I haven't always been thoughtful about posting online.
The first time I posted to a mailing list, I suffered a flaming that hurt my soul and is still remembered. I didn't write what that person thought I wrote, and most of my emails are now read several times, and occasionally checked by my husband, before I send them. Does that say what I mean? What's the emotional state of the person reading this? How will they twist this? Is this the right forum? How many other people will read this?
Depending on the email/message I could agonise over these for 20min or so. Although I think I've developed a set of rules that keep my natural social anxiety in check and make this process a bit faster than it was immediately following my mailing list incident.
There was also that other time, when someone had committed suicide from the Westgate Bridge and for some inexplicable reason I allowed myself to be my nasty self who send a lashing of thoughtless, flame ridden words to a mailing list (actually I think it was a usenet group) complaining about the insensitivity of this bloke who had tied up traffic in my city. It felt good at the time, but I think the guilt hurt my soul too, I certainly remember it as vividly as the mailing list email.
And then we come to the latest storm in a teacup. The moderator of a male dominated group I'm on posted some pictures that were in poor taste and I blinked. Then others posted comments on those pictures and I saw some ineffective attempts by people to suggest that the comments and original post were not ok. I ignored it thinking that people would stop soon and the group would get back to core business. The moderator deleted them and then the comment'ers came back to ask more about them and make some more blokey comments. Then someone posted a picture of Xena with her barely there armour, referencing the previous posts and "jokes". It looked like the behaviour was not going to go away and could turn into a more permanent feature of the group. So I spoke up.
I have a lot of practise at speaking up. I was the person who stood up in the train carriage and tram and asked the menacing guy to put out his cigarette. I was the person who called her teenage peers on their sexism and racism. I was the only woman in a group of male engineering students. I've been called lots of names, I've been gaslighted
and I've been ostracised. For a long time I stopped speaking up about racism and sexism when I observed them and then I realised that what other people think or do in response to my words is irrelevant, the important thing is that I speak up.
Speaking up is hard and it makes you feel awful, but not as awful as if you don't speak up. Interestingly, many people receiving your words also have a very emotional response that is not their normal behaviour. They feel awful too. These days I imagine my children's emotional response when they've had their bad behaviour pointed out to them. They know what the rules are and are embarrassed at being caught wrongdoing, and they often lash out angrily and incoherently.
I might be an apologist for them, but in my experience of being the only woman in a group of men, when men are being blokey, they don't realise they're excluding women. They don't necessarily consciously do it and they won't do it when there are a significant number of women around. To stop them you usually just need to tell them you're there. The incurably sexist of them will then attack you, some of the others will be like the children I mentioned earlier and respond in an obviously juvenile, slightly incoherent way.
You can't change the incurable ones and the others don't need you keep telling them they're being dicks - they already know. So there is no point in continuing to engage with them. The important thing is that you said something and maybe next time they will remember this awful feeling you made them have and avoid it. Incidently, this is also my approach to parenting - I don't need my kids to make amends or agree with me when I tell them off, they don't like having arguments with me and will modify their behaviour to avoid arguments, even while they think my rule is unreasonable.
I also need to manage my own awful feelings in stepping over normal polite society boundaries, so I have developed a process that minimises the aggression opportunities available:
1. Tell the people/person how you feel - it's a statement of fact they can't argue with.
"I think what you're saying is racist" or I'm letting you know that I'm getting progressively more uncomfortable with the blokey, sexist banter on this page.
Often, I leave it at that. I've done what I needed to maintain my sense of self respect, and what they choose to do about it is their business.
2. If it's an action or activity that has an impact on me, I also need to tell them what that impact is. If they care about the impact they will also be more likely to modify their behaviour over the long term.
I like to think of myself as a member of this group,, but I can't be one if I have to look at pictures of nearly nude women and participate in posts making fun of other people's appearance in order to fit in.
3. Online, I then tend to try to walk away from the computer for an hour or two. My emotions/anxiety mean that I'm unlikely to respond to any responses in a thoughtful and measured way. Even if I don't walk away from the computer, I don't allow myself to post while feeling emotional.
Offline, it's a lot harder but certainly when telling strangers to stop smoking on the train it's easier if you don't talk to them again - even if they're yelling in your face they will get bored and go away. (Yes, there's a lot of adrenaline in this sort of incident). The other option is to quietly keep saying the same thing, Go away, I don't like you doing that. Go away, I don't like you doing that. The quiet voice is important to keep your own adrenaline in check.
4. When reading the responses of others I remember that they are likely to be feeling embarassed. They're human beings with all the same anxieties and difficulties of communicating on the page that I have. If what they're saying is close to appropriate, I will choose to read it as completely appropriate. It seems to be better to accept that they're making an attempt than to keep making them more ashamed of their behaviour, leading to even more emotional responses. If what they're saying is inappropriate I may choose to restate my position, or go back to the start of the process and tell them how their comment makes me feel and what impact that has on something that is probably important to them. But I'm just as likely to leave them to their own prejudices.
I choose to avoid the emotional toll that continuing to engage in arguing with someone will have on me. But it's important that I tell people how I feel about their actions, or how will they change?