Image from overland.org.au
It began in the early 70’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when women marched the streets at night and began to fight back collectively in protest of violence against women. They were no longer remaining silent and accepting the frequency and brutality of physical and sexual assault. They were taking a stand. They were reclaiming the night. This protest caught the attention of people all around the world, and soon became an annual international event. This campaign is still relevant and ongoing today, but along with the advances in media and technology we must now combat a new form of violence against women. It’s time to reclaim the net.
Online harassment has become a frequent topic in feminist discussions lately, as more and more people receive abusive comments on social media. It’s no surprise that more often than not these comments are directed at women, especially women who are speaking up for gender equality. While this situation might be located on social media and other online spaces, it’s origins reflect a very real culture in our society of objectifying and disregarding women – also known as misogyny.
Global digital security firm Norton recently surveyed 1000 Australian women regarding their experiences with online harassment. The study found that nearly half (47%) of Australian women had experienced online harassment in the past year, with the figure rising to 76% for women under 30. Even though now it’s kind of expected, it’s still shocking. Threats of physical violence – including death, rape and sexual assault – impacted 1 in 7 women, rising to 1 in 4 young women. Online news source The Guardian also undertook research into the patterns of online harassment towards its writers and discovered that of the 10 most abused writers eight are women, and the two men are black.
Online harassment is not a new phenomenon, but it is growing, and what’s worse it is starting to become an accepted feature of our society. Women have begun to expect some level of abuse when expressing their opinion in an online forum. We call the harassers ‘trolls’ which dehumanises the abuse making it easier to dismiss and ignore. But it’s time to recognise this issue as a form of violence against women. Though it’s easy to forget when reading from a screen, these comments are coming from real people, and they should be held accountable.
In 2015 journalist and feminist commentator Clementine Ford reported an offensive comment to the perpetrator’s employer and he was therefore dismissed from his job. Speaking of the harassment Ford stated “There are basically no consequences for men who behave like this, so we have to start making consequences for them”. She later received further online abuse from people defending the man’s comment and suggesting that reporting it was too ‘drastic’. It’s unfathomable how we have reached a point where a man can threaten a woman online with physical or sexual violence and people rally around him to defend his views as ‘harmless’.
What really frustrates me about this issue is that it is overshadowing the significant benefits that social media and technology advances have had on feminism and other activist movements. The increasing ability to share information online has united women across the world, making it easier to connect with like-minded people, and bring feminism into mainstream culture (quick recap on what feminism means; EQUALITY FOR ALL #mindblown). An incredible benefit of this rise in social media is that it allows the voices of all women from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to be heard, broadening the values and impact of feminism.
In an article for the Huffington Post, Victoria Sadler summed up this idea, stating, “Prior to the era of social media, not only did the forums not exist for these ideas to be fully identified and discussed, but instead women were dictated to about what their issues were…Now with social media, women as a whole aren’t responding to articles in the media, they are creating the news for themselves by shining a light on the breadth of issues that they face.”
Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, image from www.huffingtonpost.com.au
Though social media has highlighted the flaws in some aspects of the feminist movement, such as White Feminism, by having the shared space to acknowledge and discuss these flaws helps to progress the movement further, and ensure it is an all-inclusive one. Along with the advancement of technology and information, comes the development of ideas and understanding. By sharing and collecting stories we can see that all the different instances of sexism in our daily life as part of a broader pattern of misogyny, and deal with it as a larger cultural issue.
As well as the sharing of ideas and stories among women, there is an incredible sense of community for feminists online. With countless Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts dedicated to the promotion and celebration of women there is a growing sense of collectiveness. This offers a platform to organise events and projects, so that face to face interaction is not lost, it is just enhanced by online organisation. For example LISTEN, a Melbourne-based group promoting marginalised people in music, began as an online forum to discuss the experiences of female and LGBTQIA+ musicians and grew into monthly gigs with all-female and non-binary line-ups.
It is for these reasons that we must embrace the positives of social media, and not tolerate the negatives. I’m sick of misogyny asserting its dominance over yet another space that was intended for all genders. So often this online harassment is completely unprovoked and unwarranted. Groups and individuals who are simply interested in promoting gender equality and attempting to create safe supportive networks online are common targets for hate speech and threats. And just like real life street harassment we are conditioned to ignore it and keep going on with our daily routine as if we haven’t just been overtly sexualised or had our safety genuinely questioned.
It’s time to stand up against online harassment. Let’s reclaim the space that has previously offered so much support and strength to the efforts of women and feminists everywhere. Let’s reclaim the net.
To find out more about online harassment and cyber bullying click here.
For information about dealing with online harassment click here.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.