Is the Internet against Women?

The European Journal » Is the Internet against Women?

The Internet has become a great tool for communication. As it has developed, so has the way we interact on the Internet. And with the advent of social media, now there are a multitude of ways for us to share opinions, debates and news and media.

It truly is the information age – pretty much anything we want to find out, can be found out. Anything that wants to be debated can be debated on forums or social news websites such as Reddit. We live in an age where we can be as enlightened as we choose about any subject it crosses our mind to google.

Conversely, it also allows us to pigeonhole ourselves into one idea as we search out content, websites and voices that exclusively express similar opinions.

And therein lies the rub. It is something that is often noticed among fringe sections of society: Tea Party members in the USA, for example, are notorious for believing “news” that is often invented, but widely reported on the blogs and websites they choose to follow. And they choose to follow it because they believe conventional sources of news – the so-called “lamestream media” – has a liberal bias and agenda. And so they cocoon themselves in the perceived substantiation of their opinions.

But what happens when damaging opinions are able to take prominence on websites with a much wider audience? Right-wing bloggers may receive a few thousand hits a day, but what about websites that are within the top 200 in the world?

I am not the first and will not be the last to point out that misogyny is rampant on the Internet – along with racism, homophobia and other hateful standpoints. But the methods described above allow it to fester.

One needs to look no further than social news website such as Reddit for a quick and easy demonstration of this. Now, of course, much interesting and informative content exists on this website, and many discussions among users can be educational and informative. It is by no means the only place on the Internet in which these opinions are encouraged, but it is perhaps an interesting starting point.

Reddit is a collection of links and entries submitted by registered users, organised into a bulletin-board like system of “reddits”. Any area of interest is grouped into a “subreddit”. For example, music lovers can turn to r/music.

One subreddit, r/shitredditsays, is dedicated to documenting the perverse comments posted by users. A screenshot below captures how many of these revolve around sexist or racist opinions and are then “upvoted” by the community. Consequently, r/shitredditsays is the scorn of many redditors, who may feel that they simply “do not get the joke.” Many of them call for its permanent removal.

This comes from the same website that cried “freedom of speech!” when moderators wanted to remove r/creepshots – a subreddit dedicated to taking unsolicited photos of women, usually via upskirting.

Therein lies a huge, Internet-wide problem: freedom of speech is only called upon to protect certain members of certain interests. Removing r/creepshots would be seen as a violation of freedom of speech. Never mind the active violation and rampant sexual exploitation of females, who are targeted in such a way that they cannot even object to their own violation.

The idea of “freedom of speech” applies only when it agrees with the opinions of the “average” English-speaking Internet user – a white, 20-something male, usually from the USA. Any ideas contrary to their opinions are quickly downvoted or trolled, and so the “circlejerk” continues. Far from being universal as it claims to be, freedom of speech seems to be the strict prerogative of sexist men.

A large subsection of this website will often call out any opinions that are remotely feminist as being “man-hating”. “Equality” can often come across as thinly disguised misogyny – some of the most upvoted videos are ones where a loud-mouthed, rude or abusive woman is punched or roughhoused by men, often accompanied by comments along the lines of “if you want to fight like a man, expect me to hit you like a man!”

Meanwhile, men are free to say things like “I hate women comedians. They are not funny.” A woman who says something equally as prejudiced, such as, “men are never sensitive”, would quickly face the wrath of other users. Subreddits such as “Men’s Rights” exist to extol the plight of the modern man. Yet, ironically, it exists alongside subreddits such as “beating women” and “creepshots”.

All of this leads to a singular, sanctimonious voice that grows ever louder. On websites which use “upvotes” as some kind of cyber-popularity contest, younger users might see the adoption of this mindset as the “cool”, “normal” or “right” thing to do. Websites such as 9gag, which cater to a much younger crowd, are extreme peddlers of these kinds of misogynistic opinions..

On any given day, a post can be found lamenting the evils of the “friendzone” – a non-existent space where apparently men are placed by the female friends that do not wish to sleep with them despite the fact that they are “nice guys.”

Any mention of this “friendzone” evokes a chorus of support and “fuck bitches” mentality from fellow 9gag users, all while completely ignoring the blatantly obvious fact women are not sexual objects existent only for male attention.

Essentially, the very same things that make the Internet the greatest technological revolution of our time – the openness, anonymity and global exchange of ideas – are also being used to popularise and validate some incredibly misogynistic/racist/ableist/culturally-elitist ideas. The cloak of anonymity allows the spouters of these opinions to never have to face up to them – indeed, their opinions are “upvoted” and echoed and they find a rapport of support within their online community.

And in a remarkable feat of double-think, the users hold themselves up as well-informed, educated and open-minded, while simultaneously “downvoting” or abusing those with an opinion that contradicts their own.

So what space does this leave for women on the Internet? Of course, women can also browse single-subject Tumblogs for feminist ideals that align more completely with their own. But the essential problem is that when women (or non-white people, or disabled people, etc) want to consume media the same way the majority of Internet users do.

But misogynist comments can easily be found after a quick perusal of the comments or forums of any popular web page or social news site. I am sure that not a day goes by where I do not read something online that is deeply insulting to women.

It would seem that perhaps Internet legislation could provide a solution to this, but this is wholly unrealistic and undoubtedly not at all popular.  The Internet is a world of its own, with some legislation indeed, such as copyright or the right to anonymity.

But when it goes against the legislation of a country (e.g. hate speech), or even is used as a weapon against a group of individuals or a targeted person, what do we turn to? For indeed, its boundaries are unidentified if not inexistent (hence its virtuality). Even the Chinese government has difficulties controlling the multi-faceted and ever-changing realm of cyberspace that its citizens are able to reach.

The Internet marks the advent of an entirely new episteme, which invites us to envisage the new human conquest: that of virtuality. Yet, if us, citizens of the Internet, want to avoid living in a space where all is allowed, even the worst, we have to start thinking about and building the cyberspace’s social, political and moral structures.