Woman + Internet = Abuse. Why?

Let’s be honest, we know that sexism is still a current issue. As outlined by the Hamster Wheel clip

Sure, it’s a far better situation now than a hundred years ago, but to say the problem only exists in history books these days is inaccurate.

In fact, sexism now appears online.

As Megan Gibson says in “#Mencallmethings: Twitter Trend Highlights Sexist Abuse Online“: “There is no longer a divide. What is happening online is happening in real life”.

This blog is about the way women are treated online when they raise an opinion. Any opinion.

Disagreeing with a woman is legitimate: we all are entitled to our opinions. However, there are politically correct ways to disagree, and then there are sexist, degrading, misogynistic ways.

Karalee Evans talks about her experiences in Men call me things: it’s not as romantic as it sounds. What is interesting about this text are the accounts of her personal experiences as an active online woman. She recounts how she has received abusive emails and comments, based entirely on her gender. She also outlines how many women receive death threats, threats of sexual violence, and general misogynistic comments. This text is important because it is physical proof, not an assumption, that sexism is thriving online.

One of the most important issues raised by Evans is her comment that 9 out of 10 misogynistic comments are anonymous.

And here lies the crux of the argument: the internet allows us to be anonymous. And it would seem, judging by the likes of Karalee Evans and a multitude of others, that this is both a blessing and a curse.

In this video, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard attacks opposition leader Tony Abbot for sexism and misogyny.

What is interesting to note is that the comments section is disabled: unusual for YouTube. However, if you visit a non-ABC YouTube video of the same scene, where comments are enabled, there are plenty of sexist, derogatory comments.

This seems to be becoming a common measure to deal with this ‘trolling‘: simply disarming people of the tools with which they may express offensive opinions. But does this contradict the freedom of speech values that the internet offers. Well, in my opinion, no it doesn’t. The internet is sufficiently free enough for sexist comments, as well homophobic and racist ones, to not be stood for.

#mencallmethings is a Twitter hashtag started by Sady Doyle (read her blog here) that allows women to share their stories of sexist attacks upon them online. Though now inactive, it was further proof that sexism does exist, but also, crucially, that it is not being totally ignored. Another interesting blog to follow is The Antibogan, which names and shames those who abuse the internet’s capacity to enable freedom of speech.

No-Troll (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, though the internet allows anonymity, and fewer consequences for targeting women who are active users, if sexism’s primary aim is to shut down the voices of women, it is clearly not succeeding, as shown by all the sources I’ve mentioned. There are still many outlets where this type of abuse is highlighted and condemned. Obviously, many sites need to improve policies on exactly what comments are tolerated.  And many women do feel intimidated to raise an opinion.

This is not the way things should be, but:

the internet is not the source of sexism: people are.

And until people’s attitude’s change, sexism will stick around. Clearly there are no easy answers, but to refer again to Megan Gibson, the internet and society are almost synonymous these days.

So, changing the structure of the internet will only eradicate sexism and misogyny if our society, as a whole, changes too.


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