Sunday 8 March 2009

Identity politics and cyberculture: we're not in Kansas anymore.

I've been thinking a lot, over the past few days, about what it means to be a feminist writing online, and whether I can hack the amount of abuse I've been getting recently. Whether it just depresses me too much to carry on. People have been telling me to shut up and get a real job for a while now. Perhaps I should listen to them.

On the internet, identity is fluid - and so choosing to adopt and pursue a female identity, or indeed any identity which deviates from white heteronormativity, is a statement with which makes a lot of people uncomfortable on a very basic level. Choosing to be proud of an identity that consciously others itself from the white, male consensus with which the internet, like so many other fiefdoms, emerged, is problematic. It can and does draw an horrific quantity of abuse, including on the pages of mainstream debate sites such as Comment Is Free, Lablist and even Libcon.

In 2009, the internet is big, it's really, really big. Big enough for safe, positive spaces to have developed for women, ethnic minorities, queers and their allies; big enough for communities to have formed which have taken the mold of global parochialism and smashed it to splinters. IRC channels, gaming communities, debate forums and messageboards are no longer populated by a self-referential community of mostly-white, mostly-middle-class males with ponytails and ketchup on their tshirts*. We've moved beyond global village territory. This is a global metropolis, and its streets are full of dissenters.

In the seven years I've been active online and the three years I've been blogging, I've seen a lot of my favourite bloggers hounded off the tubes, or simply withdrawing after months or years of snide bullying and sniping. But the reason for this blog, if there is any one reason, is a blogger called Biting Beaver, who I used to follow back in 2005-6.

At that time, let's just say that I wasn't getting out of my room much. I was in a state; the internet was safe. I discovered feminists writing online, and remembered that I used to be one. I remembered all that self-worth I used to have, all that hope. And then Biting Beaver - whose real name nobody needs to know - took the brave step to record her experience of being denied emergency contraception until it was too late. She fell pregnant. She had an abortion, recorded the experience - the first and bravest female journalist, because paid or unpaid the blog was journalism at its finest, to really do so. It made me - proud. It made me - sad, and angry, and hopeful, all at once. I remembered what it was like to feel like my body wasn't a prison. I remembered what it was like to know how to fight back, and to want to do it in any way I could.

Then, Biting Beaver received so many death threats that she was driven from the internet and disappeared.

And I thought: fuck you. Fuck all of you snide little losers and rednecks and toryboys spitting bile at keyboards in your sad little bedrooms. This is my internet too. I want it back.

Along with almost all female, feminist and ethnic minority bloggers, I have faced appalling verbal harrassment online. But we are no longer vulnerable to the sticks and stones of patriarchy: our technology has moved on. As long as a contingent of brave hyperpeople maintain an online presence despite the bullying and ridicule that we face, there is no way to stop minority politics playing a central part in the information revolution.

Saul Williams would say: 'Muthafuckers better realise. Now is the time to self-actualise'.

Morpheus would say: 'Buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy; because Kansas is going bye-bye'.

I say: the world is getting colder and meaner, and there are too many of us now for anybody to hold back the culture revolution that's coming. So bring it. Tell me I'm a slut, tell me I'm a joke, tell me I'm a stupid little girl, tell me I'm upsetting the natural order. We upset nothing. You, you with your wars and your big spending and your bigotry and your cruelty and your constant fucking lies, you broke it. Now sit the fuck down and see what we're going to build with the pieces.

*Not that I have any problem with individual people like this, refs: my dating history, 2004-2009.


  1. Penny - I'd like to share with you a realisation that I had when I was a little older than you are now which I found to be wonderfully reasuring.
    Nobody cares.
    Really! Internet people don't hate you because you're an intelligent woman. At worst they're alleviating boredom, more likely they're attempting to engage. Men who look at you on the street probably aren't trying to kill you with their eyes.
    I'd like to draw your attention to the comments section on this video.
    This is a video about a man making pasta and the comments section descends into a hate filled, obscenity strewn fight over nothing.
    Abusive comments have little to do with the content of the original message and everything to do with human nature, boredom and supposed anonymity.
    I'd like to add that the comments on Labour list(at last the published ones) aren't actually that abusive. You're taking things a little too personally.

    And actually, people abusing you on the internet are very unlikely to have had anything to do with starting wars or "big spending" (thought you were a fan of that). You're imagining a powerful anti-Penny Red block that doesn't exist.

  2. *pulls Roscharch mask down over face*

    Is that what people are saying about me now? That I'm paranoid?

    (sorry, just seen the film <3)

  3. In 2009, the internet is big, it's really, really big

    This is part of the problem, everyone is on the internet these days, a process that has been going on since the eternal September broke the academic monopoly. So we can assume that as far as internet users in this country are concerned we are almost at the point where the demographic is proportionately the same as newspaper readership. The comparison there of course shows is that as many people read the Daily Mail as the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independent put together without even bringing the red tops in.

    Of course in the real world people can be safe in their own little islands, very few people apart from media commentators buy newspapers they know they will disagree with, but online they get sent by the demagogues of their particular strain of ‘politics’ to go and comment on posts that don't fit their world view; and as in general, because people (no matter what they are like alone) are rarely nice in packs, they rant, rail and hound people until they force them to get their heads back under the parapet. Echoing what happens starting in the playground from an early age, the pack will always seek out those they perceive to be the most weak of those that they consider to be the opposition or different from them.

    I will unhappily admit that when reading back some things I have written I have slipped over the dividing line into ad hominem and I imagine all but the most self disciplined blogger would have to say the same thing. The shame is that with every shade of opinion on the internet it should be the perfect medium for everyone with an opinion in a debate to to ensure that they challenge themselves that they have read and understood the other side’s views; that they have mapped their position on the argument space and are happy with the neighbours before settling permanently.

  4. Totally sideline nit pick. It's Cypher who says that, not Morpheus. Pretty ironic given all Cypher wants to do get back.

  5. I started reading your blog recently, and enjoy it for its honesty. I haven't commented before because I haven't had anything useful to add to the debate. I suspect people like me are the majority of your readers. You would do well to watch your stats and see if I'm right, and ignore the minority of idiots who use the anonymity of the Internet to spit bile they'd never dare vent in real life.
    Focus on the positive responses, critical or uncritical, and ignore the people you consider to be idiots. Or block em'.

  6. I usually either ignore or mock trolls. After a while it might get boring though, because both pretend to be pissed, but are actually too bored to find something else to do.
    Which probably means I need another hobby. Or a self-help course in productive living or something.

    That's actually pretty interesting when I think about it. Take the Anonymous protests against Scientology for instance. Most of the people involved where most likely your average "bored person on the Internet". They decided to do this, and as far as I know, when we were working on the protests and stuff everyone was very nice, respectful and overall friendly.

    I'm basically saying that people are bored and try to find ways of amusing themselves. Some might take up WoW, some go around being bastards to other people because they can. That's probably not all of it, but I'm guessing it's a big part at least.

    But yeah, online identity is pretty interesting. I've been a mentally unstable girl that doubles as a gender confused terrorist deity, Walter Bishop, a mafia boss, a pair of gloves communicating trough gestures, and probably a few others I've forgotten.
    And that's just one game.
    And now I'm gonna stop writing and go to bed before my brain pushes my eyes out from my skull and escapes trough my eye sockets.
    Take care now everyone!

  7. "You will not fail, however he may assail you. There is also love in the world."

    "Be true."

  8. Hey, kiddo, turn that frown upside down!

    The people who attack, tease, threaten and abuse you... do you respect them? Are they the kind of people whose opinions you would normally value? Would you seek such men and women out for counsel or guidance?

    I bet your answers to my foregoing questions would be a fourfold, "No!" I doubt if you would want to share the same sunshine or breathe the same air as such losers. So why let their cowardly criticism and nastiness affect you in the slightest part? Personally I only value the opinions of people I respect, care about and love; I couldn't give a toss for the confused vicious uninformed thoughts of the ruck of the rest of humanity.

    The truth is that Penny Red is a writer persona that you inhabit on the web - that persona isn't you! So let the world and its wife take a swipe at your alter-ego. I know she's a real toughie and can take all the peashooter pops any number of intellectually challenged and morally vacuous pigmies might choose to make over time.

    Fuck them!

    When you've been dead a million years you've only just started being dead so while you're alive I reckon it's best to be someone and do some things that you can live with - even be proud of - rather than sell out completely and be nothing worth anything.

    Don't let anyone extinguish your light.

  9. Penny - This is a preposterous misrepresentation of events.

    This article (atypically for the website) contains the truth:

    BB attracted opprobrium for saying that she wished she'd aborted her son after finding him (*GASP*) masturbating to porn.

  10. Biting Beaver is without any doubt a disturbed woman who suffers from some kind of psychopathology. She doesn't deserve threats of any kind but she definitely does need complex psychiatric help beyond my ability to diagnose.

    I would not want my name associated with a woman espousing so violent and extreme a viewpoint, nor do I believe that her political stance is feminist in any way, shape or form. The poor woman is delusional and deranged. She is to feminism what the Taliban are to Islam; hate-filled polemicists who have co-opted, distorted and perverted a pure and worthy doctrine to reinforce their own reflexive solipsistic lunacy.

    Find a better heroine to admire, Penny Red. Biting Beaver is worthy of our pity, but nothing else.

  11. Wow... I checked out the link above, do people really believe this nonsense?

    "13.You are a rapist if you ‘nag’ her for sex. Because you manage to ply an eventual ‘yes’ from a weary victim doesn’t mean it’s not rape. You are a rapist.

    14. You are a rapist if you try to circumvent her “No” by talking her into it. She’s not playing hard to get, and, even if she IS it’s not YOUR responsibility to ‘get’ her. You’re still a rapist.

    46. If you don’t believe a woman when she says she was raped then you’re encouraging rape."

    So persuading a woman to have sex with you is rape? Slap the cuffs on me officer, guilty as charged.

    Though not as guilty as i'd like to be.

  12. Heterosexual sex, consensual or not, IS rape.

  13. "13.You are a rapist if you ‘nag’ her for sex. Because you manage to ply an eventual ‘yes’ from a weary victim doesn’t mean it’s not rape. You are a rapist.

    14. You are a rapist if you try to circumvent her “No” by talking her into it. She’s not playing hard to get, and, even if she IS it’s not YOUR responsibility to ‘get’ her. You’re still a rapist.

    46. If you don’t believe a woman when she says she was raped then you’re encouraging rape."

    Yes, I'd say that all of that is rape. Pressuring an unwilling girl/woman/child/boy into sex? Rape. Not believing someone who says they were raped? Yeah, that's encouraging rape, by adding to an atmosphere in which rapists can rape with impunity.

    'Though not as guilty as I'd like to be':

    What in hell's name is that supposed to mean?

  14. Alice: not sure I'm down with you on that one, babe. I think that quite a lot of what passes for het sex can be construed as rape - but for rape to have any meaning at all, there has to be a distinction between what is and is not actual consensual sex.

    Unless you believe that no heterosexual woman can truly consent to sex?

    Me, I know bloody well when I've consented and when I haven't.

  15. "Though not as guilty as I'd like to be"

    Oh come on!

    Don't be obtuse; give Mark a break.

    The guy means he hasn't had as much sex as he would have liked to! He was trying to be funny. The guy was joking, jesting, having a laugh!



    And they say Germans have no sense of humour!

  16. Nono, ozzy, what he SAID was that he's not as guilty of rape as he'd like to be.





    In fact, it's a massively creepy and threatening thing to say.

    Rape is not the same thing as sex. If you wish you'd pressured more unwilling girls into letting you fuck them, there's something wrong with you. If you make a joke about that on a feminist blog, there's something wrong with you.

  17. What Alathea said.

  18. What in hell's name is that supposed to mean?

    Uh...That he hasn't persuaded as many women to have sex with him as he'd liked to?


  19. Before we have any more talking at cross purposes here, can we just note that there's an important if sometimes unclear distinction between persuasion and pressuring, and let Mark's remark rest?

  20. Good. Thanks. Glad we sorted that out.

    Now moving on, does anyone have a link to something about this BB person which isn't Encyclopedia Dramatica? Because even if it is accurate, being on E. D., one must assume that it's a load of crap...

  21. Interesting.

    I found Mark's remark funny. To me he was complaining jokingly that he hadn't had as much consensual sexual intercourse as he would have liked to have enjoyed.

    You on the other hand found Mark's aside distasteful and possibly even threatening. To you he was implicitly advocating coercive sexual congress, even going so far as stating that he hadn't been party to such acts as many times as he might have wished to in his life.

    Is this illustrative of something psychologically significant vis-a-vis mentation in the sexes?

    I bet most men and women if asked would share my viewpoint and that very few women would agree with you and yours. Aren't you projecting shades and shadows onto and into something that is essentially harmless? Innocent even?

    The way.

    You mocked.

    My writing style.

    Was smile-worthy.

    You may not mean to be but you are funny yourself young Miss; the image of a sawn-off latter-day Dorothy Parker springs to mind. But cool down: have a cup of tea: smoke a joint: soak your tiny feet in a pan of warm Radox water and chill.

    Most of your readership like you.

    One day you'll be forced to accept that.

  22. I disagree with some of what you say, but I still read all of what you write as I might learn something. Top 3 blogs on the internet in my view. Integrity is a real value.

  23. Yes, thats right Neurosceptic.
    But regardless of whether its pressurising or persuading, regardless of whether you personally consider this behaviour to be immoral or criminal, equating it with rape should be offensive to anyone who has ever been a victim of *any kind* of violence.
    Really, you can only take the proposition that "nagging" = rape,
    seriously if you believe women are too fragile to withstand the evil mind tricks of men. Not a position i'm comfortable with as a feminist.
    Just out of a matter of interest, does my wife nagging me to do the dishes make her guilty of slavery?

    Is begging theft?

    As for not believing a woman who claims she's been raped - it really does depend on so many things, doesn't it. Taking the simplistic approach really won't help anyone here and when you tell people that they must have absolute faith in the words of all women or they are encouraging rape, you're liable to provoke responses of "fuck off", which under the new regime is aggravated sexual assault,QED, you're an accessory to something horrrible.
    Best avoided.

  24. Consensual sex: "Please don't stop!"

    Non-consentual sex: "Please don't! Stop!"

    What a difference an extra exclamation mark and a capital can make, eh?

  25. I only discovered your blog a month or so ago, thanks to the Google Reader rather cleverly working out I'd probably like it, and I'd just like to say how much I've enjoyed reading your articles. You're voicing a lot of things that are not always raised and I think you're doing a great job of it.
    I, for one, would most certainly miss your posts if you decided to stop publishing them online.

    Please do keep going. :-)

  26. Aw thank you guys!


    Don't worry, I'm for defs carrying on now.

  27. Just an observation...

    If you write about controversial subjects, or take controversial stances on things, or posit controversial views on topics - you can expect to get angry responses. It is, after all, quite unreasonable to expect others' to agree with you on those controversies!

    That others will take noisy exception to the controversial is a simple fact of life. The Internet has nothing to do with that!

    Don't take the anger, or the disagreement personally. (I shouldn't have to note that threats are a different matter, but I think I must.) What does it matter that someone disagrees with you? They're as entitled to their opinion as you are to yours. So what if someone points a flaw in your argument? You learn from it, and move on.

    If we all agreed, it would not only be a boring old world, it would be a stifled one, too! Just because someone disagrees (with you) doesn't make them abusive. It simply means they disagree.

    Someone people just are abusive. Say something they disagree with, and they let lose: frothing mouths and hate filled words instead of reasoned argument or considered, never mind considerate, thought. So what? Silence yourself, and they win. Keep voicing an opinion, and eventually they ignore you.

    Does it matter if I agree with you, or not? Does it matter if I read your words? If we write to our audience we end up writing trivial nonsense; if we insist our audience agrees, or tailor our writing and audience together, it's not the audience that loses something valuable: it's the writer.

    When all is said and done, free speech is far better to the alternative, no matter what it might be.

    Carolyn Ann

  28. Glad that you aren't stopping! :D

  29. Please don't stop posting Laurie. I'm suprised you give half of these creepy men even the space to comment.

  30. Save it Sal and sew some shirts for sailors. Speaking personally, I may be pretentious. But creepy, Moi?

  31. "Tell me I'm a slut, tell me I'm a joke, tell me I'm a stupid little girl, tell me I'm upsetting the natural order."

    Bejesus colleen! How can I accede to yer request without turnin' meself into a liar? Why could ye not have requested a triptych of wishes loike other mortals? Begorrah! What a crock!

  32. Ozymandias:
    Did I say I was referring to you? So, given that you've reacted in that way tends to be almost an admission....!

    Put away the precious male ego's ;)

  33. I don't recall Biting Beaver off the top of my head, but I do remember a blogger called Molly Saves The Day getting run off for posting a DIY abortion manual, ever hear about that one?

    I like your blog. As someone with revolutionary aspirations but a lack of drive and an increasing temptation to just settle down and raise a (relatively progressive) family, I like that there are still firecracker personalities out in the rest of the developed world questioning dogma and keeping folks on their toes.

    It's impossible to prove that the silent majority of your readers are like me, positive but quiet about it, but keep in mind that customers who are dissatisfied with a business are more likely to say something than those who are happy with it.

  34. "tell me I'm a stupid little girl"

    Ok, but not for the reasons you list, but because you're a rather sad angry little girl, who suffers from delusions of being a working class hero, and paints herself as a victim of a huge resentful mass of men who hate you for your radical independent thoughts.

    And I am utterly unsurprised you like Biting Beaver - a woman with as much bile, confusion, and belief in her own status as a feminist hero and persecuted victim as you.

  35. I am very sorry you didn't get the irony of the fashion-shoot post, Mark.

    I'm not a working class hero. I grew up in Sussex, frchrissake, I went to a nice school and to Oxford. I AM an angry young woman (tm), and I think that's a valid thing to be when you're 22 and political.

    Lighten up, granddad.

  36. Lighten up, granddad

    Hey! less of the age discrimination, us old buggers are people too! ;-)

  37. Um... no need to apologise, I think I got it well enough.
    Anyway, I'm rather more concerned about your contention that mere words should be treated in the same way as fists, to be honest. Do you really believe that?

    By-the-by i'm not "anonymous" (in case there is any confusion) and don't really have any great desire to become the Emmanul Goldstein of Penny Red blog.

  38. No, Sal, you didn't explicitly call me creepy. But you implied that half of all male commentators on this blog, even half of all male humans on this planet(!), depending on which way your statement is interpreted, are creepy, so by denying that I was an element of the latter set I had a fifty-fifty chance of being right!

    Incidentally, as a matter of policy I never admit to anything.

    Ciao, cara mia. :)

  39. Your wish is my command mistress.

    You're a slut, Penny Red! You're a joke and a stupid little girl! You upset the natural order of things!

    Are you hot yet? Primed? On the boil?

    Here I come!

    Brace yourself and think of England!

  40. Mr. Stringfellow, considering you are a recently married man who made his fortune out of exploiting and exhibiting the flesh of women young enough to be you granddaughters in your seedy lap dancing clubs, I feel that your comment above is distasteful, perverse even.

    I suppose you thought what you said was funny. But you don't need to say anything to make us laugh you sad old donkey. You yourself are a bloody joke!

    Now git while the goin' is good!

  41. I am very sorry you didn't get the irony of the fashion-shoot post, Mark.

    He meant 'big [government] spending', I think.

    Also if something needs to be labelled 'ironic' it's not doing its job all that well.

  42. Every Sunday morning when I wake up in bed next to the old ball and chain I always quiz her as follows: "Well my paragon of pulchritude golf course or intercourse, which is it going to be?" Does the fact that I suggested sexplay to my steady girlfriend qualify me a potential rapist?

    How Biting Beaver managed to type such errant shit into her computer while wearing a straight-jacket from her rubber room in the institution always amazed me.

    My golf handicap is down to four by the way!

  43. If this Biting Beaver woman discovered that her teenage son had been masturbating to gay porn rather than straight porn would she have been okay with it? I'm a girl and I admit to enjoy watching certain kinds of pornography, mostly in the company of my fiancée but also sometimes alone. What does that make me? I can't believe you cited Biting Beaver - Is that alias a double entendre referencing "rough" cunnilingus or what? - as one of your influences. The woman is barking and does the cause of feminism no good and much harm IMO.

  44. Penny have you ever considered why someone like me -- a white male -- may oppose your opinions?

    Well, it's got nothing to do with me being a white male. It's simply because you're a socialist and I'm a liberal.

    I believe in a free society directed from the bottom up. And you believe in a statist society run from the top down.

    It's very simple and has nothing to do with my gender or your gender.

  45. TBR: Socialism is not necessarily statist.

    As for the "rape list"... It tries to draw solid lines where a more flexible approach would be more useful. e.g. I do not consider myself to be supporting rape because I know someone who lost their virginity when they were 15 to someone of the same age and have not reported them to the police. Also, why did she not direct her son towards non-abusive porn?

  46. If young men without girlfriends don't wank on a regular basis they'll explode! To avoid such incendiary events like this porn is really helpful. When you're older you can toss off using only memories of real-life sexual encounters but when you're young a razz mag, DVD or internet access can be such an asset and so very relieving.

    It's healthy! - even necessary!

  47. @ TBR.

    When you say you're a liberal do you mean liberal in an econo-political sense or Liberal in the narrow political sense, i.e., a supporter of the Liberal Democrat Party in the UK?

    (One man's meat is another man's poisson.)

  48. TBR:
    "Well, it's got nothing to do with me being a white male. It's simply because you're a socialist and I'm a liberal."

    In my experience, all these men who say they're 'liberal' end up being far from it when you actually dig deeper with them - the amount of mysognist/racist/homophobic sentiments I've heard from 'right-on' 'liberal' men.

  49. As per usual, like the rest of society, the men want to always get the last 'witty' word. Sums it all up. All a very sad state of affairs.

  50. Uh, Sal? The last comment was about as witty as this one will be.

  51. Hey Sal! Don't be so down on men, babe! Or if you can't help your misanthropy and have to be down on the heterogametic sex at least have the courtesy to go down on me! Seeya!

  52. Go down on your piece of shrivel, Footlong - I don't think so... babe.

  53. Sal. How rude of you to suggest that I auto-fellate myself! IMO that would be such a waste and very, very antisocial. Besides, my spine simply isn't flexible enough to enable me to stoop that low... although I bet Gordon Brown and James Purnell could manage to follow your direction without any trouble whatsoever.

    Keep applying the HRT patches!

    Seeya, babe!

    Live long and let it breathe!


  54. Thanks for the advice Footloose, but are you sure you even have a spine?


    Mwah xx

  55. Okay, Sal, you win!

    Gotta love a gal with such a caustic sense of humour. Hang on while I wipe the tears of mirth from my eyes... I can't bring myself to row with you any longer.

    You're as precious as a panda.

    Mind you don't go extinct now!


  56. Mind somebody doesn't drop a house on you, sister!

  57. Re: Biting Beaver.

    Any woman who says she wishes she had aborted her own son is talking out of a very dark place indeed; there must be something very wrong with such a person. Imagine the reaction that feminists would have if a father said a similar thing about his own daughter. Biting Beaver must be a very sick person indeed, whether she means what she says or whether she doesn't.

  58. I'm a pretty nice, non-redneck, fairly ordinary "Toryboy".

    But I don't mind that you blanket-hate me when you write.

    It's a bit like the 'individuals' who are mostly "individual" with all the other "individuals".

    You post criticism at groups you have chosen to hate, criticising them for precisely choosing to hate people. Hypocracy takes many forms. But I'm not having a pop at you, I'm sure I do it myself.

    I rather enjoyed your blog, which I discovered while randomly surfing today. It's well written and interesting. Makes me wish I agreed with you about more things. Variety makes the world go around, I guess.

    Anyhow, I've been a Watchmen fan forever. Isn't it interesting that so many different 'groups' take the novel and make it their own? I guess that's why it's such a classic.

    Enjoy your day.

  59. Maybe you slags should not fuck around so much?

  60. Shut up, Anonymous, you toilet!

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