It’s Just a “Boyish Hoax” Ladies, Relax!

// Posted by on 03/24/2014 (6:53 PM)

After our class discussions last week, I wanted to continue to focus on the topic of women and the Internet.  After reading Amanda Hess’ article, Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet, it became just how important this issue truly is in our current society.  In our digital age, it is far more likely for individuals to feel comfortable expressing themselves more freely than they normally would in face-to-face conversation.  This is, simply put, because we are able to hide behind a screen.  We do not feel the direct affect our words have on others, have control over who sees what we post, and do not have to take the risking our confidence.  Although this ability for open expression does yield various positive results, it is also poses very serious threats to individuals’ emotional and physical safety.  Where do we draw the line?  When is a threat made online taken as seriously as one made in person?  Whose responsible for this content and what shall be the repercussions for it?

One set of statistics in Hess’ article really stood out to me: Feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day while Masculine names received 3.7.  Similarly, she references a survey that Pew conducted gathering data from 2000 to  2005 which showed the percentage of internet users who participated in online chats and discussion groups.  Participants dropped from 28 percent to 17 percent, “‘entirely because of women’s fall off in participation’” (Hess).  After receiving both morbid death and terrifying rape threats, it is understandable why a woman would turn away from the Internet- delete her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Should women really be so uncomfortable to the point where they have to do so?  Where they feel there is no other option than to “digitally disappear”?  This position women often face does not seem fair to me.  The use of the internet will only continue to expand and women should not have to choose between using the Internet and feeling safe.  The Internet is a crucial resource for work and social communication between family and friends.

A big part of this dilemma is the lack of law enforcement in regards to digital threats.  Hess discusses the experiences of numerous women who had been continuously threatened on the Internet.  Even after consulting the police, however, the situations largely remained unresolved.  As Hess asserts, “the Internet is a global network, but when you pick up the phone to report an online threat, you end up face-to-face with a cop who patrols a comparatively puny jurisdiction” (Hess).  With police dismissing online threats as non-immediate and therefore not serious, women are left alone with no real resolution or justice.  With this common pattern of police response, it seems as though they are suggesting that women should take online threats lightly.  Obviously, a woman can experience harassment anywhere, not just on the Internet, however, as our society continues to increasingly depend on the Internet, it is no longer something we can overlook.  Today, harassers are able to remain anonymous and target women for no reason whatsoever.  Who is to tell women that their fear and anxiety is not real?  Why is the seemly discrete message seen to be, just forget about it and move on?  Something is fundamentally wrong with this picture…

The Internet is not a safe place, and even less safe of one for women.  Although there have been various efforts to prevent online harassment and bullying, there are no laws that allow women to bring claims against individuals.  This is because the Internet is not an official workplace, but a never-ending universe that lacks individual accountability.  Even if multiple users attack an individual, there is no way to group them into one and take action.  The Internet allows a sense of mobility and liberation that causes—even encourages— individuals to say whatever they want to without any repercussions.  Although I understand the challenges of holding anonymous screen names accountable for their words, I think that it is something that needs more focus as it will only continue to have an effects on our society, on an individual level and on a larger scale.  The Internet has become real life and we need to start treating it accordingly.

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Emily said...

I, too, was really shocked by some of the statistics in Hess’ article. I always knew there was some sort of gender difference, particularly that of women more often being online targets, but not to the extent the article reveals. I thought the contrast between the two articles was really interesting, and I found myself torn because I agreed with certain points of each. Because each raises valid points, I think both perspectives should be combined. I do think men play a HUGE role (larger than we think) in the perception of women, especially our abuse through the internet. It is not fair to say we “ask for it” because we want to be connected through social media. We shouldn’t have to question that and we definitely shouldn’t have to worry about our safety. This is our world now… this “digital age” is what we’ve become and we shouldn’t have to actively remove ourselves in order to survive in the world. As women, we should be able to post pictures, express opinions, etc. without having to fear anyone on the other side of that. I do think it is time for men to step up to an take on what it really means to be a man in the 21st century. It is their job to stop treating us this way and that is where the main initiative comes in on their part. BUT it is our job as women to really take control and guard our freedom to live online. We can’t just sit back and ignore it anymore… That being said, I really don’t know the solution. How do we go about this and how far do we take it? Sometimes that can just create an even bigger problem.

// 03/24/2014 at 9:40 pm

Claire said...

When reading your article one sentence and theme really stuck out at me “ When is a threat online taken as seriously as one made in person?” This it seems to be the basis of the post and poses the question of how do we enforce gender equality on the Internet and better yet how do we punish those we seek to demean and belittle women when they go online. When thinking about actions the government could take to make cyberspace a more welcoming environment for women I decided to start with by looking at what the regulations were for cyber bullying in general. What I found out was, of 50 states 28 of them didn’t have any regulation for cyber bullying, this includes Washington DC. Without more of these states taking action how can we even expect women to come forward when they know there are no laws that can protect them? The truth is that it is costly and difficult to track down these cyber predator’s law enforcers ask themselves is there a real threat. No one should feel intimidated to log onto their twitter but still how can you arrest and throw in jail 20 “internet trolls” logging on to heckle a internet columnist. Is there anyway to regulate the wild west of the Internet. But as you said we will only see this escalation in violence against women on the Internet increasing until some regulations are put into place or at the very least taken more seriously by our police force. I realize it would next to impossible to patrol every site for harassment and sexist comments but we can start with out our police force and at least inform them and make them aware of the changing conditions in today’s environment.

// 03/24/2014 at 10:38 pm

Sarah said...

After last weeks class and reading this post and the comments it is hard not to feel distraught about the situation. The internet is this huge entity that is largely unregulated where people are free to say what they want to whoever they want. This is the most troubling part for me, the fact that the threats we have seen are expressed by a real person behind the screen. It’s terrible to think that because the internet is so unregulated and people can say what they really want, people are coming up with these nauseating comments.

Norton makes the argument in her article that the Internet is not the problem–the problem is the people and that always will be the problem. While the Internet may enhance a problem, it does not create it. This is what makes the issue so difficult. Tightening police efforts or regulating web pages would maybe help but I don’t think it would solve the root problem here. I agree very much with Norton on her belief that this problem stems from men and that’s where it has to be fixed. While that is much easier said than done, it may very well be true. While different activism and encouraging against this behavior may help it is far from solving the problem. The question then is, what can be done?

// 03/25/2014 at 10:47 am

Molly said...

Emily, you conclude by saying you don’t know how this issue can be solved, but think we as women need to stand up and not allow it to happen. Although, I think it’s important for females to stand up for their beliefs, I think the answer lies in the male sphere. Norton’s Article “Women and the Internet” featured Jackson Katz TEDx talk on gendered violence which I think proposed a solid solution. It is not the women that can stop the virtual violence themselves, but rather the men, as they are the perpetrators. Katz suggests that we can’t consider this a “women’s” problem or a “gender” issue anymore, as when these phrases are used men “tune out”. In our patriarchal society, the dominant structure (being men) is rarely challenged and therefore rendered invisible and basically erased from the entire conversation when they are indeed the whole conversation itself, NOT THE WOMEN. He also suggests we need to stop victim blaming. Although this has become a subconscious go to, this further perpetuates gendered violence as blaming threat; harassment, assault etc. help to focus the problem again on women, not on men. Katz stresses that his is not a battle of the sexes, we all live amongst the same system and we cannot forget male are victims to. Both directly and indirectly, as they too experience violence from males or have sisters, mothers, cousins, friends etc. who are victimized. It has been made to be “uncool” to stop another guy from making those comments. We have been socialized and under gender construct our whole lives to assume these specific roles: men and are tough and hard, while women are delicate and submissive. This is further enforced within “peer culture” which deems sexual harassment, in a sick way, to be considered “cool”. Interestingly, the average perpetrator is a “normal guy” and even if he isn’t the one saying the comments or doing the harassment, there silence gives the person consent to speak openly. So this is where I think the solution lies, by incorporating the males into the conversation because, if it weren’t for them, this conversation wouldn’t have to be had at all. Men are doing it, and they are the ones that need to stop it. Katz closes with a powerful quote that I think really encompasses the situation, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King). So go out tell your friends, tell your brother, tell your dad, tell your boyfriend, because this situation will never change if we don’t challenge the current system in place.

// 03/25/2014 at 12:24 pm