Speaking While Female
When you express an idea, especially online, there’s a very good chance that the reaction you receive will depend on whether you are a man or a woman. (Or, online, whether you are perceived as a man or a woman.) While both genders are subject to hateful comments, the type and degree of hate directed toward women is of a much different degree than it is toward men. This is not a newly discovered idea, but it was certainly one of the topics covered by this past weekend’s #YesAllWomen hashtag.
If you were to search the internet, I would wager that you could find men and women saying similar things and receiving different reactions. But a funny thing happened this week: two publications put out pieces that came to identical conclusions concerning the recent mass shooting at UC-Santa Barbara and the role of culture in shaping people like the alleged perpetrator Elliot Rodger. The Washington Post’s piece was written by film critic Ann Hornaday, and The Daily Beast’s piece was written by Jeopardy contestant and self-described nerd Arthur Chu. Neither piece blamed any particular film for Rodger’s actions in Isla Vista. In fact, neither piece blamed “the media” or “Hollywood” at all. Both pieces talked about the role of our culture in shaping ideas, about how the culture we consume creates expectations and desires, and how we use culture to determine what is “normal.” At no point do either Hornaday or Chu argue that the responsibility for Rodger’s actions rest anywhere other than Rodger himself, nor do either of them ever argue for censorship. And yet the reaction to the two works could not be more different.
Before going further, I feel I must say that this is not a work further examining whether and how our identities are shaped by the media and culture we consume. Hornaday and Chu have both done excellent jobs making that case, and all I could add here is a defense to the reasoned criticism of their articles. (There is a good amount of unreasoned criticism.) My purpose is to point out just how big of a risk a woman takes simply by speaking her mind, and how many men take for granted their relative freedom to speak without fear of horrific reaction.
I have therefore compiled the responses that Hornaday and Chu received to their tweets announcing their articles. They are collected in the embedded Storify posts below. I included both Hornaday’s tweet about her initial article and her tweet about a follow-up video made after she was attacked by Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. (Be sure to watch her response video; after being angrily attacked by the actor and writer/producer, she gives a very measured, very respectful response. Furthermore, while her piece never mentioned Rogen by name, he chose to accuse her of misrepresenting him. As of this writing, Rogen has not yet addressed Chu, even though Chu does specifically refer to Rogen.)* My collections below include as many response tweets as Twitter showed me, not including arguments between users who were not Hornaday or Chu. In other words, I did selectively edit the below collections to not to include tweets that did not support my hypothesis; if someone responded directly to Hornaday or Chu’s initial tweet, or if a person’s response to someone else was (1) their first entry into the conversation and (2) directly addressed Hornaday or Chu, I included it.
Looking at the various tweets, I marked whether I found them neutral (simply posting the link), innocuously positive (saying something like “good read”), strongly positive (a message of “great job” or “thank you for writing this” or “well-reasoned,” or anything more exuberant), innocuously negative (a statement of disagreement that was well-reasoned and free of negativity), strongly negative (vehemently calling the conclusion into question, accompanied by a negative comment), personal or demeaning (attacking the character of the writer and name-calling), or confounding (in which I had no idea what the response was getting at). There were times when categories crossed over; the main time this happened was when a tweet was both strongly critical and included a personal attack. I did my best to sort them into one or the other, but a few were so egregious that they couldn’t not fall into both categories.
Chu received a total of 49 responses. Of them, 5 were innocuously negative, rationally explaining their disagreement with his conclusion. He received 6 innocuously positive responses, and 37 strong positive responses, ranging from telling him his article was great to calling him brave, to thanking him for being an ally. One response referred to his article as the best response to the shooting. Chu received one personal attack, in which he was accused of trying to forward a “#NotAllMen” viewpoint disguised as a feminist. Chu posted subsequent tweets, which are included, in which he referred to someone calling him a “mangina,” but said that 99.9% of the response was positive. In other words, over 75% of the reactions catalogued here are strongly positive. Personal comments amounted to barely 2% of the responses.
Hornaday’s first article received 44 responses and her second received 47 responses. Each of Hornaday’s articles received 2 neutral responses; her first received 3 confounding responses and her second article received 1 confounding response. Her first article received 1 innocuously positive response and 9 strongly positive responses. Hornaday’s second article received 1 innocuously positive response and 5 strongly positive responses. Her first article received 1 innocuously negative response, while her second article received 3 innocuously negative responses. As for strongly negative, her first article received 10 strongly negative responses that I felt were completely divorced from personal attacks. As for personal and demeaning responses, her first article received 21. That’s just over 47%. As for her second article, there were 14 responses that were strongly negative but not personal, and a whopping 25 personal attacks, or 53%.
These articles aren’t identical, and there are various factors to account for. For example, one is in the Washington Post and the other is in The Daily Beast. One received attention because a famous actor and a famous writer/producer attacked the article and the writer. But both reach the same conclusion, and the responses focus a lot on the conclusion. Twitter is not a place that fosters nuance, so few of the responses find a way to parse argument from conclusion. Instead, it’s all-or-nothing, and while Chu is praised up and down for pointing out a problem with our culture, Hornaday is demeaned for shifting the blame and overlooking “the real cause.” For all of the two pieces’ differences, they share so much, with the biggest difference being the gender of the writer.
*For what it’s worth, I really liked Neighbors.