If you’re a woman who spends a lot of time on the Internet, you’ve probably seen quite a bit of sexism there. For entertainment, I often watch YouTube channels with real people, like Cut and Jubilee. As I watch the latest “Truth or Drink” video, or whatever has caught my eye, I find myself laughing, and perhaps semi-consciously making assessments of the people in the video.
Most of the time, these judgments are small. Sometimes I see someone in the video who I can relate to, oftentimes a woman. Other times I can’t relate to anyone at all. If I see a woman doing or saying things I might not do in her situation, I may take note, but I don’t make extreme assumptions about her character.
Then I scroll down to the comments.
A large percentage of the comments are calling her derogatory names or implying that she’s a terrible person. All this based on a small clip of her life! She made one slightly rude joke, or made a face, or “acted annoying”, and somehow the public has decided this determines how she is every day. Oh, and apparently her appearance needs to be insulted as well.
In a situation where I relate to her, the vitriol in the comments hits me harder than I’d like to admit. She’s annoying? I think. That must mean I’m annoying. I then ask myself why I’m assessing what these strangers might think of me if they hypothetically met me. Why should I make this about myself anyway? Still, I wonder if what is “annoying” or “bad” to this large group of people in the comments is some kind of universal truth that those around me would agree with. I assess the comments for specific things she did that bothered the commenters and ask myself whether I do those things.
Even if I don’t relate to the woman, these comments seem extremely harsh. Thinking these thoughts in your head is one thing but taking the time to write them out is just unnecessarily mean. I doubt a man would receive the same level of judgment, I think as I scroll.
While I have seen a comment section bash a man who is acting downright awful in a video, fewer of these comments pertain to his looks. And he often gets the level of scrutiny for being extremely unpleasant that a woman gets if she behaves in a way that could be interpreted as a little bit rude. Never mind the fact that anyone acting a little “off” may be camera shy or in a bad mood. Their lives exist outside of a short video, usually edited by people other than themselves.
I’m all for holding people accountable. In fact, it deeply bothers me how often public figures think that they’re receiving “hate” when they’re being called out for their wrongs. No one is above criticism. The last thing I want to convey is that I support everything that other women do and say. I would understand vitriol against someone who used a platform like YouTube to spread bigotry, for example. Someone’s wrongdoings don’t have to be bigoted to garner vehement anger. They just have to be definitively wrong.
People can and should be criticized for all kinds of actions and words, but a snide joke that comes out sounding a little too harsh should be called out proportionally. A comment saying the person in the video behaved rudely is fine. Extreme judgments and sexist insults are not. There’s still an extreme imbalance in the way people are perceived based on gender and YouTube’s comment section shows that. Women belonging to one or more other marginalized identities get it even worse, given the racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism and other types of bigotry that are very prevalent on the Internet and in the world.
Next time you want to criticize a woman, or person assumed to be a woman, ask yourself if the issue at hand is something you’d criticize a man for. Ask yourself if your criticism is stated in the way you’d talk about a man who did the same thing. Because if not, you’re doing an injustice to all the women who are watching, listening and yes, even reading the comments.