Last month, I interviewed Kerry Cohen, author of Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity. This was my first time interviewing someone after I had read her memoir, which is an experience where the intimacy you feel with someone from reading the personal details of their lives matches with the reality of talking to that person. I found Kerry to be an incredible person, not only as a writer, but as someone who has thought deeply on the subject of female sexuality. I looked up to her as someone who is not afraid to go personal, to say the things that make others feel uncomfortable, and to speak openly about a subject that too often is forced into categories: “shameful” or “secret.” I’m talking of course about sex, a subject I love to talk about. It’s also a subject I love to write and read about.
When we started the PDXX Collective, we wanted to create a space online where women could feel a sense of community as writers, readers, and thinkers. We wanted a place not so much for news and politics (there’s some), but for our own creativity in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. For me, this became a place to explore sexuality through fiction and essays. Once I realized I could use this space for interacting with other writers interested in the same subject, I became even more excited for the possibilities these dialogues could create.
Then I posted Kerry’s interview and commenters broke a piece out of my online sexually expressive utopia. Kerry had warned me that people responded quite extremely to her book, either in the negative or the positive. Unfortunately for our interview, a few commenters came through who seemed hell bent on attacking Kerry. This was the first time the Collective had to respond to this kind of interaction. Honestly, I was caught off guard. I know that the Internet is full of commenters and many of them don’t say nice things, but it shattered my ideal of what a feminist blog community could look like.
I struggled with censorship. The point of the Collective is open dialogue, so to take down comments just because I didn’t like them/agree with them was a difficult choice. In the end, we did delete one particularly nasty comment and noted that it had been removed. The Internet is a wonderful place for people to feel anonymous, and from that anonymity comes the feeling that we can say anything we want. I feel it when I sit alone in my room and rant about sex–though people will read it eventually, at first it’s only the computer screen and me, and that makes it easy to say anything I want. But eventually these words will reach other computer screens. I hope commenters will think about that the next time they post a comment that they hate an author. At the very least, I hope they ask themselves, “Would I say this to this person’s face?”
I’d like to hope the Internet could be a safe place for people to express their ideas (especially women writing about sexuality) without being attacked, but the Internet won’t ever be that until the real world is more like that first.