I can’t help but think that there is a growing misogyny in many of the comments posted on WEHOville. This is troubling and sad in a City that prides itself on equity, inclusion, and the advancement of rights for all people regardless of orientation, ethnicity, gender.
Since its inception several years ago, WEHOville has been an interesting and reflective digest of West Hollywood politics, City projects, conflicts and controversies. The comment section of WEHOville provided a forum for residents to share their perspectives regarding articles published as well as other readers’ comments.
Many controversies have erupted over the years with some of the articles and certainly there were many readers who took umbrage with said articles and with other readers’ comments on the site. To somewhat ameliorate name calling, commenters were cautioned about making personal attacks against other commenters. Somehow that protocol has disappeared over the last year into what has seemed to be a free-for-all slug-fest in the commenter section. Name calling and disparagement of another’s comments seems the rule rather than the exception. And all of this takes place within a safe space of anonymity.
Commenters, who often remain hidden behind pseudonyms, seem in constant battle with who can best belittle other commenters’ opinions. And when they don’t have each other to disparage, they turn their ire on the City’s councilmembers and staff. For elected officials and to a lesser extent for staff, this comes with the territory. Nevertheless, these commenters remain hidden behind a wall of anonymous bullying.
Which brings me to the issue of misogyny and the use of the acronym SHE by some WEHOville commenters to describe three of our councilmembers.
Let’s start with a definition of misogyny. This is taken from Wikipedia, which may not be considered an academic resource, but certainly aligns with my understanding of the word:
Misogyny is hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women. It is a form of sexism that keeps women at a lower social status than men, thus maintaining the societal roles of patriarchy.
Misogyny can be understood both as an attitude held by individuals, primarily by men, and as a widespread cultural custom or system.
In feminist thought, misogyny also includes the rejection of feminine qualities. It holds in contempt institutions, work, hobbies, or habits associated with women. It rejects any aspects of men that are seen as feminine or unmanly. Misogyny may or may not include hate towards LGBT people, in the forms of homophobia and transmisogyny. Racism and other prejudices may reinforce and overlap with misogyny.
Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s as a gay youth, I recall many instances of the word “femme” and “girlie” directed at me – a bullying tactic to somehow reduce me to what was perceived to be a lower societal status – a female. Thus, I find the acronym SHE to be reductive and misogynistic – and also homophobic when directed at two of our LGBTQ councilmembers who have been disparaged as part of the so-called SHE in the comment section of WEHOville.
“Misogyny also includes the rejection of feminine qualities”: I also find it reductive and misogynistic when one of our councilmembers is ridiculed for dying his hair or using nail polish, beauty rituals more associated with women. I can almost hear the commenters’ brains spinning: “He’s a male. How dare he lower himself to the status of a woman.”
Although women can certainly participate in misogynistic practices, I expect many of the SHE commenters are male, exercising their gender privilege so they can put these councilmembers “in their place.” Thus diminishing the hard work the councilmembers had to undertake to get elected as well as the hard work they undertake every day in service to our City.
I’m also concerned about a couple recent articles that have appeared regarding one of our councilmembers, currently running for the Los Angeles County Supervisor position for the 3rd District. This councilmember has been the target of numerous attacks by commenters as well as some misinformation appearing in WEHOville. A recent article published in this digest indicated that this councilmember was inebriated at a bar and interfered with a police activity. The councilmember was not there, was not inebriated and had no interaction with the police. Yet no official retraction was posted. A more recent article noted that an independent expenditure committee has been raising money for the supervisorial candidate, as if that is somehow disreputable. It isn’t. Unfortunately, that’s how politics work in this country. Candidates have to spend big bucks to get elected and they need contributors to help them, as well as these independent expenditure committees. I would wager a bet that no one running for office likes this or enjoys it or even wants this, but that is just how it works. Not everyone who runs for a public office is a billionaire businessman like Rick Caruso who can afford to fund his own campaign. And the comments following these articles are full of quick, bullying – and mostly anonymous – digs.
I have no idea how many people read WEHOville. Based on the small number of repeat commenters, it may not be many, unless, like me, readers prefer not to engage in posting so as not to become a target themselves of the bullying tactics practiced by the anonymous commenters. However, I also feel it is my responsibility as a resident and reader, to call out what I perceive to be the unfair comments and opinions that I see in the current iteration of WEHOville.
I would urge my fellow residents to be more thoughtful before they comment on this digital space – to be less reductive and more productive. Be aware of the inherent misogyny you may be projecting in your attacks on councilmembers and other readers of WEHOville. Also, please use your real names and don’t hide behind anonymity. I believe this will help you consider more thoughtfully your comments. WEHOville can be a very helpful forum for our City, but only if we are brave enough to use our names and thoughtful enough to engage productively with our neighbors. I believe the owners and editor of WEHOville are sincere when they say they want to make WEHOville a community forum. However, it is up to us, readers and commenters, to make this a more balanced periodical. We’re neighbors. Let’s act like it.
1. After reviewing this opinion piece, I was informed by WEHOville that it has a readership of 4,000 per day and that it has resumed the review of comments before they are posted. Although I have not witnessed a significant change in the tenor of the comments, this is nevertheless a positive step taken by the editor and owners.
2. I do want to acknowledge and thank WEHOville for posting this opinion that appears critical of its current direction. I also want to acknowledge fellow residents and commenters to WEHOville who do not hide behind a pseudonym in sharing their opinions: Steve Martin, Carlton Cronin, Ruth Williams, Jerome Cleary, Alan Strasburg, Elyse Eisenberg and others. Whether or not I agree or disagree with the opinions they post, I do respect them for the courage to give a face and name to their opinions. That’s a helpful step toward more positive civic engagement.