From the Archives: On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name

As we’re facing a bit of a blogging slow-down here at Shapely Prose, we thought we’d occasionally repost some pieces that you might have missed the first time around or that might warrant a second look. If you’ve got suggestions for posts you’d like to see again, email me!

This post was originally written by Kate and posted on April 14, 2007. You may have seen it linked from the Hoydens’ FemmoStroppo Awards.

In a coincidence that’s meaningful to no one but me, I decided to start writing under my real name (and fantasizing about developing a broader readership) right around the same day I first heard about Kathy Sierra. Since then, I’ve been following the endless discussions about cyberbullying, anonymity, blog civility, to what degree this is the natural consequence of the internet’s fundamental character, and to what degree it’s the natural consequence of a misogynistic culture (online or off).

Everyone seems to agree it’s the natural consequence of something, anyway, and was therefore totally predictable. Being viciously, persistently attacked for the crime of Writing While Female is something practically everyone with an opinion on the matter regards as par for the course–regardless of whether they believe that fact is outrageous and deplorable or merely, you know, the way the cookie crumbles. (And regardless of whether they believe Sierra’s real mistake was Writing While Female or Writing While Having a Legal Name or Writing While Writing ‘Cause Hey, Welcome to the Internet, Sport!)

And this agreement that bitch should have seen it coming the real problem (whatever that may be) is old as the internet leads many, many people to the same handful of conclusions. It fascinates me to see how, sometimes in the same breath, people offer the following advice to bloggers, as if every bit of it is perfectly obvious, consonant with all the rest of it, and guaranteed to end the problem:

  • Anyone with half a brain will take precautions, including but not limited to: writing under a pseudonym, making that pseudonym male or gender-neutral if you’re one of them lady bloggers, disabling anonymous comments, masking one’s personal information, being circumspect about publishing identifying details, and not writing anything that might inflame the crazies. (Like, you know, a tech blog.)
  • If you fail to take all of those precautions and thus attract yourself a crazy, the proper course of action is as follows: quit being a whiny titty-baby, because no one ever carries out online threats, and it’s probably some 14-year-old in his parents’ basement anyway.
  • If you’re pretty sure it’s not some 14-year-old in his parents’ basement and your safety is legitimately threatened, contact the authorities. Then quit blogging if you can’t take the heat.
  • Either that or keep blogging, because if you don’t, the terrorists have won.
  • Special bonus advice for women: be afraid, be very afraid. The threat is especially real for you.
  • Special bonus advice for women, part 2: if you’d just quit living in fear, the threat would go away, because it’s all in your head. Liberate yourself!

Taking all of that in in dribs and drabs, separated by lots of intelligent debates and lots of pointless horseshit, I had the same reaction a lot of women have when trying to process information about online harassment and safety. It goes like this:

Half of brain: Oh my god, I’m not doing enough to protect myself. I’m such an IDIOT! Why am I using my real name? Why am I writing about issues that I know people fucking freak out about? What kind of a narcissistic twit am I anyway to think my little voice will add anything useful to the blogosphere? Why do I feel the need to do this at all? What have I already published that people could use against me? What if there are already crazies out there Googling me? They could find out where I live in ten seconds. Should I be walking the dogs alone at night? What do I need to go back and delete? The whole thing? Should I start using a pseudonym? Why did I even name my blog after myself instead of at least coming up with a clever title for this one–like, could I trumpet “KATE HARDING” just a little louder? Could I be more fucking arrogant? What is wrong with me? WHY AM I SO STUPID?

Other half of brain: Wait, WTF? All I’m doing is publishing writing under my own name–i.e., the thing I’ve wanted to do most in the world since I was six. (Okay, the thing I’ve wanted to do most in the world since I was six was actually to publish writing under my own name and get paid for it, but that’s a trivial distinction.) I take responsibility for every word I’ve written, and I’m even proud of a lot of them. Why should some imagined psycho stop me from doing what I love and taking credit for it?

First half of brain: Because that imagined psycho might turn out to be real and come after me.

Other half: Well, you know what? FUCK HIM.

First half: Way to ask for it, dumbass.

Other half: Isn’t this all moot until I have more than four readers?

First Half: That psycho could be number five. You have no way of knowing.

The conversation continues in an endless loop, but I trust you get the gist. My favorite part of Chris Clarke’s awesome post on how not to be an asshole was where he acknowledged not only that women have heard all this shit a thousand times before, but we’ve heard it from ourselves. THANK YOU. Jesus.

Both the conversation I have with myself and the advice above it, for all their contradictions, have one clear message running through them: it’s my problem to fix. Not the psychos’. Not the culture’s, to whatever extent it fails to discourage and punish the psychos, who are often not even proper psychos but perfectly sane, if very angry, assholes. Mine. Alone.

That blows.

And yes, it certainly blows for men as well as women. The only person I know who’s suffered serious harrassment as a result of expressing opinions on the internet is my very large boyfriend. When it was happening, he felt frightened and powerless, which was the harassers’ secondary goal–the primary one being to make him shut up forever. They didn’t succeed at the primary goal, and this is all well in the past. But when I met him, not quite a year ago, and Googled him, as you do, I instantly found a site devoted entirely to explaining why and how my soon-to-be-boyfriend was a pathetic bitchass vile fuckwad who sat around in his parents’ basement trying to abridge people’s freedom of speech and had the i.q. of a fencepost and smelled like a monkey and deserved to be killed slowly and painfully and didn’t know shit about shit BUT OH HE WOULD LEARN WHEN TEH INTERNETS ROSE UP AGAINST HIM which was totally forthcoming and also he’d never seen a naked woman in his life.

That was still up, after all those years. Which was cool insofar as it made me laugh my ass off (followed promptly by my making damn sure he’d seen at least one naked woman in his life); much less cool insofar as it represented the merest taste of what he’d actually been through. So my boyfriend bristles when people talk about online harassment as a women’s issue. Understandably.

And to that I say, honey, I love you more than anything, and I don’t mean to diminish what you went through one bit, but maybe you should close this window now.

Because online harassment is still a women’s issue.

It’s a women’s issue because those goals up there–making somebody feel afraid of speaking, making somebody feel powerless to stop what’s being done to them, making somebody feel like the only recourse is to shut up and hide out forever–are the goals a whole lot of men still hold dear and work towards for all women.

You, dear male reader, are totally not one of those men. I know this, and I appreciate it. I really do. But here’s where all this victimy girl shit concerns you:

  • every time you don’t tell your buddies it’s not okay to talk shit about women, even if it’s kinda funny;
  • every time you roll your eyes and think “PMS!” instead of listening to why a woman’s upset;
  • every time you call Ann Coulter a tranny cunt instead of a halfwit demagogue;
  • every time you say any woman–Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, any of us–”deserves whatever she gets” for being so detestable, instead of acknowledging there are things that no human being deserves and only women get;
  • every time you joke about how you’ll never let your daughter out of the house or anywhere near a man, ’cause ha ha, that’ll solve everything;
  • every time you say, “I don’t understand why thousands of women are insisting this is some kind of woman thing”;
  • every time you tell a woman you love she’s being crazy/hysterical/irrational, when you know deep down you haven’t heard a word she’s said in the past 15 minutes, and all you’re really thinking about is how seeing her yell and/or cry is incredibly unsettling to you, and you just want that shit to stop;
  • every time you dismiss a woman as “playing the victim,” even if you’re right about that particular woman

You are missing an opportunity to help stop the bad guys.

You’re missing an opportunity to stop the real misogynists, the fucking sickos, the ones who really, truly hate women just for being women. The ones whose ranks you do not belong to and never would. The ones who might hurt women you love in the future, or might have already.

‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…

I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates womento the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.

And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

As long as we live in a culture where the good guys sometimes sound just like the misogynists, the misogynists are never going to get the message that they are not normal and that most people–strong, successful men included–do not hate women.

When you trivialize what even the women you love are saying to you, when you let sexist remarks slide, when you insist that women view things from your perspective (rational! calm! reasonable!) because you don’t feel like trying to see theirs (emotional! hysterical! nuts!), when you sit around laughing with other men about how crazy chicks are before you go home to the wife and daughters you love more than life and always treat with respect, when you say the fact that online harassment disproportionately affects women somehow doesnt mean we should be considering it through the lens of women’s experiences in particular, you’re not fucking helping. You’re being willfully obtuse. You’re enjoying the luxury of not having to take what we’re telling you seriously–and that’s why we get so goddamned frustrated and angry and hysterical. Because we don’t have the option of not caring about this shit, and you just keep telling us not to.

And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?

And that goes double on the internet. It’s all well and good to advocate for ignoring trolls, except for the part where they don’t go away. They replicate like fucking Gremlins, and not a few of them are nakedly hostile toward women just for being women. And whenever a woman says, “Hey, anyone else notice how trolls especially go after women and say some shockingly hateful shit, apparently just because we’re women?” tons of good men come out of the woodwork to say, “Hey, trolls do this to everyone, not just women!” and “Maybe they just don’t like what those particular women were saying!” and “The reason you’re not taken seriously is that you insist on playing the victim!” and “I’m not a dick, so this hurts my feelings!” Not nearly as many say, “Yeah, wow, good point.”

(In case my beloved ignored my directive to get lost earlier: Thank you for being one of the latter, especially in light of your own experience with harassment.)

I read a lot of feminist blogs. I read what fat acceptance blogs there are out there. I read the comments–the moderated comments–and from those, I know bloody well the only reason I haven’t yet heard I’m a worthless cunt who deserves to be raped is that nobody knows I exist yet.

If the internet ever figures out that I exist, you can be damn sure I’ll hear that and worse. And if it escalates into something truly frightening, one of the first things people will say is that it could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so stupid as to blog under my own name, to make it so easy for people to hurt me.

This theoretical trauma could also have been avoided, of course, if I’d never blogged at all. If I hadn’t fallen in love with writing when I was six. If I’d developed a talent for something else. If I’d been born male. If I’d not been born at all–shit, if I’d only had the foresight not to be born at all, I wouldn’t have been raped when I was 17, either. Seriously poor planning on my part–everyone knows the more invisible a woman is, the safer she is. You can’t get more invisible than not existing!

My generation of women was taught to believe we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. All I can ever remember wanting to be is a writer named Kate Harding. Not a firefighter or a cop or a soldier or an astronaut or a dogcatcher or anything anyone worried might be remotely dangerous. Just a writer named Kate Harding.

So that’s what I am, and will continue to be, because I love it and I don’t know how to be anything else. But it is fucking dangerous, as it turns out. Dangerous because I use my real name and especially dangerous because it’s a female name.

But hey, that’s my problem to deal with. I should probably quit whining now.

27 thoughts on “From the Archives: On Being a No-Name Blogger Using Her Real Name

  1. Well, I missed this one the first time around. So glad you reposted. Great post. Especially relevant, considering all the Cho/Palin Sexism Watch stuff over at shakesville. Thank you for being a writer named Kate Harding.

  2. I love this post!

    So much so that a few days ago I spent ages hunting through the archives looking for the link for a post that I was writing. Ah well.

  3. I had read this one in the archives. It was something I thought about when deciding to start a blog about being 400lbs; do I blog under my own name? This piece was one of the strongest voices in my head arguing that I should – about the only one stronger was that I always used my real name on UseNet, and have continued to use it since. Heck, I used my real name on alt.fat.acceptance!

    Instead, I ended up making the new blog anonymous. Why? Because I want to talk frankly about medical issues and family medical history, and I don’t want that to be the first hit when I’m job hunting. I’m a bit disappointed in myself for this, but I also know I’m being more honest as a result.

  4. Another thing that sort of tacit acceptance of misogyny does is create spaces that are inherently unwelcoming for women (and POC and other minority groups too of course). When the good guys stand around and laugh at that kind of talk, it gives the bad guys immediate reinforcement and also the change to later say innocently, “well, we never told women they couldn’t show up, they just didn’t! Obviously women lack the talent/ambition/interest to be here at all, since we gave them a a chance and all.”

  5. Thanks for the repost.

    Reading about this, the paragraph starting with “Cause the thing is” specifically, it touches something deep inside my heart that I can’t even express: anger, frustration, unfairness.

    I am glad that there are female bloggers like you putting these issues and these feelings out there, with the risk of being called the most terrible things.

  6. caffeine:

    Another thing that sort of tacit acceptance of misogyny does is create spaces that are inherently unwelcoming for women (and POC and other minority groups too of course). When the good guys stand around and laugh at that kind of talk, it gives the bad guys immediate reinforcement and also the change to later say innocently, “well, we never told women they couldn’t show up, they just didn’t! Obviously women lack the talent/ambition/interest to be here at all, since we gave them a a chance and all.”

    Yep, I hear that argument all the time in discussions about why there are so few women in computer science, engineering and other male-dominated professions. It’s discouraging that so many men seemingly can’t understand that a choice between staying in such a poisonous atmosphere – either going along with it as “just one of the guys” or saying something and being considered a ballbreaking killjoy – and finding a situation where women are treated as fellow human beings isn’t really much of a choice at all.

  7. I hadn’t read this, and I’m really glad I did. I am going to show it to my boyfriend later, to help explain why it pisses me off when he doesn’t stand up for me when his friends make *extremely* sexist comments towards me.

    I love the part where you explain that men who hate women need the encouragement of other men (and are supported in their beliefs by the silence/agreement of “good men”). My boyfriend just doesn’t see that. His friend, who is racist and sexist, has called my friends “sluts” to my face, yelled at me to “shut the f*ck up” and told me that if I didn’t believe he was good in bed, I should “turn the f*ck around and bend over”. All of this in front of my boyfriend. Naturally, I got pretty upset when I was the only one defending myself.

    You, fortunately, explain this all so clearly, that I’m hoping my boyfriend will see the light!

  8. ::glances at my handle and chuckles a bit:: I obviously am still wrestling with this issue myself.

    Having experienced all the nastiness aimed at the evil “gurls who think they can think” in the various online games I’ve frequented, I did finally go with genderless. It does make a difference in respect, but I’m a little guilty that I wimp out and not be brave like Kate.

  9. everyone knows the more invisible a woman is, the safer she is.

    Oy. That underpins so much of our feelings towards women as a culture and it’s a complete and utter lie. It makes me crazy.

    As a fat woman, I’ve done a lot to erase myself. I avoided letting people take my picture. I sat on the edges of classrooms. I didn’t speak up. I refused to stand up in front of groups for any reason. I wore all black clothes and kept my eyes on the ground. I’ve strenuously avoided any situation that could possibly be interpreted as romantic with any guy I’ve ever known, to the point of total paranoia, because I didn’t want to be laughed at.

    And I’ve followed the “safety” rules too. Don’t use my real name online except professionally. I Google myself to check periodically. I stick with people I know. I don’t go out much but when I did I was always with a group. I never drink alcohol, and any drugs I’ve ever had were given to me by doctors. I kept a phone with me at all times. I get my keys out before walking to my car even in broad daylight. I check the backseat every time I get in the car, and I lock the doors even driving for 3 minutes somewhere. I asked friends to walk me to my car or home if I was nervous. I lock my doors at all times while I’m home. I have a baseball bat under my bed.

    And I still don’t feel safe. Because I know even after all that, if I “get raped” (not “am raped by a man” of course) or mugged or stalked or anything, the first thing people will think is “Well, what did you do to let that happen?” The assumption being I must have done something, been at fault somewhere, somehow. And the questioners will run through that whole list and will likely still after all those points will find something I didn’t do or should’ve done that puts the blame on me, rather than on the guy(s) responsible.

    Of course, I’m not the quiet little mousiekins anymore either, so now it would be easier to explain how I became a victim due to my own failings than it used to be. But of course, that’s the point. The question is never “what was going through that sick fuck’s mind when he beat/raped/mutilated/murdered that woman?” It’s always “How did she get herself into that?”

    *sigh*

    There was an awesome post on LJ back in the spring that was on the same topic: Most men, I believe, really don’t get, either intellectually or viscerally, the degree to which the awareness of sexual assault permeates women’s lives.

    DRST

  10. Oh, my gods. I’m crying.

    I’m thinking of all the times people have told me to shut up, to calm down, that things that I care about or that bother me or that genuinely concern or frighten me are no big deal and I’m just being irrational and overemotional, or that I’m just plain wrong about my own opinions, feelings, or experiences and then later, the same people say “well geez Sugar, don’t be such a victim, why do you give up so easily/ feel so helpless/ not speak up/ never stand up for yourself?”

    WHY? FUCKING WHY?!!!! ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKING SERIOUS.

    Because you will treat me like an idiot if I do. Because you will dismiss me if I do. Because nothing I say or do will be listened to for the most part, and I have no way of guessing which are the exceedingly rare situations in which it will, so WHY in all the nine hells should I even consider opening myself for ridicule and condescending remarks and then also have my needs or worries unmet anyway?!!!! I actually have a fucking brain, contrary to popular thought, and frankly I find it pretty IMPRACTICAL (oh noes, I know the logicks?!) to make gestures which I know from experience to not only be fruitless, but also to invite more woe upon my head. I tend, in my actions, to attempt to protect myself from further harm if harm’s been done already and I don’t feel I’m in a position with enough advantage to correct it. OH GODS, THE BRAINING. SHIT, IT’S LIKE FUCKING POETRY, EXCEPT WITH MORE MATHS.

    I’m running out of sarcastic remarks to type in all caps, but all the exclamation points in the world wouldn’t be enough to emphasize this: We’re. Not. Stupid. Or Crazy. Or Lying.

    The world, of course, is stupid, crazy, and constantly lying to us, (that’s everybody us, not just women us) and trying to convince us to take all this bullshit into ourselves (with a lot of success, unfortunately, since it takes a lot of years and a little luck to unplug oneself from the Bullshit Matrix). But it doesn’t become our fault until we willfully refuse to see what is there just because it’s easier. Which doesn’t mean we’re perfect about it, or we don’t get tired, or we don’t sometimes opt out of this or that fight, or pick which issues to care about the most, but it does mean we do NOT get to sit around and pretend the problem exists for nobody just because it doesn’t exist for us personally.

  11. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to march proudly to the JET website while I’m feeling nice and empowered and rock the hell out of the online application.

    Wish me the lucks, Shapelings! :3

  12. Well… that was fast… apparently, though it was supposed to go online the 19th, and on the 19th it said it would be on today, when I just went there today, it now says they’re not sure exactly when they’ll be up, but gee, keep checkin’!

    That was disparagingly anticlimactic for me.

  13. I remeber that this was linked on another blog that I read, and it was one of the post that drew me to this blog. However, The Fantasy of Being Thin is the winner that hooked me. I never realized that I still hung onto that fantasy until I read that post. And then I went ‘wow, I do that,’ and it started to change my life and the way I view my body and my relationship to my body.

  14. After reading this post, I’ve decided I want to start my own blog. Because I have a voice and I want to write and I want to get my written voice out there.

    I know many of y’all have mentioned that wordpress is great, but what if, say, I think I might want to try and make money off my blog some day? Is MovableType a better place, then? Tips would be great!

  15. Oh wow. This post was how I discovered this blog and the FA movement. I loved it so much that I emailed you and asked if I could use it in our campus’s feminist newsletter.

    Thank you for reposting it! I was actually half a second from putting the link in the repost suggestions thread before I scrolled down another inch and saw it’d already been done. :)

    Go Shapely Prose!

  16. OMG, this was a whole bunch of WIN! I sent out a mass email with the link to this entire post, as well as highlighting a significant portion, to all of my friends and family. Especially the ones who DO make these comments with the caveat that if they do not take this seriously, then I’m ending any and all relations with them. Blood or not.

    Thank you!

  17. It’s such a simple thing: “Friends don’t let friends be asshats”.

    I greatly miss Kathy Sierra. I loved her articles, and would eagerly await the ping of my RSS-reader telling me there was a new one.

    Even though I’ve been using the internet and it predecessor BBS’s since the early 80′s (I started young), I’ve only started using my real name online quite recently.
    I never thought my real identity was anybody’s business. Nowaways I feel more and more that in some cases I just don’t want to hide behind a mask anymore.

    Sincerely
    Robbert

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