Online Harassment of Women

Online harassment of women is not new. In fact, it is devastating that we are still fighting the same battle, still trying to convince the same people that this is a problem, and still calling for change. 2012 was a banner year for the harassment of women, especially online, and in the last few months the issue seems to be gaining some visibility.

Most recently, here in Canada, Diamond Isinger has begun to document the online harassment and hate speech hurled towards the six female premiers that currently hold office in Canada on the blog Madam Premier. The media has taken notice—the blog has been written up by The Globe and Mail, the Metro News, The Vancouver Sun, the CBC, and has been mentioned on CBC radio and TV as well as BC’s Global News Hour. Details and links to these stories are available on the blog. (Check out the Metro article for a quote from FiG’s own Prof. Jennifer Jenson:) ). Most notable in the Metro article is Isinger’s statement that most of the abuse is targeted at women’s sexuality and appearance. Author Simcoe gives the example of Maurie Sherman’s question to Kathleen Wynne about how she will win over the public with her fashion if she only wears pantsuits. Although there was a fair amount of backlash to the question, shockingly, The Metro reported that Kathleen Wynne’s spokesperson commented that reception for Kathleen Wynne has been “overwhelmingly positive.” After listening to countless hours of radio shows asking the question, ‘Is Ontario ready for a lesbian premier?’ and reading criticisms (and abuse) of Wynne that have nothing to do with her political record, I am appalled that Wynne’s office is more concerned with convincing the public that she is loved (no doubt their eyes are on the next election) than about dealing with misogyny and hate speech.

The Huffington Post’s Soraya Chemaly wrote a fabulous post on the topic of Online Harassment  bringing together a wealth of information that includes more writing about the issue including summaries of the twitter campaigns #MenCallMeThings and #silentnomore, and links to some activist resources. Chemaly went into some detail about her own experiences of harassment as well as some recent cases in the media such as the attack on Anita Sarkeesian, and more recently Mary Beard, who was attacked after an appearance on a BBC1 tv show. Unlike Sarkeesian, who’s campaign for money to fund a series of videos that will provide a feminist critique of female tropes in video games, Beard’s attack was not related to a feminist comment, but a comment about immigration in the UK. Both women have gone public, and while what they have been through is horrifying, they agree that it is important not to be silenced, as so many women have been. One of Anita’s most recent appearances was at TEDxWomen 2012 where she summed up some of what happened, and ended with the support that she has received and the importance of speaking out. Mary Beard has been interviewed by the BBC news since and posted about it on her blog A Don’s Life. Both The Guardian and The Observer included pieces about the incident at the end of last month. The abuse hurled at Beard included insults about her appearance (comments which The Guardian and Observer pieces deal with extensively) as well as offensive pictures and statements about Beards’s pubic hair, a picture of her face photoshopped onto a labia, statements about shoving penises in her mouth… This is all nothing new, but it is still completely unacceptable and just as shocking as when it happened to Jennifer Hepler and Anita Sarkeesian last year, and the countless others before them.

So what is our take-away here? We know there is a problem, but what do we do? We keep talking about it, keep refusing to live with it, and we make people change. Hepler, Sarkeesian and Beard have all taken a huge step by speaking out for all the women who are silenced or harassed by trolls and misogynists. There have also been initiatives to prevent online abuse, such as Take Back the Tech’s CyberStalking and How to Prevent it, and Ms. Magazine blog posts How Some Men Harass Women Online and What Other Men Can Do to Stop It and Students Speak Out: 5 Ways to Stop Online Harassment. As long more resources become available, and more women (and men) speak out against online harassment, we will share them. For now we must keep fighting, admitting that there IS a problem, and that it MUST be confronted.

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