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Misogyny in the Blogosphere

Writing for the New Statesman blog on November 3, Helen Lewis Hasteley wrote about the misogynist comments and abuse that female bloggers receive. Citing the opinions of others, her post provides examples of abuse from the relatively less serious, but still uncalled for, such as being referred to as “ugly” or  “silly little girl” to the more serious and very disturbing kind of abuse. An example of the latter is that of Dawn Foster, who said, “after tweeting that I’d been waiting for a night bus for ages, someone replied that they hoped I’d get raped at the bus stop.” Kate Smurthwaite, a feminist activist, recounted, “I’ve had my own address quoted at me with a rape threat and — yes — that is terrifying.” Then there is the case of Caroline Farrow, the wife of a vicar, who wrote:

I am often told how my mouth would be put to better use giving fellatio or that I am uptight and sexually repressed, someone who could clearly benefit from a “regular seeing-to” and how my defence of conservative values stems from a deep-seated need to be anally penetrated. I am crying out for anal rape to be put in my place, preferably by an HIV-positive male who is not wearing a condom, in order to understand the iniquity of the Church’s teaching on contraception.

And so it continued. Lewis Hasteley’s article appeared two days after her co-blogger Laurie Penny revealed on Twitter some of the abuse that she had received that day, including someone who requested that Penny be urinated on and presumably would have liked her dead because he also requested that her grave be urinated on too. Then there was the person who publicly declared that Penny was a “dyke” and that he was tempted to tell her “what an utter, lentil eating, cunt she is.” Penny informed her Twitter followers that she received such abuse “every day.”  In her own November 4 article for the Independent, Penny explained that once, after criticising economic policy making, it was suggested that she “be made to fellate a row of bankers.”

To comment on this: last December I wrote a blog post where I praised Laurie Penny for her writing in glowing terms and went to so far as to declare her the “voice for a generation.” The post was cross-posted without my agreement but not to my annoyance to the so-called Socialist Unity blog. There are two reactions that I have received to my post that I wish to point out.

The first is that by the second below the line comment to the Socialist Unity post, it was suggested that my post was part of some Zionist “ploy” to make people like Zionists. This set the tone for the rest of the comment section and it was not long before someone would tell me to “Fuck off you pro-war, zionist, hang assange, prick. Hopefully your snake like efforts to co-opt a young left wing journo into your filthy little world will fail.” Nowhere in my post did I mention, Israel, Zionism, the war in Iraq, any other war, or Assange. Had my name been Michael Edwards instead of Michael Ezra, I suspect that there would have been no such reaction.

The second response I wish to mention is that from certain commentators at this blog. I have repeatedly suffered the suggestion that there must be a sexual reason for my praise of Laurie Penny. In July of this year, when I defended Simone Webb, a 17 year female student and a blogger with an offer from Oxford University, in reference to an internship that she had had revoked, the sexual reason was again provided. One commentator said, “This is another Laurie Penny-type crush, isn’t it? For God’s sake, man, pull yourself together. You’re in Humbert Humbert territory with this one.” Last week, in a dispute in the comments section of a completely unrelated post on this blog, in order to attack me, one commentator decided to mention an alleged “infatuation” that I have with Laurie Penny before instructing me to “go toss yourself off over Laurie Penny.”

If I praise or defend a male blogger or writer, I may be attacked, but there is no sexual connotation to the abuse I receive. Consequently, I assume that I would not have received the barbed attacks about my praise of Laurie Penny in the same way if she was actually a man named Laurence Penny.

Even if I am the actual target of commentator’s venom, the attacks are sexist in nature because the type of attack I receive from some below the line commentators seems to be a function of the sex of the person that I have praised or defended. Commentators who argue that the only reason that I praise Laurie Penny is for some kind of sexual fascination in effect dismiss her as a writer and view her as a sex object. And that, sadly, is the state of affairs.