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Monday, Apr. 2, 2007 at 3:43 am

Women, Blogging, and Boundaries

By Michele Miller
April 2nd, 2007

female brainWhen Jeffrey Eisenberg sends you an email with “Read This” in the subject heading and nothing in the message but a link, you expect it to be important. And important it was; a post titled “Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?” commenting on Kathy Sierra’s decision to cancel a keynote speech after receiving perceived death threats. I won’t go into details; if you’re interested you’ll find Kathy’s post here (WARNING: disturbing images and language abound).

I don’t know Kathy; I’ve never met her nor have I seen her present a speech. I do read her blog and am often impressed with her theories and approach to general business, not to mention information technology. But know her or not, I’m not surprised at her reaction. Some say she may be overreacting, but elementary science will tell you that women react more strongly to situations like this, given that there are four times as many connections between hemispheres of the female brain that that of the male brain. Four times the speed of reaction; four times the power of deeply tapping into emotion, emotional experience, and four times the power of fight-or-flight reaction.

Women not only have a super-highway system of emotional brain response, they also have to deal with cortisol; the chemical released into the body during fight-or-flight situations. Studies show cortisol stays in the female body as much as three times longer than in the body of a man. Sustained threats, especially from an anonymous source, can pump more cortisol than an ordinary body can handle. You don’t have to experience a threat first-hand; Kathy’s experience certainly affected me and hundreds of others just by reading about what is happening to her.

Should women be afraid to blog? I think not.

There are rare cases of stalking and harassment but, for the most part, ugly comments, insults and threats are something many of us experience at the hands of a few. I’ve been called stupid, narrow-minded and even un-Christian (for posting about Dove’s Pro-Age campaign); female blogging friends have had their sexuality questioned and been “frozen” out of industry events. But will it stop us from writing? It shouldn’t. Blogging is about freedom of voice. Rare instances of online terrorism like Kathy’s (and yes, it’s terrorism, when it’s anonymous) shouldn’t be taken lightly, but nor should they stop women from participating online.

It will be interesting to see how this situation resolves itself, and if the cover of this anonymous yahoo will be blown. To explore the mind of someone who would stoop as low as this, and find out what it was that precipitated such extremes, would make for a compelling case study in online harassment. And should we even be assuming the guilty party in the Sierra case is a man? An interesting question, for sure…

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Comments (7)

  1. Like many other female bloggers, I too have had problems with harrassing comments. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me – disagree all you want. But when the attacks get personal, and when they cross the line and become a threat – that is unnaceptable.

    Do female bloggers receive more threats than male bloggers? I don’t know – probably no way to measure it. But I would venture a guess that female bloggers get more sexual threats than male bloggers.

    But I agree whole-heartedly – that can’t stop you from writing. I respect Kathy’s decision to stop blogging. I hope it is temporary. I too enjoy her insights and miss her wisdom.

  2. There’s been an update. It looks like, at the very least, some thoughtful dialog has emerged from all this.

  3. Pamela Jones is running an article today about the
    harassement she has been subjected to in the
    legal battle she covers at Groklaw

    “…SCO wants to put a pin on a map and point to it and say, “Here’s PJ.” Then someone drops by and shoots me, I suppose. I certainly have nothing to tell them that is relevant to this litigation…”

  4. It’s really unfortunate that this happened but it should not stop Kathy from doing what she does.

    As women, it’s always going to be some yahooo (trying to stay out of legal trouble here) reacting to our very existence..tough! We’re smarter, faster and have more brain cells, get over it.

    Scary thought is that the only recourse is to hide.

  5. This response is a biological reductionist response to a very complex situation. By reducing an individual’s response to their biology, we not only suggest that it is “natural” and therefore unchangeable, but it also clouds a very serious issue of misogyny. This issue is far more complex than chemical reactions, it is a mirror of sexism and social inequality women face daily.

  6. [...] One blog comments on whether women should be afraid to blog. In the entry, the author comments on Kathy’s reactions to the threat by reducing her “overreaction” to the threats to biological responses that apparently only occur for women. This biological reductionism is dangerous in that it not only veils a very serious social issue, but it also suggests that because the reactions are “natural,” they are unchangeable. When we reduce social phenomena to our biology, we come up with explanations that are simplistic and that fail to capture the complexity of the situation. [...]

  7. What Kathy has gone through is horrifying – nobody should have to experience that kind of terror, no matter what they say in their blogs. The fact that somebody thinks that this kind of harassment is either useful or funny makes me sad beyond belief.

    From now on, whenever someone asks me why I’m so careful to maintain my anonymity, I will (unfortunately) have an awful cautionary tale to point them to.

    The Barmaid Blog

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