I had another post scheduled for this week. Something lighter, more fun. But last week I posted something about Scott Aaronson, and the recent controversial comment he left on his own blog, which landed him in some hot water the world over. On reflect, my post is a little confrontational, a little more raw and angry than I might have been if I had had to face the man himself in person. And we’re all a little guilty of that over the internet. And then something happened. Scott Aaronson himself came along and commented on my post about him. It wasn’t particularly flattering to him; I would even go so far as to say it wasn’t particularly nice. But he left a long comment (some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn’t) and gave me the benefit of the doubt. By that I mean, he assumed I was a compassionate human who hadn’t taken issue with his words for no reason. He assumed that I was a human, as capable of sympathy and understanding as he was. Did it change my opinion of what he said completely? No. But did it change my understanding of who he was? Yes. I would say, completely. Anyone who is willing to engage in discussion with their critics, and anyone who prefers open conversation to intimidation or silence is (at least to some extent) my kind of person. I’m still not convinced that women experience the ‘female privilege’ of not having to initiate romantic encounters; I think the patriarchal pressure on men to be sexually dominant is a different side of the same coin that pressures women into being passive. It doesn’t benefit women that the media expects us to go second, to wait for the cue. And many of us don’t. Including me. I think the expectation is a sucky thing that disadvantages everyone, and a product of the patriarchy, feminist conspiracy theory though that is, but in the main, I think (I hope) that Scott (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him that, but he called himself that in our correspondence) and I came to understand each other, even if we did not come to fully agree. I would call that a victory for humans, and the internet, which is a notoriously tricky method of communication.
But now (at last – sorry!) we come to the crux of why I am writing this. Somewhere along the lines of the discussion, some internet vigilantes decided that what I was doing was wrong. What was I doing? Expressing my opinion. OK, in a kind of controversial way, but this is my blog and I can say what I want here (ha). Well, these fine upstanding gentlemen didn’t like it, and Tuesday morning (I think it was) I woke to find a barrage of comments from some rather creative individuals who had changed their screen names through gravatar (or something) to unpleasant commends regarding yours truly here, and left comments that were essentially aggressive hate mail. I know how this goes, you know. I’ve heard this tune before. Woman speaks her mind online, gets harassed into silence. These weren’t strongly worded responses. These were specifically intended to intimidate me. Well sucks to be them, I guess, because I’m not going to be.
I’ve called this post (rather ironically) “Internet Aggression: Women Who Speak Up, and Why They Shouldn’t”. *Obviously we should speak up. Speak up and keep speaking. And yes, sometimes I’m going to be wrong. I’m often wrong. I was kind of wrong about Scott, and do you know what convinced me to rethink? A respectful comment. A proper conversation. The offer of conversation, of human interaction, rather than just a barrage of aggression that demands silence. Is this how we interact with what we don’t like on the internet now? By bullying people into silence? Because that’s bullshit. Anything that shuts down a conversation is bad. And anyone who needs to try to intimidate people to make their point clearly doesn’t have a point.
I love the web. I love wordpress and twitter. I love the people I’ve met online. We don’t have to shout each other down here. And what’s more, we don’t have to shout each other down. To be honest, I’m surprised that this is the first lot of hate male (oops freudian slip) that I have received on this obviously feminist-leaning blog. I have been heartened by the internet until now; its ability to accommodate all perspectives, to offer a platform to all. But how many women have been shouted down online? Lena Dunham has quit twitter because of abuse and the woman who wanted Jane Austen on the bank notes got rape threats online. If you don’t like what someone has to say, and that person happens to be a woman, why not try talking to them as though they are an actual human? As though they are intelligent and compassionate and capable of nuancing their thoughts?
It worked for Scott. Who knows, maybe it can work for you.