Over at the Guardian, I’m writing about Adria Richards, and how victim-blaming for cyber harassment parallels victim-blaming in rape cases:
Of course it’s possible to disagree with Richards’ actions while still focusing on the real problem: misogyny online and in tech spaces. But it’s really not possible to pontificate at length on what Richards should have done without obscuring the fact that when women speak out, we’re met with rape threats.
Others, most notably Deanna Zandt in Forbes, have explained why the focus on what Richards could have done differently is the wrong question. It’s a question routinely lobbed at women who are sexually victimized: Why did you go home with him if you didn’t want to have sex? Why did you drink so much? Why did you wear that? Why did you stay at that party? Why were you walking down that street? Why didn’t you yell louder or fight back harder? Why did you fight back, knowing it would only make him angry?
If it sounds like I’m comparing the people who threaten Richards with rape to actual rapists, and the people who tacitly justify those threats with hand-wringing over what Richards could have done differently to rape apologists, it’s because I am. Despite attempts to characterize the internet as a space suspended outside of “real” life, cyberspace is real. It is a place where actual human beings connect, communicate, mobilize and work. And online harassment and misogyny very closely parallel harassment, misogyny and sexual violence in the “real” world.
There will always be something that a victim could have done differently. But there’s no universal path to avoiding sexual victimization or workplace harassment or run-of-the-mill misogyny. There is, however, a near-universal path to getting away with those things: Blame the victim. Focus on what she did, instead of the actions the perpetrators chose to take. Distract from the real problem by pretending the problem is her.
The problem here is misogyny, online and off. It’s a culture that has long conflated women in public with sexual availability, and punished public, presumably sexually available women with sexual violence. It’s a cohort of trusted intellectuals – the legal system, big-name writers – positioning themselves as fair and rational by critiquing a victim’s actions as much as violence and harassment. It’s not just raping “bad girls” and issuing rape threats to women online; it’s saying, “Yes, what those boys did was wrong, but let’s also look at the role that alcohol played in putting her in that position” and “Yes, rape threats are terrible, but she really shouldn’t have tweeted that picture.” It’s the impulse to remove gender and race analysis — arguing that men get death threats, too, or that Richards is simply “difficult” and not perhaps only perceived that way because she’s a black woman pushing back against the norms of a mostly white, mostly male industry.
You can read the whole piece here.
Comments on this thread are going to be fully moderated; please be patient if it takes a while to approve them. Comments are also limited to feminist/womanist commenters only. There are plenty of places online to discuss and debate the basics of this issue. I would like to elevate the discussion in this space to focus on the content of the Guardian piece: How online harassment parallels real-world sexual violence; the roles played by race and gender; and how communities can change to be less racist and misogynist.
Not up for discussion here: What Adria could have done differently. Adria’s personality and your opinion on it.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Standing with Adria by Jill March 21, 2013
- Who doesn’t want to end violence against women? by Jill March 18, 2013
- Serena Williams and blaming rape victims by Jill June 21, 2013
- Sexual regret is about culture, not evolution. by Jill December 4, 2013
- Rape: the sinister blame game by Cara February 16, 2010