The Truth About Being A Woman On The Internet
The Internet is incredible. Our generation has seemingly limitless access to information and can connect with people anywhere in the world in an unprecedented way. It has given people the opportunity to have a voice with which to speak their minds to a potentially huge audience and has enabled people to find their purpose in life. The Internet creates opportunities for learning, discovering, meeting, and helping others: In fact, according to the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee the Internet was created for everyone — as a place for all, no matter their race, gender identity or sexual orientation.
But while the Internet is ideally a place of equality, it has in practice also enabled some to hurt, mislead, and exploit. The Internet isn’t regulated and therefore can’t tell us what information is accurate or curb damaging behavior (nor elevate that which is helpful). The Internet is just there and we have to decide how to use it, which is where things get tricky. This lack of regulation has led some people to use the Internet to control and deaden the voices of others.
Anonymity especially plays a big part in this: While assuming an anonymous identity online can give people the courage to speak up about matters that may be hard to talk about in real life, it has also created a whole new way of manipulating and hurting others. The common term for this is "cyberbullying," and it can have devastating, even fatal, consequences — especially for women.
Should they choose to make their gender known in the virtual world, women face an array of misogynistic obstacles online. Female YouTubers routinely face sexist abuse in the comments sections of their videos. Female Twitter users, bloggers, and journalists are all but guaranteed to experience misogyny in one way or another when they publicly state their opinions, and often face demeaning comments that attack them based on their gender rather than their actual thoughts. People also leak nude pictures of women against their will on Facebook and in forums (such as those devoted to debating how to destroy feminism) in a practice called "revenge porn." And the list goes on.
Of course we know that not all men act this way — although it seems nowadays we must constantly hedge any statements about sexism with that recognition. Nobody is trying to generalize these behaviors to every man, but it’s crucial that we point out this problem —which is clearly gendered — and not dilute the way in which we discuss it to avoid offending men.
So what can we do about this exploitation of a platform of free information and opinion? We certainly must call for Internet-specific changes in terms of how social media companies handle these cases of abuse as well as in terms of how the police handle these cases.
But I don't think this can happen until women are better respected in real life. The Internet, it seems, is just a symptom of a much deeper problem of societal sexism. Until we solve that, misogyny on the Internet — and everywhere else — will unfortunately persist.
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