I love the Internet. Always have. I spent hours on AOL as a twelve year old, posting on message boards, playing around with website templates, and researching the latest movements of a certain boy band that shall remain nameless.
We’ve come a long way since those Web 1.0 days, which is why I’m dismayed at the continued othering of women online. I’m an avid user of turntable.fm, where users habitually assume they are talking to other males. Whenever this turns out not to be the case, reactions range from surprise at best, and downright predatory at worst. Of course, this isn’t a problem limited to Turntable – it just happens to be my freshest memory. Last night, I was in one of my favorite rooms when one user repeatedly harassed another long after she made it clear she was uncomfortable (she also happens to be underage). Some other (male) moderators in the room made comments along the lines of “Awkward!” But none made it explicitly clear that the harasser’s behavior was unacceptable. I came into the room too late to see the entire exchange, but having had enough experience with seamy online behavior, I privately messaged the girl and asked if she wanted me to boot the offender. After issuing one final warning that was spectacularly scorned, I did so. The entire room expressed relief, but I still felt like the two women in the room lacked true allies.
This is why I find it particularly galling when a site like Pinterest is written off for being “girly”. The underlying sentiment of that “criticism” is that women don’t have a place online. Given the rampant misogyny that passes as normal on many popular sites (I’m looking at you, Reddit), a female-friendly online space is a pretty big deal. This article by Amanda Marcotte is a great read on the significance of Pinterest and its community:
The irony here is that the invisible “No Boys (At Least Misogynist Boys) Allowed” sign on Pinterest means that it’s not just a safe space for women to indulge stereotypically girly interests… It’s often when women are pursuing stereotypically masculine interests like this that they end up dealing with the most outrageous bigotry online, often coming from guys who find the mere presence of women in their male-centric cultures threatening. The pink and girly exterior of Pinterest works as a jerk force field, keeping the most piggish men away, leaving pinners to indulge their interests in peace.
I hope that one day soon, the norms of the Pinterest community will be the rule, not the exception.