Letters on "Men Who Hate Women on the Web"

Thanks to readers for their smart, thoughtful ideas about whether online sexism is rampant, and if so, the best ways to fight it.

Published April 3, 2007 3:05PM (EDT)

I want to thank our readers for one of the most absorbing and enlightening letters threads in a long time, responding to my piece "Men Who Hate Women on the Web." Sure, a few people were nasty, a few others took up a lot of space debating individual readers, but for a thread of 650 letters, it was amazingly civil and smart.

I appreciated too many letters to call people out individually, but I'm grateful to male readers who sympathized, who offered smart thoughts about solving the problem, who agreed to at least think about the problem, even if they differed with the way I described it, or who offered to take care of really menacing troublemakers for me. And the many women I heard from in letters as well as in my personal e-mail confirmed I'd been silent too long; it's not a feminist victory to pretend online misogyny and sexism don't exist. To readers worried that more vigorous moderation will turn the letters into an echo chamber, I can only promise it won't, and you'll tell me if I'm wrong. I'm taking a tougher hand in my blog comments, and you can see people are free to disagree with me, even rather sharply. I've so far deleted only three or four posts that were off topic completely or wished cancer on conservatives they disagree with. Both my parents died of cancer; it's my prerogative to think that particular insult is out of bounds. Plus, our readers are smart enough to think of better ways to criticize conservatives.

One common criticism and complaint I wanted to clear up: In no way am I arguing that any criticism about my editorial judgment, or about Salon's women writers, is misogynist. I think it's possible to believe that I'm doing a terrible job, and so are all of Salon's women writers, without being a misogynist or even necessarily sexist.

And while I'm replying to these letters late, I'm also late remembering a really great example of sexist e-mail taunting I should have used in the piece, which exemplified another common stream of abuse for women: that our awful writing and reasoning are caused by PMS! After Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia blocked the Florida recount and effectively made George W. Bush president in 2000, I wrote a piece criticizing the decision, and blogger Kevin Whited wrote to me to trash it, suggesting I'd been suffering from PMS when I wrote it. (I don't have the e-mail, but Whited was nice enough to memorialize it on his blog.) I was a little cranky that day, as were many Democrats, and I wrote back calling him a sexist "asshole." He indignantly forwarded my e-mail to higher-ups at Salon -- another example of self-righteous male hysteria -- demanding I be chastised for such disrespectful back talk to a reader. But then editor David Talbot merely replied that having read the original e-mail, he had to concur that Whited did, indeed, seem to be an asshole.

So when men ask what they can do to support women writers dealing with sexist trolls, that's one example. Be a boss who has your female writers' backs. Now that I'm the boss, I don't write back calling my readers assholes anymore. I got this -- vicious, but not explicitly sexist -- response from someone who called himself "Lucifer" after my appearance on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" last week: "YOU ARE A DIRTY SHIT EATING, RECTUM LICKING COMMIE SLIME MAGGOT! (AN ORGANISM FROM KARL MARX'S FECES)." And I just wrote him what has become my standard reply: "God bless you, too." It works better than calling people "asshole," for the record; they never write back.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------