Doctor Science Knows

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Free speech and the Jerkosphere

There's been a wank at BoingBoing, and TNH posts about one of the more accurate takes. My comments don't refer to the wank directly (it's *wank*), but are about free speech and online communities in general:

Phil@25: Neither option is necessarily "better" than the other.

hmm. I disagree, and I think that in this case quality is actually measurable -- at least in theory.

It's my observation -- and not just mine -- that what you call "the cut & thrust" is especially off-putting to woman, not least because of the way guys will casually insult each other with gendered language. I think this is co-extensive with the real problems with misogyny in tech workplaces.

Now, IIRC if you have a group of people with men and women talking, when women make more than 30% of the comments people (M & F) say that the women are talking "all the time". In other words, unless you have the gut (though mistaken) feeling that the women in your group are talking "all the time", you're not hearing women's voices. And any space that's supposed to be for "free speech" but where only some people's speech is free ... isn't.

I am pleasantly surprised to hear that MeFi has been discussing the "boyspace" issue. I tend to think of it as the "Jerkosphere" problem, because it's not really about anything particularly XY-like IMHO, it's a part of the general culture that is coded masculine and tends to be amplified online. But holy cats, there are certainly some mostly-female online spaces that are full-fledged parts of the Jerkosphere.

I guess I want to break the association between "acting like a boy" and "acting like a jerk". You can have boyspaces that are not part of the Jerkosphere -- and women shouldn't get complacent, because as the Law of Proctouniversality says, "There's a little asshole in all of us."

For me, though, MeFi will have to change a lot before I stop thinking of it as on the edge of the Jerkosphere.

alsafi @101: I don't think being deliberately insulting is acceptable discourse or behavior, here or elsewhere.

Whether you consider it acceptable or not, it is empirically true that "being deliberately insulting" *is* considered acceptable in many parts of the Internet and in parts of society as a whole, and if you're witty or transgressive enough it's even considered admirable, a valuable social coin. Saying "this is not acceptable" doesn't work, when the behavior clearly *is* acceptable some of the time.

Leah's story @104 is exactly why I talk about the Jerkosphere, not "boyspace". The problem isn't boys, it's *humans* -- and, as Leah's story illustrates, women have often been trained to be extremely high-level social manipulators. If the MeFi-ers (??) think of their Jerkosphere problem as a "boy" problem, that's a misdiagnosis IMHO.

language hat @111 : I frankly have no idea why you say to Leah, "as for free speech, we'll have to agree to disagree". Leah presented evidence about how "free speech" can lead to unfreedom; what evidence are you presenting to the contrary? Just FYI, in my experience "we'll have to agree to disagree" is a line used by people who are feeling overwhelmed and put upon by the weight of evidence on the other side of an argument.

albatross @143:
In particular, the only way to stop adolescent males of any age from having the "look at the hooters on that one" or "damn, what a fat cow" sorts of discussions is to ban that sort of discussions from the internet.

Because boys will be boys? Nope, sorry, this argument is made, as they say, of FAIL -- not to mention privilege, double standards, and misogyny.

The way to stop that sort of discussion is to *not accept it* -- for other men, in particular, to say, "no, this is not funny; no, I do not think that way; no, being a jerk does not make you one of the boys, it makes you a jerk."

My best solution is to patronize nice coffee shops, and avoid biker bars.

In Real Life, this is the kind of widely-accepted attitude that leads to women being raped in biker bars -- and then blamed, because what did she expect, asking for a drink in a place like that?

The problem is not that some people say things online that make me uncomfortable or unhappy, the problem is that they make me *unsafe*.

*staggers in, panting* I made it to the end of the comments posted since the last time I commented! So now I get to do it again! But it'll be the Reader's Digest Condensed Comments.

My opinion, which is mine:

Whoever said above that "free speech" is a poor term to use is IMHO right. My experience is that lightly-moderated, adult fora like ML or Obsidian Wings or Slacktivist or parts of livejournal (esp. many of those likely to be linked from the metafandom community) have the truly freest speech on the Tubes, much free-er than Central Jerkotopia, even though "free speech! free speech!" is much more of a rallying cry in the latter fora.

Part of what I am doing in using the term Jerkosphere is to emphasize that flagrant assholery is part of a whole flowing culture or pattern of behavior, found on many sites and cropping up sporadically all over.

Do the rest of you-all feel that you instinctively recognize what I mean by The Jerkosphere? Does it convey a meaning?

When I eat made chocolates, I get them freshly-made from Munson's if possible. If I'm buy choc for cooking or life-sustaining munching, it's Ghirardelli. hmm. The Guy is heading thataway for the Fencing Nationals -- what should he bring back as loot? Any suggestions?

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