Would You Type To Your Mother Like That? Women and the Internet

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“Stand up like a man, You better learn to shake hands, You better look me in the eye now, Treat me like your mother.  Come on look me in the eye, You wanna try to tell a lie?  You can’t, you know why?  I’m dressed like your mother.”

-The Dead Weather, Treat Me Like Your Mother

When women are being called names, something’s not right.  When women are being harassed, something’s wrong.  When women are being threatened with rape and death, something’s got to change.  Right?  Most of us can agree on that.  But what if these things are happening online?  Is the fallout any different because the words showed up on a screen rather than in the mailbox or on a voicemail?  Is the emotional toll and the fear any less because it was done electronically?  Does the vehicle by which a threat was issued even matter?  Is a threat not a threat?

Journalist Amanda Hess wrote an article titled,“Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet”.  She goes into great detail about the vile comments she has received over the years.  She has an active presence online as a writer and has endured angry rants, threats of rape and threats of death.  She has had one individual in particular stalk her online.

Lauren Mayberry of the indie band Chvrches wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Guardian.  She wanted to shed light on the misogyny that she has been subjected to on-line.  Her band gained notoriety and acclaim after posting some of their songs on a music blog.  The internet has been a crucial part of their success.  For this reason they find it important to keep communication going between their fans online.  Among the gushing fan postings were some hostile comments.  Name calling.  Threats of rape.  Details of lewd acts.

These two women are not alone.  They unfortunately are in good company.  There are writers, singers, actors, business women, students, executives, and kids who have all experienced the same thing.  They are mostly women.  And they are considered targets by some simply because they have the audacity to log on to the internet.  They are told to shrug it off, laugh it off, don’t engage, move on.  In other words, suck it up.   Good girls stay quiet, don’t make a fuss.  Just smile and don’t make anyone uncomfortable.  It’s a response that women have heard for ages.  Don’t make a fuss about voting, just try to sweetly influence your husband’s vote.  Don’t complain about your boss grabbing your ass, just be grateful you have a job.  Don’t bother reporting that rape, everyone will just think that you did something to encourage it.

There has been talk of taking the anonymity out of sites like Twitter.  Sure.  Being anonymous makes it easier for these perpetrators to be more brazen.  There have been questions asked concerning who should be tasked with investigating these threats….  the police?  The companies that own these websites like Twitter, Facebook and AskFM?  Sure.  An avenue for women to report these assaults could give them a way to fight back.  While these things could be helpful, they are merely the tourniquet on a bleeding wound.  The only way to truly change the dynamic that is festering online is to find the source of the bleeding.

Where is all of this coming from?  Is it the continual and persistent objectification of women in all parts of the media?  Is it the rampant disregard for other’s feelings?  Is it a culture that views women as easy targets, the weaker sex? All of the above?

More than ever before, women are portrayed in a sexualized way.  Pop singers wear less and dance like someone should be throwing dollar bills at them.  Magazine covers show more skin, more suggestive poses, more sensuality in general.  And don’t even get me started on music videos, especially hip hop videos.  I am not opposed to someone expressing their more sensual side, but it does seem that it has become the norm, the expected.  Boys see this.  Girls see this.  At a young age they absorb all of this.  It plays into their perception of things, of people.  They don’t see men being represented in the same way.  They don’t see George Clooney draped in a bed sheet.  They don’t see Jay Z with his ass sticking out and a pouty look on his face.  They don’t see male celebrities portrayed in a come-hither-I’ve been a bad boy-don’t you want me kind of way.  When men show skin it is usually done with a very macho tough-guy feel.  They pick up on this, the kids.  They see women being treated and portrayed differently in the media.  It seeps into their subconscious and sometimes may result in them seeing women as commodities.  Not living, breathing, feeling, real people.

Then there’s the lack of empathy.  Recent studies have shown a decline in empathy in our youth.  This disturbing trend is not just some factoid for psychologists and behavioral specialists to be concerned with.  We should all be worried.  As parents, it’s our job to teach these skills to our children.  I believe it is the most important thing we teach them.  Socialize them at a young age.  Set an example of compassion.  Talk to your children about social issues that demonstrate the need for caring and understanding.  If kids don’t learn these lessons, they may be more likely to bully.  They could see a sexual assault of a drunk girl at a party and take a video of it instead of trying to stop the crime.  They may be the person who sees such a video and posts it to social media.  Without any apparent remorse or concern for the victim.  These kids will laugh.  They will ridicule .  They obviously don’t view the girl who has been violated as a living, breathing, feeling, real person.

There’s the detachment that is part of the online world.  Typing a message on Twitter is a little easier to do than screaming it in the person’s face.  Harassing someone on Facebook takes a little less nerve than doing it in person.  Behind the  keyboard, a person is likely to feel more bold.  Some people feel that the lack of physicality gives them a license to be a little meaner, a little more cruel, a little more threatening.  They are able to act out from the safety of their home, they can say things they may never say in person.  The scary fact that for the person on the receiving end of these kinds of messages is that they have no way of knowing when or if the perpetrator is going to take it to the next level.

Does it matter that these threats are online?  No.  The threat is no less real.  The only difference is it is easier to hurl a lewd comment or convey violent intentions over the internet.  It takes less effort than the more traditional means of harassment or stalking.     But the result is the same.  A woman is belittled.  A girl is shamed.  Their safety is threatened.  They feel violated.

The world we live in has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  The internet is an integral part of all of our lives.  It is a part of our work, our education, our entertainment, our socializing.  We have more access to more information.  We can reach more people with a keystroke.  While all of this access to information and people affords us all kinds of benefits, we can’t ignore the risks.  We can’t enjoy the fruits of the digital world and turn a blind eye to the uglier side of what is taking place.  Social media has become a way for journalists and artists and business people to promote their craft. But it has also become a breeding ground for abuse.

It’s time for us to come to a collective reckoning.  These things need to be addressed, scrutinized, understood.  We need to understand that the person we see on the computer, tablet or phone screen is a real person.  A living, breathing, feeling, real person.  They are not a character in a video game.  They are not a “virtual” anything.  They are women, they are girls.  They are Amanda Hess and Lauren Mayberry.  They are your mother, your sister, your friend, your daughter.  And they deserve to be treated as such.  They are trying to bring this issue to light, they are starting the conversation.  It’s our job to continue it.

75 Comments

    1. Thank you! It is sad, we think we’ve come a long way but in some ways old behaviors continue, just in more discreet ways. I hope by the time my daughters are adults we can say that it is no longer happening. Thank you for stopping by to read this!

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    1. I think ignoring it allows these men to continue to do this. They move on when they get no response but I’m not sure it actually stops the behavior. I sincerely wish that ignoring it would make it go away. Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts!

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  1. The way women are treated online is only a reflection of how they are treated in real life. Considering that women are usually blamed for any wrong doing against them (she was asking for it, she shouldn’t have been in that part of town, she shouldn’t have talked back, she shouldn’t have stepped out of line), it’s not that surprising to me that they are also bullied online. We raise men in most of the world’s cultures to feel powerful and entitled, yet, we do not raise women to feel the same way. It’s probably time we change that for the next generation.

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    1. So true, that’s a great point. It is just a more magnified, obvious example of the treatment women receive in real life. I also agree, men are often raised to feel powerful and entitled while girls are taught to be demure and sweet and polite. Even in modernized countries, this is still a (subtle) part of our culture. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it’s given me a different angle to look at this from… I appreciate your thoughts on this!

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      1. Ms. Kelly — Are you so sure WOMEN are especially attacked on the internet? I’ve never heard of this. And thinking it over now, it doesn’t seem true. Women may feel the pain WORSE than guys, and thus find the anonymity-laden internet more relatively hostile. But I think the rudeness, meanness, nastiness, etc. is distributed without sexism or prejudice. Blacks may also falsely think themselves singled out. And gays.

        Your post is richly ironic to me because my new blog exploits the (temporary) anonymity and pseudonymity of the internet to the pure max. I’m waging merciless WAR upon all of mankind. And I’m going to ENJOY my brief period of camouflage, until my unique expression of views slowly-but-surely “outs” me.

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        1. you’ve “never heard of this” because you won’t listen. You are a bully and you are harassing the women and men on this site as well as your own blog. You’re hatred is of yourself and doesn’t belong here.

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  2. Lot of food for thought here about the things I want my young son to learn about life and how to treat other human beings and the subtle messages he receives from various media. Thank you for that.

    You’re right. It’s important.

    Congratulations on having your excellent writing recognized, Gretchen.

    Lots and lots of smiles over this. Keep on keepin’ on, lady.

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    1. Thank you so much Matt! Thanks for reading and offering your support, especially given all the traffic and attention you’re getting lately with your profile on WP… I imagine that’s keeping you super busy! Thanks for putting all your positivity (I think I made that word up) out there for the rest of us to soak up… may it come back to you tenfold.

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  3. in my opinion its wrong to bully people to begin with because when the bully bullies some they have fun with it but when some bullies the bully they get mad about it and they attend to fight every one… this is coming from some one who was bullied all of his elementary school year

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    1. I am so sorry to hear you were a victim of bullying. I hope that you came out of it ok and were able to move on and find peace. Bullies bully (I believe) because they are insecure. They have to bring others down so they feel bigger. It’s NO excuse, I have told my own children this. When someone is bullying them, I’ve tried to explain to them that the bully is a pitiful small person and not worth their time or concern. Of course that is easier said than done. Bullying in any form is despicable….

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  4. Behaviour onlin is not considered in the same way as offline. For example if we go to a club and have an accident, the onus is on the club to make sure we don’t sue them whilst using their premisess. Online, every company can say ‘there is nothing we can do.’ I believe that if people are using your premises the onus should be on the owner to protect them, just as it is offline.
    There ARE choices. Moderate comments or switch them off. But large companies want to have their cake and eat it.

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    1. I think you’re right, these companies don’t want to get their hands dirty or have to hassle with it. Surely they have the technology and the means to track people down who make these threats. Unfortunately they probably will never do it unless they’re forced by legislation… Thank you for reading!

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    1. Thank you! I so appreciate the support from you and Emily. Getting to participate in your RTT blog hop makes me feel like I’m getting to sit with the cool kids at the lunch table! And congrats on your Superhero Keg Party being Freshly Pressed, that was some kind of crazy genius!!!

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  5. Wonderful article. Amazingly, it’s not just men doing the assaulting either, it’s women against women as well. The comment on some vloggers YouTube channels is disgusting. I have frequently wondered what has happened to courtesy and manners?

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  6. Thanks for sharing this, its very sad that women have been degraded through popular culture and its even sadder when some women themselves have been deluded into thinking that being a ‘strong independent’ woman involves taking their clothes off for the cameras and dancing provocatively. I think when our children have strong positive role models that they can relate to, the world will be a better place. Please check out a post we wrote on our blog about bullying, self harm and suicide as a result of cyber bullying.
    http://lightinaglass.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/i-want-to-kill-myself-bullying-self-harm-and-suicide/

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      1. Thank you very much for your kind words. Share the post with anyone who you think might find it useful; it might be that it is exactly what they needed to hear.
        Peace be with you,

        Light in a Glass

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    1. I read your article. It is absolutely ridiculous that anyone would imply that what a woman wears is in any way to blame for being assaulted or raped. I know it is an argument that has been used for ages, but it is just an excuse to not deal with the real problem. And you’re right, the real problem is that some men view women as less than them, something to be used and discarded. I really enjoyed reading this, and I agree with you. A REAL man respects women and treats them with respect. Thank you for sharing this with me!

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  7. Things are much worse for women where I come from. They don’t even get to dine with their male counterparts in parties, they sit around small tables in a remote corner and do chores (this happens in the countryside)

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    1. How awful. I wrote a post a few months ago about Feminism that highlights women in other countries who are fighting against mistreatment. I think a lot of people in the U.S. don’t realize that it is still an issue in many parts of the world and that we need to support other women, everywhere. In our country a lot of people will try to make you ashamed of being a feminist, but equality for women is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially when women around the world are still mistreated and suffering. Thank you so much for sharing this with me and for reading my blog…

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    1. I am so sorry to hear that you have experienced this Sara. I have had a lot of women comment on this post saying the same thing. It is so heartbreaking to hear how many people are affected by this kind of behavior….

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      1. Thanks Gretchen, sometimes the advice, “the best way to handle it is to pay nil attention,” is not true, as then it only multiplies our troubles. Sometimes, it’s best to report such bullies.

        Regards
        Sara

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  8. Funny thing running into this post. My daughter’s ex has been sending her threats via texts and leaving ‘your next bitch” voice messages on her phone. She is 23 I don’t know what he does online. But when she finally decides to do something and with my support because I heard him on the phone threatening her, his parents blame her. She caused him to react in this way. As a result of the threats I called the police, he is stalking her. Police decide to file charges. Now she is the one who needs to stop this? She is the one who needs to recant her statement to the police? She is the reason he is incarcerated? How did she become the reason that this kid became a loser. How is she the reason that your son decided to hurt people and break the law? How is it right to ask my daughter to recant her story and have her perjure herself and be charged with some criminal act to save your kid? Perhaps parents like these are the reason that we see so much indifference in our world. What did you teach your child? I am pretty confident that I didn’t raise a daughter for the sole reason of making your son a degenerate narcissist who blames his short comings others. Thanks for posting this, we need to change our attitude. And it starts at home.

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    1. How incredibly scary and frustrating for you! The whole notion that the victims of threats like these are somehow responsible or “caused” it is ridiculous and nonsensical. It seems to be a somewhat common response though. I completely agree that parents like this are a large part of the problem. So many parents don’t hold their kids accountable for anything, starting early in childhood. So many parents continually bail their kids out. The kids learn that they are more important than anyone else and are invincible to the consequences. It is infuriating. I hope this guy gets put away and gets help and leaves your daughter alone. What you are describing is one of my nightmares as a mother…

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  9. And here’s another one 🙂

    I wish we’d found this post when Diana and I were talking about that Hess article nine days ago. The way I found it was, I was browsing the “Feminist Friday” tag looking for some good posts to put into a roundup so I could actually keep my promise and publish a Feminist Friday roundup before midnight. That tag is depressing. I am hoping there’s another tag somewhere and tons of people are using it for these posts instead of this one.

    The upside is that, since there are so few people using this tag, anyone who does write a Feminist Friday post and tag it as such is sure to be read by me. Because I am following it now and checking it every Friday afternoon.

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  10. So, putting together a post, I had to come back and read even more closely. This is such a strong post. The only thing I could say about it in the way of constructive criticism toward improvement is that there is so much packed into it, it makes my head spin a little. This could easily be turned into series of posts. Here are some things you could do with it:

    Take the part about the commodification of women and run with that. You’re right, and the contrast between male celebrities and female celebrities is stark. “Commodification” means something (or someone) is being sold.

    Empathy. Same as above. I did not know that declining empathy was a measurable sociological effect, and that is something I must look into now. I agree, it is the responsibility of parents to teach it to their children. In my opinion, empathy is mostly learned behavior. Declining empathy has serious consequences. I could write you an essay about the implications of that (and maybe I will 😉 )

    Explore that weird thing that happens when we interact through technological media. I tend to see social media as a blessing. Without it, there is no way I we could even have the conversation we’ve had today. But you are right. A reckoning is in order. My sister is my closest collaborator online, and most of the contributors to our blog are women. The way women are treated online is egregious, and the depersonalization that comes with technologically-mediated communication is a part of the problem.

    I could go on, but I will not. That is three things worthy of further exploration, and this comment is almost long enough to be a post. Best wishes 🙂

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    1. I agree, I could absolutely write many more posts digging a little deeper into each point. The commodification of women and the “empathy gap” are two that I feel really strongly about and could go on for days…. I want to explore the decline of empathy and entitlement, I’m curious to see if the two go hand in hand.

      I don’t know if you remember, but I commented on the post where you mentioned the Hess article and told you that it inspired me to write about something that had been brewing in my mind for a few months (ever since I read the op-ed by Lauren Mayberry). This was the post that your post pushed me to write. And this is the one that got Freshly Pressed! So thank you for that! That’s the coolest thing about blogging that was an unexpected surprise when I started doing my blog, I never realized that I would be inspired so much by other writers… I feel like I’ve learned so much from other bloggers and I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon some smart and talented writers! I will definitely be writing more about this, and about the many comments I’ve received from women who have experienced this kind of treatment. It’s appalling… Thanks so much for the support from you and Diana with some of these posts!

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  11. What a great piece. It isn’t shocking to see young girls’ atrocious behavior when you then see how their parents act either at sporting events, birthday parties or even their school functions. I’ve been shocked when I’ve seen some of the e-mails parents have sent teachers. I will definitely share, and thanks for addressing this issue.

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    1. Thank you so much, I really appreciate you sharing this on your blog! I wish I knew how to change it. I think it may come down to legislation to get the social media companies to work with law enforcement to track these people down. But on a much larger scale, it has to come down to raising people who aren’t narcissistic hateful people. I don’t know how to affect change about that beyond raising my own children. I think it’s good to have the conversation and for people to realize how widespread this is and how it affects people.

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  12. I think this is a truly great article, but it is important to remember that it goes both ways. I personally know some incredibly vicious women on the internet as well, and I think that can be forgotten in the stampede to defend women everywhere.

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    1. You are absolutely right. Especially when it comes to young women and bullying. The majority of these cases of stalking seem to be perpetrated by men, but I think there are way too many cases of women/girls harassing and bullying other women/girls. It may not go as far as threats of rape and murder most of the time but the consequences can be just as horrible and damaging. I wrote a piece a few months ago about suicide as a result of bullying and it is tragic and incredibly frustrating to see people driving other people to take their lives… Thank you so much for reading this.

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  13. Excellent piece of writing! Issues regarding the treatment of women are very important to me. The internet can be a scary place these days. I was really horrified by all of the abuse that happened last summer in the UK when it was decided that Jane Austen was to be on the new 10 pound notes. Things have got to change – it’s 2014 for goodness’ sake.

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    1. Thank you! The internet can be scary, it kind of feels like the Wild West sometimes, no laws and no rules. The amount of anger over women, over putting a woman on currency is almost funny. Except it’s not. It is shocking that some people don’t seem to evolve. Thank you so much for reading this!

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    1. Thank you for that! Stalking is stalking, it doesn’t matter how it’s conveyed. Thank you so much for sharing it on your blog… I started reading your blog and found it intriguing and heartbreaking. It is awful what you’ve had to go through. I’m glad to see you fighting back, I am following and look forward to reading more from you!

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      1. Thank YOU! I chose not to share until I felt the saga was nearing its end; I’ve been blessed with a great safety net of people, and I hate to think of all of the women who simply don’t have the financial or emotional resources to fight back. I was also lucky to have been married to the worlds dumbest criminal though – he literally provided all of the evidence that will convict him. And it was a gift that he chose to stalk in such a verifiable, provable way. Lots of people told me I was crazy when I said he was following me, or other wacko stalker cliches.

        Thanks for following me 🙂

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  14. Well Said. My sisters and I talk about this all the time. Children and even some adults are out of touch with the real society and real compassion.

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  15. Excellently-written post. Did anyone include link below–have you yet seen this vid? Well worth it. Shows what it would be like if MEN were on the receiving end of some of what women live with:

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    1. That is so weird, I have never heard of INTJ, and today I stumbled upon another blog that explained all the different personality types. I kinda feel like I must be completely clueless to not have any knowledge of this! I have heard of the Myers Briggs Personality Assessments but I don’t know much about any of this, although it seems fascinating! Thank you for reading my blog!

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      1. Most of the people I know have tested themselves at one time or another. It is a neat way to connect with people, especially when learn how certain personality types complement each other naturally and which ones tend to clash. If you stumble upon the test, let us know what you come up with. 🙂

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  16. And yet you have a comments section and bravely blog on! Wonderful post. It is a constant battle indeed, but one worth fighting. Sex and drugs were pretty rampant in the seventies, the nineties we had Madonna screwing a bed and her book creatively entitled SEX so I am not sure if things are worse. There are many many things that are better now for women than in the past. We will endure this and raise women (and men) who are as healthy as they can be given the state of the world. When I get down I look at how many children are NOT dancing like Miley Cyrus, how many kids are reading good books and how many children are kind. Do not fear anything, not even the objectification of women in the media and fight on and keep your voice strong.

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    1. You know, I have spent a lot of time thinking about that, are things worse now or is it just because I’m a mom? I think what Madonna did then would barely raise a stir now… but I agree that there was some element of this in every generation. Your comment is very reassuring and you are absolutely right! Thank you so much for the encouragement and perspective!

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      1. Not a problem. We are all in this together. I will follow your lead and add a comments section to my betternotbroken blog, soon, very soon. It is not easy being a parent. Keep up the good work.

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