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Readers Respond to Heidi Schnakenberg

Friday, May 26, 2006

Heidi Schnakenberg's May 24 commentary, "Female Pundits Could Use Help With Hate Mail," provoked many powerful responses from our readership. Women's eNews decided to share them. We hope that the discussion continues.

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Heidi Schnakenberg's May 24 commentary, "Female Pundits Could Use Help With Hate Mail," provoked many powerful responses from our readership. Women's eNews decided to share them. We hope that the discussion continues.
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Note from Women's eNews editors. We have considered for a long time how best to have a blog on our site. As journalists, we liked the idea of presenting only reported and edited pieces. As an international news organization, we were uncomfortable providing space to only one topic or one point of view, no matter how brilliant and well-informed. As a nonprofit organization, we were concerned about legal liability for a post that had not been edited.

However, when Heidi Schnakenberg's essay provoked an unprecedented reader response, we quickly came to the conclusion that a blog on the Women's eNews site should be reserved for such strong reader reactions to the news, essays and cartoons we publish and that we should create one right away. Below is a selection of letters we selected and the writers agreed to publish. We are extremely pleased to present them to you and hope you enjoy reading them.

The Editors

P.S. All comments should be sent to:
editors@womensenews.org

June 1

Hi-

I just noticed you have started a blog in response to the commentary by Heidi Schnakenberg. I have two comments.

To Heidi: The fastest route to self-esteem is to stand up for what you believe. Wish I'd said it first because it has become my mantra, but I actually learned it from a futurist named Watts Wacker who spent his Saturdays protecting women from anti-choice protestors at their local reproductive health center.

To Women's e-News: Blog on! Don't be so apologetic about it either. As journalists, you believe in free speech for goodness sakes. This should be a regular feature. Democracy can't survive until we all learn to embrace controversy and use it as a teacher rather than a reason to withdraw from the fray.

All the best,

Gloria Feldt


May 31

Hello,

I am a male reporter for the St. Augustine Record, a 20,000 circulation paper in Florida. I do the occasional column now, but for five years (2000 to 2005) I wrote a weekly column that poked the usual sacred cows: religion, drug laws, etc. Your column on the flak women columnists receive was on the mark. I got a lot of mail -- more than for any other story or column in the paper. But nothing like those direct attacks. Part of the reason may be that I am a Vietnam veteran, so I am perceived by the radical right wingnuts as a dissenting voice, perhaps. But not a traitor to their side.

I've written one letter to a female columnist, Kathleen Parker at the Orlando Sentinel. It was complimentary, because I love her spunky voice. To those women columnists who get the hate mail, I'd advise: keep writing. Write about the hate mail. The nuts hate exposure. Things that can be said in the silence of a living room look pretty stupid when the whole community sees what a jerk you are.

As my old editor, Mike Archer at the Leesburg Commercial, used to say: "Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and dive in."

Peter Guinta

St. Augustine Record


May 31

Dear Editor,

The Left often plays the victim card when they are mistreated by those who disagree with them as Heidi Schnakenberg did in her recent column. I am not an opinion writer but received death threats from leftists against myself and MY CHILDREN for supporting State legislation the Left opposed. Wackos inspired by illusions of moral/social superiority and hatred for the "enemy" are a dime a dozen in politics. If Ms. Schnakenberg is surprised by that, it only shows she has little experience in the real world of politics.

Heidi's "liberal" indoctrination into race baiting/white guilt and all its stereotypes and scapegoating invites racial reaction. Her indoctrination into feminism and all it's superiority over men, invites a reaction of sexism. But what is true is that it does not matter if a woman is promoting the liberal line or not when it comes to a reaction of hatred and even death threats for daring to have a public opinion.

When liberals named their opposition opinions "hate" and used their power to shut down debate on college campuses and for a time, in politics, that was a big mistake unless liberals like being treated with the same disrespect and intolerance they show to those who disagree with them. I despise the mean spiritedness of politics today, however, if one side is to claim the moral high ground and shout down the other side, I guess it is necessary that everyone climb that mountain of ego and shout down in equality. That is what we have today and I don't see any solution to it as we will not permit ourselves to live with one another with respect for social and moral disagreement anymore.

Sincerely,

Jo Thompson

Boston


May 31

Hi,

I believe if you're an opinion journalist, you are going to get strong reactions if people don't agree with you, whether you're male or female. Maybe newspapers and magazines are different.

I totally agree they should have more women journalists. But I've visited many "opinion" sites and blogs on the Web, and I've seen no gender gap whatsoever when it comes to hate mail. I can name three sites, all created by men, that have gotten tons of hate mail. They are bushflash.com, oreilly-sucks.com, and savagestupidity.com. On bushflash.com, its creator made two animations about the hate mail he's gotten.

On oreillysucks.com, there are two Web pages and one forum section devoted to hate mail. Steve Senti, who created this site, said these e-mails were only 10% of all the hate e-mails he's gotten. He said he could fill a whole website with them. I have also seen sites created by women that get hate mail: bigbadchinesemama.com and advicegoddess.com. These ladies have a ball with the hate mails they get.

Several people also sent me hate mails after I e-mailed a fur manufacturers' website protesting animal abuse in fur farms. These people called me a bitch and a terrorist. One person said I had been reported as one. I did wonder if this person had actually done this reporting (thus resulting in a lawsuit on my hands), since I had also included my snail mail address in my e-mail to the fur manufacturers' site, and there have been cases of the FBI arresting animal rights activists as "terrorists" based on flimsy charges. But this put me much more on edge than any of these hate mails, which sounded so out to lunch I laughed reading them.

Which brings me to say that I think Heidi Schnakenberg and Maureen Dowd should have a similar attitude towards their hate-mail. I've never read these messages, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of them sound no less childish or demented than many other hate e-mails I've seen. Including my own.

Hope this helps,

Rosalind Lord

San Francisco

www.seaserpent.com


May 30

Hi, I just received a copy of your comments on female writers and the abuse they take for their opinions. (Forwarded to me from my husband.)

I want to say it is so true. I just happen to be a 72-year-old frustrated liberal--or progressive as we now try to shed our old shrouds in shame--unfortunately, who has taken too damn much from male readers of my occasional Letter to the Editor of our small town weekly paper.

I have received phone calls from too many idiot males who don’t even have the guts to say their names while they proceed to call me names, i.e., traitor, hateful, meanest person, etc. etc., because I dare to disagree with this administration. The men also write ad hominem attacks on me in response letters, which are published no matter how mean and nasty they are.

The latest attack on my character came via messages left on my answering machine. One man left his name even as he called me a person “dripping in hate” because I challenged a candidate for U.S.representative who called the horrendous war in Iraq “fantastic”! A second and third man followed up with their comments as to my being a traitor . . . why didn’t I move to Cuba or China . . . I am the meanest person he ever heard . . . and . . . every one in (our little city) knew it. When I was able to transcribe their messages from the tape and send a letter to the identified caller repeating their words, I received a second call (this time not left on tape). I could tell he was intimidated by the fact that I had a taped copy of his nastiness.This man just happens to be the leader of a bible study group in his little mountain village.

So yes, we are viciously attacked, called names, ridiculed, etc., just because we have the guts to speak out on current affairs with ideas and opinions that may run contrary to the local “cracker barrel” mentality. I’ve taken a lot, but it only gives me grist for more letters.

I have learned, however, via these mean-spirited barbs, to scrupulously avoid ad hominem attacks on others simply because they can be so hurtful and ineffective.

Thanks again for your insights. Shirley Doll-Delehanty


May 26

Dear Ms. Schnakenberg and the folks at editors@womensenews.org,

If any father has ever resorted to undeserved personal attacks on a female journalist, I apologize. About 80 percent of single fathers are ordered to live apart from their children because of gender bias. Such noncustodial parents are referred to as "Deadbeat Dads" in the media very frequently. Please do your part to eradicate name-calling and I will do the same.

Don Mathis, editor

The Fourteen Percenter, A Newsletter for Noncustodial Parents


Cheers to Heidi Schnakenberg for her commentary about female opinion writers, which was posted on a recent National Conference of Editorial Writers forum. I would like to also add that it's not just female writers who understandably fall gun shy. Far too often editors--and we all know they're mostly male--won't bother dealing with female opinion writers because for a very vocal part of the population being told something by a woman just triggers a reaction in certain people's minds.

It's a lot of work to have effective opinion writers on a publication. They trigger emotions and responses. But they also provide heart for publications.

As a female opinion writer in the San Francisco Bay Area I was blesssed with an exception to these far too common practices and my editors spent more than their fair share of time defending my words. When my critics broadcast on cable television a videotape of my house and cited its cost, it was all legally acceptable--albeit tacky. But when they threatened to also find out where my kids go to school and show them on their cable show, my newspapers got the attorneys and defended me.

When critics of a housing article said I lied to them during an interview, it came down to a he said-she said, and again, my editors stood by me. Time and again their defense of me made me a better opinion writer.

It paid off. In 2003 I took first place in the California Newspaper Publishers Association contest for column writing in the 75,000-200,000 circulation category, but more important, readers connected with the opinion page because there was writing that inspired, outraged and, occasionally, even made them happy.

I've since relocated to the East Coast and have had no luck in getting opinion pieces published in an ongoing manner, being told they're too strong, too tough. Well, what the heck are opinion pieces supposed to be? Until editors learn that it's to their benefit to keep strong women's voices in their opinion section and as an integral part of their newspaper, they will continue to read surveys that say people are no longer reading their product and especially that female consumers are looking elsewhere for their news.

For those of us who love journalism, we can only hope the message sinks in before it's too late. Thank you Heidi for reminding us that writers are also people and that female writers have an important voice that is far too often silenced.

Theresa Keegan

Kingston, N.Y. 12401


As a woman old enough to be Heidi Schnakenberg's grandmother, I would like to say that I support her all the way. My mother used to tell me that when people say mean and hurtful things, they are the jerks, not you. I hope Heidi will also take this advice to heart. It has helped me a lot in my life, especially because men don't like women that are smarter than they are, a canard, but really, really true, believe me. I thought that things had changed for the better since I was young, but based on my interactions with young women in academia, I fear that they haven't. Sock it to 'em, Heidi, don't ever give up!

Berma Kinsey

Houston, Texas


Heidi

I just learned about Women's eNews from AlterNet and was glad to read your piece on the "hate mail" issue. I am an unknown writer, sending commentaries mainly to folks I know and working my mojo against the Bush Gang while trying to stay consistent with a novel that has been in progress for several years. Also, I'm a member of Military Families Speak Out and hope to do some decent work on behalf of the veterans. I know what you mean about women getting more "hits" for having a mind of one's own and speaking words that are not solely "nice."

Very glad to have found Women's eNews and I (in my 65-year-old boldness) encourage you to stay strong, believe in yourself and know that there are many of us out here who are honored by your dedication and your courage. We carry on.

Kate Walsh

Chicago


May 25

Ms. Schnackenberg,

I’m very sorry to hear you’ve gotten so much negative feedback from a certain knuckle-dragging sector of the population.

If it’s any consolation, I’m a guy and most of my favorite columnists are in fact women. I find women offer an extremely valuable perspective in the public debate that I would otherwise miss. Being a man, clearly I cannot experience what women experience. However, I’m also not too dumb to learn or to look for information from sources other than myself.

The real problem, I fear, is that so many of these folks are of the opinion that not only are they right, but everyone else is so wrong that ANY dissent must not be tolerated. Sadly they see female columnists as ‘easy prey’ in their warped world view.

Best of luck to you and I enjoyed your column. I’ll make a point of keeping an eye out for more of your work into the future.Regards,

Gord Gilmour


Hi Heidi,

In reading your piece I felt sorrow and indignation that women are attacked this way in addition to other stuff.

I am glad your headline asks for help. I hope more men will take the trouble to answer these attackers.

I usually just ask them the simple question: What is it about women that you fear?

I think most anger and attacks are fear-based and especially so with sexism (and homophobia) though I don't know why that seems to be so. Why else try to restrain women in so many ways?

You are so much more courageous than they are and they have no idea.

Thank You

Joel Mael


Is it too elementary to remember that a critic’s comments tell you more about him/her than about yourself? The mentions of mentorship and support would seem to be most reasonable and helpful. For Marines and other folks headed for the fray, being able to “take it” is required before being allowed to “dish it out.” And that is most definitely a male-organized process. Ridicule is often the most demoralizing response to hate in any form, and that takes an indomitable sense of humor. So maybe the comedy of today is the arena where the jousting with the hate-mongers can take place. Truth-telling is never safe, but it is what is needed in this time wherein many feel that transition is imminent.

Jacqueline Pratt Roseburg,

Oregon


As a conservative female columnist for a generally liberal publication, I would have to take issue with Heidi Schnakenberg’s claim (“Female Pundits Could Use Help With Hate Mail”) that according to conservative writer Katherine Kersten, her hate mail “doesn’t seem [like] the same over-the-top, bone-chilling stuff that Rekha receives.” You’ve got to be kidding? The hate mail I receive regularly includes profanity, personal insults, sexism, anti-Semitism, blogs urging readers to harass me, and even on one occasion a death threat. Take a look at the ”Hatemail” page at my Web site (www.cinnamonstillwell.com) for examples.

In addition, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has blogged extensively on the vicious hate mail and commentary she inspires among opponents. While this aspect of journalism is hardly pleasant, it comes with the territory these days. So I would advice Ms. Schnakenberg to suck it up and join the club. Instead of “retreating into self-censorship,” the best response to such attempts at intimidation is to continue telling it like it is. As the saying goes, you can’t let the bastards grind you down.

Sincerely,

Cinnamon Stillwell

Columnist, SFGate.com

(The San Francisco Chronicle online)

www.cinnamonstillwell.com


Congrats Heidi Schnakenberg for sticking your neck out for women everywhere!

No matter what your opinion or your voice, no one should have to endure the level of threats and vile language that has been used against you and the other women in this commentary. I was appalled and angered by the reaction that these readers had to the opinion of others. I have often written a letter to an editor telling them how I agreed or disagreed with an article or editorial, but not once did I attack the writer. I kept it professional, expressing an opposing or supportive view with candor and directness but without attack.

I do have to admit that I was not surprised at the gender or ethnicity of the respondents to the writer. Race matters to so many. Gender matters too. Why is it that we cannot evolve past it? Why is it that we only "see" and do not "hear"?

Although I am disheartened by the malicious attacks, I am energized at the possibility having and supporting a counter-voice to the issue of female pundits. You have my support! I will be sure that others hear the message as well.

Thank you Women's eNews for bringing this issue to the forefront and sharing this commentary with us.

Sincerely,

Yolanda Archuletta

Santa Fe, New Mexico