On the one hand, this feels very high school. On the other, this is serious business. As the TSW editors explain, women in academe have some good reasons for blogging anonymously: they risk retaliation by talking about institutional bias, by speaking out about bullying and sexism that is still pervasive--particularly in some fields--in what most people think are the most liberal institutions on the planet. I have seen both the bullying and the retaliation; I've seen women destroyed by their unwillingness to stay silent. To deny that sexism exists, and continues to be a problem, is naive at best; to not say anything is to be complicit in its perpetuation.
But this raises an important issue about the power to make change from an anonymous platform. Writes one of the commenters,
'Dr. Isis' is a reprehensible coward. A public outing was well-deserved, given that “Dr. Isis” feels it’s fine to harass and bully others behind a cloak of anonymity, yet never had to deal with the acountability [sic] that comes with genuine identity.Many of the critical comments were in the same vein: that someone who offers (sometimes harsh) criticism should not be allowed to do so without expecting to be the object of that criticism at some point, and that problems with institutions can't be addressed unless people are willing to stand up and be identified.
|via flickr user exfordy through Creative Commons license|
But I also think that it's easier to criticize things and people and institutions when we hide behind anonymity or pseudonymity. It's a lot more risky to stand up for our beliefs in a public space, and sign our names on open letters, to point our own flesh-and-blood fingers at the naked emperors that we know everyone sees. And there's something about the risk that--to me--gives the critique more power. We believe so strongly in what we say that we are willing to put our careers, or our reputations, on the line. Perhaps some of us can take that risk more easily than others, and we act according to what we know we can lose.
I sometimes wonder, though, whether anonymous blogging creates more opportunities for or undercuts our attempts to create change. Giving more people a platform to speak, leveling the playing field so that everyone who can post something on a free website can have a say, is an important step towards equality. But how far can it go when the authors are still ghosts in the machine?
What do you think?