This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

The Privilege of Being Myself Publicly

In the wake of the Samantha Bielefeld debacle — which, to summarize various Twitter threads, involved a man posing as female tech blogger in order to stir up drama and possibly make money — I’m reflecting on anonymity online. (It’s not important that you be familiar with the whole SB thing in order to read this post, but if you’re interested you can learn more here, here, here, and here, in addition to the link in the first sentence.)

It benefits me tremendously that I’m able to reference my personal Facebook account on this website, that I’m able to post selfies and meet people in person. If I were in the situation that Samantha claimed to be, and I needed to conceal my identity so my bosses wouldn’t object to my internet life, it would be harder to be trusted. Maybe when I chose to criticize popular men, people would wonder, “Is this another scam artist? What’s her ulterior motive?” (Although I suppose this problem doesn’t afflict Taylor Swift’s infosec account.) Being able to reveal my face makes it easier for me to be taken at face value.

On the internet, nobody knows you're a baked-goods enthusiast! Illustration by Surian Soosay.
On the internet, nobody knows you’re a baked-goods enthusiast! Illustration by Surian Soosay.

I feel weird about this. I’m not a huge privacy advocate — we don’t have any inherent right to conceal information about ourselves and insignificance is the best protection — but I’m also not a moron, and I recognize that society’s preexisting power systems determine who gets to conceal themselves and who must be open in order to be believed. The main reason I don’t have to worry about demonstrating my genuine legal identity is that I’m not discussing anything controversial, and I’m a middle-class white girl. (Imagine if I wrote about feminism, or video games!) There are risks, but minimal enough that I don’t worry about it.

I’m guess all I’m saying is that structural inequalities are a bummer, and the dynamics of anonymity reveal that. What an exciting and tötally nëw revelation!

There’s more! An update from Samantha herself and my position on it:

Commentary on Samantha Bielefeld coming out as trans.
So much of this is happening and being discussed on Twitter.

Wealth-Adjacency Privilege

gold ingots and gold coins
Photo by John Louis.

Sara Bibel writes on The Billfold about having a rich uncle:

“When I was making big bucks, I offered to pay my uncle back for the tuition assistance he had given me. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘I don’t need it.’ I feel guilty about this privilege, that I am not saddled with the debt that has made life difficult for so many people I know. I do my best to pay my good fortune forward. […] Access to wealth, and the knowledge that comes with it, is like getting compound interest on your entire life.”

I said this on Facebook, but I think it’s worth noting here for posterity: I also have the privilege of wealth-adjacency — more than that, actually, because my immediate family is financially comfortable as well as my relatives. I would be in a drastically different situation without robust health insurance and parents who could support me into my early adulthood. That doesn’t even address the money-manipulation comfort that Bibel brings up in her article (which I’m still learning).

"Invest in sharing!" A street art stencil featuring the "get out of jail free" card image from Monopoly board-game. Found painted on the sidewalk in New York City in 2007.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.

Something that should happen more often: Rich people mentoring poor kids specifically regarding personal economics. (Also systemic policy reform of various kinds, but let’s not get too excited.) If I’m ever wealthy by virtue of my own actions, I hope I will take the time and energy to hang out with a low-income high-school student and, I dunno, impart some knowledge. And buy their textbooks. Is that an unrealistic notion?

Of course, the policy reform is what would really help — if only moneyed interests didn’t have such a stranglehold on politics! One of the cruelest symptoms of growing up poor is that the whole arrangement is rigged: financial security is unattainable — but if you somehow magically attain it, you can’t handle your newly healthy bank account because you haven’t been able to practice not being broke. (Warning: both articles contain offhand references to sexual violence.) is not your typical progressive publication, but apparently they had the sense to make John Cheese an editor. The brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom has also written wonderfully on this topic.

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