UPDATE: A couple of commenters have reminded me that the reason my story is significant to anyone except me is because it represents a broader pattern of harassment and intimidation by various manospherians of women bloggers or critics. The significance of my story is that it represents part of a deliberate malicious campaign to silence women by using the technology of self-publishing -- which, ironically, gives everyone an equal "voice" -- as a weapon against them.
Attila Vinczer's recent attempt to intimidate David Futrelle via Twitter by threatening to post scandalous revelations about him is pretty funny. After all, Futrelle has nothing to fear from AVFM's attempts to "smear" him, being, as he is, an established (male) journalist who is recognized as such by the mainstream media.
But for someone who has been the victim of "these guys," and who is an obscure female (non-professional journalist) internet "voice," it's not something to be lightly mocked, is it?
Several months ago, I was the target of another "manospherian," Matt Forney, who revealed my IRL identity, including my Facebook pictures, my home address and phone number, and my employer, and attempted to paint me (carefully couched in the language of "opinion") as "a dangerous feminist stalker." I had annoyed Mr. Forney by mocking and critiquing his blog; in response, he attempted to frighten me into removing my blog and to discredit my words by scurrilously questioning my sanity.
The most intimidating aspect of being doxed, as Mr. Forney did me, is that I was initially very afraid of physical harm. The point in identifying me as "the enemy" and publishing my photos and home address was to send me a clear warning that I was being targeted for potential violence. The fact that Forney issued a "retraction" the following day via Twitter (that he did NOT wish me physical harm) was an acknowledgement of this: an intent to absolve himself from liability, in case a follower interpreted the dissemination of such personal information, along with my identification as "the enemy," as a kind of "call to action."
And initially Forney's plan worked: For several weeks, I patiently awaited the sniper through my living room window, the bullet in my back as I walked to my class, or, at the least, the message from my employers that they were being inundated with calls for my immediate expulsion. I'll admit here, once and forever: I was fucking terrified.
And make no mistake: That was precisely Matt Forney's intent.
What Forney failed to consider (because these guys really aren't that smart) is that his actions forced me into a defensive corner. In other words, had Matt Forney warned me, "Take down your blog or else...!" To be honest? I would have taken it down in a New York minute. However, I was not given that option (which would, of course, have constituted actionable extortion). After the fact, the damage (to my "google-able identity") was already irrevocably done. And once I had consulted with a handful of local attorneys, and realized that I had little legal remedy under current U.S. law (and being disinclined to throw money at a slender chance of proving that at least part of his post was pure "libel"), I had no practical recourse other than to mitigate the damage done to my online reputation.
I did so in the time-honored (or perhaps hard-wired) "female" tradition: I sought the protection of the group. I couldn't "fight" nor could I "flee"; I could only immediately appeal to people whom I sensed would be willing and able to come to my aid. In other words, I appealed to bloggers whose internet voices were "louder" than my own. Since my own blog was pseudonymous, I had virtually no internet presence whatsoever. How hard could it be to find a more prominent blogger to publish a "favorable" post that would outweigh Matt Forney's hit job? Well...
I sent messages to a number of people whose blogs I followed or websites I routinely commented on and admired. Very few responded, and of the few that were kind enough to at least express sympathy via e-mail, no one was willing to devote even a line to remedying my personal (and admittedly very trivial, in the broad scope of things) "problem."
My dilemma was this: I was (and still am, and will forever be) a Big Fat Nobody. I was not someone who was worthy of A Story under anyone else's byline. My tiny audience of twenty-odd regular readers could hardly help me either although a few bravely tried (and I -- and Google -- acknowledges your efforts).
I am not complaining, or indulging in self-pity here, by the way: I am simply acknowledging the unvarnished reality of what it means to be have an online voice as a woman.
Nor was I willing or able to make my pathetic little tale into a story that would excite the interest of commercial websites like Jezebel or XOJane. However, I thought that my very obscurity might, in itself, make this A Story. The fact is, groups like A Voice for Men or notorious misogynists like Roosh, very deliberately target female bloggers that are "nobodies," because we are vulnerable in ways that professional journalists or celebrities are not. The idea that ordinary female bloggers are being forced off the internet appeared to me -- and still does -- a very important story indeed. Unfortunately, Mother Jones could not care less.
P.Z. Myers did agree to post something that puts the whole contretemps into some kind of palatable perspective. Approaching him was the smartest, or luckiest, move I made during this curious, furious month of "damage control": His little post on Pharyngula "saved" my Google-able identify by putting the Forney smear job into a context that most employers will understand. It also spoke volumes about Myers' personal character.*
I also quickly slapped my legal name on my hitherto-pseudonymous blog, confident that there is nothing here that was likely to compromise my modest professional opportunities. Let's face it, my blog is (in Lindy West's words), "pretty innocuous" stuff. I called out a handful of the manosphere for being liars, and misogynists, and being pretty much dreadful, all-around evil people, and I stand by pretty much everything I have written here. I shared aspects of my personal life that were true and that are not particularly damning or even surprising to anyone who knows me. Let history be the judge.
The only question future employers might have for me is this: Why did I devote so much of my free time in the past eighteen months to an online "movement" that is so marginal and patently unworthy of my attention? That is the topic of another post, but suffice to say right now that I didn't necessarily find it as "marginal" as most people would like to believe: Rather, I found the "manosphere" to be a kind of window into a hidden subculture of seething misogyny and masculine entitlement. It has not been a perverse waste of time; it has, rather, been a journey to the edge of the abyss of human dysfunction, one which has fundamentally transformed my perspective on the state of gender relations in the West today. It would not be an over-statement that these guys have made me the self-identified "feminist" I am today. The New Misogynists have taught me a lot more than they could ever guess, and there is nothing I have read in their blogs that I haven't, on some level, "recognized" from my personal experience. Are the manosphere blogs "triggering?" Hell, yes!
Meanwhile, I hearken to the words of Arthur Goldswag, the SPLC writer whom I had initially approached who was unable to "help" me in the fashion I had hoped he would:**
If you really care about gender equity and empowerment, then the Andrea
Dworkins and Paul Elams of the world are mostly a distraction. It's easy
to demonize MRAs, but they don't do anywhere near the damage to women
that, say, the Hobby Lobby is trying to do, or the GOP. They're easy to
hate, but engaging with them is about as useful as it is for LGBT
activists to fight with the Westboro Baptist Church.
I cannot help but feel that Mr. Goldwag is speaking directly to me here, as when, in his rather condescending personal e-mail to me, he admonished me to "try not to let these guys get under your skin."
* Prof. Myers is one of those people who is willing to make a difference in one stranded starfish's life, even while the beach is littered with them. A small act of generosity, perhaps, but he can never know how much it meant to me.
**I expected that the SPLC would report specifically on the ways that online female writers were being targeted, harassed, and intimidated by misogynists. I was very disappointed that responses to my reports to this organization consisted solely of relentless solicitations for donations and an unwanted copy of Morris Dee's biography.