When 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…