Sabine Magliocco presented “The Rise of Pagan Fundamentalism” at the Conference for Contemporary Pagan Studies this January. She has entered into dialogue about her work in the Wild Hunt blog. The post is Sabina Magliocco, Pagan Fundamentalism?. The discussion of her work and the meta-discussion about how to talk about that work are vitally important in their own right.
I am caught by a particular note of her experience:
Finally, I want to counter some of the malicious and untrue rumors about me that are being spread on the Internet by a few detractors: for example, that I am an infiltrator sent by an outside organization to destroy Paganism from within. These falsehoods impugn my integrity as a scholar and could threaten my ability to continue to work with the Pagan community.
Magliocco does not link this harassment to her gender. I cannot help but think of it. If you are a woman, and you write or speak or blog or speak in any way online, you are much more likely to be targeted for harassment than if you are a man. In her 1/28/2013 HuffPost piece The Digital Safety Gap and the Online Harassment of Women, Soraya Chemaly notes, “A 2006 study found that chat room participants with obviously female names were 25 times as likely to be the targets of sexually explicit, threatening and malicious messages.” She adds, “The intent is to silence women online.”
Chemaly talks about her own experience of receiving rape threats. She links to Anita Sarkeesian’s TEDxWomen 2012 talk in which she details the harassment campaign she was subjected to when she announced her project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games”. Here’s Sarkeesian’s talk:
There are so many examples of women being harassed online. I’m particularly drawn to Mary Beard’s experience. Beard is a professor of classics at Cambridge who appears on TV with undyed gray hair. Internet commentary on her appearance followed. The Guardian notes, “The level of the abuse was so shocking that even those accustomed to the cut-and-thrust of online debate were appalled.”
Beard says, “Classical antiquity is always much more complicated than you think. But the basic position is that elderly men are admirable and elderly women are awful [because] what is the point of a post-menopausal woman? Old women get laughed at. I thought we had moved on.”
Women in the Pagan and magical communities are not shielded from this phenomenon. I have had many conversations with women who were attacked with vitriol every time they posted an opinion. We talk about the chilling effect this has on our willingness to go on expressing our opinions in public. We enlist our male allies to come to our defense in comments sections.
Most of the time we aren’t fielding rape and death threats. What we deal with mostly is an immediate attack on the substance of what we say. That reads like engagement – after all men in the magical communities construct quite a bit of conversation as a form of sparring. This engagement becomes attack when:
- it persists, not breaking off when requested;
- it shifts over time, labeling whatever the woman says as inaccurate.
The end result is that the woman goes silent to end the engagement. Which is the point.
This is compounded when the woman who posts is not white. Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir says “Discussion on a post I put up on Facebook (that I have since removed) derailed, HARD”. Her post Things I Wish White Pagans Realized is a must-read.
The magical and Pagan communities are vastly friendlier to women than, say, the tech communities. There is a sense that women are valued, that older women’s voices are valued too. I was asked to speak at Theurgicon twice partly because I am one of the few Pagan women working in that particular field. There are quite a few women who blog, some of whom express opinions which are not immediately silenced.
That said, I know how much I have been affected by the harassment I have experienced online, and it was far less intense than what Anita Sarkeesian or Mary Beard or Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir have experienced. I wonder how many women are not speaking because the internet is still policed as male space. I wonder how many women are pulling our punches because we don’t want to experience (or experience again) the gut-punch of being attacked.
Here’s what to do about it:
- Read women bloggers.
- Repost from women bloggers.
- If you are a male blogger or a white blogger, become an ally. Give women and Pagans of color guest blog space. When you encounter an attack, defend the woman and/or Pagan of color.
Sabine Magliocco has a right to do her work – let’s defend that.
Chemaly says “it will take more than any action that individual women take to change this manifestation of misogyny in our culture.” Even if our online communities were entirely safe for everyone, they exist in the context of the internet which is decidedly not. Keeping this issue on the front burner is necessary for all of us to be able to exercise our right to speak freely.