Sunday, November 26, 2006

I was checking out a few of the other Ka-BLOGgers' pages and one of them ( was pointing out how male dominated blogging itself is. She was referring more specifically to her Malaysian context and using the example of a blogging convention she attended where all the panel were male.

This reminded me of a Guardian article I read a few weeks ago. I don't know how I came across it – probably from an old Fawcett Society link I hadn't got round to following – because it wasn't recent; it dated back to sometime in August. The Guardian article by the current director of the Fawcett Society, Katherine Rake, was a fairly straight-forward, (and what I considered to be) un-inflammatory piece on the state of society's current perceptions of the word 'feminist' and why 'feminism' is still a necessary political line.
The article is here (if the comments do not load after a moment you may need to change your browser (as I discovered!)),,1839451,00.html

What completely stunned me was nothing Rake had to say; it was the ferocity and level of aggression with which a number of (self-declared) male bloggers responded not only to her words in her article, but also to the attempts of other (mostly female, though also sometimes male) bloggers to reason with them. There were at times steps towards rationalising and substantiating the reasons for their opposing line, but these were always punctuated and bound up in defensive, aggressive, hostile (verging on hate-filled) verbal bombardments of ill-considered and poorly conceived arguments based largely on stereotyping and misinterpretation leading to occasionally downright offensive attacks and, most noticeably above everything else, the desire to overpower, overwhelm, and dominate the comments section of that particular article over the course of two days. I think it says everything that the long tirades of about five male bloggers were being addressed by about three times as many much smaller, much calmer, comments made by female bloggers. You can say, well, this was clearly just five male individuals with chips on their shoulders, and they don't necessarily represent anyone but themselves, and there were also supportive remarks from other male bloggers. But, however many people are involved in any situation, this is one way to view the workings of power and the systematic way of silencing others to convey loudly and aggressively the rhetoric of a few who feel under threat. I believe that observing the ways that a few men will dominate a discursive forum in this way shows us quite clearly how men dominate nearly all positions of power. It just takes a few, with very loud voices, regardless of how many they represent, to subsume the opinions of those around them.

On a smaller scale, the only mild amusement I was able to take away from this, was the knowledge, first that usually this kind of explosive and immediate responses only occur when the instigator of these reactions is actually onto something! And, ironically, how these very same hostile and unreasonable responses and their attempts to overwhelm and dominate their opposition with words, only serves to explain exactly why Rake believes feminist activism still has work to do!

It was late at night when I was reading it, and being quite prone to the occasional fiery response myself (though considered and considerate – I hope!), I wrote a response. On trying to post it however I discovered that the article must just be too old, and the paper were no longer accepting responses. It was a late-night, slightly depressed, impassioned comment, which I'd probably edit after further reflection, but since I didn't get my chance to be heard, and since it probably doesn't make much difference now anyway, for whatever it's worth I'll post what I said here unedited:

I know it's been a while since this article was discussed, but I've only just been directed to it and felt the need to comment. As a feminist, reading the knee-jerk angry, hostile, ignorant and prejudiced responses made by drjazz, olly84, mrpb and others, I was not only saddened but deeply disturbed. There are so many posts to go back through that I can't recall who said it, but someone questioned whether interrupting someone else speaking was a form of violence. Perhaps it is an extreme interpretation, but in some of the loaded comments and un-called for references to feminists as 'bints', there were some real undertones of violent feeling. Someone rightly commented on the sense that the afore-mentioned posters seemed to need to dominate the discussion. Domination and violence can be conveyed, enacted and expressed in words as well as it can in actions.
One of the things these same ‘posters’ seemed least able to do was listen - to really listen properly - to what ‘posters’ such as girlfrommarz and letigre were trying to say.
Pointing out how women are never at the top of the ladder academically - have never been key inventors etc etc - only points to how many obstacles (that have nothing to do with women's intellect) stand in the way of women who wish to make it to the top. It has nothing to do with intellectual capacity and everything to do with social expectation and opportunity.
And the ‘poster’ who commented on it being the media's fault that, for women who are in government, it is their fashion sense and not their politics that is focussed on, as if that somehow either diverted the issue at hand, or made it somehow woman's fault (for buying fashion magazines, for example), has completely missed the point. How many times have you seen female paparazzi? As one such hostile ‘poster’ crudely drew attention to, men expect to look at and observe women's bodies. The result of this, over the ages, is the intense and finely honed expectation upon women to look 'good'.
But I think the most depressing, and consistently referred to, angle of argument trawled out by many of the knee-Jerks, was the tired and worn-out stereotyping about what it is 'in essence' to be a man and a woman: the most depressing example of which was indeed made by the male ‘poster’ who asserted his rights to look at (and thus objectify) women because of his essential 'maleness'. Whatever the hormonal or physiological differences there are between man and woman they are, in comparison to how much genetic structuring we have in common with apes and, in fact, with bananas (!!), actually miniscule. Socialization and social construction is what builds upon and, in time, grotesquely exaggerates those miniscule differences. It is a male person's socialization that constructs him into believing he has some birth-rite that allows him the position of observer and scrutiniser of women's bodies. And it is a female person's socialization that constructs her to believe she has some birth-duty to look nice for the male observer. And as for women who objectify men's bodies? Well of course! We're sick of you doing it to us, so we'd like to see just how much you like it!
And as for how 'humourless' we feminists apparently are? Perhaps this isn't the moment to get into how incredibly difficult it is for women comics to break into mainstream comedy, but what I feel needs to be said to these feminist-bashers (whose existence and ferocity of reaction only serves to express why feminism is so, so needed), is that their own posts were indeed humourless to an extreme, verging at times on deeply depressing and excessively aggressive, leaving me so far from laughter I wondered if I could ever return.

As for what can be done about incidents of testosterone-fuelled blog-domination, the most obvious and immediate solution that springs to mind is simply to encourage the unchecked, un-self-conscious, confident, and un-intimidated participation of women in the noisy world of Internet vocalisation – whether it be in blogs or comments or e-mails, the more women (and women friendly others) participate, respond, reply and blog on the Internet the louder we will be heard. There are ways that our (ir)rational and (il)logical voices can be heard... without needing to shout.

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