Feminism has not ‘gone too far’. Online abuse against women is as harmful as ever

Katherine Denkinson
·4 min read
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, 25 September, 2018: Getty
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, 25 September, 2018: Getty

According to a recent report, half of Gen Z young men believe that “feminism has gone too far”.

Misogynistic attitudes seem to be coming back into fashion, but for those of us who have been active on social media for the last ten years, this is nothing new.

The hashtag #twitterhateswomen has been around for a while and a 2018 study conducted by Amnesty showed that women were far more likely to experience threats of violence and abuse online.

The question is, why? We are supposedly living in a progressive society, with gender equality and a better understanding of our shared humanity. So why are men still behaving this way?

By posting publicly on Twitter we leave ourselves open to the scrutiny of the world. Naturally, if we are posting harmful or incorrect information, we should expect to be challenged on this. Especially if we are in a position of power.

However, it is clear from responses meted out to women such as MP Diane Abbott or Dr Jess Taylor, an author of a book about victim blaming, that male users of the site feel it is acceptable to include doxxing, racism, antisemitic hate and threats of rape/violence to get their point across. I have yet to see a prominent male Twitter user sent images of males wielding baseball bats in response to a relatively innocuous tweet.

Male politicians and celebrities are regularly criticised, but the criticism is usually targeted at their intellect or policies. It is rare to see a male figure threatened with rape or being told a variation of, “you’re only saying this because you’re ugly”.

Whilst Twitter likes to state their intent to tackle “hate speech”, this appears mostly performative in nature and it can often take several attempts for female users to be taken seriously.

To understand why males feel entitled to act in this way, we need to look at the broader internet. Reddit recently banned their Detransitioners subreddit. The message board had been formed for trans men to discuss their experiences of wishing to de-transition. A number of male users decided that the board was “anti-trans” and had it shut down. Likewise, a number of radical feminist boards have also been removed from the site.

This alone is concerning but, when you realise that Reddit still allows boards such as r/DegradingHoles, r/AgainstWomensRights, r/ReluctantF******g and the ever-delightful r/AbusedSluts (to name a few) we have to ask what is really going on.

A vast majority of Reddit users are teenage boys. For them to see abusing women normalised in this way is incredibly irresponsible. Add to that the fact that threatening women online gives them power (whether it be having them banned, reporting them to their employer or ensuring a tearful apology) and we are setting a dangerous precedent.

By banning feminist voices whilst promoting anti-female hate, these sites are reinforcing the idea that it is acceptable to degrade and threaten women simply for voicing an opinion you do not agree with.

They are allowing a culture of punishment to form, where the rebuke is more important than the reason for it. Where the aim is not to suggest another way of thinking, but to leave women (emotionally) battered, afraid and unable to stand up to for themselves. In short, it is becoming a how-to guide for abusive males.

Earlier this year, the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This worked with a number of politicians to successfully have the “rough sex defence” outlawed. It is now no longer acceptable to claim that the woman you murdered “wanted it”.

This is a huge leap forward, but will mean nothing if we are not also tackling the root causes of such beliefs. Whilst such violence (and threats thereof) are seen as acceptable in porn and elsewhere online, we are not going to prevent the spread of misogyny.

The problem seems to be convincing men in positions of power to speak out. We know it’s #notallmen who behave this way, but if you are refusing to speak to your sons, your friends and your brothers about these issues then you are not helping. Young men need to hear strong male voices telling them that this behaviour is unacceptable.

If we are truly going to be an inclusive society, then we need men to start working with us to achieve this, online and in real life. Compassion is not a “woman’s job”, it is an essential part of everyone’s humanity.

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