Cybersexism: Don’t Read The Comments

It’s time to stop making excuses for the atrocious behavior of society and hold the virtual world to the same standards of accountability.

As a woman in the digital age, it can be a daunting prospect to exist online as more than just a quiet observer. Making your thoughts and ideas accessible to the public leaves you open to something far worse than harsh critique, especially among a broad or volatile audience. The decision to use your real name in lieu of an alias is sometimes a precarious one; in the hands of hostile dissenters, it can be downright dangerous. Even with the abundance of death, rape, and violence threats lobbed at women on a daily basis, we’ve come to accept the comments section on most websites as a festering wound whose sole occupation is to spew vitriol and ignorance at an alarming rate.

cubersex author
Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny, author of Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet, explains the power the Internet has to shape our future, especially with regards to feminism and intersectionality, but warns that we must take a firm stand against the notion that degradation and abuse is fair game for women online. She writes:

“The idea that this sort of hate speech is at all normal needs to end now. The Internet is public space, real space; it’s increasingly where we interact socially, do our work, organize our lives and engage with politics, and violence online is real violence. The hatred of women in public spaces online is reaching epidemic levels and it’s time to end the pretense that it’s either acceptable or inevitable.”

Instead of providing compassion, we’ve learned to dispense a hearty serving of victim-blaming whenever someone speaks out against digital backlash. Those brave enough to step out of obscurity are met with apathetic proliferations that their mere presence was provocation enough for disgusting behavior and that’s normal. But it’s easy to relay the idiotic notion of ‘taking the heat in the kitchen’ if you’ve never been subjected to a round of online abuse.

But here’s the thing: it’s not normal. If it’s not acceptable to scream death threats at a stranger on the street, why should it be normal elsewhere in the noticeable public? It doesn’t matter how you present yourself online, the likelihood of suffering brutal sexual suggestions or orders to commit suicide is absurdly high regardless if you are a well-known performer or a small-time writer. The harassment doesn’t end with comments either; angry commenters are accustomed to being ignored (can’t imagine why!), so many will trot out messages on social networks and email demanding acknowledgement. Attempts at moderation or disabling feedback features is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It’s not okay for anyone in the public sphere to receive such antagonizing remarks regardless of how much an individual finds the target repulsive. And while many enjoy the overall freedom of speech that the Internet so graciously provides, online bullying has evolved into a rampant problem that is raging out of control.

While it’s true that public figures have to learn to accept criticism and reviews of any nature for the work they’re putting in the open, no one should be made to handle online misogyny or incessantly harassed simply for existing in the public’s view. Lauren Mayberry, a member of the band Chvrches, spoke out against the maliciousness she endures on a daily basis only to be confronted with more. In an article titled, “I will not accept online misogyny,” Mayberry writes:

“What I do not accept, however, is that it is all right for people to make comments ranging from ‘a bit sexist but generally harmless’ to openly sexually aggressive. That it is something that ‘just happens.’ Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification, whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to ‘just deal with.’”

Perhaps the prevalence of misogynistic bullying desensitized us, caused us to go numb from the incessant wound-picking that is almost inescapable now in daily life. Maybe the problem has always existed in its current state, but has only recently been exacerbated by perceived anonymity and unreconciled emotions. Either way, it’s time to stop making excuses for the atrocious behavior of society and hold the virtual world to the same standards of accountability.

 By: Amanda Duncil, Blog Editor 

Amanda contributes to various online publications and writes about every thought that crosses her mind on her blog, Simple Syrup. You can chat with her on Twitter, too!

All Images found via Google Image Search.

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