The Internet is not a nice place; anyone who’s spent a little time on a forum or in a chat room knows that. From homophobic slurs to racist one-liners, it’s a place where people feel free to speak their minds (even if what’s on their minds isn’t anything anyone else would care to see). However, in recent years it’s become clear that the biggest targets in the digital world are, in fact, people who make up a little more than half of the world’s population.
Women. We’re talking about women.
The Burgeoning Beast
There’s a lot of obscure talk about “men’s spaces” and “defending cultural norms,” and the issue can quickly get bogged down in neutered, cleaned-up language pretty quickly. So let’s begin with the basics; when a woman speaks up online, chances are good that people (usually men) will try to shout her down. Attacks begin with rude comments, and then devolve into sexist comments, and then devolve further into rape and death threats.
Take a moment to process that. In the culture of the Internet saying to a woman, “I’ll find your mother and rape you both” is considered something you just learn to deal with. But how is getting that message on Twitter any different from getting an anonymous phone call where someone hisses it in your ear? It’s mostly because the former isn’t taken seriously, while the latter is the opening scene of a Girl With The Dragon Tattoo knockoff.
Is It Beginning To Change?
While this kind of behavior has been (and still is) common on the Internet, the past several years have been shining a particularly bright spotlight on the issue. For example, the extremely negative connotations of the ongoing GamerGate scandal (where women who make video games are receiving reams of rape, death, and other violent kinds of threats, as covered by Vice), and studies like this one covered by Time, are just two examples of the issue of women being targeted and abused because they’re women has gained additional attention.
The first step toward fixing a problem is admitting that a problem exists. As more people have demanded that this culture be changed, alterations are being made. Social media platforms have altered the way users can report harassment, and law enforcement has begun the slow process of stepping into the 21st century (which mostly means taking online abuse seriously, and admitting it can have offline consequences). More and more often those who start barking to shut women up find that they’re met with resistance.
The problem, of course, isn’t anywhere near solved yet. That will take massive cultural shifts of a tectonic level. However, with all the progress being made on social issues it seems that the first rumblings of declaring the Internet a safe place for everyone are beginning to register on the Richter scale.