Women & Online Culture

Online, women face unwanted “compliments” that focus on their appearance, and which sexualise them in a way that men are not subjected to, and which takes focus away from what they say and the content they create. The abuse is not simply sexist; it is often racist and sexually violent and at times homophobic. In this video, content creators, comedians and writers, including Gaby Dunn, share some of the comments they’ve received, and they explain that no matter what they’re discussing, men will argue against them.

The women here say that they either ignore comments if they’re “annoying” or block commenters who are especially graphic. These women say they are bothered by the comments but at the same time, “I just expect it.” Women are told they have “victim privilege” or they’re accused of being “angry” when they stand up for themselves. This demonstrates how sexist online culture expects women to simply put up with abuse. Such an expectation goes to broader patterns of gender violence against women. These are not just words on screen. Feminist Anita Sarkeesian was recently forced to move out of her home because she received death threats, having lived with hate speech for years, including a violent game created to let men “bash” her face… all because she raised funds to support her series that provides a cultural analysis of sexism in video games.

As Erin La Rosa says in the video: “This is my work…. it’s a problem. It makes me feel demoralised.”

In an article about the sexism that former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced, I noted that the law protects women against workplace sexual harassment. Just as a woman Prime Minister should not be expected to tolerate verbal sexual violence because she is in the public eye, women online should not be expected to tolerate it either. The idea of block and ignore leaves gender violence to individual women to manage. Online abuse is a public health issue that requires social action, including:

  • Standing up against it when you see it: speak up and let others know it’s not okay (even when it’s not directed at you);
  • Content platforms like YouTube and Twitter need to take stronger action to ban trolls quickly; and
  • Improving laws dealing with online abuse.