...I took a whiz on an electric fence. -Beavis
I first discovered online communities when I was at university ('92-'93). At the time, I was taking a class on sociology taught by a professor who was very much an ardent feminist. One of the first things I noticed about the online communities was the vastly different treatment that the different genders receive. So, I decided to try logging on with an obviously female nick, as a social experiment.
Okay, okay, it was a lot more than just a 'social' experiment, but that was the motive I told myself to keep my super-ego quiet. The real reason was that there was a board that only allowed female members, and I wanted to get in there and find out what sort of cool stuff they were talking about. As any female reader probably already knows, I learned a lot more than I ever really wanted to know.
I don't even really remember what I was expecting, to be honest. Something salacious, to be sure. What completely astonished me was how different the conversation was on this board. I couldn't understand the reason for this difference, however, and couldn't even really define the difference. By this time (since I had discovered usenet pr0n as well), I actually was extremely interested from a social vantage point.
So I stopped trying to act like a 'girl' (my naive idea of a girl, anyway), and started trying to post normally. I say trying, because it was terribly unsuccessful. I remember one episode very clearly. I had made a mention of some sort about the 'world as flat plane' idea that floated around Europe from fall of Roman Empire to the Renaissance. The world is presented as this way in the Bible, too, and the primary 'teachers' of the time were monks. But I was actually shot down from all sides. "It's obvious that the world is round." There were many more, but here are the few arguments I specifically remember:
"Have you ever seen a sailboat go over the horizon? The boat disappears before the sail."
Yes I have - my mother lives on the beach (Kill Devil Hills, NC). Unless you have *extremely* sharp vision, you can't tell what dissapears first, and since the sails would be the largest and most visible part of the ship, it would be easy to mistake the line of sight issue with the perspective issue. Also, in rough weather, the movement of the boat over the horizon is impossible to tell from the movement of the boat through the trough and peak of the wave.
"Any where you look, the horizon is shaped like a circle. The only way this is possible is if you're on the surface of a sphere."
Analytical geometry is not as easy to grasp as it sounds. Although this is certainly provable, it requires a very solid education in logic and geometry. IE, I could do it, but probably not without a geometry book in front of me. Not that many people today could prove that (as a percentage of population, not k5'ers)
"Do you really think the people back then were as stupid as you seem to be?"
Believing what you're taught by your elders (or the church) is very common. Christians have one theory for the creation of the universe, Buddhists another, and Scientists yet another. Just because a thing is wrong or not true doesn't mean that someone won't believe it if taught so.
And yes, this was one of the comments flung at me (not an exact quote, obviously, but *very* close. This same person tried to get me to chat with him privately a little later that same day for a quiet snogging session.) I had *never* gotten a reaction of this sort before I tried the female nick, *never*. And I had put up some very naive posts that probably deserved this sort of treatment. But it was so incredibly difficult to shake these attacks off. I couldn't understand it.
My face was bright red from shame; when I left my dorm room to use the bathroom, someone asked if I was feeling sick. I drank some water, tried to calm down and sort out my thoughts, and headed over to the all-women forum, just to get away from the insults in the previous room, to go somewhere they couldn't follow. The women welcomed me, sympathised with me. "*sigh* Boys will be boys." I started to question my viewpoint. If everyone was arguing against me so vehemently, then I must be wrong, yes? The answer was a resounding NO. But *that's* what the all-women's forum had been created for: a place for women to talk about women's issues, and a place to escape from the bigotry of men.
The shame I felt at being humiliated only added to the shame of deceiving everyone, and I never fessed up. In fact, I never logged onto that board again (or any other until #kuro5hin). But I learned a great deal more from that week on the discussion boards than I did from the semester long class from my feminist professor. To those who say "Just Shake It Off", I say that sometimes you just can't. Whenever I just sit and think of that episode of my life, my hands get a little clammy, and my face gets a little flushed; I've felt that way since I started writing this article. They may only be butterflies in your stomach, but a ton of butterflies will crush you just as easily as a ton of lead.