Ed Rybicki Speaks Out
[My guest on Lateral Truth is Ed Rybicki, the guy whose very short story resulted in a fair typhoon of shit in certain corners of the blogosphere, about a year ago. I discussed the background previously, and will now leave Ed to speak for himself.]
Where to begin, where to begin…I’ve already done the beginning, with having written the offending story in the first place, and I decreed on November 28th 2011 that that was the end of “l’affaire Womanspace”, so where, indeed?
So let’s avoid a where, and let me write of a process: a process of rather abrupt education about a MOST bewildering world; a world where it does not matter what you actually wrote, but what a bunch of seemingly very angry folk think you meant when you wrote it.
I don’t know how it is that I missed the whole development of laagered blog spaces, given that I was an early and enthusiastic uptaker of the internet – back when it was command-line-driven chat group interactions on mainframes, accessed via 286 PCs via slow modems; when discussion groups would send you a day’s worth of posts to save you having to spend time logged in. I suppose I was just too damn busy, being an academic and a researcher and being buried in paperwork, to see how vicious little circles of like and nasty-minded folk were getting together and honing their craft to pillory the unwary – with an almost impenetrable lexicon of catchphrases, to truly mark themselves out as an internet tribe.
D00dliness? Sockpuppet?? Tone troll??? Still don’t know what the last one means….
Oh, yes, the process: I was idiot enough to get caught up in attempting to reason with people who were commenting on the Nature site, as well as on blogs such as those mentioned by Rebecca, after I was alerted to the shitstorm around what I still think was quite a good little story. I said last year, on my own blog:
“But you know something? All I was trying to do was relate something that friends and I had found amusing. Very well-educated friends, including women. I had hoped that it might transcend stereotypes, and make people smile. It obviously pissed a bunch of people off – and I am sorry for that”.
And let’s be clear: I am sorry that it pissed people off. I am not sorry for the story, despite people doing some almost unbelievable things to me as a result of it – or rather, as a result of the lynch-mob environment engendered by the kinds of vituperative commenting that became the norm on the various blogs that saw fit to join the party. One person wrote to my academic head directly to complain that I had:
“…perpetuate[d] the bias that makes it so hard for people like me to do my job. It perpetuates known myths that gender plays a role in our abilities or predispositions.”
Really?? I had, single-handed, made it hard for her to work? Oh, but there’s more: people I know well in an organization called “South African Women in Science and Education” were actually called on to get a petition going to censure me. Fortunately, the two people in charge know me – and laughed it off.
While I received next to no personal communications, other than replies to blog comments, I was vilified at my place of work in what amounted to a systematic campaign – despite never having used a Departmental or institutional affiliation anywhere, and having written and published the thing in my private capacity – to the extent that the principal and a DVC of my university actually asked if we could have a public debate on the issue. I told the DVC he HAD to be joking; getting abused in print was one thing, but public attacks would be another thing entirely. I advised our hierarchy that it would blow over – and you know, it did? Quite quickly, too.
So where am I, now? Well, pretty much in the same place I was in prior to early November, 2011, because I have stopped reading Hatespace: that’s right; I no longer bother to check in on the circle-jerk that FtB had obviously become. I also got good news which completely distracted me from the bullshit: my long-shot effort at getting my 30-year dream project funded struck gold, and yes, the wonderful person who walked into my office and asked “Does anyone here know anything about viruses?” and I will be exploring oceanic viromes (thank you, Maya!).
So – all I can say is that I am wiser (but not sadder); that while as an atheist, humanist and liberal, the FtB blogs would look like they were made for me – they can Fuck. Right. Off.