Twin City Derby Girls, lining up at the start of a jam to support their jammer. My other posse. Photo courtesy of Alex Wild.

The women in scienceblogging session at Science Online this year was very different from last year. More people were venting, and what they were venting was scary: stalkers, rape jokes, physical threats. It has not been a good year to be blogging while female: Elevatorgate was one of the more frightening events I’ve ever observed, because it exposed a level of hatred, of vicious, violent sexism that before that point I would have said was only believed by the tiniest fraction of men. Elevatorgate ramped up the defensiveness and sharpened the fears of women who speak their mind in the skeptical and science blogospheres.

Even when the threats aren’t physical, the antagonism towards women has been nasty. I have been called a sexist, someone who plays victim, told I should be fired, and worse, personal things that I will not relay here. I have had my writing challenged by brash claims regarding my character or intent without any attempt to build a case with evidence.

And even though I can look at the evidence and my writing, at what I do and what I stand for, and know these claims are ridiculous, each one of these attacks shatters me.

Back at my old blog, these attacks would have had little effect on me. At my old blog my posse would have crowded them out, shrugged their way past them until the attackers were shouting uselessly at the periphery. My old blog was a warm, inviting space where I could take risks because people were willing to take them with me.

I could blame the loss of my posse on the commenting system or the more heavily-male readership here at Scientific American and throw up my hands. But I also know I have not been modeling the appropriate behavior to encourage you to get comfortable in my new place. I have left almost all attack comments up rather than delete them because I worried that getting rid of them would open me up to more attacks, or make it look as though I was silencing my opposition. And so I left them, and waited, hoping someone would come and back me up. Sometimes someone would.

Supporting a female blogger under attack in a comment thread is a very risky endeavor. If you are a male ally, you may be afraid of making things worse. If you are a woman, you may be afraid of drawing some of the attack on to you. The attack may also just feel like it's not your business. It takes a very brave person who doesn't mind sticking their nose in to put together a reasoned response and handle the blowback.

By letting the oppressive and rude behavior in my comment threads get out of control, I have put my posse in an impossible position. I have silenced potential commenters, and lost the most valuable part of my blogging.

* * *

Science Online was fun, just like last year. But I also felt raw, and exposed, and put on a pedestal. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that so many of you admire my writing and perspective, that you told me you have started to write, or stood up to an adversary, or followed your dream in part due to me. But I do not write well on this pedestal. It wobbles with my every move and there are spikes lining the fall below.

Blogging is a selfish endeavor, a desire to be heard. Blogging is insisting you have something to say. Blogging is saying come here, come here and respond and tell me that at least some of what I am saying means something to you.

And so I am going to be selfish right now. I am asking you to register on this network. You can register as a pseudonym or Anon371 or under your name and only I see your email address. But I want you to register so that you are more likely to comment and participate in this community, because that’s the only way I can get back down.

* * *

In order for you to have the support you need to come back and rebuild our posse, I am enacting a new comment policy here at Context and Variation. The policy is as follows:

  1. Be decent. Decent people don’t attack character and they appreciate genuine attempts to engage, push boundaries or be allies. They avoid rather than embrace belligerence.
  2. Be responsible. Be intolerant of wrongdoing and oppression. Model the kind of behavior that enriches this community.
  3. Provide evidence. Show, don’t tell. Comments that only tell me you hate my conclusions get deleted. Comments that explain what you disagree with and why it is incorrect get to stay.

The science blogging community – and you don’t need to be a blogger to be in this community – is one that has been held together by the decency and strength of Bora Zivkovic. This community operates more like a meritocracy and democracy than many other areas of science because that is what Bora has modeled and what he has demanded of us. But this community grows larger, and one man cannot be expected to hold together the hundreds of thousands of us who engage with science and science writing every day. With scientific literacy more important to economic and political success than ever, yet fewer newspapers with science sections, readers are coming to us. And it’s on all of us to honor the model produced by Bora, Anton Zuiker, Karyn Traphagen and so many others by being responsible and supporting each other.

We all have different ways of supporting community, and different ideas of civility. I’ve only articulated what I expect on my blog. Clearer articulation and enforcement of these policies in our own spaces will create the spaces we need to maximize our impact and honor our communities.