Silencing Women Online

As the notifications rolled in, I fell into the rhythm that, for many, is a familiar backing track to online abuse: read, report, block; read, report, block; read, report, block. In the space of a couple of hours, I’d blocked almost 100 people and yet fresh abuse continued to roll in.

I’d noticed the hashtag #ReclaimTheInternet trending and, curious to see the conversation surrounding it I clicked on it. Rather than seeing progressive debate and opinions, I was met with reams of vile insults, slurs and threats, either from the perpetrators themselves or retweeted by those on the receiving end.

Reclaim the Internet is a campaign based around the idea of taking a stand against online abuse; allowing people to express themselves without being faced with sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic vitriol or threats of physical and sexual violence. However, some feel that this infringes upon their free speech and that they should be allowed to be openly bigoted and abusive. Those who spread this hatred don’t like the idea of being stood up to, so they were out in force, jumping all over the hashtag ready to strike at anyone who dared to used it for its intended purpose. The main target, as is often the case, was women.

Disgusted by the abuse being slung at my peers, I tweeted my anger about the specific type of man that seemed to be responsible for the lion’s share of it, hiding behind behind a fake name and a cartoon avatar. These men (and I say men because they identified themselves as men either in their profile or timeline) appear to spend almost every waking hour on twitter, searching tags such as ‘feminism’, ‘reclaimtheinternet’ or ‘everydaysexism’, telling women they’re playing the victim, threatening to rape them, telling them to die, or ordering them to log off if they don’t want to ‘deal with it’.

Within minutes of tweeting my frustration, I was receiving 10 new hateful replies every time I refreshed the page. ‘Get cancer’ was a particularly popular one and it made me feel sick. Soon after, someone reposted my profile picture and told me I looked like I’d been in an accident. I took a screenshot of a couple of these replies and tweeted to say that these people were doing nothing but prove my point. They didn’t like that either. I’d hit a nerve. ‘Don’t kick the beehive and then complain about getting stung’, was the general consensus from the cartoon-faced accounts. I was playing the victim. If I didn’t like it I should simply log off. These people were angry about being ‘stereotyped’ and yet responded with exactly the behaviour I’d called them out on.

I searched through their profiles, recurring phrases and alliances soon became clear: ‘MRA’, ‘Anti-Feminist’, ‘Shitposter, ‘Make America Great Again’, ‘Gamer Gate’, ‘Gamer’. These were men who live within the manufactured confines of their own reality. They yearn for a time when white male superiority wasn’t questioned and they incubate their hatred amongst a community of equally small minded men.

Interestingly, the few women who tweeted me identified with the ‘Women Against Feminism’ movement. On their timelines, they decry women campaigning for equal rights, despite having benefitted from it, and spit poison at other women on a level to rival their male counterparts. So, women are allowed in this club, just as long as they also hate women.

This group of people congregate online, a self-styled army against equality and women’s voices. Sexism and threats are their weapons, cartoon avatars and fake names their shields. In their world, women have no place having a voice or an opinion, so they pounce, tweeting a relentless barrage of abuse until, like me and many others, the woman on the receiving end deletes her tweet just to make it all stop.

Out of the one hundred plus that tweeted me, I managed to have a civil conversation with two people who have differing views but were able to respect mine, and I theirs. That’s not a very encouraging percentage. If anything, I feel even more strongly about staying vocal but, on this occasion, I feel like they won. The final straw was a man sending me a photograph of himself holding a gun.

And what did twitter have to say about all this? It didn’t violate their community guidelines. By refusing to properly address the abuse or to intervene when it occurs, Twitter remains implicit in the business of silencing women online.

So, whilst sometimes, whether it’s for safety of just our own sanity, these people may get the better of us, we must never be silenced. Don’t allow them to steal your voice, that’s exactly what they want.