Kevin Smith is right about online bullies

Published: The Good Men Project (August 16, 2016)

Simply put, cyber bullies deserve to be ridiculed because they are cowards.

I suppose I can exclude the rare troll or hater who actually attaches his or her real name to their verbal bile. There are even a handful of individuals who make their careers out of trolling (Perez Hilton and Milo Yiannapoulos come to mind). That said, the vast majority of people who bully or harass online do so anonymously. The reason is obvious: They don’t want to be held accountable for what they say. Even though the very act of harassing another person presumes a position of superiority, the cyber bullies clearly know that they would be shamed for what they say. The only way they can keep the focus on their target instead of themselves is by cowering behind their keyboards. This makes them pathetic… and the more flamboyantly they attack their targets, the more it becomes clear that the joke is actually on them.

This brings us to Kevin Smith’s teenage daughter, actress Harley Quinn Smith, who was recently attacked by an online troll for appearing in his new film “Yoga Hosers.” Smith’s defense of his daughter deserves to be published in full:

“[E]ven though I should be apoplectic about it, my kid thought it was funny. ‘I’d be mad if I had a tiny dick and anonymous voice too,’ she said, bemused by the bitterness. But here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice for folks like this Troll: if you hate me (or my kid) this much, the better use of your time is to make YOUR dreams come true, instead of slamming others for doing the same.”

This may be one of the best-crafted insults against trolls ever penned, and it has nothing to do with the dick joke. The first part was Smith describing how his daughter laughed at the troll’s bitterness, an act that strips the bullies of their power. I’ve had a blast myself poking fun at some of my cyberbullies, in no small part because it’s important to draw attention to the inherent ridiculousness of a troll’s activity. Their power comes in making their victim believe that words written by unnamed sources can possibly be taken seriously; that artifice of authority is obliterated once you point out how ripe their actions are for parody.

That said, it’s not enough to simply put the trolls in their place. If we want to set a better example, we need to show them a level of empathy that they’ve refused to display. As Smith points out, someone who would enjoy trolling a teenage girl clearly doesn’t have any meaningful constructive outlets in their lives. It’s easy to interpret this as a verbose way of saying “Get a life!”, but in truth there are many people whose lives feel empty and without purpose… and not all of them are trolls. The troll’s problem isn’t that he or she feels inadequate, but that they lash out at innocent people because of their insecurities. It’s possible to condemn the action while still seeing the human being responsible for them, and perhaps by offering thoughtful advice as well as sharp rebukes, we can make lemonade out of their lemons.

There’s a new, refreshing trend in online bullying

Published: The Daily Dot (January 14, 2016)

If there is a single major social problem that best captures the pros and cons of our Internet-driven world, it is the issue of bullying.

On one hand, the Internet has become notorious in recent years as a breeding ground for bullying behavior. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about half of young people have experienced some form of bullying through their cell phone or online, with 10 to 20 percent experiencing it regularly. The most common form of cyberbullying involves hurtful comments and spreading rumors, which means–not surprisingly–cyberbullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and to consider suicide.

Yet even as the Internet has made bullying more common, it has also provided its victims with their most powerful weapon–a voice.

Last week, the voice of a suicide victim was heard through his brothers. After 16-year-old David Molak committed suicide due to being cyberbullied by other teenagers who were jealous of his girlfriend, his two older brothers wrote a public Facebook letter outlining the deeper social sickness that destroyed their sibling’s life.

“We’ve all heard the word bullying and we’ve all had to attend those stupid mandatory anti-bullying classes or seminars,” they explained. After describing their thoughts about David’s pain in his final hours, they went on to point out that “the only way to end the suffering in this nation whether it be from bullying or discrimination is not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and ultimately character.”

Even as the Internet has made bullying more common, it has also provided its victims with their most powerful weapon–a voice.

Refreshingly, these words were met withoverwhelming support by the Molaks’ online audience. “We love your family, we will never forget David, and we are praying for all of the Molak family,” posted one reader. “I will do everything I can to help you in this cause,” wrote another respondent. “We MUST hold young people AND their PARENTS accountable for practicing the Golden Rule and developing integrity.” A third (who seemed to personally know the victim) observed, “It[s] bewildering how people post all this support for David but yet it[‘s] their kids that are the bullies. They hide behind their social status. They swept things under the rug. David always talk[ed] to my son and he is truly hurt about your loss. He was just talking about the 6th grade field trip and how David won a basketball and gave it to him. He still has it to this day. Rest in peace David!”

Nor is the Internet’s capacity to spread love as well as hate limited to individual message boards. According to RiteTag, several anti-bullying hashtag campaigns have become popular in recent years, including #cyberbullying, #standup, and #parenting. Organizations like STOP cyberbullying and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Create an Anti-Cyberbullying Sign Campaign have been created to address this issue, while stories about cyberbullying continue to dominate headlines across the Internet. Not surprisingly, all of this attention has led to agovernment website that’s devoted exclusively to addressing bullying, and which has its own separate section for cyberbullying.

On a personal level, I can attest to the enormous progress that has been made in drawing attention to cyberbullying thanks to my own experiences in drawing attention to the plight of HFAs (high-functioning autistics).

Perhaps fortunately for me, my childhood occurred a few years before social media really took off. Still, I was victimized by many of the forms of abuse that would later be morph into “cyberbullying.”

Last month, two junior varsity basketball players in Wisconsin posted a video on a social media app showing themselves bullying an autistic boy in a locker room. While I never had videos of my mistreatment recorded and then posted for the whole world to see, I would often be physically or emotionally humiliated by bullies who made sure there was an audience.

What once occurred among flesh-and-blood human beings is now transplanted into cyberspace–which perhaps makes it even easier for bullies to forget that their actions still have flesh-and-blood victims.

But thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to write many articles drawing attention to issues like thedepression epidemic within the autistic community, dating with Asperger’s, and–of course–being socially marginalized due to having Asperger’s. As a result of these pieces and others like them, I have had dozens of people with autism reach out to me for advice or even simple conversation. The same medium that can be used to cause so much suffering has, as I have personally witnessed and experienced, the capacity to connect individuals who might have otherwise always believed themselves to be alone.

This, ultimately, must be the lesson we learn from the growing attention to bullying. If we want to stop bullying among children and teenagers, we must recognize the larger social culture that causes it in the first place. Because we as a society still believe that it’s acceptable to marginalize, reject, and inflict emotional harm on people who are considered different, we allow an atmosphere to develop that makes bullying possible. Even those who don’t intentionally set out to be cruel are still complicit in the problem.

After all, the worst things that people do en masse aren’t done deliberately or even necessarily consciously. Our worst crimes against each other are those that we commit in the back of our minds, as the product of countless tiny judgments that we cast on others or subconscious choices to demean or reject someone else as a means of elevating ourselves.

Because the Internet has allowed bullying victims to draw attention to the various ways they are mistreated–whether it is because of how they look and who they date, their gender identity or the fact that they have an autism spectrum disorder–it empowers those who use it constructively with an agency that was inconceivable only a few decades ago. As time goes on and our collective social consciousness continues to evolve, we will hopefully reach a time when we learn to embrace and love each other for our shared humanity, rather than seek out reasons to despite and hurt on another.

Or, as David Molak’s brothers put it, “not to highlight differences between groups of people, but to focus on the importance of accountability and ultimately character.”

Autistic Reflections on Thanksgiving

Published: The Good Men Project (November 26, 2015)

On Thanksgiving Day 2015, I am thankful for the following.

Growing up, it seemed like everyone rejected me as an oddball. If I didn’t correctly read the thoughts and emotions people attempted to communicate through their facial expressions and body language, I was weird and rude. When I talked too much about subjects that the people around me didn’t find interesting, it was because I was “Motormouth Matthew.” Anytime I drew attention to how I was being bullied because of my unorthodox mannerisms and tics, I was admonished for being a “tattle” and told that I should “just ignore” my tormentors.

Make no mistake about it, things haven’t improved that much for autistic people. Every day I see news stories about someone with Asperger’s Syndrome being picked on by his or her peers. Most of my close autistic friends continue to live in fear that their jobs and personal relationships will be cruelly, unexpectedly terminated. If anyone says that things are good for autistic people today (much less ideal), they are either deluding themselves or determined to diminish other people’s problems.

Having said all of that, one thing is undeniably true: Unlike my early years, now I have a language with which I can discuss being autistic with others.

Without question, the worst part of growing up on the spectrum was not being able to explain my situation to other people – or, for that matter, to myself. My formative years were spent believing that there was something intrinsically wrong with me, that I was ineffably different and would never be able to connect with other people. It’s bad enough to be marginalized and lonely, but the emotional brutality of that condition is exponentially worsened when you genuinely believe yourself to be a freak. Perhaps there was the incidental advantage of me learning to empathize with others who feel like outcasts, but I would like to believe I could have acquired the same empathetic capacity without the traumatic experiences.

Either way, there is little question that both I and other autistics like me now have a vocabulary that allows us to understand ourselves and demand that others accept us on our own terms. The struggle for full social equality is still more ahead of than behind us, but this is an important first step. It means that, instead of feeling like aliens, we can embrace our own unique corner of the human experience.

For this I am endlessly thankful, and this is the thought I will keep in my mind and heart as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

An Asperger’s Bill of Rights

Published: Asperger’s 101 (October 2, 2015)

If you are a High Functioning Autistic (HFA), the odds are troublingly high that you also suffer from some form of depression.

As someone who suffers from depression myself, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how to find happiness when you struggle with the burdens of having an autistic brain. One possibility for the prevalence of depression in autistic brains is that HFAs, for reasons distinct to their neurological condition, are innately more likely to feel depressed.

My sense, though, is that we tend to be depressed because life is difficult for us in ways that are somewhat different from the experiences of the Neurologically Typical (a satirical term for non-HFAs). As such, any discussion of why HFAs tend to be depressed must be approached as a social justice issue, with a clear statement of ethical axioms that, if followed, would help HFAs and non-HFAs alike.

Note: This article refers to Asperger’s Syndrome by its clinical term, high-functioning autism. It is meant to be distinguished from more severe forms of autism. For a description of Asperger’s from the author, click here.

  1. We have the right to not be harassed or criticized for behavior that – though seemingly strange, absurd, or even obnoxious – isn’t harming anyone. When people bother others in this way, it is a form of discrimination.

Every HFA has them – a plethora of stories in which they were embarrassed, mildly or worse, in a social setting because they’ve behaved oddly (I discuss some of mine here). Feelings of rejection inevitably even drive a disproportionate number of HFAs toward suicidal thoughts, and one major step toward solving this problem is spreading tolerance toward atypical neurological behavior (my twin sister always hated the word “tolerance,” but it’s appropriate here).

Most of the stories I’ve heard of HFAs being embarrassed, ridiculed, or unduly criticized are over offenses that didn’t really harm anybody, so the standard should be this: If you see someone behaving abnormally, but they aren’t harming anyone, recognize that they probably are on a psychological spectrum (autistic or otherwise) and are simply making their way through life, just like you. If you’re unwilling to do that – if you feel the need to judge, mock, or harass the other person – then the social stigma should fall on you.

  1. We have the right to be taken seriously when we are forthright about our condition.

When you’re an HFA, you will regularly hear people express surprise or even doubt that you’re really on the spectrum. Some inevitably notice, of course, but those who don’t usually fall into two camps – they either flat-out disbelieve that you are autistic (usually with the implication that you’re trying to get away with something) or are impressed at how you don’t come across as having Asperger’s at all.

Both of these reactions are rooted in exaggerated misconceptions about how autism makes you behave, whether it’s the nerd caricatures on “Big Bang Theory” or Oscar-winning films like “Rain Man.” In fact, autism can manifest itself in a number of ways, and HFAs often receive years of therapy learning how to develop social and self-sufficiency skills so they can be functional.

  1. We are still accountable for our actions when they harm others.

Let’s face it: Being HFA doesn’t just make you particularly prone to be hurt, but also prone to hurt others. Very often it’s unintentional (although HFAs are certainly as capable of malice as anyone), but nevertheless HFAs are frequently perceived as arrogant, cold, or mean-spirited because of their insensitivity to other people’s emotional needs. As mentioned in Point #1, this shouldn’t be problematic so long as they aren’t offending, upsetting, or otherwise hurting anyone; that said, when those things happen, HFAs shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it simply because of our condition. We deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of our intentions and the opportunity to explain ourselves – which, frankly, should be the case for everyone – but as long as we are informed of the situation in direct, unambiguous language, we should (and deserve the right to be) held responsible like anyone else.

In the documentary Aspie Seeks Love, the goal of David B. Matthews (the titular HFA) is, in his own words, to find “someone to converse with, someone with whom to share my life.” Although he meant this in terms of falling in love (which HFAs do just as romantically, and painfully, as the Neurologically Typical), his words speak to a broader truth as well. In the end, HFAs simply want to be able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the rest of the world – from friends, family, and loved ones to casual strangers – as we see many (though by no means all) non-HFAs doing. Right now there are a lot of lonely HFAs out there because it is difficult for us to do that… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

When the smartest man in the room isn’t a man – and isn’t allowed to be in the room

Published: Daily Dot (August 7, 2015)

If the Internet is to be believed, Carly Fiorina was a smashing success in yesterday’s Republican first round of presidential debates. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO far surpassed her peers in Twitter mentions (according to Google and Topsy.com) and received the most Google searches among participants in the forum. At a watch party sponsored by the American Conservative Union, Townhall.com’s Guy Benson unequivocally declared: “We have a winner and it’s Carly Fiorina.”

The only problem was that she didn’t make the main stage last night on Fox News—she had to debate with Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the GOP’s overflow section—what many derisively referred to as the “kids’ table.” “Her knowledge and the forceful way she made her case made me wish she were a part of the Big 10—even more so after seeing the Big 10,” wrote Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post.

It says a great deal about prevailing gender bias within the GOP that, thus far, Fiorina has sat on the literal sidelines, even as we’ve continued to reward her less-polished peers, many of whom appeared barely ready for primetime. The smartest man in the room wasn’t a man—and wasn’t allowed to be in the room.

This latent sexism was perhaps most obviously apparent in the way Fiorina was treated during the debates. The trio of Fox News moderators frequently referred to her as “Carly,” instead of using her last name or her title—as they did with the male candidates. For instance, the moderators would be unlikely to call Jeb Bush “Jeb,” even though going by his first name has been a huge part of his campaign branding. Throughout the debate, they referred to him as “Jeb Bush” and “Gov. Bush.” Donald Trump wasn’t “Donald”—he was “Mr. Trump.”

The smartest man in the room wasn’t a man—and wasn’t allowed to be in the room.

In a similarly patronizing act, the Democratic National Committee singled Fiorina out in their Twitter feed with a sexist tweet that attacked her controversial business record by juxtaposing her image with that of a little girl. Without intending to, both parties wound up underscoring one of the few areas where they overlap—in their difficulty taking the lone female Republican candidate seriously.

By contrast, no one seemed to struggle with the problematic pasts of three of the candidates on the Big 10 panel. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) has a long history of anti-feminist comments, from suggesting that women who can’t get off welfare should “find a husband” to advocating that unwed mothers be publicly shamed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is well-known for his condescending behavior toward female reporters, from shushing Kelly Evans of CNBC to chiding Savannah Guthrie of Meet the Press for “editorializing.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump was widely considered to be the winner of the debate, despite his refusal to take back comments that criticized female public figures for their physical appearance. During the debate, Fox News host Megyn Kelly brought up his unsavory record: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’” After joking that he’s only said those things about Rosie O’Donnell—to big applause—he argued that his views weren’t the real issue. “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said.

He continued by attempting to turn the tables on Kelly. “What I say is what I say,” Trump responded. “And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.” He continued his tirade later in evening on Twitter, calling Kelly a “bimbo” and “totally overrated and angry”: “The biggest loser in the debate was @megynkelly. You can’t out trump Donald Trump. You will lose!”

While her peers continue to attack and demean women, part of the reason the Fiorina campaign is struggling to draw attention to the sexism directed against her candidacy is that Fiorina herself has a complicated relationship with gender politics. In June, Fiorina’s comments about feminism at a Washington D.C. event ruffled feathers on the Internet, as she seemed to blame feminists for the War on Women. “Feminism began as a rallying cry to empower women,” she argued. “But over the years, feminism has devolved into a left-leaning political ideology where women are pitted against men and used as a political weapon to win elections.”

Both parties wound up underscoring one of the few areas where they overlap—in their difficulty taking the lone female Republican candidate seriously.

These comments were similar to what she told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor back in April. “If Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” Fiorina said. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.” And in a recent interview with National Journal, she doubled down on that argument, saying that Hillary Clinton “will play the gender card over and over again, which is unfortunate but predictable.”

Unfortunately for Fiorina, running as the anti-Hillary hasn’t yet proven compelling enough to garner her headlines, despite the fact that her male peers spent a great deal of last night bashing Clinton (never once mentioning Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley). Whether she chooses to recognize it or not, she will continue to be a victim of sexism at the same time that she calls out Hillary for using the gender card. Despite having similar qualifications to Donald Trump—in terms of her business background—Trump is leading the pack, while Fiorina is stuck babysitting.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Fiorina should be president. There are valid criticisms of her performance as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and without her business portfolio, there isn’t much to recommend. But this issue is about more than about her record. Just like the men she should have been standing alongside last night, she deserves the chance to prove she does—or doesn’t—have what it takes.

Hillary Clinton’s Rape Culture Problem

Published: Good Men Project (July 30, 2015)

Hillary Clinton has a rape culture problem… and her supporters need to ask the right questions.

Hillary Clinton has a problematic record when it comes to the issue of rape culture in America. Any politician with a similar background – regardless of party, ideology, or gender – should be expected to answer for them.

Unfortunately, as I learned last week, there is the disturbing possibility that many of Clinton’s supporters will be content to give her a pass.

On Saturday I published an article for The Good Men Project (which was subsequently picked up by The Daily Dot) about the multiple rape allegations that have been made against Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton. Because recent history has shown that public figures with a large number of sexual assault charges are often guilty of at least some of them, I argued that liberals have a moral responsibility to ask the same hard questions of Bill Clinton that they asked of Bill Cosby. In addition, because Hillary Clinton wishes to be America’s first female president, I observed that it particularly behooves her to address the legitimate questions that exist about the possibility that her husband is a serial rapist.

Since then, two important details have come to my attention:

  1. Hillary Clinton’s problematic history on the issue of rape culture extends beyond her husband’s actions. As a 27-year-old lawyer in 1975, Clinton represented a man who was accused of raping a twelve-year-old girl. It was her first case as a criminal defense attorney, and to win Clinton accused the victim of being “emotionally unstable,” making “false accusations” against other persons in the past, and exhibiting “an unusual stubbornness and temper when she does not get her way.” She even claimed that children “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,” which would be problematic enough… if it wasn’t for her subsequently released tapes that show Clinton acknowledging her client’s guilt (at one point even laughing about how his ability to pass a polygraph test) and bragging about getting him exonerated, particularly by finding a forensic expert who could get the physical evidence proving her client’s culpability thrown out because he was “willing to testify so that it came out the way you wanted it to come out.”
  1. Many of the self-described feminists and progressives who responded to my first article were outraged… not at the prospect of America electing its first female president without asking her to account for the personal misogyny potentially perpetrated by her husband, mind you, but at the fact that I would risk undermining Clinton’s election at all. Needless to say, that made me think very carefully about how I wanted to present the additional point I’m raising in this piece.

In response to all of this, I would like to advance the following proposition as (hopefully) self-evident:

For gender equality to be a reality, it is necessary for half of America’s future presidents to be female. It is not necessary that Hillary Clinton be one of those presidents.

The election of America’s first female president, though historically significant, will primarily be a symbolic milestone rather than a substantive one. After all, the only direct beneficiary of that event will be the woman who becomes president as a result. For that election to have symbolic importance for all women rather than only the one who becomes president, the narrative in which she becomes president must contain a message that – at the very least – doesn’t implicitly undermine the cause of women’s rights.

For gender equality to be a reality, it is necessary for half of America’s future presidents to be female. It is not necessary that Hillary Clinton be one of those presidents.

These are the questions that Clinton needs to answer:

  1. Although she cannot be faulted for doing her job as a defense attorney (Clinton has correctly pointed out that she “had a professional duty to represent my client to the best of my ability”), her behavior toward the rape victim – both in the misogynistic arguments she used to discredit her and the callous attitude she privately displayed regarding her suffering – both contribute to the problem of how our society disempowers and stigmatizes rape victims. Does Clinton recognize this, regret her own role in perpetuating the problem, and have ideas as to how we can more effectively confront these cultural assumptions in the future?
  1. Although she cannot be faulted for her husband’s possible actions, the reality remains that if Clinton’s election depends on the voices of his potential victims being silenced, it will send the message that women with power are “more equal” (so to speak) than women without power. As such, Clinton needs to be asked what she knows about the allegations against her husband and why she believes the public should believe his story over those of the women who have come out against him (since we can take it for granted that she’ll say she doesn’t believe them herself)?

If Clinton becomes the first female president by silencing the women who may have been sexually terrorized by her husband, as well as failing to address her own past of problematic thinking and actions vis-à-vis rape culture, the story of her ascent to the White House will be that of one woman allowing others to be exploited in the name of her ambition. The “triumph” (if one can call it that) will be hers and hers alone.

It’s never, ever okay to release someone’s personal information

Published: Daily Dot (July 23, 2015)

Donald Trump has played many roles in his life: business mogul, author, reality TV star, and politician. But when he publicly released the private phone number of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), he wasn’t simply engaging in a run-of-the-mill political dirty trick. By violating Graham’s privacy, he assumed a new title common to the Internet era—that of the common, and increasingly dangerous, troll. In so doing, Trump further normalized a behavior that has a history of being incredibly destructive.

In case you were lucky enough to have forgotten it, the story behind The Donald’s foray into trolling is pretty straightforward. First, Trump insisted that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his party’s presidential nominee in 2008, doesn’t deserve his reputation as a war hero because he had “only” been a prisoner of war; McCain was tortured in a Vietnamese prison for more than five years because he refused to be released before the soldiers who had been captured before him.

Graham, who is a close friend of McCain’s, responded by calling Trump “the world’s biggest jackass.” In retaliation, Trump claimed that Graham had begged him for personal favors, reciting his private phone number on national television for the ostensible purpose of proving his point.

Of course, Trump knew perfectly well that by doing this he was inviting his supporters to harass the Senator; indeed, he actually encouraged his audience to “give [calling Graham] a shot.” In the process, Trump engaged in a form of bullying that has become disturbingly ubiquitous online over the last few years—i.e., the practice of encouraging an angry online mob to harass a perceived opponent by releasing that individual’s private contact information, also known as “doxing.”

Perhaps the most infamous instances of doxing (before Trump, that is) occurred last year, when gamers used the tactic as part of a larger campaign to harass prominent women in the video gaming community. On one occasion, actress Felicia Day was doxed within hours of writing a public statement discussing her experiences with sexism as a female gamer; in another, a video game developer and journalist named Zoe Quinn was doxed so often that she eventually felt compelled to create an “anti-harassment task force” to protect the personal information of individuals targeted by online mobs.

Trump knew perfectly well that by doing this he was inviting his supporters to harass the Senator.

As feminist pundit Anita Sarkeesian (who was eventually driven from her home by death threats) reported, “the harassers launched DDoS attacks on my site, attempted to hack into my email and other social media accounts and reported by Twitter and YouTube accounts as ‘terrorism,’ ‘hate speech,’ or ‘spam.’ They also attempted to ‘dox’ and distribute my personal contact info including address and phone number on various websites and forums (including hate sites).”

This isn’t to say that doxing is solely the problem of conservatives and sexist trolls. In the weeks following the controversial shooting of Trayvon Martin, director Spike Lee tweeted the address of an elderly couple he believed to be the parents of Martin’s shooter George Zimmerman, explicitly encouraging his followers to harass them.

After it was revealed that the address he sent out belonged to David and Elaine McClain, neither of whom had any relationship with Zimmerman, Lee apologized for the “mistake” of picking the wrong family, although he stopped short of acknowledging that he had been wrong to incite mob activity in the first place.

Nevertheless, the McClains were ultimately forced to move out of their house as a result of the harassment that Lee’s tweet triggered, eventually suing the director for the psychological damage he had caused as well as the decrease in their property value.

That said, sometimes doxing isn’t political at all. Rapper Maya Arulpragasm, better known as M.I.A., doxed Lynn Hirschberg of the New York Times for publishing an in-depth article criticizing her work. On that occasion, Hirschberg was relatively lucky; M.I.A.’s tweet had intentionally tricked her followers into thinking that the phone number being posted belonged to the rapper herself, so as Hirschberg herself put it, “the messages have mostly been from people trying to hook up with M.I.A.”

That said, Hirschberg still described the experience as “infuriating” and was adamant that doxing should be viewed as “a fairly unethical thing to do.”

There is an important common thread that links all of these stories. Regardless of the doxers’ motives for violating the privacy of their targets, the victims have always been confronted with very real danger as a result. In the best case scenarios (like that of Hirschberg), the threat was merely getting a call from a horny superfan. In the worst case scenarios (like those of Sarkeesian and the McClains), the actual harassment that ensued as a result of the doxing forced them to uproot their lives and face the prospect of being physically harmed.

M.I.A.’s tweet had intentionally tricked her followers into thinking that the phone number being posted belonged to the rapper herself.

Because the doxers have no way of knowing or controlling who will see the information they post and what they will choose to do with it, the very act of doxing is intrinsically dangerous.

To his credit, Graham has decided to take Trump’s doxing in stride, releasing a video of himself destroying his old cell phone (a famously antiquated flip-phone) in various over-the-top ways while dramatic music plays in the background. Yet while Graham may be in a position to brush off the harassment caused by being doxed (Yahoo News reported that his voice mailbox became full shortly after Trumps publicized his phone number), the same is not true for everyone.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact that Trump is a celebrity and presidential candidate means that his actions set examples that his followers could very easily try to emulate. Regardless of what one thinks of his political views, there is something objectively irresponsible about Trump using his platform to promote a form of bullying that has already left so much destruction in its wake.

Doxing is not just an etiquette issue—it’s a public safety concern.

2 Ways We Need to Redefine ‘Masculinity’ in American Foreign Policy

Published: Good Men Project (July 7, 2015)

American foreign policy has long been governed by ideas of masculinity. Now it’s time to evaluate what that has meant for our nation – and how we should redefine “masculinity” in the future.

 

Why do we equate “masculinity” with “aggressiveness” when conducting our foreign policy?

“In the aftermath of September 11 Bush enacted a highly masculine ideology through his treatment of the press and emphasis upon two masculine themes–strength and dominance–and that this approach facilitated wide circulation of his masculine discourse in the press.”

Even without summarizing the rest of the article, it isn’t hard to remember the tropes of machismo that Bush demonstrated throughout his presidency: The “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, the cowboy swagger, the retrospectively ironic aircraft carrier landing in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”… all used in the service of waging two wars to avenge a terrorist attack whose perpetrator remained at large (and quite comfortable) in spite of them. Seven years later, when President Obama was being criticized for not using the military to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and various Islamic extremists in the Middle East, his manhood was inevitably drawn into the discussion. This choice quote from conservative columnist David Brooks neatly summed up the thinking (which, he noted, he does not entirely share):

“Let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a — I’ll say it crudely — but a manhood problem in the Middle East. Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad or somebody like Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair but certainly in the Middle East there is an assumption that he’s not tough enough.”

To quote President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Cross of Iron speech, which is as relevant today as it was in 1953: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’

Just as Bush was viewed as more masculine for waging war, Obama has had his masculinity called into question for not being militant enough.
Although these arguments were being made about 21st century presidents, Americans have always sought to promote “masculine” foreign policies. In her 2000 book “Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars,” historian Kristin L. Hoganson explored how a desire to assert our manhood on the national stage ultimately resulted in America’s declaration of war against the Spanish Empire in 1898, despite the reservations of President William McKinley. A few years earlier, in her 1993 essay “Wars, Wimps, and Women: Talking Gender and Thinking War,” Carol Cohn reviews how gendered (and inherently subjective) terms like “wimp” and “pussy” are frequently used to disparage presidents who are perceived as being ineffective in foreign policy, again reinforcing the notion that Americans need to be “masculine” if they want to remain powerful on the world stage.
Without delving into the historic atrocities caused by this cult of masculinity, let’s briefly look at the price of our various military ventures since 2001:
– We have spent more than $1.6 trillion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our military actions against ISIS, and the Pentagon’s slush fund.
America and its coalition partners have lost nearly 3500 lives in the Afghanistan war and more than 4800 lives in the Iraq war.
– More than 210,000 civilians have been killed by the American military in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq alone.
– To quote President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Cross of Iron” speech, which is as relevant today as it was in 1953: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
In short, it seems like it’s time for a new definition of masculinity vis-a-vis the shaping and implementation of American foreign policy. I propose three guidelines:
 
1. Masculinity should be associated with pragmatic maturity, not the use of brute strength.
Few would dare accuse President George Washington of not being manly… yet one of his most important policies as president was keeping America out of the war between the British and French empires that raged on during his administration. Despite being fiercely criticized for this decision, Washington believed that America needed to be responsible in how it conducted itself on the world stage, arguing that free states “will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.” Although he conceded that “so far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith,” he insisted that “the great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” While this course may not be particularly idealistic, Washington believed that it would save American lives, avoid costly military projects, and secure America’s place on the international stage by keeping us out of foreign entanglements which did not directly concern us.
In short, he understood that a manly foreign policy isn’t one that is quick to get involved in foreign wars, but rather one which recognizes the practical and moral importance of not meddling in other nations’ affairs and valuing the lives and tax dollars of our own citizens.
Obviously the conduct of foreign policy isn’t a simple matter. Sometimes the line between what threatens us and what merely seems threatening can be very blurry (see the build-up to our involvement in World War II), and now that we’ve become part of an international community (even serving as the host nation to the UN), it would be unrealistic to call for a return to Washington-era isolationism. At the same time, any definition of masculinity worth respecting must promote being responsible with the lives and material resources of other people, just as it cannot countenance acts of bullying.
2. We need to recognize that a “masculine” nation behaves honorably toward its neighbors.
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Back in 1893, President Grover Cleveland refused to annex the island kingdom of Hawaii after an independent report determined that its legitimate government had been overthrown by American sugar plantation owners for their own financial gain. His response?
“I suppose that right and justice should determine the path to be followed in treating this subject. If national honesty is to be disregarded and a desire for territorial extension, or dissatisfaction with a form of government not our own, ought to regulate our conduct, I have entirely misapprehended the mission and character of our Government and the behavior which the conscience of our people demands of their public servants.”
What’s particularly noteworthy about this statement is that it addressed two of the most common arguments used by neo-imperialists (i.e., corporate leaders who support military actions against weaker nations to advance their business interests): Namely, that we should invade other countries either because it will make America stronger (“a desire for territorial extension”) or because we have a righteous crusade in our corner (“dissatisfaction with a form of government not our own”). The problem with these positions is that they both rely on a “might makes right” line of reasoning, one that can be easily revealed simply by applying the Golden Rule: Would we think it okay for a stronger nation to conquer us simply so it could expand its power? If another country felt that our government and/or way of life was immoral, would we accept it if they used their military power to force us to change?
Obviously the conduct of foreign policy isn’t a simple matter. Sometimes the line between what threatens us and what merely seems threatening can be very blurry (see the build-up to our involvement in World War II), and now that we’ve become part of an international community (even serving as the host nation to the UN), it would be unrealistic to call for a return to Washington-era isolationism. At the same time, any definition of masculinity worth respecting must promote being responsible with the lives and material resources of other people, just as it cannot countenance acts of bullying.
The former imperative involves learning to be mature; the latter, learning how to behave with honor. Both are core ideals by which every man should subscribe in his private life. Our geopolitical actions shouldn’t be any different.