Go Back To Your Mother’s Basement And Make Me A Sandwich
Or: Online Violence Against Women — Why We Cannot Be Complacent
It is simply incredible the lengths that people will go to, to deny that misogyny and violence against women is an epidemic, to minimise the impact of it, and in many cases to deny its sheer existence.
“Men are at more risk of being physically assaulted”
“Men get raped too!”
(Let us note that the statistics clearly indicate that the perpetrators of the above crimes are, overwhelmingly, men)
“Why isn’t it sexist when men are harassed?”
And, of course, my favourite:
“It’s not misogyny, it’s about ethics in gaming journalism”
Not Just Words On A Screen
The last statement, which I have heard more times than you can count on the paws of all of the dogs you love, is of course referring to the GamerGate saga. A favourite subject among Twitter users in particular with either an egg or anime avatar, the GamerGate controversy reminds us all that if you are a woman who (heaven forbid) has online presence, particularly if you dare analyse or speak out against sexism and harassment towards women, it’s perfectly acceptable for those who disagree with you (primarily men, but let’s not forget the women with unchecked internalised misogyny) to actually threaten you with physical and sexual harm, stalking, doxing and general harassment. Not to mention the abusive nature of the words themselves — in the last 24 hours, I have been referred to as a “slut”, “cheap whore”, “fat dyke”, “unclean ugly piece of shit”. These are the slurs I am willing to actually post on here.
At risk of sounding trite, it is indeed #NotAllGamers. I’ll dig into my tokenism and admit that some of my best friends are gamers. And, not actually being a gamer or a member of the gaming community myself, the majority of harassment and abuse I have experienced is not by GamerGaters, but instead men who take umbrage to progressivism, particularly feminism. Before the screams of “BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ?!”, let us make one thing clear — the research confirms that online violence is overwhelmingly targeted towards women. Now that has been cleared up, let us continue.
Socially, women have been conditioned to accept the abuse as “part of life”, and have been expected to respond with delicate politeness. After all — you can’t fight fire with fire. Women are even told that abuse that exists online is not “real”, that “words can’t hurt you” and “if you don’t like it, log off/ignore”. The problem with this approach is that it is accepting a position of submission — it implicitly accepts this behaviour as acceptable, perpetrators continue to target women they see as a threat to their position of superiority (see: men who don’t understand what feminism is actually about). Whilst I can understand and appreciate how this is a form of self-preservation, and self-care is of the utmost importance, telling women to “ignore” the problem further contributes to the problem itself — targeted, gendered harassment and abuse.
Women Fight Back
Recent times have seen an increase in women speaking out and fighting back against the abuse received online. In November of 2015, writer and feminist Clementine Ford posted a screenshot of just one abusive message she received from a male, Michael Nolan, on her public Facebook profile. Frustrated with the lack of ramification for abusive behaviour online from social media platforms, Clementine tagged Nolan’s employer in a post with the said screen-shot, and asked if they believed his actions towards her were acceptable. His employer did not, and subsequent disciplinary action was taken against him. Naturally, the men (and again some women) of the internet took great offense to this. The cries of “whatever happened to free speech?” and “this is a good man — how dare you make him lose his job!”, not to mention “online harassment happens to men too — where are the ramifications for this?”, ran rampant throughout the internet. What each of these arguments failed to do was hold Nolan responsible for his actions — rather than accept that Nolan deliberately sent a gendered, abusive message to a woman online which his employer found to be unacceptable, his behaviour directly leading to the termination of his employment, blame was placed on Ford for highlighting that this actually happened.
Inspired by Ford’s calling-out of these perpetrators, journalist Kerri Sackville lead a group of women in journalism as well as women with an online presence to highlight abusive messages received by the population. Using the hashtag #EndViolenceAgainstWomen, public messages displayed on women’s Facebook and Twitter profiles were re-tweeted to highlight the extent of the vile nature of the abuse. While a significant amount of support was shown to the women who participated in the campaign, the familiar cries of “you must have contributed to it somehow” were heard, loud and clear.
Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
As young children, we are told “your actions can lead to direct consequences”. Supposedly, for men, this is not the case. In cases of male sexual assault against women, victim-blaming is rampant with the questions “what was she wearing?”, “was she drunk?” etc. constantly being asked. In cases of male domestic violence against women, people ask to this day whether the female was “provoking” the man to beat her. It seems as though, for middle-class white men in particular, blame for abusive actions can always be placed elsewhere. Evidently, this is also the case for online violence against women. I have had interactions with people where I have had the same gendered, derogatory insults thrown at me that many other women have and, when explaining said events to people, the question “what did you say to provoke it?” is always asked. Which leads me to the events of the last few days.
Life As A Woman Online
My Twitter account is generally set to public. I like to interact with people, especially lively, respectful debate. I am a feminist, and do not shy away from calling out misogyny when I see it. As I’ve been reminded time and time again, being a feminist woman online (particularly with my username) “attracts” the type of man who deems it appropriate to publicly (and privately) send abusive, often sexually explicit messages. As discussed above — naturally, it is not the fault of the man. Blame can always be placed elsewhere. But I digress.
Recently, a man from Australia took offense to my pinned tweet, where I jokingly state I will debate the intricacies of feminism for a fee. Apparently, this man was so offended that I was a feminist, he proceeded to call me the usual names, and also sent the tweet posted as the picture accompanying this article, inferring that I was a sex worker who needed practice with penises. I reported his posts to Twitter, who responded with the usual “this does not violate our standards”, despite being clearly harassment based on gender. A number of my Twitter followers expressed disgust at his tweets, and two separately contacted me to inform me that they would be contacting his employer (he had listed his employer on his Twitter account) and sending screenshots of a number of abusive tweets he sent to myself and other women online.
My immediate response to this was fear — what will happen if he decides to retaliate? Will he dox me? What will happen to my loved ones, who haven’t asked to be a part of this? I then realised that these responses are still directly a form of online violence against women. Despite still being fearful, I refuse to stay silent — we can only enact and encourage change if we are willing to fight against what is wrong and stand up for what is right. I have the right to be present online without receiving abuse and threats of abuse.
Women are constantly being told “if you are being harassed, report it”. I did report it. I always report it on the platform it is presented on. But nothing happens. People reporting his posts to his employer are another form of reporting it. The difference this time, as was demonstrated in the case of Ford/Nolan, is that something could actually happen as a result of that report.
Online violence against women exists. The research, as well as anecdotal experiences of most women, proves this. It is not just simply “words on a screen” — it is both a symptom and also an outcome of the disdain towards women, particularly those who dare to have a voice.