Misogyny bares its teeth on internet
August 21, 2007
A woman’s place isn’t in the kitchen these days but some malcontents are trying to make sure that it’s not on the web either. The internet is proving to be a hostile place for women.
Death threats, rape threats, verbal abuse, condescending and unwelcome comments about looks and intelligence are all par for the course for many female web users.
Last year a University of Maryland study found that web users with female pseudonyms are 25 times more likely to be harassed online than users with male or ambiguous pseudonyms. And, according to haltabuse.org, women make up 70 per cent of the victims of cyber harassment and stalking.
The internet is looking more and more like the Wild West than the decentralised utopia for which people might have hoped.
An internet war is being fought against the online feminist community by a hive of crackers and tech geeks who call themselves “Anonymous”.
Feminist forums have been hacked, passwords have been stolen, emails have been commandeered and used for whatever nefarious purpose the cyber miscreants wish. Websites such as Women’s Space and Gentle Spirit have been forced to shut down. One outspoken woman who blogged anonymously even had her photo put up on the net and a hunt was undertaken by members of “Anonymous” for her place of residence.
What many who engage in online “flamewars” – raids and attacks such as these – fail to see is that they’re messing with real people’s lives. The internet allows an incredible disconnect between reality and virtuality.
Everything seems to operate on the level of the abstract – it’s a game. The language used is militaristic, targets are dubbed “challengers” and the attacks are strategically planned. It’s literally revenge of the nihilist nerds.
This isn’t the first co-ordinated attack the group has launched and there doesn’t seem to be an ideological pattern to their actions. But it is no coincidence that it was so easy to mobilise Anonymous against women bloggers.
And it’s not surprising that those who joined the raids used methods such as vicious hate speech, threats of rape and murder and seeding comment threads with child porn in an attempt to silence women on the web.
Misogyny is quick to surface when there are no rules of social decorum to temper it. People have free rein to be bigoted and badly behaved without fear of real-world social ostracising.
I guess it’s not so different to the real world where humanism occasionally gets pushed aside in favour of mob justice and vigilantism.
To show how vile these messages can get, this is an example of a comment left on the blog Women’s Space: “I’d like to tie you down, take a knife, and slit your throat. I’d penetrate you over and over in all orifices, and create some of my own to stick myself in.” Shocking? Yes. Rare? Not on the internet.
The culprits can’t be traced because they often mask their IP addresses with an anonymiser, which hides their location and their computer information. Internet laws are notoriously fraught and even if you are able to find out who is responsible it’s difficult to prosecute.
Often there is little recourse – even thoughthe attacks are clearly illegal – other than to weather the storm.
The forums at my site were once attacked and flooded with offensive images and threads.
I don’t know where the culprits came from but it took me hours to restore the forums and get rid of the offensive material. I no longer have forums on the site. Thankfully it was mostly just an annoyance more than a serious threat.
Whether the attacks are for kicks, to get a rise out of feminists or for a more sinister purpose doesn’t matter. The outcome is the same: women’s voices are silenced and their mobility, visibility and participation on the net is reduced.
The online feminist community will recover, however, and these attacks have given food for thought to women with a presence on the net. A strong supportive community is needed to deal with this issue that just won’t go away.
If women and their websites come under attack for their views there needs to be as much support given by other web users to ensure they don’t feel so intimidated they stop participating. That the internet also serves to build community means that this will be easy enough to do.
Anna Greer is the editor of the online feminist magazine Wo-Magazine.com.
Thanks, Ann Greer. And thanks, Mary Sunshine, for the heads up.