet is the only thing that has delayed its cultural progression, but the links I included show that it is in the process of regulating itself. ”

    Not the only thing, surely, but yes, it has delayed. But you are not appreciating the benefits of anonymity.

    When PZ Myers of Pharyngula outed Franc Hoggle (Ivanoff, friend of CommanderTuvok) it was after a long discussion (cited below) after which everyone decided to protect his anonymity even though he was being a complete jerk. That discussion is very much worth looking at:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2011/11/08/the-case-against-outing-franc-hoggle/

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2011/11/fat-ugly-desperate-or-a-bitch-who-deserves-to-be-slapped-hit-or-gang-raped/

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2011/11/02/elevatorgate-challenge-4/

    The reason that PZ eventually outed Hoggle is that he, Hoggle, made physical (though very low level) threat that he clearly would have an opportunity to carry out (in meat space, at a conference in Australia) so PZ outed him, contacted the conference authorities, etc. etc.

    I’ve written elsewhere about anonymity (not the same as pseudonymity) and despite the fact that people who use it often abuse it, there is a need for it. Look at:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/08/why_google_has_broken_its_prom.php

  6. #6 CommanderTuvok
    May 14, 2012

    When PZ Myers of Pharyngula outed Franc Hoggle (Ivanoff, friend of CommanderTuvok)

    Friend? Oh, I post on a board that he used to post on (he occasionally pops up, usually to moan about someone else on that board). Yeah, solid, gold friendship. LOL.

    Tsk. Internet drama, eh.

  7. #7 Megan Z
    May 14, 2012

    CommanderTuvok you are both posting on the same board currently. On Abbie Smith’s “Periodic table of swearing” blog on ERV blog, he has posted 600+ comments using that name and you have posted nearly 200. Your most recent post was 7PM yesterday, his just before 6PM yesterday. Some have suggested you are the same person as each other.

  8. #8 Marnie
    May 14, 2012

    I think we can look at a lot of classic psychological experiments where individuals, whether dictated by authority (such as the Milgram experiment) or egged on by a situation (such as the Stanford Prison Experiment) behave in ways they’d find distasteful, normally. Even the average MRA’s manage to go through their day to day life and interact with women with some semblance of civility. Much like the average racist who assures us that some of his “best friends are black,” most misogynists hate the concept of women yet love and care about women in their own lives and simply write them off as exceptions.

    But the internet has figure heads who function like authority figures. Those figure heads embolden other individuals to act out in ways they wouldn’t normally. And the internet allows in groups and out groups, like the prison experiments. People who could interact outside of the internet, civilly, even when they disagree, begin to view each other as part of an oppressive/aggressive group that must be overpowered.

    On the one hand, I think this can push people who were largely ambivalent towards accepting extremist views, but at the same time, when really terrible and hateful views are expressed openly, it also gives people on the other side a chance to rebut those views.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    May 14, 2012

    Tuvok, if you wanted to be able to play the false equivalence card, you really should have planned ahead. Even if there had been any sort of parity between how women who agreed with Rebecca and those who didn’t were treated (there wasn’t, which is why you use the vague term “bullying” here), you’ve been participating in a months-long, obsessive hate fest that has made the differences crystal clear for many who couldn’t see them to begin with.

    Congratulations on that, by the way. People are notoriously resistant to seeing that sort of treatment, treating it as cultural background noise, but you’ve help countless numbers of them figure it out.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2012

    Marnie:
    Even the average MRA’s manage to go through their day to day life and interact with women with some semblance of civility.

    The most extreme MRA commenter I know of is actually someone I know personally and have known for some time. It is a shame that his over the top extremely hateful comments many directed at me or friends or colleagues have caused our friendship to evaporate. But I can say that in real life there are few people more polite and considerate to other people than he, applied to all people.

    On the one hand, I think this can push people who were largely ambivalent towards accepting extremist views, but at the same time, when really terrible and hateful views are expressed openly, it also gives people on the other side a chance to rebut those views.

    Exactly! Plus, some “extreme” views eventually expressed are valid and important, of course.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2012

    Stephanie, this reminds me: We need to start planning the first annual celebration of Rebeccapocalypse! I suggest waiting for a few days after the start of the event, when Rebecca is in town.

  12. #12 April
    May 14, 2012

    “meatspace” I think you meant “metaspace”.

    I like the honesty of the internet. It gives you a glimpse into true human nature. People tend to take off their masks and show what is really inside. It is often ugly, but it is the truth and it is good to know the truth.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2012

    April, I was kinda hoping that true human nature was that which emerges from base emotion and reaction like we see with the on-line MRA’s and the sociocultural control!

    Anyway…

    1. meatspace
    Deriving from cyberpunk novels, meatspace is the world outside of the ‘net– that is to say, the real world, where you do things with your body rather than with your keyboard.

  14. #14 Rose M. Welch
    May 14, 2012

    “…she was immediately subjected to intense verbal sexual assault by reddit readers who aptly demonstrated how awful it can be when boys and young men are left to say and do what they want without the social control of anyone knowing who they are.”

    You think that real boys and men don’t say these things to people that they know in real life? The only difference here is volume.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2012

    Rose, I take it you read the thread. Do you encounter that in real life?

  16. #16 Anthony
    May 14, 2012

    I didn’t mean to imply that there is no problem, or that it could be solved with a reduction in anonymity. Only that as members of an anonymous community gain a degree of accountability, the community as a whole might begin to mirror meatspace society. I found the Magic articles encouraging, as I see a that as an example of a community beginning, or at least trying to regulate its own behavior. They are aided by that fact that Wizards of the Coast has an interest in a potential female market, and the fact that pro Magic players have both names and faces. Having real people speak out against or be punished for misogynistic behavior goes a long way toward conveying that such behavior is unacceptable. I think self-regulation is more difficult in other communities, such as online gaming or blogging where trolls have a greater ability to simply use a different pseudonym, but I don’t know how outside regulation would be possible without compromising that anonymity.

    I had always assumed that the goal was to reduce the likelihood that an individual would form a misogynistic opinion, or, failing that, reduce the likelihood that that opinion would be voiced. I would be interested to read more about your work in actually changing people’s minds if you have it around somewhere.

  17. #17 Calli Arcale
    May 16, 2012

    Greg — I didn’t read that thread myself, but yes, that sort of thing can be encountered in meatspace as well, although it varies depending on geographic location, local culture, and age. And it’s not just men and boys. When I was in junior high, some of the worst misogynistic insults came from other girls.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    May 16, 2012

    I guess the point I’m making here is that these things are out there, but it is on the internet where they are drawn out for others to see who may not have known or may not have had that may opportunities. That, plus, there are modulating effects in real life… those middle school students making the misogynistic remarks in meatspace are not doing it everywhere. They are doing it in their own milieu. And on the internet.

    In meat space, over time, a reasonable proportion of folk “grow out of it” (to varying degrees) which is partly a function of knowing when to shut up. On the internet, there no need for that. Even if you are shunned from one or more internet community, you didn’t really need them anyway, and can easily move to a new location until you get tossed out of there.