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If You Blog, Don’t Talk About Being Harrassed and Develop a Thicker Skin

Of all the blogosphere reactions to the outrage at one female blogger’s public denouncement of website comment harassment, two struck a nerve with me. Both of them put the blame on her for not handling the situation properly.

One refrain is (paraphrasing here) “Get with the program lady. It’s the Internet. Get a thicker skin” and the other is “The best way to deal with predators is to ignore them. She should not have written about this.”

Be Tough. It’s the Internet. It’s Okay to Hate Here.

I don’t often hear a man complain of being threatened online. Is it because they are not harassed? Of course not. It’s not manly to whine. It’s more macho to be cool with it and swallow any emotions that may arise. Depending on the amount of testosterone, it’s customary to turn around and retaliate, go to the nearest bar and drink off the pain or go “do something” like run, play sports or pull an engine out of the car.

Let’s imagine you see a picture of a male Blogger that you love, screaming in horror with underwear on his head, on a non-adult porn website (where you could logically expect to see this stuff.) It doesn’t have the same feel as when the image is of a woman, screaming with underwear on her head. Maybe the man needs a sex toy glued to his forehead instead. That might get an actual reaction. He’ll likely email the person who did it with a nice letter from his lawyer, or call the person a slew of names, and call it a day. Or, he might even think it’s hilarious and show his buddies. (I verified that reaction with my husband.)

Let’s say the man with the sex toy on his forehead is harassed with death threats, along with that picture, and sexually invasive comments on what could be done with that sex toy appear on several popular blogs where comments aren’t moderated. Visitors will read them. The man is due to speak at a conference. He’s got an impeccable reputation in his industry, but now someone is stalking him and putting sex toys on his forehead. (Just watch. This blog will now rank for the keywords “sex toys”).

He’ll likely go to his event because he doesn’t fear death threats or something inside him doesn’t take it seriously. He doesn’t fear rape and has no life experience in being violated.

Women fear both because they are more inclined to have been raped, humiliated, and traumatized for the very fact that they are female. Rape is a weapon of mass destruction in many countries during times of war. Rape happens to men too, but their willingness to discuss it is even more guarded than women.

Violation is Invasive, Whether Physical or By Computer Keyboards

The reaction by women to what happened to Kathy Sierra is different than what the men are expressing. Some men have written that women are “objects” and this behavior is due to that. They say women have to live with this. Kathy was told to get over herself and develop a “thick skin”. She was called a “character assassin”. In Cre8asiteforums, it was suggested she should never have written about her experience at all because this is exactly what predators want you to do. They want to know they caused suffering.

When a woman is raped, they are also told to:

1. Develop a thick skin and live with it
2. Not tell anyone
3. It was their fault
4. Not to report it
5. They are assumed guilty and the rapist is assumed innocent unless she can prove the assault. She has to prove her claim and have the facts to back it up.

Some women will go to court, but they face public embarrassment, harassment and a legal side that insists it was her fault and their client didn’t do it. There remain those who believe a woman who is raped did something to deserve it, such as wearing tight jeans or showing her face in public by removing her veil.

Does it follow through that now that we own blogs, websites, and forums, plus get email, that we somehow deserve to be abused and threatened? Does being on the Internet automatically mean hatred is acceptable and if you want to play, turn your back on the shocking parts? Should you not discuss, in your own blog, an experience that has frightened you because you risk ridicule? Should Kathy have gathered proof before going public and mentioning names?

I’ve thought about why she named individuals in her statement. I think she might have refrained had the site owners moderated comments and image submissions. Two of the sites have since been taken down. Would they have remained up, to hurt someone else, if she had not spoken up?


The woman who created this storm by speaking out is herself an observer of human behavior. She’s reached countless web designers with her humor and way of explaining user centered, people oriented design. Her career is about people, how they react and how they think. Now, she is afraid to speak in public due to the behavior of one or more individuals. Was she a target because she is a female, as some have written, or because human behavior is her passion and the best way to get to someone is via what they love?


Must women expect to be treated with disrespect? Have they not won a single ounce of integrity and the right to exist alongside men in peace and fairness?

I used to live in a city and I walked to work every day because I wanted the exercise and parking was a pain in the neck. An office worker, I had to wear dresses to work and look professional, so I wore dresses with sneakers and brought nice shoes for when I arrived.

Without fail, I’d arrive at work shaking in fury and sometimes fear. I was taunted at every step by construction workers and men on the sidewalks. The whistles were bad enough but the remarks they made were so sickening that I would get nauseous. At any minute I feared one of them would follow me to work or worse, stalk me and learn where I lived. As a rape victim already, I already bear scars. Every day I hated them and every day I willed myself to not hate all men, because of the actions of the men that hurt me.

My roommate was a man. One of my most cherished friends; he got sick of hearing me come home in tears and fury, worn out from the daily verbal assaults. He bought me a Walkman radio with earphones for my birthday and after that; I never had to hear the lewd remarks again.

Are some people asking that we ignore what’s happening on the Internet by promoting ways to not listen or read about what’s happening there?

Do you really want the people you care about to be subjected to harm? If we don’t speak up about appalling events, what if someone succeeds and carries out a death threat or kidnaps a child (I once received a threat via email by someone threatening to kidnap my children because I was a single mother and they felt they should give them a home with two parents. I was a target because of my blog.)

On the Internet, being anonymous brings out every conceivable kind of whacko.

Defend Creepy People. See No Evil.

I don’t see how developing tolerance to hate can be justified. I don’t see how not speaking up when one’s life or livelihood is in jeopardy is helpful. A “thick skin” benefits what and whom? It’s too easy to express hatred and anger and far more difficult to show restraint, wisdom, fairness and respect. It takes practice.

Why not start with the Internet?

Discussions and related links:

Debate (sometimes heated) – It Starts With Saying Women Are Good Linkbait

If I Knew Who You Are, Would You Write Differently? Authentication in blogs and forums

First reactions – Distressing News

Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?

Discussion – Kathy Sierra’s Unfortunate Situation

Death Threats Against A Blogger

re Kathy Sierra’s allegations

However, given that half the human race consists of women, it should not come as a newsflash that some of them — in about equal proportion to men — are stupid, venal, dishonest, or just generally annoying. Expressing such an opinion may be distasteful to some and vehemently argued by others, but last time I checked, having a negative opinion of a public figure was neither a federal offense nor an expression of misogyny.

Decided to turn comments turned back on (as much as I hate the spam). I hugged my tree. (Got pictures too, but you don’t need to see me hugging a tree, do you?)


  1. March 28, 2007    

    I agree completely, Kim. The responses I’ve seen like that are completely disheartening. I’m also a rape victim, and for 28 years, I’ve dealt with fears. Despite the fact that I’ve become trained to defend myself (and my family), there is still a core of fear that will never go away. Perhaps one has to be a victim, or know a victim, in order to comprehend Kathy’s fear. I don’t know. But those of us who believe that speaking out and doing what we can to institute change will have to compensate for those who don’t. Maybe our voices will be heard by some, maybe they will be ignored by others. All we can do is try. I’m sure Kathy doesn’t read my blog, or know who I am, but I gave what advice I could to her. If she doesn’t hear me, maybe she’ll hear someone else. If those people who might be abusers don’t hear me, or you, perhaps they’ll hear someone else. Thick skins don’t save lives. But sometimes, voices do.

  2. March 29, 2007    

    Glad to see you are back with us Kim.

    I don’t agree with what a lot of what people have been saying. I think it is important that Kathy speaks out and reminds the world of what is going on on the Internet.

    It will be great if she can stand up again soon and show that this sort of thing cannot deter her from doing what she does so well.

    I don’t expect for a second though that I would find this an easy ask if I was in her situation.

    It is very easy for us all to sit in judgement, but I ask all of those people that have decided she is going about this wrong: Do you honestly think you would handle this better in her shoes?

    Anyway, like I said Kim, it is good to be able to comment again. Thanks for the glass of wine.

  3. March 29, 2007    

    Is it just me or does this completelely miss the point?

    “Expressing such an opinion may be distasteful to some and vehemently argued by others, but last time I checked, having a negative opinion of a public figure was neither a federal offense nor an expression of misogyny.”

    If it was just a ‘negative opinion’ there wouldn’t be this outcry. As much as we would all prefer to see constructive criticism outright negative opinions are standard.

    What happened to Kathy Sierra though was something else entirely.

  4. March 29, 2007    

    I completely agree with a lot of this. One of my best friends was raped a few years ago. The mere suggestion of violence towards another human, in any way shape or form, as far as I’m concerned, is unacceptable. No-one has the right to attack another person based on their race, gender, IQ, lifestyle or religion.

    Judgements should be reserved for when they’re appropriate. Violence, and the threat of, should be a very last resort. Sadly, given America’s stance towards the Middle East, it would seem that this is something the world is forgetting.

    No-one should be attacked or judged for anything other than their own unjustified violent actions towards others. And only then after trial and being given the chance to defend themselves.

    Which then leads us to ask a new question. And a more important one:

    How do we define violence? Is it simply physical? Or is defamation of character violence? Is, indeed, any act which reduces a human being in some way, which implies they are less than what they are, an act of violence? I’d say so.

    Rant over.

  5. March 29, 2007    

    It’s interesting how many of the people saying to “get a thicker skin” seem to be cowards hiding behind internet anonymity. I only hope that what we’re seeing is not so much the internet encouraging this sort of behavior but finally revealing fringe elements that have been there all along. Maybe we need to shine the light on what’s left of our bigotry and brutality before we can make it go away.

  6. March 29, 2007    

    Is it just me or does this completelely miss the point?

    I thought so, which is why I pulled that quote from his piece, in particular. I found it to be insightful into who she is dealing with, whether he is directly responsible or not.

    Greg, you’re welcome. I think a round of wine is in order, although traditionally, it puts me to sleep :)

    Donna, I was moved by your post. We are sisters in many ways. Thank you for your courage.

    In reading comments from around the globe, I’m sensing that men who have been closest to women who have experienced violence (physical/sexual) are more compassionate, with some ready to get out their swords to defend their honor. I’ve found this in my daily life as well. For a guy to get through to a woman who has been violated is no easy task. It takes more than their love, and I’ve been blessed by knowing many men who have tried to help women learn to trust again.

  7. March 30, 2007    

    I’m glad to see you are back. I read Kathy’s blog on her death threats and I just can’t get over how horrible people can be. I can understand your not wanting to post again, for women it seems who take a risk and raise their voices, it’s scary. The problem is that there are many more good people out there that crap like this overshadows them. I really resonated with what Pete said. I agree with him. I believe that you need a bit of dissention to bring forth points of view otherwise not explored. I hope that we can all heal our wounds and keep moving forward. I hate to have this community lose 2 great women such as you and Kathy.
    Peace be with you,

  8. April 1, 2007    

    I followed all this a bit, in between my too-packed schedule, and I can’t understand why her reaction wasn’t understood to be a normal reaction. Fear.

    I tried reading the cre8 forums thread, but interest dropped off around the comment that “women are irrational.” Right. ;)

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  1. Thought Leadership on March 29, 2007 at 6:21 am

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