Sexism and Misogyny in Podcasting

Almost a year ago, popular tech blogger and author Kathy Sierra canceled a speech, and stopped writing her blog, after receiving a series of gruesomely explicit threats of death and violent rape.  Things like that happen online.  What really disturbed me about the incident was the number of “decent, well-intentioned” bloggers–mostly, but not exclusively, men–who just didn’t get it.  I read a number of blog postings about how it’s a rough world out there, and if you’re going to blog you just need to develop a thick skin.  After all, lots of guy bloggers get hate mail to, don’t they?

Never mind the fact that men at least like to think they can defend themselves in a fight.  Never mind the macho culture that enables men to feel continually empowered in a way that women, who always live with the threat of rape from some stranger or–more likely–acquaintance never can.  If some anonymous blog commenter threatens to punch me in the face, that’s no different from a woman blogger being threatened with rape, mutilation, and murder, is it?

It’s the casual sexism and misogyny of the online media that I want to take on here.  The promise of online media is that it is accessible to anyone–that traditionally unrepresented voices can make themselves heard through blogging, podcasting, and other digital media.  However, stories like this one in Podcasting News show how far the reality falls short of the ideal.

As reported on the ClickZ Network:

Businesses hoping to get the attention of 18- to 34-year-old women should consider buying ads on Web sites that offer so-called “long form” video installments related to popular network TV shows, according to Nielsen Online.

The company said its VideoCensus syndicated online video measurement service, unveiled last spring, is finding women tend to watch more online versions of TV network programs than do their male counterparts. Men of the same age range gravitate more toward sites like YouTube that feature consumer-generated content, according to the VideoCensus data.

But the headline given to the same story in Podcasting News is a bit pithier: Men Want It Quick And On Demand; Women Like To Take Their Time And Enjoy It.  Illustrated, of course, with a photo from the marketing video podcast French Maid TV (which, incidentally, has not released an episode since July 2007, making its relevance to the story even more remote).

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About James G. Milles

Professor of Law, SUNY Buffalo Law School

Posted on February 15, 2008, in Blogs, Podcasts, Sexism. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. So what do we do about it, other than decry the threats?

  2. One thing that I’m trying to do here is not let casual misogyny pass unnoticed. We need to call one another out on problems like this.

  3. We can all say our piece equally as long as we do it anonymously, right?

    Kathy should be able to write about technology in safety, but we women have to take precautions that men don’t have to take: no anonymous comments, for starters. And men have to support us, regardless of whether they have to log in or not. Men also have to come to our defense.

  4. Thanks Jim for bringing up this issue. I don’t think this is limited to the podcast however – happens at work, at play, everywhere. The vain hopes of the feminist movement have been realized only at a very superficial layer of society. From what I can tell it is veneer and under that thin surface is a world of entitlement, confidence, set of privileges and understandings that women and many minorities can not share in. Not that all men share in it either for there is heirarchy among you too.

    I am not sure what the answer is. I have been fighting these odds all my life.

  5. Ninja, you’re absolutely right–it’s not only in the podcasting world. However, I haven’t seen a lot of people speaking out against sexism and misogyny within that community, so I’m going to try to highlight the issue from time to time here and on my podcasts.

  6. I have to disagree on one point, Jim, I do think women need to, if not grow a thick skin, at least come to their own defense when it comes to facing down the trolls and bullies. Yes, men do need to speak against sexism and misogyny but it won’t change the dynamic so long as women are perceived as unable to defend themselves.

    I’d like to think that as more women take up podcasting and find their own voice to put out on the net, the two-dimensional models of femininity will be replaced with a more realistic picture. Unfortunately right now some of the worst offenders in podcasting, when it comes to reinforcing the idea a woman’s only value is as either a sexual repository or punching bag, are women.

    I will stop rambling now, it is very late but I simply had to jump into the discussion. It is a valuable one, Jim, and thank you for getting it started.

  1. Pingback: Sexism and Misogyny #2 « Buffalo Wings and Toasted Ravioli

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