Women in the future of journalism…

// 11 June 2008

Me and zohra took part in a panel last night at the Guardian, looking at the hostile environment for women online.

Check out Caitlin Fitzsimmons’ write up at the Guardian’s pda blog.

Jessica Valenti of Feministing was also on the panel, along with Kira Cochrane and Jemima Kiss. It was chaired by Madeleine Bunting.

And consider leaving a comment! One of the things discussed is that the first few comments on a post determine the rest of the thread.

Comments From You

Abby O'Reilly // Posted 11 June 2008 at 4:13 pm

Just read the piece by Caitlin Fitzsimmons on The Guardian – sounds like it was a really interesting talk, and on an issue that I think needs to be discussed more. It feels most of the time that the most hateful mysogynists, frustrated by the fact it’s no longer acceptable by most people to undermine and be frankly offensive to and about women, seem to find refuge in the anonymity of the web and pour out the most disgusting remarks, thinking that the fact they cannot be identified sort of diminishes the severity of their actions. It doesn’t.

Zohra, regarding Cif I can completely understand what you’re saying. I’ve had to have big gaps between my pieces because at times I’ve found it quite draining to read the abusive comments, which always denigrate to physical remarks, and remarks somehow related to my gender. When I’ve looked at contributions made by male writers, rarely are they denigrated for their looks and their sex in the same way.

But, you know what, I’ve been thinking, the Internet is a forum that exists for the benefit of eveyone, woman as well as men, and while my, and many other women’s, viewpoints may not be appreciated by a vocal portion of the readership then that’s that..I’m not going to let it deter me from writing about the issues that are still important for women, and in many instances I think the most patronising, sexist remarks confirm the fact that we need to be more willing to stand up for our opinions.

Ros // Posted 11 June 2008 at 4:47 pm

I find it interesting/irritating (delete to suit mood) that Caitlin Fitzsimmons claims that CiF is moderated… technically true, I suppose, but the level of moderation is so low as to be pretty much pointless, in my opinion.

Sian // Posted 11 June 2008 at 5:45 pm

I definitely agree that the first few comments determine the rest of the thread-funny isn’t it? And I am guilty of not leaving messages on Comment is Free, for instance, on posts that I agree with-only on those I disagree with-doubt I’m the only one. I also find it frustrating when I happen to disagree with the post, but the comments get so sexist and personal towards the writer of the article that I don’t want to post a comment disagreeing because it looks like I’m siding with them. They do get personal to nearly everyone on there, but the greatest vitriol is without a doubt directed towards women and BME writers-for instance that silly boy who wrote that awful awful article about his gap year that caused all that controversy on there, whilst causing a lot of (I think justified) anger, did not get quite the same vitriolic remarks about his person.

zohra // Posted 11 June 2008 at 8:53 pm

Hi Abby

I was slightly misrepresented there. Yes, I took a big gap between posts on cif, just like you, for similar reasons as you it sounds like. But the write-up makes it sound a bit like I did it because I couldn’t hack it, which is not what I meant.

As I’ve said before: I definitely think it’s worth writing and engaging on issues as you say, and not being silenced. My point was that for me, writing on cif is a tactical decision – I weigh what I’ll get out of it with what I’ll have to put into it to have my voice and views heard above the abuse, including the emotional cost. I have chosen to write on cif where there’s a particular issue that I think the cif readership is worth engaging with on. If I make that decision, I consciously build the time into my work day that I know I’ll need to respond to comments. If I think the issue isn’t appropriate to the readership or I haven’t got the time to spare to respond to the comments, then I post elsewhere or choose another way to broadcast my message.

At the talk, my point was that this is the reality for many women writers on the net. We make choices about how to spend our energy. Jess was also saying this, making the important point that we have only so many activist resources at our disposal (time, energy, emotional capacity, etc).

Bottom line: is fighting misogyny on cif a good use of these resources?

Sunny H // Posted 11 June 2008 at 11:04 pm

Well, yes, feminists can just talk amongst themselves or only to govt quangos. I just don’t think its very healthy over the long term.

technically true, I suppose, but the level of moderation is so low as to be pretty much pointless, in my opinion.

Well, it depends how much moderation you want and how many resources you want to spend on it. They have post-moderation policy, so nasty comments are deleted, but after a bit of time. In the meantime people can respond to them. I have the same policy on my blog, and its not a lot one can do, unless you moderate comments before they get published.

Sunny H // Posted 11 June 2008 at 11:06 pm

Oh, and I have my view posted here too:


Caitlin // Posted 12 June 2008 at 8:59 am

Zohra, I’m sorry if you feel misrepresented. I didn’t mean to imply that you couldn’t ‘hack it’ at all and I actually don’t think it comes across this way. What you said was much more nuanced than that – that there was an emotional cost as well as a professional cost so you needed to weigh the decision carefully. Perhaps this wasn’t reflected adequately in the piece – there was just so much to write about and the piece was already over 1,000 words long, so I had to condense.

Ros, I’m not defending (or criticising for that matter) the level of comment moderation on CiF. We had people from CiF in the audience and I gleaned that they have a lot more resources these days so hopefully that will make some difference, though it’s always going to be more of an open shop than a safe place like the F-Word. Arguably that brings advantages as well as disadvantages.

To everyone, please do feel free to leave comments over at PDA as well as here.

Caitlin // Posted 12 June 2008 at 9:40 am

Sian, I assume you are talking about Max Gogarty. http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/travelog/2008/02/skins_blog.html

Actually I think the comment thread got exceedingly personal. Some of the insults hurled his way were: ‘posh’, ‘walking cliche’, ‘moneyed youngster’, ‘middle class’, ‘posh mummies boy’, ‘vacuous, self-indulgent, narcissistic pseudo-intellectual’, ‘smug’, ‘upper class twit of the year’, cosseted, molly-coddled’, ‘muppet’, ‘naive and spoilt’, ’19, self-obsessed and utterly crap’, ‘nineteen year old, white, public school boy with a penchant for stubble’. There were accusations of nepotism and endless insults about his ‘skinny jeans’.

I’d say that’s pretty personal. And if not sexist, it’s certainly classist, ageist and in some parts racist.

And that’s just the comments that weren’t deleted by the moderators. Quite a lot of them were.

I do think it should never have been published though. I wrote about it on my travel blog here: http://www.roamingtales.com/2008/02/18/the-gogarty-case-how-should-old-media-respond-to-new-media/

Sarah // Posted 12 June 2008 at 10:49 am

Well honestly I think much of the criticism of Max Gogarty was deserved – I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice young man and I hope he has a good time on his gap year, but the blog was incredibly cliched and vacuous and had absolutely no place in a respected national newspaper (or even on their website).

I agree some of the comments were unnecessarily personal and nasty and made unfounded assumptions about him and his background. However I don’t think we should mix that up with the sheer hatred and vitriol that seems to be spewed all over any writer, expecially a woman, who tries to address women’s issues in even the most tentative and moderate way. Max Gogarty was ridiculed because he was a rather crap writer. Women columnists and bloggers, regardless of the quality of their writing, are consistently verbally abused and even threatened simply for daring to exist and speak publicly about the social issues that affect us. There are articles on Cif where as soon as i see the headline or the author’s name, I decide not to scroll down to read the comments, because I know the misogyny and hatred will make me feel sick.

Soirore // Posted 12 June 2008 at 12:51 pm

I agree with the above that the criticism of Gogarty was harsh and also that it is parcially the Guardian’s responsibility as they shouldn’t have hosted the blog anyway.

But however hurtful the criticism was it didn’t make him afraid to leave his house, he didn’t have to read about people threatening to rape him.

The last issue of Bitch had an interesting article on how some feminist writers on the web have dealt with misogyny but ironically it hasn’t been put online.

Caitlin // Posted 13 June 2008 at 12:36 am

So not ‘quite the same vitriolic remarks about his person’ but ‘vitriolic remarks about his person’ all the same.

I believe the criticism of his writing and the editor for commissioning it was justified as well, but it did go too far.

But surely it’s not a competition to see who gets the most abuse.

zohra // Posted 13 June 2008 at 2:44 pm

Hi Caitlin

Thanks for coming back to me. I figured it was a result of needing to keep it short. Fortunately I have a platform to try and re-represent my thoughts – which is what I’m about to do!

zohra // Posted 13 June 2008 at 3:09 pm

Sunny, in response to this: Well, yes, feminists can just talk amongst themselves or only to govt quangos. I just don’t think its very healthy over the long term.

which you wrote in response to this by me: Bottom line: is fighting misogyny on cif a good use of these resources?

This is your usual refrain – that feminists only talk to themselves. But choosing not to fight misogeny on cif does not mean we are only talking to ‘ourselves’ or lobbying govt. There are other ways to make change and influence debate, including public campaigns. This, to my mind, is a constructive use of limited resources. Why fight with people on cif when you can take to the streets?

Anne // Posted 9 July 2008 at 1:21 am

Just very randomly wandered here via Google!

Cif is moderated but what a lot of writers fail to do is report abusive comments – do so and the mods will remove them pretty quickly.

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