Source: The Oatmeal
I’ve been on the internet for a long time now. I believe I first got access to the internet when I was about 12 or 13 which would have been 1995/1996 and I embraced it completely. I used to spend hours in chat rooms and on Red Hot Chili Peppers forums, most of which was sneakily done as it was dial-up and I was only meant to be online for an hour a day to be fair to everyone else and so as not to hog the phone line. Oh the trouble I’d get into from mum when she’d realise I’d been online for hours at a time! Looking back, I can’t recall ever being abused by anyone for anything on the internet back then. I had robust discussions with other RHCP fans and excellent chats with people in Yahoo chat rooms, I even tried cyber sex once which was mostly pretty hilarious to me, but usually I just chatted to random strangers from around the world about anything and everything.
I’m not sure what happened to the internet between then and now, why people started off civil and polite and are now absolute arseholes to anyone they disagree with or just don’t like the look of. Maybe I was lucky and just didn’t witness any online bullying, though the sheer amount of time I spent online, you’d think I would have seen something? Now days you hear nothing but reports of cyber bulling causing kids to commit suicide, about people being threatened for writing something online that others didn’t like, about “revenge porn” websites (that are actually created by stealing images by hacking email accounts and posting the racy photos online along with all of their contact details for good measure) and so on. When did the internet go from being a place to share information, to make friends in other countries and look up funny pictures to a virtual battlefield? Any why exactly is it that women seem to be bearing the brunt of it all?
I read a couple of good articles this week that go into depth about why the internet basically sucks for women (here and here, I definitely recommend them both) and it made me think back to all of the abuse I’ve suffered with little to no provocation except for the mere fact I am a female. I can’t remember the first time I received gender-specific abuse online but I’ve experienced it in almost every forum, from Facebook to Youtube and even on my own blog. I’ve also received abuse that’s got nothing to do with my being a woman and simply because of something I wrote online. But almost all of it has involved some sort of misogyny, even when whatever I wrote had literally nothing to do with gender. For example, back in 2009 I organised a fundraiser for the zombie walk I used to run. I posted about it on a few different music forums, which I thought was reasonable enough, until some dude decided he didn’t like it and started writing abusive comments. At first it was just about how lame zombie walks were but as I replied to him, he got meaner and more sexist, calling me a “silly little girl” and alluded that I was only doing the walk and this fundraiser to look cool to boys.
My experiences aren’t as bad as some other women who have been threatened with death and/or rape by hundreds, if not thousands of complete strangers. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel after receiving a barrage like that just because I wrote something on the internet that some men disagreed with. It’s also astounding at how much abuse women cop for daring to speak out against female issues, such as Lindy West who was sent a startling amount of abuse for her stance on rape jokes. Who are these people writing these vile comments and do they actually really feel that way? I’m inclined to suggest they don’t and just like to say horrible things online to get a reaction and have nothing else better to do, because surely no decent man thinks this way? If this is the case, does it lessen the seriousness of the threat or the abuse? I don’t think so, because no one knows for sure what that man is capable of and if he’s willing to post those sentiments so publicly, then surely there’s a distinct possibility his threats are real and ought to be taken seriously? Whatever the stance you take, it’s hard to deny it’s been happening for a while now and is only getting worse.
Unfortunately threats and abuse made online are rarely taken seriously, even though they would be if they were made in the form of a telephone call or posted letter. There is an assumption that you can just turn off your computer and walk away because they’re not “tangible” threats as such and should just be ignored. But with all that we do online these days, is that really true? To one person twitter is probably a silly waste of time, to another it’s a serious tool used for business, networking and communicating with friends. Telling the latter to just “turn it off and walk away” is paramount to telling them to disconnect their phone and block off their letterbox. Just because you don’t understand a particular form of social media, doesn’t mean anything said on there can just be dismissed. I once had to report a violation of the DVO I have against someone to the police as I was contacted through twitter, and actually had to explain how twitter works and was initially given the impression his contact by such means didn’t count (thankfully I eventually got on to an office who not only took it seriously but followed it up for me and gave me some good advice about the matter).
I wish I knew what was causing all of this vitriol towards women online or how to end it. I feel as though the general public is really struggling to deal with the internet because in the matter of 20 or so years it’s absolutely boomed and those who haven’t grown up with it don’t know how to teach younger generations how to deal with it when things go wrong. If my parents knew of all the things I used to look up online back in the day, they’d be appalled! But they didn’t have a clue, and I think that’s how it works in most families, the parents just don’t get what their kids are up to online and aren’t willing to learn so their kids grow up with little to no adult supervision in this aspect of their lives. Combine this with the fact there seems to be very little punishment for those who do do the wrong thing online, kids are growing up knowing they can get away with just about anything on the internet. And if boys aren’t being taught to respect women in every aspect of their lives, it’s hardly surprising that they’ll use the internet as a place to voice their grievances because the only people who are going to see are the faceless people on the internet. who are powerless to do anything about it.