The Men's Playground
Women are not welcome on HotCopper (unless they know their 'place')
Until recently, the last time I was seriously and blatantly discriminated against because of my sex (that I know of) was the year before Equal Opportunity Legislation was introduced in NSW way back in the mid-1970s. Then, in the early 1980s one of my several jobs was to manage the introduction of EEO policies and procedures. I worked in a male dominated organisation. When I came across anything that could be viewed as discriminatory, whether a policy or something someone did or said, the invariable reaction from the 'bosses' was an immediate 'please tell us how to fix it!' These were mature self-confident successful men who viewed women as equals and wanted to make sure we were treated as such.
I was intrigued to find there is a still a sizeable sub-culture of sexist creatures of the male sex alive and well who hobnob on the internet. Unlike the men I mix and work with, these are not successful men comfortable with themselves. They act as if they have to put women down or worse, as in this case, bully them and deny them access to goods and services, in order to make themselves feel any sense of self worth.
Misogynists made welcome at HotCopper
Earlier this year (2012) I was banned from the share trading discussion board, HotCopper, because I sent a private message to the moderators and made a subsequent complaint. HotCopper is a commercial business that boasts of being "Australia's largest stock trading and investor internet discussion forum with over 170,000 active members."
My private message to the moderators was along the lines that calling women paranoid, schizophrenic and deserving of death could be viewed by some people (not all, obviously) as a tad sexist and misogynistic.
Here is one of the posts to which I was referring - a hateful incoherent comment about a women who died after childbirth. Good riddance, he writes, describing here as arrogant, self-interested, dangerous, mentally misfiring, dysfunctional.
Source (subs req'd): HotCopper.com,au
Thing is, the reason I wrote to the mods was because they deleted some posts that followed the hate posts made by thalweg (or acreage1 as he was then). I was explaining that some of us thought his comments were over the top (pdf here) and figured if any posts should have been removed from the thread, his would have been at the top of the list. The mods disagreed as we shall see.
Forum management chose not to remove thalweg's misogynistic comments. They either agreed with them or they decided it was 'free speech'. The moderators decided the six or so posts saying they didn't much appreciate sexist attitudes, particularly like that shown by thalweg, did not constitute "free speech" and must be deleted because they offended people who hold attitudes like thalweg. (As an aside, most of thalweg's posts are along these lines. Yet he has never been suspended even for a day!)
In what universe is it sexist to point out hateful sexism? Only in the alternate (sexist) reality of HotCopper
After I saw all the polite posts deleted (one from me and some from other people) as well as my one narky post, I sent the private message to the moderators (TOU) alerting them to thalweg's three disgusting posts, assuming they hadn't noticed them, even though they'd been up for hours.
The reaction was instantaneous and vicious. But it wasn't thalweg's posts they reacted to, it was the fact that a mere woman would dare to say they were offensive. I was immediately suspended from the forum for an entire month (most suspensions are for a day or two) and told that it was I who was being sexist. Thalweg's posts were given the mod's blessing and allowed to remain.
Mods and management, who often moan about the death of 'free speech', decided to stop me from 'speaking' altogether. Free speech to extreme conservatives apparently only applies to speeches they like to hear. (Consider the Australian's editorial of 11 December 2012 seeking freedom to 'offend' while it has tried to stifle freedom of speech in the past.)
(Several hours later another moderator removed one of the three hate posts made by thalweg - but left the other two. They didn't make any apology to the other people whose posts the mods deleted. And they still insisted that it was me being sexist for suggesting thalweg's post was offensive.)
Because I was simply following the written forum guidelines when I sent the private message to the moderators, I naturally queried the ban. It seemed strange to be banned for following the rules. This is the what I got in reply (head vice mandatory):
From: HotCopper Support
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 2012 22:42:49 -0800
You attack the male and then claims it isn't sexist and that the 'men' have it wrong?
Sexism works in both directions.
Mods are pretty tired of your posts only being aimed at demeaning others, rather than any camaraderie or friendliness being attached.
You will need to remain on the academic threads only if you can't see how both sexes are subjected to the equality rules please.
No need to reply.
I was dumbstruck! Not only was I known to be one of the more polite and often friendly posters on the forum (albeit at times provocative - but only in the mind of the ultra conservative, reactionary white male. Especially the climate science denying white male.) But to be told I was sexist for alerting them to thalweg's post amazed me.
Allow me to say now what I didn't say back then, with apologies to Rebecca West:
"...I only know that I'm called sexist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat..."
(HotCopperites will also be roaring with laughter at the thought that the General Manager of HotCopper regards any of his forums as 'academic'! His Science and Medicine forum, which is where I used to post a lot, is appropriately called the S&M forum by HotCopperites. Management has made sure that it's dominated by the scientific illiterati. These 'proud-to-be-ignorant' science bashers, with the blessing of the forum moderators and management, defame scientists and turn any discussion about science or medicine into the latest paranoid conspiracy theory - straight from infowars. As for the forum he said I'm too 'outspoken' to post in, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the standard to which HotCopper management aspires!)
Women should pretend to be men to play in their 'Men's Playground'
It gets even worse. I began to wonder if I was still living in 2012 or if I'd somehow got caught up in Dr Who's Tardis and flung back in time. This is what I was told by a female HotCopper employee, who obviously knows her place in that male domain or she would have taken action. Here is part of her email to me (my bold, admin's capitals):
I understand the make up of the forum and the bias at times. However, we have some really excellent female posters. Many don't EVER say they are female and have become very good at playing in the men's playground. I just know some are female, but remain quiet. Often it's harder once people say they are male or female, and being an anonymous forum poster has great merit.
She's suggesting I not let on I'm female and pretend to be a man to post on HotCopper? And the Men's Playground? What the hell is that? Men I mix with aren't overtly sexist and don't consider their world a 'men's playground'. About the only 'men's playgrounds' allowed in Australia, as far as I know, are some of the archaic Men's Clubs and the Catholic Church - and even the latter tolerates women (often very reluctantly) in many spheres of activity. No business as far as I'm aware is allowed to discriminate on the grounds of sex as suggested by HotCopper admin.
Gabby has a brilliant cartoon which is a wonderful illustration of sexist male 'group think'.
I subsequently lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. HotCopper immediately banned me permanently - which is arguably in direct contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits victimisation for making a complaint to the Commission. The General Manager refused to engage with me in any conciliation process and refused to stop the victimisation.
Cowardly, sexist bullying
It's a strange feeling to find out that I, this little old lady from the bush, caused these characters (HotCopper management and the moderation team) to quiver and quake in their boots to such an extent that not only have they denied me access to their service, but any post even mentioning me by my forum name (MobyT) is deleted. I have been told that anyone who mentions me is threatened with suspension*. I believe I am unique in that regard. There are threads on HotCopper not simply referring to other suspended posters by name, but discussing the merits or otherwise of their suspension.
*This ban against mentioning my HotCopper name MobyT apparently does not apply to the test site of the new HC web interface (not public to general subscribers, only available to selected HCers). (Didn't last very long. 20 Dec 12) (Hello HC-ers. Happy holiday season all and stay safe if travelling. Hope you are enjoying my blog. Please feel free to make a comment. You can remain anonymous. 20 December 2012)
Why go public?
I thought hard before I made the complaint to the Human Rights Commission and, when HotCopper refused to engage with me in conciliation, I thought hard about writing about the experience.
What prompted me to act?
Sure, the more primal feelings of anger and wanting some sort of revenge are mixed up in there somewhere. However the main reason I went to the HR Commission was because it was a case of 'if I let myself be treated like a doormat, how many other women will suffer'.
That same mix of reasons is why I started this blog. It's intended as a protest as well as a warning to others that there are still commercial businesses that demonstrate no regard for women or the law. After four years contributing to HotCopper, making more than 5,000 posts, and during which I put up with bullying, stalking and other harassment from right wing posters and moderators (as well as making lots of friends and getting numerous votes of appreciation from all sides of the spectrum), when I was banned because I followed their own rules I decided enough was enough.
(The other reason for going public is to set the record straight. The General Manager deliberately out of spite or ignorance falsely wrote on my HotCopper profile that I was suspended 'pending legal action'. I was not. (The Human Rights Commission is not a court of law.) At least one poster assumed I was the one who had done wrong (that legal action was being taken against me) and HotCopper did not disabuse him of that notion. I made a complaint of discrimination and then, because of the resulting suspension, added the complaint of victimisation.)
Businesses in the twenty first century should be a long way beyond discriminating against women. and at no time has it been acceptable for men to gang up the way they did to bully and try to intimidate. After all, this isn't some dinky little blog we're talking about. This is a commercial business that boasts how large it is (though only a tiny proportion are women, according to the general manager - and no wonder!)
Will the culture of HotCopper change? Will it become female friendly? Not while the current management is in place. Misogynists will always be misogynists. Sexist men will continue to consider women as second class. In my experience, owners/management of a business set the tone, appoint staff of similar persuasion to themselves (in this case moderators) and determine norms and culture.
You'd think sexism should have died out by now but it thrives in some quarters. Women need to speak up about it, not put up with it. Acting and speaking out won't change the attitudes of sexist bullies, but we may do enough to change their behaviour.
(I won't destroy the joint and that was never my intention. If more women speak up when bullied or when men treat them like dirt, the next generation will hopefully be better off.)
PS Apparently, as a result of my complaint, HotCopper has recently added 'sexist' to their list of TOU infringements. It hasn't stopped the mods (or anyone else) from showing their sexist side.