imaginary family values presents

yesh omrim

a blog that reclines to the left


The agenda

19 April 2007

A few weeks ago, teacher/author/blogger Kathy Sierra announced that she had received death threats as comments on some blogs run by other prominent figures in the tech-blogging community. (The blogs were soon shut down. The fellow who posted the comments that Kathy1 interpreted as death threats has denied any malicious intent.) This led to an outpouring of sympathy from her readers, fellow-bloggers, and other people in the IT field.

One thing that surprised me about the response was the number of other women bloggers who said that they, too, had received death threats. (See, for example, Reclusive Leftist, Min Jung Kim, and apophenia.)

At any rate, most of the follow-up postings on IT blogs that I read shifted focus from the assault against Kathy to the general issue of “civility”, or the lack thereof, in blogs. Credible threats to commit murder and rape were subsumed in a more general category, one which included hyperbole, personal insults, and general bad language.

Then Tim O’Reilly, Kathy’s friend and publisher, drafted a Blogger’s Code of Conduct, posting it just in time for the New York Times to write about it. In the Times article, Tim gets first mentioned in the third paragraph; likewise for Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. Kathy, “a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly”, makes her debut in the eleventh paragraph, as a member of “the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers2”.

And since then, I’ve seen just scads and scads of commentary on Tim’s proposed code. Meanwhile, Kathy is no longer doing speaking engagements and is wondering what she can do to attract less negative attention.

One of the less-obvious signs of social privilege is the ability to set the agenda. Even the bloggers who have fervently denounced the very concept of a Blogger’s Code of Conduct have, by posting their criticisms, accepted the agenda that Tim set.

I don’t want to impugn Tim’s integrity and I don’t doubt his good intentions. But notice how this is no longer a discussion of online threats to murder, maim, or rape, which (as previously noted) seem to predominantly be issued by men against women. It’s a discussion of online incivility, defined to include a wide range of peccadilloes that both men and women commit. It’s no longer a story about Kathy; it’s a story about Tim. Indeed, in his most recent blog posting on the subject, Tim remarked: “It concerns me that Kathy Sierra, whose bad experience triggered this discussion, thinks that a code of conduct such as I proposed would do no good.”

The agenda has been reset. That’s the patriarchy in action.

Fortunately, there are some people interested in re-resetting the agenda. April 28 will be the day for a…

Take Back the Blog! Blogswarm in support of the rights of women to participate fully in all aspects of our society, including specifically online in the world of blogging but indeed everywhere and at all times, day and night, without fear of harassment, intimidation, sexual harassment, online stalking and slander, predation or violence of any sort.

Sounds good to me.

Amid all the other commentary sparked by what happened to Kathy, I was pleased to discover siderea’s comparison of misogyny with Martians-are-out-to-get-me psychosis, Seth Godin on misogynous bullying by a New York Times author, Liz Henry’s call to action, and…hell, I can’t keep track of them all. So I’m glad there’s a chance for people to write more on this subject and a place where it can all be brought together.

1 Are all bloggers, even those who have never met, on a first-name basis with one another?

2 Insular? What are we, Amish? When the Times manages to write about blogs without status anxiety dripping from the paper, the same issue will have a banner headline on page one saying “MESSIAH ANOINTED IN JERUSALEM”.