I recently completed three booklists for library customers, part of a system-wide readers' advisory project. The lists use good gender balance, and a strong representation of people of colour and LGBT themes. I did classics, award-winning nonfiction, and essay collections. I love readers' advisory, and I really enjoyed the challenge of writing about each title in about 45 words.
In the list of essay collections, I included Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me. Then I decided it was time to read it! She's a brilliant essayist, one of the best I've ever read, and an important feminist voice. This slim collection packs an enormous punch.
Reading Solnit's now-famous piece about mansplaining made me think of another, related phenomenon. Both my partner and I have noticed this in discussions online, in a context where the commenters are mostly male. Here's how it goes.
A man comments.
Many people disagree with him, including me.
The man attacks me. Only me.
This happens consistently and predictably.
We first noticed this pattern on The Joy of Sox, the popular baseball blog written by my partner, Allan Wood. For some years, I was a frequent commenter and "gamethreader" in the Joy of Sox community, so we had ample opportunity to observe this pattern.
Allan writes from a progressive point of view, and like all the best sports writing, views the sport through a larger lens -- racism, labour, the militarization of sporting events, and so on. Although most members of the Joy of Sox community share this worldview, the world of men's professional sports is notoriously conservative, and Allan's politics drive some fans absolutely insane. (A side benefit, as far as we're concerned!)
Post, progressive perspective.
Comment, right-wing perspective.
Right-wing attack, directed at me.
Let's say Allan posts a positive view of a player who is getting a lot of negative media attention. The post is likely shared in many online baseball fan spaces. A commenter appears at Joy of Sox, angrily disagreeing (as they do).
The Joy of Sox regulars disagree with the negative commenter. I am one of five, six, maybe 10 people disagreeing with him -- but his response focuses only on me. And he doesn't just respond to me. He foams at the mouth.
The attacks can be especially vicious if the commenter doesn't know that he's flinging his verbal feces at the blogger's partner. If he does, he is more restrained -- the online equivalent of not getting harassed on the street when you're accompanied by a man.
To be clear, no member of the Joy of Sox community does this! JoS is an inclusive, egalitarian space, where a feminist, anti-racist perspective is the norm. The angry commenter is an outsider. Everyone disagrees with him -- sometimes quite derisively, mocking his ignorance. No matter. He focuses his attack on me.
Apparently the male commenter cannot abide being "contradicted" by a woman, no matter how polite or respectful her comments. He cannot bear her voicing an opinion, so he tries to bully her into silence.
I don't feel the slightest bit bullied or harassed in these situations. I have nothing but contempt for these regressive men with their delicate egos and myopic worldviews. But they are clearly attempting to bully me.
Back to Rebecca Solnit. In a powerful and deeply disturbing essay called "The Longest War", Solnit quotes the writer Laurie Penny: "An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the internet". (What a brilliant line!)
When I read this bit, all I could think was: poppies. Do you remember poppygate? It was during the 2018 Ontario election, when I was the NDP candidate for my riding. A right-wing rag ran a hate-piece on me, focusing on something I had written four years earlier, pulled out of context and (of course) purposely misinterpreted.
The response was so intense that the NDP took over my email, so I could focus on the campaign without reading daily threats of rape and murder.
Men arguing with me in comments on a baseball blog has never risen (or sunk) to this level. But it's on the same continuum. The other end of that continuum is murder. If you feel that's an exaggeration, give that essay "The Longest War" a spin. Trigger warnings galore.
Men arguing with me in comments: I wish I came up with a great word for this, the equivalent of mansplaining. Any ideas?