Pseudonyms

Many of us here at Feminist Philosophers blog under pseudonyms. One of my fellow pseudonymous Feminist Philosophers bloggers was outed today, by being named as the author of a particular post, on another philosophy blog. I just wanted to take a moment to say a few words about why I write under a pseudonym for those who might not understand why the privacy afforded by doing so ought to be respected.

Not very long before I was invited to become a blogger here, I had something I wrote under my own name published online (not here) that related to women’s rights. My contact information is available on my department’s website. Naturally, then, in response, I received several emails from people who had read it. Some of them were kind. Some of them were praising. Some of them respectfully expressed disagreement. Some of them just called me names. Some of them said they hoped I would be raped. Some of them said they hoped that I would die. Some of them I interpreted as threats. That wasn’t the first (or  last) time I published something on the internet under my own name, and it wasn’t the first (or last) time I received those kinds of emails in response. It was, however, what I thought about when I decided what name I wanted to blog under here.

I’m not alone. In the words of Amanda Hess, “None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection.” She details some of her own experiences in “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” If you haven’t read it yet, and especially if you don’t understand why some of us prefer, justifiably, to be pseudonymous and ask that our privacy be respected, I recommend reading it in full.

The examples are too numerous to recount, but like any good journalist, I keep a running file documenting the most deranged cases. There was the local cable viewer who hunted down my email address after a television appearance to tell me I was “the ugliest woman he had ever seen.” And the group of visitors to a “men’s rights” site who pored over photographs of me and a prominent feminist activist, then discussed how they’d “spend the night with” us. (“Put em both in a gimp mask and tied to each other 69 so the bitches can’t talk or move and go round the world, any old port in a storm, any old hole,” one decided.) And the anonymous commenter who weighed in on one of my articles: “Amanda, I’ll fucking rape you. How does that feel?”

Some people who disagree with posts at Feminist Philosophers are kind, respectful, reasonable people (and even though I think it’s true that this extends beyond the circle of bloggers here, I’d say this even if I didn’t, as we often disagree with one another).  But some people are less kind, respectful, and reasonable, and I prefer to avoid misogynistic harassment where I can. Of course, I would prefer we lived in a world where none of this was a concern. But we don’t. So I would ask that everyone please be considerate about revealing the identities of those who are pseudonymous.

(And to those who celebrate, Merry Christmas!)

17 thoughts on “Pseudonyms

  1. I guess you could see the pseudonyms as similar to those used by those who work in underground resistence movements, for social change in situations of danger. From that point of view, revealing the identity of someone pseudonymous is collaborating with the enemy. That sounds like an exaggeration, but given the violence of the male backlash described in the article and its obvious reactionary political significance, we can effectively speak of males who threaten feminsts with rape as an “enemy”.

  2. I would prefer to say only that there are *many* good reasons to respect pseudonymity. Some people will get abuse, some people have professional or personal situations that require it, and so on. You just don’t know. [Edit: Last sentence removed by moderator. Let’s refrain from discussing particular people.]

  3. I think one FP poster outed herself, actually — she posted a comment under her real name, identifying herself as the poster of an FP entry under her pseudonym. Maybe you are talking about a different case. (Of course, I won’t say who I’m thinking of, in case she’s changed her mind and doesn’t want her real name associated with her pseudonym anymore.)

  4. My basic reason for respecting pseudonymity is that, absent some specific need or duty or similar consideration, I default to respecting people’s presentations and established reasonable boundaries. Being irritated with someone or merely disliking what they say is typically an exceeding weak reason for breaking their pseudonymity.

    In addition to respect, there are a lot of prudential reasons including all the very serious (but often unknown) reason discussed above, but also the possibility of my mis-exposing someone or helping to establish exposure as a common tactic.

    In some cases, exposure is a reasonable default: dealing with sock puppetry seems to be a prominent one. It’s hard to even identify acts of sock puppetry without breaking the pseudonym.

    I also think we should move away from the snobbery against pseudonyms. Well established psuedonyms stand as perfectly respectible identities.

  5. heteronym: These are different cases. The current one occurred in another blog and was by a different party. The nature of this exposure is such that quite a few people who wouldn’t be looking for it would find it.

    It was also gratuitous or, at least, exhibits a lack of care.

  6. I hope it’s obvious that someone who decides to ‘out’ him or herself by publicly stating that he or she is the author who writes under a particular pseudonym is completely different from another party ‘outing’ someone. Not everyone who writes for this blog chooses to use a pseudonym. Some folks may choose to write some posts under their own names, whilst using a pseudonym for others.

    The point being made here is that people use pseudonyms for a reason, and ‘outing’ people is not ok for the reasons outlined in this post.

  7. Has the person who outed her provided any reason or explanation for doing so? It seems to have been really easily avoidable and therefore pretty deplorable. This person ought to be held accountable for outing her, but I can also see how the person oughted may not want more attention drawn to it. Is there anything we can do?

  8. Brian Leiter has claimed that he “received several e-mails from Sally Haslanger who reported that she and others were unable to identify one of the [pseudonymous] participants [in a discussion on his blog], “Jane Brownstein,” despite sleuthing to identify “her””. If this claim is accurate, do you think that Haslanger and the others acted inappropriately? (Perhaps that case is “complicated”).
    —————
    Moderator: this comment contains claims about sources but goes to no effort to locate the sources. One is about BL, and an indirect one is about SH. We are normally wary of publishing unsubstantiated claim of this sort. So we ask the commentator to substantiate the claims.

  9. As a general FYI, because I have now trashed a few comments that were submitted, I will not approve any comment the sole purpose of which is to criticize a particular individual. If you are interested in discussing pseudonymous interactions in general, or would like to know if there’s something we can do to help someone who is outed, or want to say something in a similar vein, comment away. If not, comment elsewhere.

    Edit: I did not approve the above comment, another moderator did (which I point out just because it was one of the comments that spurred the first portion of this one). The comment is off topic. That Sally Haslanger emailed Brian Leiter about the identity of ‘Jane Brownstein’ says absolutely nothing about whether or not Sally Haslanger was trying to “out” any one. Posting in a public forum the real identity of someone using a pseudonymn and emailing someone who has posted a quote from someone else to note that the someone else does not appear to be speaking under their own name are two very different things.

    Let’s stay on topic.

  10. mrd, there’s been no reason given but it’s easily explicable as a form of carelessness. While an issue, it’s pretty far down the list of issues involved in the exposing event (at least, as far as I know).

    I’ve never used a pseudonym. I think when I was first active online I was in a crowd where it was frowned upon or that using your own name was bold. Given that I can be abrasive (perhaps more so when I was younger), I perhaps did some damage to myself, though it seems to have smoothed out if so (again, at least as far as I know). Now I find I just lack some knack or inclination. (Ie I considered creating a pseudonym a couple of times but it really went nowhere for me.) Interestingly, this lack persists even though all vestiges of contempt for psuedonyms or overvaluing of real names disappeared. (Every now and again I get some positive feedback for using my real name and I find it *puzzling*.)

    I suspect that a great number if pseudonyms are “merely” a personal preference as opposed to a carefully considers precautionary measure. Which is a good thing, I think!

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