Saturday, August 18, 2018

On Internet Haters

Here's how I see it: If two people who are equally matched have a fight, the loser can still save face. It was a fair fight and someone had to lose. He might win next time. But if two people unequally matched have a fight, and the weaker of the two wins, it's a humiliating defeat. If a man sees women as inferior, then, when he fights with them, he has to win. The risk of losing is far too huge. It would be like getting beaten up by a four-year-old. So he scrambles for anything that will knock her off balance, take her away from her focus on the issue and out of that arena entirely the second he's surprised by a move and starts to question his ability to win fairly. So he dekes the hit and flashes a blade. It's not about the issue anymore. It's about winning at any cost. He looks for a new way to attack, a weak spot unrelated to the initial conflict: her fear of rape, her fear of not being able to protect her children, and her fear of being murdered.

So, obviously, the foundational problem is that women are perceived as four-year-olds in this analogy. It's only humiliating to lose an argument to a woman if someone sees them as inferior in status and ability. If you would be humiliated to lose an argument to someone, it's because you see them as beneath you. If they're your equal, then losing an argument means learning something - it's enlightening, and we feel admiration for the points being made. Pivotally, it's our capacity for admiration that's turned off when we encounter any sign of lower status. That might be something to watch for.

So this is what I thought about while I read Laurie Penny's excellent article "Who Does She Think She Is?" She explores online vitriol intermingled with observations from various stages in her personal experiences of this hot mess,
"The internet hates women. Everyone knows that by now, and nobody precisely approves, but we’ve reached a point of collective tolerance. . . . one in five young women has been sexually harassed online . . . over three-quarters of women and girls expected violence and abuse if they expressed an opinion online. . . . The internet doesn’t hate anyone, because the internet, being an inanimate network, lacks the capacity to hold any opinion whatsoever. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity. . . . The internet lets us be whoever we were before, more efficiently, with fewer consequences. . . . The primary reason there have been so few “great women ______” is not merely that greatness has been undeveloped or unrecognized, but that women exhibiting potential for achievement are punished by both women and men. The “fear of success” is quite rational when one knows that the consequence of achievement is hostility and not praise. . . . In fact, committed hatred of successful women and a destructive obsession with women who step outside their lane seem to be the sole point on which the entire political spectrum is in absolute agreement. . . . More than 40 percent [of female parliamentarians] had received threats of death, rape, beatings, or abduction while serving their terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children. . . . This is why recreational racism and mob misogyny are given space online: Because they are still seen as acceptable offline. . . . any woman in the remotest corner of the public eye who wants to be treated with a sugar-pill of respect must find a way to dress which is neither too conservative nor too revealing, not too frumpy nor too frivolous, a way of speaking which is neither “aggressive” nor simpering, and a way of behaving which at no point discomforts any man in her vicinity. . . . It’s not that women in the public eye never make mistakes. It’s that the punishments are out of all proportion."

I've written about this before. I looked at Aristotle's take on it all where I concluded: "His behaviour is bullying, but that's not who he is, necessarily, it's how's he's reacting to the cognitive dissonance perpetuated from seeing the world's expectations of him compared to his own unfulfilled reality." And I scrutinized a comment I got that blamed everything on feminism, and concluded: "It's especially hard when your expectations of relationships don't come close to matching the real world. You know that real world, where women are more than just jizz buckets who make sandwiches; they're actually people worthy of the same respect given to men." That one got a trolling comment I left up and engaged with, attempting civility in the face of cruelty. Social expectations of our roles have to shift in order to accommodate this new reality of equal status, so the media has to change. Unfortunately healthy adults talking civility to one another isn't particularly entertaining to the masses.

There is a thrill of the take-down involved as well. They want to regain power and control and reestablish a position of respect, ironically. It's the pleasure of owning someone. Penny says,
"I’ve come to the conclusion that when you get down to it, people who enjoy hurting other people are not worth your time or mine. . . . Many of us were once that naive — naive enough to think that if people only knew how much they were hurting you, if they could only understand that you were a human being, they’d stop. . . . The point is to scare women and girls out of social and cultural spaces, because when women and girls occupy those places, well, some people get scared."
She suggests writing them off for the sake of our own mental health. I agree that letting them know they're hurting you doesn't help. They're in competition mode and out to win. You can't win if you're worried about harming your opponent. And we're not going to significantly shift that perception of status to lessen the humiliation any time soon - that's a glacial-paced movement (back when glaciers were more stable). But what makes this even hard to solve is, if we accept that behind anger is fear, and that addressing the fear can dissipate the anger, the fear is that men have twice as much competition now. We can't obliterate that fear because we're not going anywhere. We can only hope to acknowledge that it's real, that things are more difficult for people who don't think they should have to compete with a lesser class, and that they'll have to find ways to cope with this radical change that's been evolving over that last few centuries.

Penny's finish:
"Peek through your clammy hands at what women have done and at what they have created despite spending their entire careers fending off trash-mobs and negotiating outright abuse and still getting paid less than they deserve for doing twice the work. Take a look, if you dare, at how many of us are surviving and thriving despite being punished for being a little bit too ambitious, and then ask yourself what we might do if we didn’t have to waste our time on bullshit. Ask yourself how culture might change if the women in it weren’t living under constant, critical surveillance, if we were allowed to be vulnerable, to be difficult, to be strange, to take risks, and to make mistakes. . . . As you’ve got older, you can’t tolerate a lot of the toxins you used to swallow a decade ago — including entitled male bullshit. You are tired, but no longer afraid. Instead, you are angrier than you could possibly have imagined. And not just on your own behalf."

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