by Sara Gibbons
Recently, three high school girls in South Portland, Maine spoke out about their right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance, and the backlash was truly astonishing. Online trolls commented on their story calling the girls “ingrates,” “witches,” and “attention whores.” If you spend any time on the Internet you’re I’m sure well aware of the vitriol online targeting toward girls and women, and the lack of secure spaces for activists and bloggers – especially those coming from a distinctly feminist perspective. With incidents like this one in Portland, it becomes especially clear that blogs, and the Internet in general, is not safe for female voices.
It’s painful to hear reports that some of the most exciting feminists I love are writing less or even retiring entirely (!) because of the “toxic stew” of written, emotional, and physical threats they receive. Woman and girls genuinely fear for their personal, career, familial, and physical safety, which is so discouraging and quite literally halting feminist efforts.
But trust me, I get it. Who wouldn’t experience hesitation in the face of such backlash and judgment? As a long time fan but relatively new blogger, I have frequently found myself hesitant to pursue some of my blog ideas for fear of what might happen if I do. It’s intimidating enough to put your voice out there, but to know that your ideas will probably be met with backlash and criticism – now that’s really scary. In fact, it’s a real tragedy! For all bloggers, but especially for young feminists looking online for a safe place to voice their concerns.
Michelle Goldberg of the Washington Post wrote an article that unfortunately only supports these findings. She speaks of the contradiction of the digital age — how social media and technology have provided the space to amplify feminist voices while simultaneously magnifying the criticizing and shaming of those women who share their stories. She notes that with increased technology, comments can be especially harmful and damaging because your personal information is so much more accessible, which, I can definitely attest to, only make the threats more real and scary.
However disheartening, I found some real inspiration and motivation in the words of anthropologist Robin Nelson of Skidmore College. She speaks about how bloggers have to keep going, even in the face of this very real danger. In an article for Cosmos and Culture she says, “I tweet while knowing well that this is probably just the beginning of the cost I will pay for living my identity and politics publicly. I am far from alone in this, as many black feminists…have to constantly work to both preserve their privacy, their safety, and not have their words used without permission. This being said, we are far better off for having had the opportunity to hear all of these voices in conversation. Thus, I will continue to take the risk.”
Nelson speaks about risk, but she also speaks about responsibility and reward. This responsibility and reward part are really important. Seasoned and especially new bloggers like me can’t give up – we have to continue to be brave and take the risk so that our individual collective voices can be heard and hopefully listened to. As bloggers, it is our responsibility to persevere so that we can continue to spread important ideas, spark debate, discuss opinions, and raise awareness on the many great and important feminist issues. Maybe even more excitingly are the rewards! As I continue to blog, I’m excited about becoming apart of the supportive communities that challenge and inspire new bloggers like me.
But don’t worry, for those of us still working up to blogging freely, there are ways that you can be involved without putting your whole self out there. Try blogging under a pseudonym or check out blogs similar to SPARK, like The FBomb and Powered by Girl (PBG), where the comments are moderated. And there are even organizations working to stop this harassment altogether. Organizations like WAM (Women, Action, & the Media) have teamed up with Twitter to investigate how women can better report online harassment and how to more effectively respond to it.
Whatever path you choose, remember that we all need to speak our truths! Continuing to have our opinions heard will be hard, and sometimes hurt, but it is imperative we continue our work, because let’s face it, it’s important. It’s necessary that we continue to write and fight so that one-day, hopefully soon, we can all live authentically and without fear.
Sara Gibbons is an Education student at Colby College.