The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

XX in an XY world - Take Back the Blog Day

For Take Back the Blog Day, 28th April 2007. You can visit the host page of this blogswarm here, and my past post on the point of it over here.

In the New Zealand political blogosphere women are few and far between. There's more than there were when I started in 2004, but still as bloggers and commenters we are vastly outnumbered, whether left, right or something else entirely.

Mentioning the prevailing atmosphere, which is often hostile to feminist bloggers and women in other roles, and the frequently misogynistic climates encouraged by other nz pol bloggers (*cough* Kiwiblog *cough*) is unpopular and leads to more trouble than you already bought just by being openly XX in an XY world.

In a way the nz pol blogosphere is a reflection of the real world, although the arseholes are distilled and less avoidable. Often they come to you, and then if you tell them to leave you alone they get all "freedom of speech" on you and sometimes they start publishing your home address, emailing you disgusting things, generally making your life a misery. How do you get a restraining order online? And why should anyone need to anyway?

Kim from Larvatus Prodeo, an Australian pol blogger, nails it for me:

Let me just say that bullying existed before cyber bullying, pron* existed before the intertubes, teenagers were writing angsty poetry before typewriters, and subcultures existed before Myspace. All this technology blaming obscures the fact that technology is an enabler - and what it enables is a mirror of its environment.

After all, in the real world rape is blamed on the victim and rapists are excused, just as it is here in the virtual. Sexism is wrapped up in "satire" and presented shamelessly for giggles, and those who don't laugh must be lacking a sense of humour - here the same as there. In everyday life women's bodies are frequently objectified for commercial purposes and judged by their appearance, just as they are on some Aotearoa pol blogs. Anti-woman agendas are promoted on the interweb just as they are on the street, despite clear evidence that refutes their faux-science or exposure of how their stats are as dodgy as all get out. And don't even start me on the bizarre real and online outcomes when racism and sexism combine.**

Kim has some hope to deliver too, thankfully:

But it also enables the contestation of that society, as the feminist blogosphere for instance tries to do, and the anger and angst and abuse that arises in response is not something new either.

Yes challenge is happening, and yes the response to those challenges is frequently unpleasant. Some seem to be so used to operating in a blogosphere that is almost uniformly white and male (and I would say in the NZ context politically skewed to the right) that any deviation from those viewpoints is not only incomprehensible, it is also only to be countered with dismissive abuse. I tend not to visit blogs where that is the culture encouraged and/or allowed by the host, but I know I should try harder and call them on it there just as I do here.

I've already ranted about this recently - if we want to change things, we need to be involved. We need to not shy away from political blogging because it is hard and nasty at times. It sounds pretentious, and I can't remember who said it, but I guess we need to "be the change we want to see in the world". If we want more diversity*** in our blogosphere then we need to be more welcoming to it - which I guess is why some of the recent discussions about codes of conduct and the like have come up.

Now that we're all "Web 2.0" perhaps folks are starting to realise that actually a lot of people, a lot of different people, have been left out of our online political discourse. Hopefully we are starting to see that this is to the detriment of us all.

* By this she means porn. It's a way to get around people finding your blog by searching for porn terms, which is rather distressing as I've recently discovered. Ultimately though if someone comes here looking for porn they are going to be a) disappointed and b) possibly exposed to some scary feminist views they might not have otherwise seen. That's my naive hope anyway.
** All of the links in this paragraph are to posts disputing the sexist position. This is quite deliberate.

*** And not just more women either, I'm disconcerted by the only very slight increase in non-white nz pol bloggers in the nearly three years I've been blogging here. And even though there are a lot of queer bloggers there is still a very strong heterosexual assumption in comments and posting in these parts. More women, different ethnicities and non-heteros are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the diversity I'd like to see.


Make Tea Not War said...

Span, obviously I'm totally opposed to hateful harrassment of female bloggers & I think I understand why you want more women to post and comment in the political blogosphere.

But, speaking for myself, apart from the odd psycho- which you can find anywhere- I don't feel scared by the political blogosphere- what I feel, with a couple of honourable exceptions your good self included, is profoundly bored by it. I don't listen to talk back radio for the same reason.

Mostly when I'm online I really would rather talk to people about what books they've been reading, music they've been listening to, their kids, cats, recipes, etc. There are thousands if not millions of women doing just that online. And that should be ok too. Why privilege a male dominated sphere above a female one?

Span said...

Thanks MTNW, I have felt I'm starting to get a bit overheated at PA System *blush* I'm going to just leave all that alone for a while, honest!

You make a good point - the online forums women are involved in are equally as valid as the political blogosphere. It is definitely OK, and I apologise if I'm giving the impression I think otherwise, cos I don't.

I guess I just get very frustrated when I see all the debate that is happening without the wide views and experiences of a range of women being put forward. Especially as the media start to give more oxygen to political blogs, and they struggle to find female voices in them. I want to change that, but I know that women, individually or collectively, have to want that themselves. I can't want it for them. If that makes sense.

Thanks again :-)

tze ming said...

Good point, um, Tea. Still, I don't believe politics is a male domain as of right, but rather a male domain as of domination. More selfishly, for grrlbloggers (I remember when you were Span, nee Spannergrrl, nee Spannergirl), it just gets kind of lonely out there sometimes. I wish there was a New Zealand feminist blog coalition or group site, but perhaps for now the critical mass isn't there and I'll settle for feministing and not being in the country anyway.

Sue said...

I'd love for a a blog coalition of women regardless of whether or not we write, politics, crafts or family.

jo said...

Wish I had of checked this post out a couple of days ago, I missed blogging on the 28th!! I agree with tze ming, the reason women ain't into the pol scene is because they so often get bullied and harassed in very below-the-belt ways... And then the men gang up and dominate, easy theres more of them. I like to talk about all sorts of things in me blog but also feel v not taken seriously because of being a woman, because I include other stuff i.e kids and trees etc in my posts. Thats something I notice about fem blogs too, they contain a variety of posts, we are more creative and diverse in our subject matter. This is a good thing too we seem to have greater dimensions of interest!

Span said...

Sue raises an interesting idea that I think I'll write a post about soon (it'll be short, and mostly aimed at getting feedback, never fear!). Thanks Sue :-)

Jo it's never too late in the blog world...

zANavAShi said...

Span you have no idea how timely this post is for me, and also your other post about the code of conduct for bloggers.

I echo everything other women here have said from my own personal experiences of being a woman on forums and observing the ways which we are more likely to be attacked and harassed in "very below-the belt ways".

I have been at the receiving end of net-stalkers and it scared the bejesus out of me just as much as if it were a real-life stalker. I let this be a thing that has silenced my voice in the blogoshpere for so long now and as of today that is going to change!

I have been working on a community website for kiwi green liberals for the last five months and the thing that has haunted me the most (quite literally loosing sleep over it) is how my co-administrator and I could set the tone of the place so that it is safe for green liberals and women to express themselves, no matter how strong or small that voice, and not be descended upon by a band of trolling right-wing misogynistic thugs.

It guts me to see so many of my favourite left-wing kiwi blogs become invaded by this type of aggressive male behaviour which stifles the free flow of conversation on socially liberal and feminist issues. I have quite literally been in tears on several occasions at some of the thuggish crap I have seen posted over at Maia's blog and I have been inspired by her courage to take a stand and delete that filth in order to keep the space safe for women and the disempowered.

My web-partner and I spent so many hours toiling over our site agreement and moderation policies, trying to balance the needs of our members to share in safety yet not stifle the spirit of free speech. I wanted to share about this last week in your code of conduct post, but I have been so busy ironing out bugs with The Watermelon site so we can open it up to the public. It is a registration only website and we are committed to upholding our rules in the hopes that it will encourage the participation of like-minded green liberals and be an active place of sharing.

When I was preparing the blogroll for our site I became sadly aware of how few women bloggers we have in the NZ political blogosphere. So as of today, you can count one more woman's voice in the ranks of the blog-sisterhood and I couldn't have asked for a more perfect place and occasion to be announcing this - in the company of you wonderful women such as Span, Jo, Make Tea, tze ming and Maia (who I am sure is reading this) who have given me the courage and inspiration to let my voice be heard again.

Welcome to The Watermelon sisters, and here is the direct link to my personal blog section on our website:


PS: A NZ woman's blog coalition sounds like a fantastic idea to me! Let's talk some more about this soon!

Span said...

wow Zana, that is a damn cool website! Haven't had time to have more than a little looksie but wow!

Span said...

MTNW, I've had a proper chance to re-read my original post now and think more about your comment. I'm not sure how I gave the impression that other online forums, the ones women are more involved in, are less valid. I'd kind of like to know how I did so that I can make sure I don't do it again - if you, or any other commenter in fact, can steer me in the right direction that would be much appreciated.

Make Tea Not War said...

On rereading I don't think it was your post so much. I think my comment was probably based on my a cumulative response to all of the discussion on Public Address. I didn't really mean what I said to sound reprimandy either as on rereading it it probably does a bit. Sorry :)

I like the sound of your online community ZAN and will check it out.

Xeno said...

My perception of the political blogspace in NZ is that it's rather small, and that the small size of it attracts aggressive wingnuts, in rather the same way as the underside of a rock attracts creepy-crawlies.

Well that and that the internet seems to encourage hostility.


Anyway, I'm interested in this perception of (political) blogs as a completely public space, with the implication that people can say whatever they like. Out in the world, there are a great many semi-public or private spaces, and it probably surprises noone if there are restrictions on what you can wear or say there. What would happen to one of these guys if they abused somebody working bar; the bouncer would chuck them in the street that's what.

I admit to having a journal (the shame), and over 100 readers (the ego), and feel perfectly entitled to show somebody the door if they get nasty, and furthermore delete everything they said if it suits me; which it does if I think they're getting a kick out of seeing themselves in print. I'm a bit more gentle if they're just aggravating, but I'll still have stern words. It's my place after all, I can make the rules.

Stuff this libertarian fantasy of absolute free speech, it doesn't exist in the real world, why should you have to honour it?


This is the same sort of thing that went on 15 years ago with pre-internet bulletin boards. Some admins were authoritarian nutjobs, and they tended to wind up running a desert and calling it peace. Others didn't give a stuff, or actively enjoyed watching the mob, or thought they had to honour free speech whatever was said; and those places could get pretty nasty. But there where also places with rules of conduct, fairly applied, that were interesting places to be assuming that you weren't a jerk or a teenageer.

They didn't all have the same rules (or goals), and I think that a bit of diversity in that respect was instructive.