Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Call me maybe

In a series of posts around the issue of the accountability of pseudonymous bloggers Queen of Thorns wrote this about Brian Edwards' position that not using your real name is cowardly:
You’ve also got privilege.  
You’ve got the privilege of being a person in a career, in a social position, in a financial situation, which mean that stating your personal political biases for the world to see doesn’t pose you any risk.  
You get to get up in the morning and sit at your computer and type whatever you darn well please into the text field.
I'm generally in agreement with QoT on the issue of pseudonymity (and I do love that word).  You build up a reputation under a pseudonym just as you do under the name on your official paperwork, and there is accountability in that.  Quite apart from the the fact that your real name could well be completely fictitious and the reader wouldn't necessarily know (Brett Dale There was once* a salutory lesson for me on this very blog).  I don't really want to rehash all the points about this which have been bouncing around the internet for much of the last decade or more, and are resurrected every time someone with the privilege QoT identifies above gets confused about anons and pseudonyms and how online commentary works.

What I do want to do is expand some more on the theme of real-name privilege.  I write under my real-name, although I have shortened it to just my first name on my Blogger profile.  My real name is easily discovered, is in some of the posts I have written, and is mentioned by other bloggers here in posts they have written.  I'm open about the fact that I am "Julie from THM" on my Facebook and twitter accounts, and in personal interactions.

For a long time, in the first few years of this blog, I operated much as if I had a kind of real-name privilege that was almost the reverse of what QoT outlines.  It was more that I was such a minor player in the Game of Life that no one would care what I wrote really.  However that more and more became an impossible position, particularly amongst the feminist community where I was starting to find that things I might write flippantly were being taken more seriously than I intended.  The fault was with my writing, not the reading of others, and I took stock and reviewed that.  What I write does matter, and that's one of the reasons I write less now, because I feel a sense of responsibility to craft my posts very carefully, and that takes time and effort that I often don't have to spare these days.

I've avoided blogging about the area covered by my day job (education unionism, particularly early childhood and primary school until about two years ago, now special education).  It's not that I don't care about it, don't see these subjects as relevant to feminism, or have no thoughts.  I don't write about them because I don't want anyone to erroneously think that my witterings here are constructed under instruction from my employer. 

But politics, oh beautiful wondrous politics, of the New Zealand national and local variety, I thought I could write about those beloved topics without anyone deciding my thoughts, blogged here, were in fact those of another.  They've got my real name on them after all, how could anyone give the credit to anyone else!  Then this happened (TL;DR Herald on Sunday journo assumes I am my husband's appendage).  And now I write even less than I did before, certainly far less frequently than I would like to and about far less than I would like to. 

There is definitely a gendered element to this, for me, which is why I chose the Groucho Marx glasses, nose and moustache picture to illustrate this post.  It's a disguise many women would struggle to carry off, yet it is the first Google image result for "disguise".  As a woman with Views I face more difficulties than many of my male peers. I am more likely to have them ascribed to other people in my life ("that must be what her husband thinks", "she's just writing that because her boss told her to", "that'll be what Labour wants her to say").  I am more likely to suffer abuse as a result of sharing my Views.  I have many male friends who blog.  None have had threats of rape, threats against their children, or many of the other not so lovely comments I've had here.  The phrase "Uppity Man" doesn't parse. 

Writing under my real name has also opened up new opportunities that a pseudonym couldn't have; in particular the chance to be on Citizen A, spread my ideas about feminist issues in other media, and make friends with other feministy types without fear if we meet up. 

And writing under my real name has curtailed what I write about significantly, as outlined above, in a way that is a major chilling effect for me.  Maybe one day I'll have the level of privilege that Brian Edwards has, when I use my real name.  But I doubt it. 

Brett Dale comments on this blog frequently, often somewhat tangentially to the actual post.  This doesn't bother me.  I was quite stunned to find out in a debate a while back though that "Brett Dale" is a pseudonym. 
  Apologies to Brett, I have him confused with someone else whose pseudonym escapes me.  If I remember I'll rewrite this to accurately reflect that.  Oops!


Brett Dale said...

Uhm some people may use "Brett Dale" as a pseudonym. But its my name.

If people want to use a pseudonym, that is their right. I find though sometimes, people who use pseudonym's take pleasure in using the people who dont, full names when replying to their comments, when it anit neccesary.

Brett Dale said...

Not a problem at all. :-)

Anonymous said...

Just Saying:

A few years ago, when I had not long begun to frequent the interwebs, I had an argument with my two male flatmates about what constituted 'sexual relations'. Clinton had just famously claimed on the TV that only heterosexual intercourse counted, and my flatmates agreed with him.

It was late in the night when we went our separate ways, too late to phone a friend, and I was still feeling angry, so I typed 'feminist' into the search engine. I visited the first three or four promising sites and was horrified to find that the feminist authors had had their words buried in an avalanche of the most vile, nasty, twisted, and violent misogynist hate speech imaginable (actually worse than I could have imagined).

I'd never seen that side of the net before, and I can only assume that the means to control that kind of behaviour had not yet become widely available. I felt shocked, and strangely threatened. People like me had been definitively put in our place. Dissenting women's voices were effectively silenced and it seemed the sites had become ghost towns in which the last entry by the authors had been made many months before the sites had been so aggressively killed off.

It was a long time before I sought feminist writings from the 'global village' again. It struck me that the many women around me who seemed to be at pains to tell the world that they were NOT feminists, may have understood something that had until then escaped me. About what it was and wasn't safe and prudent to be in the world.

And now here we are, and I see why the misogynists were willing (and still are) to devote so much time and energy to erasing us. It seems to me that the many flourishing feminist sites around the world (like the Hand Mirror), along with growing numbers of individual, usually pseudonymous feminist voices in most online communities are bringing a long overdue renaissance to the women's movement. And maybe this revolution couldn't have happened until we created effective ways of protecting ourselves.

Long live the pseudonym.
Long live the Hand Mirror.
Many thanks to all those who create her.