Feminist Safe Spaces On The Internet

It is a long-running joke, if one can call something that makes you spit bile a joke, amongst feminists that the Guardian’s Comment is Free is full of trolls, men’s rights activists *snicker* and other generally unpleasant people. And even more so when it is a woman writing. And even more so when that woman is writing anything with a feminist bent.

They have recently tried to address this, and the ironic (?) thing is that the comment thread was just as bad as with other posts and nothing really got solved. For what is supposed to be a debating space it does not have much of a debate element about it. Women (or even men) who try to correct the misogynistic bullshit that some people spew on there (check out the post Naomi ‘I’m a feminist but…’ Wolf wrote about rape to see what I mean, although don’t say I didn’t warn you…) are shouted down and insulted. It just becomes tiring. And it doesn’t foster a positive environment. The whole point of commenting spaces is to foster debate, and when people refuse to even engage in the debate then it is impossible to make any headway.

On a similar, although unrelated note, this post by Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown about the horrific treatment she, and other prominent feminists, receive from the general public on the Internet got me to thinking. Is there any safe space for feminists on the Internet? There are private email lists, of course, but a space to get the message out to other people without the fear of being attacked? Is it something that is necessary – both for the feminist movement and for feminists themselves.

Sady points out that it is feminists who reach a certain notereity that experience this treatment, but I have seen it happen on a much smaller scale. You put people on the Internet and give them a veil of anonymity and suddenly the whole world seems full of assholes. Is it something we can change? And is it something that is focused even more violently on feminists? It is the main thing I look at online so I cannot make a full analysis on the levels of vitriol aimed at various groups, and though I suspect that it is similar for many people, the arguments from trolls online often crop up in real life too. It is not just seedy people on the Internet who like to attack feminists, the same arguments abound from people I actually talk to in the street. Well, the proverbial street of course.

There are two ways of tackling this I guess, one would be to tackle the views of people outside of the Internet and hope that by publicising the cause and creating a better way of discussing sexism IRL, as it were, you could minimise the amount of people that are making these comments. The other is better policing of online spaces, but that in itself is problematic. It is one thing to turn on comment moderation but a real person has to moderate those comments. You can make people sign up for an account and block any people who are being unnecessarily rude. But again, they have to do it in the first place to get blocked. And it’s all a value judgement as well, one person’s troll is another’s opinionated dissenter.

I don’t have the answers, of course, and maybe it is impossible. But it’s definitely something to aim towards. Thoughts?


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