Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Virtual Misogyny

Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash

Image from here
I am not very active online. I do not have a Twitter account. I’ve used Facebook more these last six months than in the last three years. Yet, I have always been aware of the rampant misogyny in the virtual world. Just as the reel world is a reflection of society, the degree of anonymity and the quest for net neutrality that gives an illusion of power and security to virtual bullies (aka Trolls) makes the virtual world magnify and pervert societal attitudes. More a circus mirror than the mirror media is likened to, social media enables certain forms of bullying and online lynching many of which take on misogynistic overtones.

While #Violence Against Women (VAW) and girls ravages the fabric of society internationally, a lot of it is fuelled by and fuels the misogyny online. It’s a vicious cycle! An article in the Hindu, “Of Being Sexist In 140 Characters” had me relook at this issue which is very easy to overlook in the face of misogynistic atrocities in the real world. Discussions about online misogyny cropped up in Indian mainstream media a year after it peaked in Britain, weeks after the so-called University of California Santa Barbara killer posted a hate speech on YouTube calling himself the ‘supreme gentleman’ before going on the rampage, and at a time when the safety of women in urban and rural India is a matter of grave concern. I shouldn’t be but still was shocked by the tweet quoted in the aforementioned article:

‘A girl being made is itself a mistake’.
In a society that enables female foeticide and infanticide, this is still shocking to read in under 140 characters!
‘...these tweets reflect the society we live in, and it's a culture that teaches women not to get raped, rather than teaching men not to rape. It's a society where women are regularly seen in the media (preferably with no clothes on), but seldom heard - and when they are heard it's usually as victims,’ wrote Caroline Criado-Perez in September 2013 when she became the centre of a Twitter abuse storm ‘provoked’ by her campaign to stop the Bank of England from removing historical women from banknotes! She could be speaking about the tweets trending Twitter on June 9 & 10, 2014 (#TheMistakeGirlsMake). Ms. Criado-Perez’s experiences in 2013 led to a petition for tighter controls on the social network site (signed by over 100,000 people). Since then a 'report abuse' button has been introduced. This follows the “block” user options in Twitter and the request to editors and web administrators to moderate misogynistic comments to Opinion pieces that are recommended as methods to stop ‘feeding the Trolls’, i.e., not reacting to virtual bullies.

According to a professional working in the area of gender and sexual violence, policing social media is not the answer. The solution lies in ‘A system where one can report abuse, have it taken seriously and investigated’. Sadly this does not occur often either in the real world or the virtual world.

In 2011, Laurie Penny a journalist in UK had written that a woman’s opinion was the mini-skirt of the internet. And events across the world ... online ... this truism has been proved over and over again.
The hatred of women in public spaces online is taking on alarming proportions and it’s time to end the pretence that it’s either acceptable or inevitable. To quote Laurie Penny again this time from her article in the New Statesman in January 2013, “... we stay silent as misogyny becomes normalised.”

According to Alex Pearlman of the Boston Globe, following the killing spree in Santa Barbara, a “subreddit” in the website to which the alleged killer was a part of asked community members, ‘Will American women become nicer after today’s attempt? I heard New Yorkers became a lot nicer after 9/11.’

Misogynistic sites and online communities are ‘petri dishes of hate’. It’s not OK to “see no evil and hear no evil” anymore. To fight evil we need to acknowledge its pervasive presence and shine a light on it, hoping that the healing light dispels the darkness of evil.

Caroline Criado-Perez  who lived through Twitter trolling and caused the site to become just that little bit safer, says it best,  “Let's challenge, let's shout out when things are wrong, and shout back at those who try to shut us up. And let's do all this in the knowledge that, if we stand together, if we keep shouting out when things are wrong, change will come.” This applies offline as well as online!