“Lady” problems

On Friday a woman who I respected as a peer, despite our tendency to disagree on matters relating to feminism, wrote a piece for VICE disparaging forms of womanhood that she considers lesser (certainly less subversive) than her own. She goes as far as to suggest that those who don’t line up with her standards of womanhood (in which the Woman’s impulse when she is wronged or in danger is to destroy her oppressor) are not women at all, but “ladies” or even “girls”.

She crudely used me as an “example” of a lady concerned only with “amicable co-existence with men and ‘the status of women,’ so long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.” Her reasoning? Last year I turned to the justice system to prosecute a man who harassed me incessantly for months on Twitter. Well this guy bothered her too, y’know, and getting rid of him was as easy as being “directly and verbally a cunt” until he disappeared. As such she felt it was within her rights to judge the acceptability of my decision to go to the police, and to deem me an inferior woman (not a Woman, but a “lady”) for it.

“Good ladies, for example, complain daily about female bodies and identities being “policed,” then call the literal police, the literal fucking patriarchy, when something threatens that body or that identity. […] Giving the bro-force some nice, educated, single, white female to protect is the lowest of low things a lady can do, and while it was maybe, depending on her immediate threat level, okay to report him, it would have been far righter to fight back, to go Foxfire on the guy.”

Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad to have “maybe” secured your approval for the choice I made in order to protect myself, although it was “the lowest of the low” things I could have done [?????????]. The morally superior choice, the “righter” choice, would have been vigilante justice, “going Foxfire” on the guy. If only all women being relentlessly pursued and harassed by men who come across as hostile toward women and emotionally unhinged (perhaps dangerously so) knew that they could just form a gang and beat the living shit out of the guy.

I’m not entirely sure that such choices would end as poetically IRL as they do in, well, literature and films. I’m also not entirely sure how responsible it is to advise the readers of a publication that this is the “righter” way for women to deal with situations that make them feel unsafe. But then, Women probably don’t concern themselves much with issues of personal responsibility because they’re far too visceral for that.

For most people, I hope it would go without saying that perhaps Sarah’s experience with this guy was not identical to mine, and perhaps she is in no position to determine what the best way to handle it would have been, because we are not the same person nor are we in identical situations.

The police and the justice system are far from perfect, both on the handling-gendered-violence front and the knowing-what-the-internet-is front. I am more than a little insulted at the insinuation that I’m naive to their roles in the patriarchy. But there are officers who are doing what they can to push their institutions in the right direction. I was lucky enough to find such an officer, who spoke in front of a group of his peers last week about online harassment at SMILE (Social Media in Law Enforcement) Conference.

I would never attempt to prescribe the most appropriate or “right” way for a woman to cope with a situation in which she feels unsafe and in which I lack personal knowledge – I’ll leave that sordid task to other Women. The truth is for many women in many situations, the police are not a viable option. But I’m not willing to wholly write them off, and I’m certainly not willing to make determinations about the character of any woman who turns to them in her pursuit of justice and safety.

The more officers like Detective Bangild find opportunities to do good work and set positive examples for their peers, the more viable police may become as an option for women in dangerous situations. And if some Women continue to choose vigilante justice over courtroom justice, well, I wish them the very best in those endeavours and hope they choose their tools and targets wisely. There are many routes to personal safety and peace of mind, and none of these routes make the traveller any less a woman.

Not all Twitter fights are trivial

This morning I woke up to find a popular and respected Globe & Mail international affairs columnist making a light joke about a Scottish chef murdering his girlfriend. When people said “hmmmm not okay” he made more jokes in response. Albeit these jokes did not suggest he actively felt like “hahaha domestic violence”, but can we not make light of these scenarios please? It is extremely irresponsible use of an influential voice (a major privilege).

So I confronted him and, to his credit, he ultimately deleted the tweet and acknowledged the joke’s inappropriateness. In the process, a feminist I like and respect suggested this kind of transgression is not significant enough to warrant a Twitter fight, which she considers a “small” act of feminism. While I don’t think each of these conversations changes the world, I don’t think they should be dismissed either. I wrote about how it all went down for Canada.com – read the rest here.

I’m not done thinking or feeling or writing about this, so expect more here in the next day or two.

I hope revenge porn survivors get their revenge

A group of at least 23 women in the United States has filed a class-action lawsuit for invasion of privacy and causing mental anguish against revenge porn site Texxxan and its hosting service, GoDaddy (like you needed another reason to hate GoDaddy).

Revenge porn is a vile category of online content wherein a person posts nude photos or videos of another person without their consent (usually a woman, often an ex-lover). A cursory Google search will yield pages of sites hosting such content. Many of these sites include the women’s names, contact information and links to their social media profiles. Some of them include maps to the women’s homes.

As we all know, there is no shortage on the Internet of sexually explicit photos or video of consenting women. Porn (with consenting parties) is probably the Internet’s most popular application. The knowledge that women on revenge porn sites have not consented to the photo or video’s distribution is precisely what makes these sites titillating for their fans. One advocacy group, End Revenge Porn, likens it to “cyber-rape”.

Revenge porn perpetuates a culture that sees women’s bodies as public property, regardless of whether or not they have consented. Revenge porn ruins lives. Revenge porn, and a culture that sees it as invariably the woman’s fault, might have been what killed British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd.

Courts in Quebec and Australia have ruled in favour of the survivor in revenge porn lawsuits, awarding damages of $40,000 to the survivor in both cases. Unfortunately one US statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, appears to leave American survivors of revenge porn without much recourse. This section protects websites from legal responsibility for any content submitted by users.

John S. Morgan, the lawyer representing the Texxxan lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Hollie Toups, plans to argue that sites which advertise an illegal purpose for collecting user-generated content are not protected under Section 230. He may have precedent. In 2003, California district court ruled that website Roommates.com was not protected under Section 230 for their publication of a discriminatory roommate-finding questionnaire. Their reason? The questionnaire specifically induced site users to express roommate preferences that were illegal.

Revenge porn is yet another example of the legal system struggling to adapt to how much of our communication, transactions, and lives play out on the Internet. I’ll be following this case, and I hope you do too.

Women’s Organizations: We Get Emails!

TRIGGER WARNING: discussions of physical and sexual violence; racism; threatening, profane and obscene statements about women’s bodies, character and sexuality.

Anyone who works in the areas of women’s rights and empowerment can probably share at least a few stories of the threats, obscenities, and general vitriol hurled their way via email, social media, and telephone – hell, probably even fax machines though I don’t have confirmation on that. If I were to speculate on the reasons why men (and it is mostly men) wage such campaigns of abuse against women’s organizations and publications, I’d say their intent is to intimidate, humiliate, and generally cause emotional distress. Whether they’re doing this to attempt to compromise the organization’s work, to vent what they believe to be righteous anger, or to take the evil feminists down a peg is really beside the point.

This means that most women who want to work in this area must have an extraordinarily thick skin. Not only do you need to cope with work that in my experience is intensely emotionally draining (and sometimes triggering), you need to be prepared to face an inordinate number of abusive, hateful remarks and threats against your safety. While I do think the interconnectivity, instantaneity and social insulation of the internet facilitate more torrential harassment, I expect this phenomenon (and perhaps much worse) would probably be familiar to the feminists of eras past.

I think it’s important that people who care about gender equity but are not engaged with the work day in and day out understand the severity of what feminist workers and volunteers have to face. In that spirit, here’s a small sampling of comments that have been received on a variety of platforms by either myself or women I know who work in women’s rights and empowerment.

[REPEATING THE TRIGGER WARNING HERE, THIS STUFF IS PRETTY NASTY]

“bitches who made this [project] deserve to be raped for thinking all men are rapists.”

“I don’t understand the practicality of a rape whistle. Isn’t it kind of hard to blow a whistle when the woman’s mouth is already full blowing a dude’s dick? :)”

“I think the proper present for International Men’s Day is a blowjob. Feel free to start sucking anytime, honey.”

“somebody should drag u in a back alley and rape u”

“As a guy, every time I see something like this [project], I proceed to get a shiver, grab my ballsack, and gentle hold it, reassuring it that it shall not be such a violent or horrible creature that causes pain and misery to others, but will remain as a peaceful, benevolent dick that will be solely used for going pee pee standing up. OH THE SHAME”

“all women should be raped and killed. all they are good for is making sammiches and their fuckhole they are useless evil cunts.”

“i’d eat u out then blow ur brains out i’m hardcore like that”

“I guess you’ve been asking for a good beating and raping all along.”

“*hoooot* Time to rape!”

“some day you’re going to ROFL at the wrong badass motherfucker and he’s going to teach you a lesson you won’t forget very soon ok? you might think it’s funny to laugh at other people but some of us have feelings too and you need to take into account because if you hurt other people they’re gonna hurt you back, probably with shotguns and rocket launchers. what goes around comes around motherfucker.”

“Every person involved in this [project] is a dumb fucking cat piss stench cunt. You deserve to be launched into outer space to die.”

“She’s only a Muslim anyways. So if she is raped, what does it matter?”

“keeping man-hating cunts in check: MANHOOD101. COM”
Sorry to be the harbinger of doom and gloom, but this is reality for many of us. I might make this into a monthly or bi-monthly series of sobering reminders.