There’s a common fallacy that is becoming increasingly widespread on the internet: that women with opinions must be required to defend their opinions to anyone and everyone who decides to disagree with them.
Blocking, banning, hiding, muting or just declining to engage with the argumentative is seen as some kind of affront to free speech, or an indication that the (most often female) writer cannot “handle” those who disagree with them. It seems women cannot be allowed to have opinions unless men can disagree with them.
I call bullshit.
Why? As the Guardian found when it analysed the comments on the articles of its opinion writers, of the top ten most-abused authors, eight were women. When it comes to opinion-having, it is hardly an even playing field.
When men have opinions, dissenters are much more likely to stick to the argument at hand without reverting to ad hominem attacks. When women have opinions, they’re more likely to be trolled, abused and bullied.
But cyber abuse aside, even when commenters do remain on topic, there is no obligation for a writer to respond to their critics, no matter how vocal those critics may be. No one is paying writers to spend hours of their valuable time reading through comments, engaging in multiple concurrent arguments with commenters, aggrieved or otherwise.
Frankly, I can think of many better things to do with my time than engage in arguments with strangers on the internet. The odd conversation may be fun and enlightening, who’s got the time or energy for persistent written warfare?
So let me dispel the idea once and for all. To any online debaters, you are more than welcome to love or hate me, agree or disagree with me, but do not expect me to argue with you. Let’s just agree to disagree.