Of all the blogosphere reactions to the outrage at one female blogger’s public denouncement of website comment harassment, two struck a nerve with me. Both of them put the blame on her for not handling the situation properly.

One refrain is (paraphrasing here) “Get with the program lady. It’s the Internet. Get a thicker skin” and the other is “The best way to deal with predators is to ignore them. She should not have written about this.”

Be Tough. It’s the Internet. It’s Okay to Hate Here.

I don’t often hear a man complain of being threatened online. Is it because they are not harassed? Of course not. It’s not manly to whine. It’s more macho to be cool with it and swallow any emotions that may arise. Depending on the amount of testosterone, it’s customary to turn around and retaliate, go to the nearest bar and drink off the pain or go “do something” like run, play sports or pull an engine out of the car.

Let’s imagine you see a picture of a male Blogger that you love, screaming in horror with underwear on his head, on a non-adult porn website (where you could logically expect to see this stuff.) It doesn’t have the same feel as when the image is of a woman, screaming with underwear on her head. Maybe the man needs a sex toy glued to his forehead instead. That might get an actual reaction. He’ll likely email the person who did it with a nice letter from his lawyer, or call the person a slew of names, and call it a day. Or, he might even think it’s hilarious and show his buddies. (I verified that reaction with my husband.)

Let’s say the man with the sex toy on his forehead is harassed with death threats, along with that picture, and sexually invasive comments on what could be done with that sex toy appear on several popular blogs where comments aren’t moderated. Visitors will read them. The man is due to speak at a conference. He’s got an impeccable reputation in his industry, but now someone is stalking him and putting sex toys on his forehead. (Just watch. This blog will now rank for the keywords “sex toys”).

He’ll likely go to his event because he doesn’t fear death threats or something inside him doesn’t take it seriously. He doesn’t fear rape and has no life experience in being violated.

Women fear both because they are more inclined to have been raped, humiliated, and traumatized for the very fact that they are female. Rape is a weapon of mass destruction in many countries during times of war. Rape happens to men too, but their willingness to discuss it is even more guarded than women.

Violation is Invasive, Whether Physical or By Computer Keyboards

The reaction by women to what happened to Kathy Sierra is different than what the men are expressing. Some men have written that women are “objects” and this behavior is due to that. They say women have to live with this. Kathy was told to get over herself and develop a “thick skin”. She was called a “character assassin”. In Cre8asiteforums, it was suggested she should never have written about her experience at all because this is exactly what predators want you to do. They want to know they caused suffering.

When a woman is raped, they are also told to:

1. Develop a thick skin and live with it
2. Not tell anyone
3. It was their fault
4. Not to report it
5. They are assumed guilty and the rapist is assumed innocent unless she can prove the assault. She has to prove her claim and have the facts to back it up.

Some women will go to court, but they face public embarrassment, harassment and a legal side that insists it was her fault and their client didn’t do it. There remain those who believe a woman who is raped did something to deserve it, such as wearing tight jeans or showing her face in public by removing her veil.

Does it follow through that now that we own blogs, websites, and forums, plus get email, that we somehow deserve to be abused and threatened? Does being on the Internet automatically mean hatred is acceptable and if you want to play, turn your back on the shocking parts? Should you not discuss, in your own blog, an experience that has frightened you because you risk ridicule? Should Kathy have gathered proof before going public and mentioning names?

I’ve thought about why she named individuals in her statement. I think she might have refrained had the site owners moderated comments and image submissions. Two of the sites have since been taken down. Would they have remained up, to hurt someone else, if she had not spoken up?


The woman who created this storm by speaking out is herself an observer of human behavior. She’s reached countless web designers with her humor and way of explaining user centered, people oriented design. Her career is about people, how they react and how they think. Now, she is afraid to speak in public due to the behavior of one or more individuals. Was she a target because she is a female, as some have written, or because human behavior is her passion and the best way to get to someone is via what they love?


Must women expect to be treated with disrespect? Have they not won a single ounce of integrity and the right to exist alongside men in peace and fairness?

I used to live in a city and I walked to work every day because I wanted the exercise and parking was a pain in the neck. An office worker, I had to wear dresses to work and look professional, so I wore dresses with sneakers and brought nice shoes for when I arrived.

Without fail, I’d arrive at work shaking in fury and sometimes fear. I was taunted at every step by construction workers and men on the sidewalks. The whistles were bad enough but the remarks they made were so sickening that I would get nauseous. At any minute I feared one of them would follow me to work or worse, stalk me and learn where I lived. As a rape victim already, I already bear scars. Every day I hated them and every day I willed myself to not hate all men, because of the actions of the men that hurt me.

My roommate was a man. One of my most cherished friends; he got sick of hearing me come home in tears and fury, worn out from the daily verbal assaults. He bought me a Walkman radio with earphones for my birthday and after that; I never had to hear the lewd remarks again.

Are some people asking that we ignore what’s happening on the Internet by promoting ways to not listen or read about what’s happening there?

Do you really want the people you care about to be subjected to harm? If we don’t speak up about appalling events, what if someone succeeds and carries out a death threat or kidnaps a child (I once received a threat via email by someone threatening to kidnap my children because I was a single mother and they felt they should give them a home with two parents. I was a target because of my blog.)

On the Internet, being anonymous brings out every conceivable kind of whacko.

Defend Creepy People. See No Evil.

I don’t see how developing tolerance to hate can be justified. I don’t see how not speaking up when one’s life or livelihood is in jeopardy is helpful. A “thick skin” benefits what and whom? It’s too easy to express hatred and anger and far more difficult to show restraint, wisdom, fairness and respect. It takes practice.

Why not start with the Internet?

Discussions and related links:

Debate (sometimes heated) – It Starts With Saying Women Are Good Linkbait

If I Knew Who You Are, Would You Write Differently? Authentication in blogs and forums

First reactions – Distressing News

Should Women Be Afraid to Blog?

Discussion – Kathy Sierra’s Unfortunate Situation

Death Threats Against A Blogger

re Kathy Sierra’s allegations

However, given that half the human race consists of women, it should not come as a newsflash that some of them — in about equal proportion to men — are stupid, venal, dishonest, or just generally annoying. Expressing such an opinion may be distasteful to some and vehemently argued by others, but last time I checked, having a negative opinion of a public figure was neither a federal offense nor an expression of misogyny.

Decided to turn comments turned back on (as much as I hate the spam). I hugged my tree. (Got pictures too, but you don’t need to see me hugging a tree, do you?)

In Honor of Kathy Sierra, I Will Hug a Tree
The Graying of Your Website Visitors


Kim Krause Berg’s long background in web design, SEO and usability includes software application functional and user interface testing, accessibility, information architecture and persuasive design. She shared her passion for Usability and SEO through her site and private consulting at Cre8pc for 17 years. Kim founded Cre8asiteforums in 1998. In the fall of 2012 she sold her forums to Internet Marketing Ninjas and retired from private consulting to join their Executive Management team where she continues her work in usability testing, customer experience and conversions design.

My Online Course: Web Site Usability 101


American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)

Information Architecture Institute

Usability Professionals Association (UPA)