There are several separate, but similar instances that have led me, an avowed long-time blog lurker, to think and act. While I haven't transformed overnight into a prolific comment-writer, theses instances have made me rethink my role as avid internet user as a responsibility. It's kinda like voting: if you can, but opt not to vote in an election, then what have you done to improve your political landscape? Here are the things that have occasioned my mental shift:
1. Under the heading "Sikh woman teaches Reddit a lesson in tolerance," Balpreet Kaur's story of bravely taking control of her own narrative unfolding derisively on Reddit became viral. What struck me was the pedagogy: Balpreet transformed a potentially traumatic event into a teaching moment for the internet. As a teacher, I thought I could do the same, and take the two minutes it lasts to write a comment. As an academic, on the other hand, I suffer from chronic perfectionism syndrome, which is part of the reason I'm such a reluctant commenter: "surely, it would take too much time I don't have," I would tell myself, "to put this thought into cogent prose that would represent my persona accurately." But here's the thing: the anonymous commenters who generally overpopulate the comments section [present company excluded, of course*] and transform it into a snake pit obviously discard their venom immediately, and without any packaging; also, the genre does not require polishing beyond what's generally due to a tweet, a FB status update, or an SMS text. Bottom line: take the five minutes it takes to add your two cents, support an opinion you agree with, or demystify an idea in polite terms.
Of 38 individual commenters producing a total of 153 comments, we coded 26 commenters as male (68.5%) and 12 (31.5%) commenters as female. 72% of all the comments were written by men compared to 28% written by women.
3. The Wikipedia stats on women editors stand as the most eloquent example of why we need more feminine and feminist voices online. As teachers, we know, probably best of all, that EVERYBODY reads Wikipedia; that it's the first line of information, for teaching and for research. And yet, this example shows that far fewer women engage in editing Wikipedia articles than men. There are drastic consequences for this statistic: women writers are under-represented or brushed aside; if they exist at all, entries on women are underdeveloped. As one of my wonderful students put it, "women's voices have been silenced long enough," so why aren't we taking this opportunity for redress? There are many reasons, and this blog response to the article from NYRB linked above lists nine of them.
4. Even if it's impolite to quote oneself, Hook and Eye has many articles on why more women's writing, reviewing, and commenting is vital.
* There are many good reasons to remain anonymous, especially given the environment I am describing, and what's often at stake in revealing one's identity. I am not referring here to people who feel this pressure, but to those who use anonymity to spew vitriol, as our commenting policy puts it.