Women regularly took advantage of the kairotic moment(s) created by the comments sections, noticing and seizing opportunities to offer direct challenges to sexist statements. Often, such comments are straightforward and matter-of-fact explanations of the sexism; in other instances, women use blunter tones, more emphatic language, profanity, and even personal attacks on commenters employing sexism. Susan C. Herring (1999) noted that harsher or blunter responses often represent women's accommodation to the escalating aggressive and hostile conversational patterns established by harassers (p. 160). However, it is also possible to read women's comments, regardless of tone, as rhetorically savvy and subversive moments during which women take advantage of kairos.
In Kaironomia, Eric C. White (1987) argued that "One might understand kairos to refer to a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved" (p. 13). Like an archer aiming at a target on a windy day, a rhetor must find the opportune—but fleeting—moment to take a shot. The idea of a "passing instant" takes on a slightly different tenor when considering the asynchronous space of the comments sections, where a remark made on any given day might not be read or replied to for hours, days, weeks, or even years. Likewise, "success" takes on a new shape when the arrow being fired is one aimed at sexism, or merely the ability to pick up a bow and take a shot—to speak at all—in an otherwise hostile environment. The right moment might emerge from the space created by the comments sections and the ability to quasi-anonymously engage in a discussion; the opportune instant may be a particular comment or phrase at the top of a thread that no one has yet challenged. Success, too, might be commenting in the first place; achieving success may look like the decision to speak and to be a voice of objection in a space where such voices are few and muted.
The BuzzFeed article "A Canadian University Made This Blatantly Sexist Video Objectifying Female Professors" offered an opportunity to consider how kairos can function in the decision to respond to sexism within the comments section. The article described a video intended to encourage people to save energy; the video showed a female professor putting a sweater on, at which point a male student stopped in her doorway, leering at her, and commented on her appearance. She giggled. While the video was retracted after public outcry, many BuzzFeed commenters insisted that women were being over-sensitive and unwilling to take compliments. After one individual employed stereotypes about humorless feminists and overreaction to supposed compliments, fellow commenter Christyn Herr saw an opportunity to respond and to return the focus of the conversation to the content of the video itself, writing,
The problem is not that a student complimented a teacher. The problem is that the compliment clearly came from a place of sexual objectification, not an appreciation of fashion or the desire to brighten someone's day.
A variety of factors may have contributed to Herr's decision to respond, including the existence of a comments section with numerous remarks mocking women who object to objectification, the placement on the page or wording of the specific comment Herr replied to, and perhaps even the explanation of the problems with the video in the article itself. Herr's seizure of the kairotic moment allowed her to resist the sexist generalization about women.
While Herr made use of the kairotic moment on BuzzFeed and left a fairly matter-of-fact statement, other women took a more confrontational approach with sexist remarks in the comments sections. Flowergrrl, a prolific MSNBC commenter, exhibited increasing aggression and frustration in one of her responses. Commenter Rob Carmike accused women who have abortions of wanting "to end the life of a weaker human" and to "make murder of certain people legal." In response, Flowergrrl wrote,
If you intend to "push a point" perhaps it would behoove you to have some understanding human biology. Once you get that done, it couldn't hurt for you to review family dynamics and get a freaking clue that many women that have abortions already HAVE children AND a mate who is part of the decision to terminate their pregnancy.
The article, comments section, and Carmike's remark—along with Flowergrrl's position as a frequent commenter on MSNBC's comments sections—combined to create an opportunity for her to challenge a sexist mischaracterization of women who have abortions, and to remind Carmike that a pregnant person often has children already, along with a partner who supports their decision to abort.
In looking at the moment of her response, we can certainly argue (in line with Herring, 1999) that Flowergrrl accommodated the more aggressive conversational style created by men accusing women of murder. We could also say, though, that she took advantage of the environment and the moment that presented itself in the form of Carmike's particular comment, perhaps because she was aware there would be no rational, consensus-seeking debate in that space, and because sometimes matching (or surpassing) a sexist comment's aggression makes it more likely that a commenter will be heard. The kairotic moments created by the comments section can lead participants to respond as if in direct, real-time discussion even when replies are asynchronous, and with the knowledge that comments may be read not just by one's interlocutor, but also by anyone who scrolls far enough down the page.
Women like Herr, Flowergrrl, and others took advantage of the mix of audiences and tones in the comments sections, demonstrating their ability to keep up with and respond to the pace and tenor of public discussion in rhetorically sensitive ways while also challenging sexism. Finding the kairotic moment in the comments sections gave women the opportunity to speak back to a space where women's voices have been denigrated and stereotyped, and offered a challenge to the limited and limiting perspectives on display. In seizing those moments, women also created spaces where a multiplicity of voices can be heard.
The following quotations and figures contain conversations pulled from the comments sections included in this study. Some of the comments are those analyzed in the preceding paragraphs. I chose the others to additionally demonstrate the rhetorical principle discussed in this section. All comments have been transcribed as they originally appeared including typos or idiosyncratic spellings, although some have been shortened for the sake of brevity.
In instances where a screenshot has been included, commenter names and avatars or profile images have been removed.
Figure 2. ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Commenter 1: Raise your hand if you have a sense of humor. If you like compliments. If you think people who overreact to silly videos have nothing better to do in their lives. My hand is in the air.
Commenter 2 replying to Commenter 1: The problem is not that a student complimented a teacher. The problem is that the compliment clearly came from a place of sexual objectification, not an appreciation of fashion or the desire to brighten someone's day