Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Breaking Silence

There's a post doing the rounds in the feminist blogosphere that I think is universally important. It's by Sady Doyle on Tiger Beatdown: On Blogging, Threats, and Silence. I grew up on the internet - not my baby baby years of course, but from intermediate school onwards, ten or eleven. We were one of the few families that had the internet at home because my dad works in the tech industry (software more than hardware). I have never used my real name online. Now that I've gotten it legally changed is the first time - I generally receive letters and packages addressed to a pseudonym, and I only give my address out to people I trust, people I've known for a decent length of time. If something's addressed to my birth name, it's probably something official.

Of course, in the wake of the earthquakes, a sufficiently dedicated stalker could potentially figure out my neighbourhood by tracking what I tweet while talking to other locals, though the fact that I live in what's barely considered a large town overseas in a country way down the bottom of the ocean does shield me quite well also. The ones I have to worry about are locals - like the time, several years ago (I may even have still been in high school!), that I wrote a letter to the paper, something I did fairly regularly, and received a phone call at home from some guy who'd felt entitled to ring me up and tell me how wrong I was.

The funny thing, to me, is that growing up there was this emphasis on teaching kids not to give out their personal details online. But now we're in the age of Facebook. There are raging debates about pseudonyms on platforms like Google+ and the World of Warcraft forums, with a lot of clueless people slinging around aphorisms like "if you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide" and refusing to understand even when explained that some of us do have something to hide because there is, has been, and will continue to be a subset of the population that thinks simply speaking out is doing something wrong. And the punishment is severe. Of course pseudonyms aren't just an issue of safety, and safety isn't just an issue for women (vis: me), but it is something that's particularly prevalent in feminist and womanist communities... and the fact that I'm not a woman wouldn't particularly help me at any rate, because to the people like this my gender is wrong and my biology defines me.

My biology does not define me. And it certainly doesn't dictate what I can say online.

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