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It started last week as controversy churned over Internet death threats targeting female blogger Kathy Sierra. Bloggers rushed to take sides on whether Sierra's subsequent shuttering of her blog was a justified response or a hyperbolic ploy for attention, and the mainstream media began sniffing around the issue of anonymous blog threats, eventually arriving at the question, "Why do so many of them seem directed at women?"

This weekend Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh entered the debate with bang, publishing a front-page piece (currently the most-viewed link on the site) that articulated what many of us* have been thinking for a long time: Women are subjected to more abuse than men on the Web, period. Walsh takes an in-depth look at the behavior of anonymous commenters on her own site, noting clear patterns in the speed and frequency with which female writers are bashed in the letters section. She cites factors like recurring references to the graphic sexual acts and belittling nicknames assigned to women writers, as well as the regularity of attacks on their intelligence, appearance and sexual orientation (many of which also contain threats - or, at least, suggestions - of violence), as evidence that the blogosphere's supply of anti-female bile is particularly deep. And the abuse she says, takes its toll:

I can honestly say it's probably made me more precise and less glib. That's good. But it's also, for now, made me too cautious. I write less than I would if I wasn't thinking these thoughts. I think that's bad. I think Web misogyny puts women writers at a disadvantage, and as someone who's worked for women's advancement in the workplace, and the world, that saddens me.

While the anecdotal evidence from female bloggers borders on overwhelming, the charge that misogyny disproportionately pervades the Internet is difficult to prove, and actual data, such as compilations of abusive remarks directed at women versus men and comparisons of anti-female sentiments with comments reflecting racist, anti-semitic and homophobic views, has yet to be compiled. Still, Walsh's piece takes a huge step towards encouraging discussion of an issue that's bubbled under the surface for too long. As for the reader letters responding to her post, we'll let them speak for themselves.

*"Us" referring to ourselves and at least four other persons of the female persuasion who also write on the Internet.

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