Tasneem Raja, Interactive Editor

Tasneem Raja

Interactive Editor

Tasneem Raja is MoJo's Interactive Editor. She specializes in web app production, interactive graphics, and user interface design. Before joining Mother Jones, she was an interactive producer at The Bay Citizen. Before crossing over to the dark side, she was a features reporter and copyeditor at The Chicago Reader.

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Amanda Hess: "Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet"

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 4:52 PM EST

Amanda Hess, who writes about sex, gender politics, and culture, had an explosive essay this week in the Pacific Standard about what it’s like to be a woman on the Internet, especially one in the public eye. Too often, she explains, it’s insanely terrifying. Hess, who's written for Slate, Wired, and ESPN and lives in Los Angeles, has been stalked for years by an anonymous reader who went by "headlessfemalepig" on Twitter, a now-suspended account that appeared to have been set up solely to send her abusive messages like these:

"I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.

...Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.

...You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this." 

Headlessfemalepig is just a particularly aggressive example from the thousands of trolls who’ve come at Hess over the years. And Hess, of course, is hardly the only woman on the Internet to face their wrath. From her piece:

"Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: "you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you." To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: "i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob." To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: "I just want to rape her with a traffic cone." To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: "If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain." To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: "A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING."

She's done exhaustive reporting on the failures of law enforcement at all levels to comprehend, let alone address, the emotional, professional, and financial toll of misogynistic online intimidation. She’s called local police, 911, and the FBI on a number of occasions when she feared for her safety IRL; law enforcement officials have recommended to her and other women that they stop wasting time on social media. One Palm Springs police officer responding to her call, she recounts, "anchored his hands on his belt, looked me in the eye, and said, 'What is Twitter?'" "When authorities treat the Internet as a fantasyland," she writes, "it has profound effects on the investigation and prosecution of online threats."

It's a painful read, but Hess's piece should be required reading for anyone with an Internet connection. And check out this excellent response by Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic (a "6-foot-2, 195-pound man"), who recalls guest-blogging for a female colleague there who was on vacation. "I'd never been exposed to anything like it before," he recalls.

"To really understand how it feels to read these missives (to the extent that someone other than the intended recipient can even begin to understand), it's necessary to experience their regularity. Instead of a lone jerk heckling you as you walk down a major street, imagine dozens of different people channeling the same hyper-aggressive hatefulness, popping up repeatedly on random blocks for hours on end. That's what some bloggers had to endure over the course of years to make it.”

Friedersdorf notes that this was in the early 2000s, when political bloggers with major-league cache today like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias were just starting out. “One wonders how many equally talented women we missed out on reading due to misogynists hurling vile invective at rising female journalists."

Ani DiFranco Wanted to Party at a Slave Plantation. Guess What Happened?

| Mon Dec. 30, 2013 12:41 PM EST
Ani DiFranco promotional pic

In a banner year for non-apology apologies, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco non-apologized this weekend for renting out an old Louisiana slave plantation to host a songwriting workshop. The event, now canceled, was billed as a "Righteous Retreat" and charged attendees $1,000 to sleep in a tent for four nights and learn about "developing one’s singular creativity" while DiFranco and her friends led jam sessions. The "captivating setting" was to be Nottoway Plantation and Resort in White Castle, Louisiana, a 64-room, 53,000-square-foot antebellum mansion and sugar plantation whose website has this to say about the plantation master:

"Considering his slaves to be valuable tools in the operation of his business, John Randolph provided the necessary care to keep them in good health. He understood the importance of hygiene in controlling the spread of illnesses and disease, so he provided a bathhouse where slaves could bathe daily if they wished...Ever the astute businessman, Randolph knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves' basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive... It is difficult to accurately assess the treatment of Randolph’s slaves; however, various records indicate that they were probably well treated for the time."

The website also notes that Randolph's "willing workforce" was comprised of 155 slaves quartered in 42 slave houses in 1860, making Nottoway "one of the largest plantations in the South, at a time when most owners possessed fewer than 20 slaves."

On Saturday, a group of black feminists on Twitter took notice, and the hashtag #AniDiFrancoRetreatIdeas was born:


The event's Facebook page filled up with outraged comments, some noting that the building's current owner is a right-wing Australian billionaire who gave hundreds of thousands to help elect a prime minister who considers abortion "the easy way out," homelessness a choice, and doesn't want his daughters vaccinated against cervical cancer.

Yesterday, DiFranco posted an announcement to her label's blog canceling the event, and apologizing largely by way of excusing herself from blame, chiding those who'd gotten upset, and lamenting lost opportunities for "healing the wounds of history:"

"when i agreed to do a retreat...i did not know the exact location it was to be held. when i found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness...i know that pain is stored in places where great social ills have occurred. i believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. i believe that compassionate energy is transformative and necessary for healing the wounds of history...if nottoway is simply not an acceptable place for me to go and try to do my work in the eyes of many, then let me just concede before more divisive words are spilled."

I spent many a dorm room night with Ani on full blast on the stereo (at Bryn Mawr, the DiFranco discography was practically a major) and she's nowhere near the likes of Richard Cohen and Paula Deen when it comes to obliviousness over history's injustices. But is it really such a huge step from "whoa" to "no" when a brochure for  Nottoway Plantation and Resort lands on your desk?

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