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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