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March 27, 2007

Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?

By Li Evans

Bloggers I'm posing the question "Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?"  The recent support and outcry that arose when Kathy Sierra explained that the reason she canceled her keynote address and workshops at ETech was because of death threats she received on her blog, brought me to this question.  Should harassing comments, pointed posts, threatening emails deter women from starting their own blogs, expressing their opinions and sharing their deep knowledge of the industries they specialize in?

As a woman and a blogger, I was saddened by Kathy situation.  It saddened me because not only has it deterred her from speaking and demonstrating that women in our industry are just as knowledgeable and talented as our male counterparts, but it might deter her from sharing her knowledge to her vast audience from henceforth - and that's a great loss to the industry.

WomenbloggingThere's been speculation that Kathy's over exaggerated the situation, there's been an outcry against the people who encouraged the behavior that led to Kathy's decision.   Either way, Kathy's fear, exaggerated or not (I'm not hear to judge that), the point is that it is/was very real to her.  Real enough for her to take drastic action.  But should everyone limit themselves because of this kind of fear?

I'm of the opinion that, no, women should not be afraid to blog, share their knowledge and speak at conferences.  However, that said, women should expect to hear the occasional crass comment, hit the occasional "glass ceiling", and be prepared for some negative feedback in the form of sexism as they put themselves out into the "limelight."  It comes with the territory, and with it comes lessons in what topics you should approach with caution and others to go full throttle at.

I wanted to give you more than my opinion though, so I asked a few of our past Women of Internet Marketing this question - "Should Women Be Afraid to Blog" and to add their comments to that.  I first saw Kim Krause Berg's comment on SEOMoz and asked her if I could quote her, as well as her additional comments:

Kimkrauseberg" ... Threats on the 'Net have been going on for years, esp. when you write an unpopular opinion or speak your mind. Blogs are the medium now, but back in the days of Usenet and newsgroups, they came via email. I received two death threats in the 1990's and one other one was broadcast across an email list I moderated to all of the members there. The latter was made by a homeless man from a public library. (I did a lot of investigating for that one.)

I have changed my house locks. I've been forced to alert the schools my children had attended because they were in grade school at the time of the two threats I got. Both times it was because I wrote about "blackhat" SEO and ways to know if you are being scammed.

There are topics I will not write about now, and opinions I no longer share online. As much as some people like to believe in a "free" Internet, and free speech rights, there is no such thing as long as there is fear.

Incidentally, I don't think my being a woman has anything to do with my own experiences. The support from men I've rec'd far, far outweighs the relative few who wanted to be creeps."

Kim also adds this about her view on this topic and her comment on SEOMoz:

"In relation to women and blogging, plus I have different views when it comes to women business owners too.  For example, publishing a business address is considered a credibility factor, but for women who work from home, I feel it is not worth the risk. This is why I pay for a post office box.  Only recently did I start to admit the town I live in, but after this event and another one at the forums recently, I feel unsafe all over again."

Deb Mastaler of Alliance-Link and the Link Spiel Blog feels:

Debramastaler_2 "In a perfect world NO ONE should be afraid to blog.  But this isn’t a perfect world and if you put yourself out there you should expect a modicum of resistance and difference of opinion.  Does that include death threats?  Absolutely not and doesn’t include pointless, and totally uncalled for comments like these either. "

I posed the same question to Meg Walker of Network Solutions and EbuzzMaster Blog:

Megwalker "I am appalled by the threats against Kathy Sierra. The same rules that govern civilized behavior IRL should be those that people exercise in the blogosphere. Civil discourse, debates, disagreements, even arguments are acceptable – but what benefit comes to those people who are abusive and break federal laws with death threats? It’s not funny. It’s not entertainment. It’s illegal"

Becky Ryan (WebMoxy) of Trellian answered:

Beckyryan "If I was getting the threats and they crippled me to the point I was housebound and not going to a show.. What I would want to look into was to securing myself and passing laws to protect others from these type of incidents. "

Finally, Tamar Weinberg of RustyBrick & Search Engine Roundtable contributed:

Tamarweinberg_2 "I really don't understand why anyone would go after such a respected individual unless they were jealous of her popularity.  Is it a popularity contest?  "

In general we all, both men and women, should know there are inherent risks when we all enter the internet space and utilize it to market ourselves.  Women should know they can encounter these types of situations, but that shouldn't stop them from totally shutting down, preparing for the possibility though, is probably the best course of action that we can all take.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?:

» Women, Blogging, and Boundaries from Conversion Rate Marketing Blog -->GrokDotCom by Future Now, Inc
When Jeffrey Eisenberg sends you an email with “Read This” in the subject heading and nothing in the message but a link, you expect it to be important. And important it was; a post titled “Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?” commenting on Kathy S... [Read More]

Comments

As you mention, being prepared, both offline and online, is key to empowerment. Danger exists in the real world and in our virtual world. Preparing one's self for these dangers can literally save one's life. Being prepared, however, is only one step, albeit an important one. We also must take responsibility for ensuring that the websites we control do not condone rude or abusive behavior. In fact, we should not only take action against such behavior when it happens, but we should actively encourage respectful behavior beforehand.

1. Be respectful in your own communications.
2. Encourage respectful behavior on any sites you own or manage.
3. Take action against unacceptable behavior on any sites you own or manage.
4. Be prepared in your own life for potential threats that may occur in the future, offline or online. Bad things can and do happen. Knowing how to handle such situations alleviates fear and enables and empowers you.
5. Abusers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and genders. Abusers target people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and genders. No one, regardless of their gender, race, or any other "classification" should be a target of abuse.

In the wisdom of the 60's, "Peace".

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