A Woman On The Internet
I have a big mouth (I’m told). I don’t hold back from voicing my opinions, and it’s not an easy task to shut me up. Because of this, I have regularly been the target of misogynist abuse. We all know that if you stick your head above the parapet and shout about male violence, sexual violence, the liberation of women or anything remotely connected to sexualisation, objectification and porn, you will become the focus of hate, abuse and harassment.
On my laptop I have six folders filled with screencaps of abuse. They are divided into five named people/perpetrators and one for General abuse. The fact that this will not raise much of an eyebrow with a lot of women speaks volumes.
We know that if we speak out, we will be derided, silenced, laughed at, bullied and sworn at.
All this raises questions for lots of people. The main one being, “why do you do it?”
That is, why do I do it, not why do they do it.
The misogyny of men (and some women) towards us is rarely questioned offline. It’s more or less accepted with a shrug and an attitude of, “well, what do you expect?”
Well, I don’t accept that, and I expect more. Which is why, when Women’s Aid invited me to their conference on Online Stalking & Harassment, I leapt at the opportunity.
For me, being in an environment with women who take it seriously and want to tackle it, is paramount to my emotional health. I need to be around women who understand what it’s like and want to challenge it in whatever way they can.
I don’t want to be around people who accept it as the status quo.
The conference kicked off with Caroline Criado-Perez. Caroline is one of my dearest friends, and her passion, drive and commitment to change awes me on a daily basis. Her speech was so powerful, so moving and so emotional that several women were in tears. It really hammered home the traumatic impact that weeks of sustained abuse, stalking and harassment can have on our mental and emotional health.
It affects our social lives, our sex lives, our anxiety levels, our ability to manage, to cope and it chips away at our confidence and self belief.
Caroline was followed by Nimko Ali, the CEO of Daughters of Eve. She too spoke eloquently about the abuse she receives for speaking out. Not about women on banknotes but about FGM. Most shockingly, she detailed an offer of £500 made to her brother to shoot her.
This is not a joke, this is real.
Alison Boydel and Louise Pennington from End Online Misogyny detailed further the scale and breadth of misogynist abuse received by women online. And it IS misogyny. The majority of the abuse is sent by men who hate women. They don’t like women speaking out because it makes them uncomfortable. They would rather harass the women who speak out about say, male violence, than challenge the perpetrators. It’s so much easier to attack women isn’t it?
What was striking about the conference was that, in a room of women – all of whom were there because they were interested in challenging online abuse and harassment – many of them didn’t have an online presence. Many of them literally shuddered at the thought of Twitter, simply because of what they had just heard and seen in the presentations.
Women who are intelligent, passionate and articulate don’t want to use social media because it makes them a victim. It makes them a victim because the minute they start speaking out about the oppression and treatment of women – in whatever forum – they are targeted as a ‘feminazi’ a ‘misandrist’ ‘a hairy man hating dyke,’ and they have to defend themselves or log off.
So they stay away. They don’t put themselves in a situation where this could happen. And I understand that. I understand and support their decision not to engage on a forum where they could be attacked. It’s similar to the risk assessment behaviours we employ every day of our lives.
But what happens if we stay away? What happens if we say, “I don’t want to have to cope with all the abuse and harassment?”
Does it end? Do the men stay quiet? Do they change their approach? No. It simply reinforces their belief that women should stay off the internet, stay quiet and stop making a fuss.
The most important thing I took away from the conference was the commonality of many women’s experiences. We have all experienced misogyny in a variety of forms, and in different situations. The seriousness of online harassment and stalking of women takes misogyny to a different level because we are so accessible, so visible and so easy to find. But we need to turn this around. We have to keep shouting back so that other women hear and gain strength from us, and those who seek to shut us up will have to shout louder.
We don’t ask for the abuse, we don’t ask to be called names, threatened with rape or death. This is not what we signed up for.
We don’t want to be victims.
We don’t want to be blamed for provoking abuse
We don’t want to be told to change OUR behaviour.
We want men to change theirs
We want men who don’t engage in these kinds of abuse to stand up and challenge the men that do.
We want social media like Twitter, Ask FM and Facebook to take it seriously.
We want to be able to share our opinions, debate, discuss, argue and highlight inequality, abuse and oppression of women without being abused.
That way, we can lose our victim status and be who we really are.
Women on the Internet with opinions.