Recent Posts

The Bertrand Russell Show

Feminist Philosophers

fragments of consciousness

Gender, Race and Philosophy: The Blog


Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

Long Words Bother Me

semantics etc. highlights

Thoughts Arguments and Rants



Monday, May 07, 2007

Trolling and the Public Woman

Kathy Sierra, a female technology blogger, was recently so severely threatened online that she had to cancel all her public speaking engagements and stay inside her house for fear that the online stalker would track her down. The Kathy Sierra incident is a severe case of what is called 'trolling'. According to Blogging Feminism, trolling is 'a particular use of commenting on blogs: commenting intended to stop the ongoing conversation or to turn it into a fight'. Trolling can take various forms, from comments with unrelated content or content questioning the importance of the topics discussed to insults, threats, and harassments intended to question the authority, integrity, intelligence or fundamental human rights of bloggers – typically female bloggers. Blogging Feminism lists some examples of moderately severe trolling. In one of them the troll expresses a wish to torture and rape women. Not all trolling is that severe. It can also take the form of regular spam posted in the comments section of a blog.

The sort of trolling feminist bloggers experience is typically the most severe. As Jill from Blogging Feminism points out, the fact that women bloggers are subject to this sort of discrimination has a lot to do with the old-fashioned picture of respectable women as domestic creatures. She writes:

The original "public woman" was the prostitute. Men have traditionally occupied the public space (including the political), while women were relegated to the domestic -- or at least, certain kinds of women were relegated to the domestic. Cloistering women away or at least keeping them tied to domestic duties has long been a sign of socioeconomic class, from ancient Greece through Victorian England through the 1950s and The Feminine Mystique. "Other" women -- poor women, women of color -- worked outside the home. The lowest class of women were the publicly available ones. And public availability was tied to sexual availability.
I would like to think that this picture of the public woman has changed. But the recent incidents in the blogosphere indicate that it has not. In this regard it is noticeable that, while educated women with a bachelor's degree or higher are in the majority in America, working women in America are still in the minority, and their earnings are considerably lower than those of men. Here are some stats:

Percent of women 25 to 29 who had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2005: 32%
Percent of men 25 to 29 who had attained a bachelor's degree or higher in 2005: 25%.

Percent of women 16 or older who participated in the labor force in 2005: 59%.
Percent of men 16 or older who participated in the labor force in 2005: 73%.

The median annual earnings of women 16 or older who worked year-round, full time, in 2005: $32,168
Women earned 77 cents for every $1 earned by men.

The difference is quite noticeable. Only 59% of adult women participate in the labor force. The fact that some of these women do not participate owing to the fact that they attend colleges and universities does not explain this difference. And needless to say, the fact that men earn more than women in spite of the fact that women, on average, are better educated is atrocious. The stats confirm that the old-fashioned gender-roles haven't yet been wiped out.

(Thanks to Sally Haslanger for the S&F Online link)


Richard said...

"needless to say, the fact that men earn more than women in spite of the fact that women, on average, are better educated is atrocious."

Really? Surely it depends on the causal explanation. Sexist discrimination would be atrocious, for sure. But if it happens that more women than men prefer fulfilling work to high-paid work, for instance, then that wouldn't seem so outrageous. (Well, maybe it would be bad that so many men are stuck in unfulfilling jobs merely for the prospect of material baubles. We should want them to become as enlightened and well-off as women, in such a scenario.)

[Aside: the education stats are for ages 25-29, which doesn't match the age 16+ labour force group anyway. It seems plausible that older women may have received less education than older men.]

Which isn't to say that there isn't a problem. But it surely requires more evidence than just those statistics to show that there really is.