“Is There a Cyber War on Women?”

Cathy Young, writing at Reason, has an interesting and detailed discussion of online attacks on women (and on men). Here are some of the concluding paragraphs:

We do need remedies for actual threats and cyberstalking, regardless of gender, and, perhaps, better guidelines to determine when trolling crosses the line into potentially dangerous harassment. Quinn Norton offers sound advice: ignore the trolls, flag the ones who won’t go away when ignored. There should also be — and for the vast majority of Internet users already is — a stigma attached to misogynistic speech. Personally, I’d like to see the same stigma towards male-bashing.

But in the end, we must also accept it’s a big Internet and bad apples will always be out there. They include bona fide misogynists, people willing to use every available weapon in a verbal fight, and trolls who get their kicks by pushing people’s buttons. In the Internet age, any idiot with a laptop and an Internet connection can single-handedly declare a “war on women.” To take this “war” seriously is to give the idiots far too much power.

While the political blogosphere, like punditry in more traditional media venues, skews male for many complicated reasons, the female presence in the new media is strong and thriving. Currently, the top-rated blog according to Technorati is the female-headed Huffington Post and the most popular independent, one-person blog belongs to University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse. Althouse’s take on the issue of woman abuse online can be summed up as “report serious threats to the cops; otherwise, grow a tough skin.”

To demand special protection on the grounds of women’s particular vulnerabilities is to turn female disempowerment into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we casually assume that a woman suffers more harm from a nasty (or even sexually threatening) online comment than a man does from, say, castration threats and gibes about pedophilia or jeers about the death of his infant child, we’re not only being callous to men but upholding the very stereotypes of “the weaker sex” that feminists supposedly deplore.

As you might gather, “report serious threats to the cops; otherwise, grow a tough skin” is advice that both Cathy and I would offer to online speakers regardless of sex.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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