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[TW: Rape, Sexual Abuse, Violence] A Woman’s Right to be Online?

In the 2013 of the Western world it is almost impossible to be more than a couple of feet away from someone using the Internet (unless you’re in the middle of a field, and even then…). Whether it’s blogging in a coffee shop, tweeting hilarious cat photos at friends or trying desperately to get a photo of lunch to upload to Facebook - it’s all very normal and every day. It’s sort of old news, isn’t it?

As someone born in 1992, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have the Internet. As a kid I was allowed an hour a day, monitored by mum and dad. Then, as I grew older I got Piczo and Bebo accounts. Later, everyone moved to Facebook and at 17 I got a Tumblr. Twitter is my newest social networking acquisition.

I’ve been blogging inanely for almost four years, posting pictures of my face or venting on bad days to roughly about three hundred followers – a relatively small pocket of the Internet. Then, last November I decided to start a new blog named ‘Mum, I’m a Feminist’ for other people to share their experiences of feminism, the things they made and important news or issues. The blogs growth took me by surprise and I’m now at 1,864 followers as I type this. I’ve learnt a lot from the blog and the people who follow it, and many people now come to me for advice – something I very tentatively give, whilst trying to be mindful of my privileged point of view. A couple of months ago, I was asked to start video blogging, giving help, advice or just my opinions on certain topics. I hadn’t ever done it before so I thought, well, why not?

Posting the first vlog to YouTube I began to feel uneasy. I took a deep breath before pressing the publish button. I began hoping that it wouldn’t attract attention, that I could post it in the relative safety of the feminist blog and it go unnoticed within the YouTube community. I toyed with making the video private and disabling the comment box. I was frightened.

I wasn’t worried about the video itself, no. I liked it. It was really simple, an introduction to me and to the blog, an easy beginning. I made sure I’d picked out my favourite clothes, done my hair and sat myself down in a nice spot in my room. I did practice runs. What I was afraid of were the comments.

I’d seen what happened to the videos of other women online; if they wore low cut tops they’d be objectified disgustingly and if they wore a high necked jumper they’d be asked what their opinions were worth if their ‘tits [weren’t] on show’. Once, someone made a whole new Twitter account purely to argue with me about feminism – yep, only me. They tweeted me solidly for almost a whole day, spouting regurgitated opinions on rape (an apologist) and women’s bodies (slut-shaming), picking at me and making spiteful remarks. In the end I blocked and reported the account. That pretty much put an end to their fun, y’know, because they only set it up to tweet at me and no one else?

A similar thing happened over on Facebook, when I posted a link to a petition – no, in fact when I posted anything even remotely feminist. Someone I had previously considered myself friends with would crop up every time and derail the discussion. He once claimed women were a minority (whilst insulting genuine minority groups). He then told me he ‘only [did this every time] to keep the boredom fairies away’. Bye bye, sir. You’re no friend of mine.

I know what you’re thinking “Why would you post feminism on Facebook, Jess? WHY? You know what happens when people do that!” *added eye roll*. Well, you’re right, I do know. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept it.

I’ve seen countless feminist women (and other non-feminist women, for that matter) shouted down online. It seems we can’t open our mouths without someone jumping out of a digital bush and shouting “LOL BITCH” or “make me a sandwich” (-1,000 for effort if you use that one, by the way). It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about either, whether it’s any of the wide range of feminist issues, a specialist subject/area of skill or if we’re simply trying to enjoy ourselves on the Internet, there always seems to be someone waiting to dish out some ‘top banter’ at our expense.

Sometimes it’s worse than that. Sometimes there are threats to our safety – these men who are so offended by our existence ‘hope [we] get raped’ or ‘thrown down some stairs’. There are whole groups dedicated to just that. Facebook groups with names like ‘Raping Your Girlfriend’ and photographs of bruised and beaten women with the captions ‘this bitch didn’t know when to shut up’ or ‘this slut got what she deserved’*. On Twitter, too, there are several ‘parody’ accounts named ‘Not A Rapist’, one named ‘Rapist Gym Coach’ and even a ‘Rapist Sloth’. Pages like these make it almost impossible for survivors of rape and violence to use the internet safely without triggering horrible flashbacks or sending them hurtling back in to destructive behaviours or patterns. The existence of the groups themselves is bad enough, but it’s the thousands of people who find them funny that make the stomach drop. This is not an isolated incident. This is not a one-off person with a terrible sense of humour. It’s particularly relevant to recognise that the Internet and society are not separate entities, especially now that our online lives are able to come with us wherever we go in our real ones. What does this say about our culture?

Yesterday, I posted the third of my video blogs so far, and that afternoon I received my first piece of vlog-related ‘hate’. It was mild at best. This particular vlog was on the topic of feminism and university and how to handle the dreaded ‘lad culture’. I mentioned that my pet peeve was being touched in clubs and *ping* I’d said the magic words. There it was:


‘Like you are getting touched all the time, in your head sister… you look like a bin!’

 

A bin? Really? I had to laugh. The guy must have sat through three or four minutes of video to come up with that cutting response. I mean, I have to say, I didn’t cry about it. But that’s the thing; I’m left with the sinking feeling that this is only the beginning. As the blog gets bigger and my vlogs attract more attention worse people will find me and there will be far more hurtful things said. I won’t stop. I won’t ever let them win. But they’ll be there all the same.

If women are equal and men are happy with that, if there’s no culture of violence towards women, if we’re just making it all up then my, there must be a lot of us masquerading as douchebags on the Internet.

[*Facebook have since taken many of these down after a brilliant campaign - TW for link - victory in association with WAM and Everyday Sexism]

Posted on 31 May
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