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March 28, 2007

MISOGYNY UNACCEPTABLE IN SEM

The tone of the debate turned ugly and a well known speaker and writer was silenced. The fallout is going to be enormous and wide-reaching. It might have stemmed from jealousy, anger or even a previous insult but it hurt. It might be rationalized as an unintended consequence of free-comment, but the intention was obviously humiliation. As sides form on the issue the only element that is starkly obvious is a fear or hatred of accomplished women. Misogyny mistaken as fun.

Prominent author and public speaker Kathy Sierra cancelled an appearance at the O’Reilly sponsored ETech conference yesterday in reaction to sexually violent threats posted to the now defunct blog, meankids.org. Similar comments appeared at another recently defunct blog, unclebobism.wordpress.com.

Negative comments are not new for Sierra. As the author of several books, papers and articles on marketing and Java, Sierra has attracted the wrath of those who disagree with her views. Over the years, she has dealt with sexually explicit comment. In this case, comment has transited to transgression and the better part of the blogosphere appears united in anger and condemnation.

About a month ago, comments made to her site and to meankids.org and unclebobism.com transited beyond mean-spirited.  At her Creating Passionate Users blog, Sierra outlines the history and graphic nature of the threats in long post titled, “Death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech” (why I cancelled my ETech presentations)”. Her experience paints a disturbing image that details the undercurrent of anger, misogyny and violence present in blog comments and forum discussions.

Sierra has obviously been shaken. She wrote in her post,

“I have cancelled all speaking engagements.

I am afraid to leave my yard.

I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.”

On March 24 someone took their hatred way over the line with images and comment that pushed Sierra over hers. She might not continue to contribute to the industry as she has in the past. In her own words,

“I do not want to be part of a culture–the Blogosphere–where this is considered acceptable. Where the price for being a blogger is kevlar-coated skin and daughters who are tough enough to not have their “widdy biddy sensibilities offended” when they see their own mother Photoshopped into nothing more than an objectified sexual orifice, possibly suffocated as part of some sexual fetish. (And of course all coming on the heels of more explicit threats)
I do not want to be part of a culture where this is done not by some random person, but by some of the most respected people in the tech blogging world.”

Sierra named names in her post. She holds the community that founded meankids and unclebobism, which includes Chris Locke (aka-rageboy) co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, Frank Paynter (listics.com), Jeneane Sessum , and Allen Herrel, responsible for the posts.

For his part, Paynter has apologized. He had hosted both blog sites but removed them from the Web as soon as Sierra complained to him. Locke, Sessum and Herral, on the other hand, have not.

Locke did respond to an email interview request from Liz Tay of Computerworld Australia. He also notes that Sessum was barely involved saying, “Jeneane Sessum is being hounded over this whole affair, which is not right. I think she posted only once, but it was something trivial, if I recall correctly. From our later conversations, it seemed she hadn’t even read the later posts that have caused all this furor. She was in the hospital with medical problems, which she’s still dealing with. I cannot and do not presume to speak for her, but I hate to see her take heat for something she is not in any way responsible for.”

At the end of it all however, Locke misses the point of the outrage expressed by the community. This story is not about Kathy Sierra though she is an unfortunate character in its narrative. This story is about anger, violence and threats of a physical and sexual nature. It is a story that gets repeated time and time again in forums, blog comments and discussion groups. What is most shocking about this incident is that those involved are well known, generally respected names.

Regardless of who said what, the content and context are absolutely unacceptable in an industry built on the exchange of ideas. It is fine to disagree and fine to make fair comment. Both are good for the growth and evolution of technique or philosophy. If, however, your disagreement can not be articulated in civil words, it is best kept to yourself.

Perhaps there will be a positive outcome to this version of the saddening story of misogyny in the Internet development industry. Perhaps other bloggers and commentators will stop putting up with it. Even better, perhaps others in the community will join SiteProNews in taking a solid and unwavering stand opposing the use of violent, threatening, or misogynist commentary. The line has been crossed and it is time to push back.

Author:  Search marketing expert Jim Hedger is one of the most prolific writers in the search sector with articles appearing in numerous search related websites and newsletters, including SiteProNews, Search Engine Journal, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide.

He is currently Executive Editor for the Jayde Online news sources SEO-News (http://www.seo-news.com) and SiteProNews (http://www.sitepronews.com). You can also find additional tips and news on webmaster and SEO topics by Jim at the SiteProNews blog (http://blog.sitepronews.com/).

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