Back from the silence

I have been pretty silent this fall. Not in the classroom (although perhaps not as vocal as I could have been). Not at work. Not in my relationship. Not on Facebook. But elsewhere? I find myself being quiet on the internet.

Sure, I have tweeted. I haven’t blogged but I’ve excused that with reminders that I have been training someone at work, taking a graduate class, dealing with the ongoing chaos of having moved, taking on a large sewing project (a Santa suit, for the curious). Something else has kept me quiet, though. Something else has made me censor myself in ways I never would have done before.

I will be honest that I try to think carefully about what I post openly on the internet. As a staff member, I am not covered by academic freedom so I try to think critically about how what I say could reflect on my institution even if I am not an official voice of such. I don’t voice everything openly even then. Sometimes I just want to share it with people who I know will be interested. I know there are sketchy people on the internet, I know not everything is relevant in a particular context. I want to be a good digital citizen and contribute things that matter without adding to the nastiness and ugliness of the internet.

Gamergate changed a lot of that.

Well, it didn’t really change things but it brought them into focus for me. I had read a lot about harassment on the internet. I had read a lot about women being harassed, about the completely unacceptable responses and threats that women have received when they speak out about a topic, especially one that has been male-dominated (authorship, games, comics, etc). I self-identify as a geek so I’ve seen a lot, had discussions about it. Up until this point I wouldn’t really have thought twice about retweeting or blogging about one of the topics though.

Gamergate changed that. Suddenly, there were stories about any woman receiving backlash. Not just those who were known, who engaged in activism, but any woman who entered the conversation. I didn’t want that. I had heard about the situation close to the start, had been given a particular view from my husband, had expected it to die down. It didn’t. Instead, it changed. It became about more than a single woman, more than a particular game. It became scary. It made the internet threatening in a way I had never felt it being before.

(Yes, you may call me naive. I grew up with all the scary stories of men trapping women using the internet, of abuses and pedophiles. I still, for the most part, had really positive experiences and considered the internet a comfortable home despite the efforts of everyone who wanted to scare me.)

This really made me see a particular incident through a different lens. You see, I had technically been threatened before using the internet. The threat hadn’t come to me. Rather, I became the vehicle for threatening someone else. My husband received a photoshopped image of the two of us that included my throat being slashed. I never saw the image. I was away at the time and so while it was scary, it was not quite as scary as it probably should have been. It is now.

I shared a couple relevant links but without commentary or hashtags. I made oblique references rather than saying things openly. I did not want to be added to the statistics. I did not want to have that horrible behaviour invade my experience of the internet.

Instead I was silent.

I wasn’t the only one. Felicia Day spoke out about her fears and ending her silence. Surprise, she was justified in her fear as she was doxxed within 24 hours.

I felt justified in my silence if a geek icon like Felicia Day could make an appeal and have it thrown back in her face like that. I felt like the internet was maybe not my home in the way it had been before.

Today I read a piece from Audrey Watters that made me rethink my silence. Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent reminded me that silence is too often taken for consent and silence is not acceptable. I do not consent. I do not consent to harassment being the norm. I do not consent to technology, especially education technology, being male-dominated. I demand that the internet be a space for women. I demand that I be able to be honest. I am pretty privileged, being a white cis-gendered heterosexual. Being a woman, however, was the only thing that was needed to make me step back from engaging. I cannot imagine how much harder it is to balance multiple identities that result in oppression. Or even identities that are more troublingly oppressed than women. This just reminded me viscerally that the fights are not over. That no matter how lucky I am, I cannot sit back and be silent.

Ideas are bubbling in my brain about research proposals stemming from this. Mixed with that is a discussion from my Intro to Graduate Research course this semester, a