The internet has the power to convince you of anything. Sometimes it manages to convince me that I must be going quite mad. It tells me that I can’t really take a joke. It tells me that my place is in the kitchen. It tells me that my ovaries render me paranoid, hysterical, helpless and insecure. But most of all it tells me that the nothing scares the world more than a woman identifying feminist and calling the society out on its bullshit.
Recently, a batch mate lashed out against those who identify “feminist” on campus. He claimed that all feminists are essentially male hating, shallow, “intellectual bullshitters” (ho hum). He used Facebook as the medium to publicly voice his rant and those who wished to show solidarity with this patriarchal angst, helped his cause by “liking” his online updates. The incident would have probably affected me a lot more than it did, if such sexist, anti feminist comments were not already redundant in the cyber world. As someone who has “come out” as a feminist on the internet and engages with feminist politics through various online mediums, this was just yet another person trying to shame women into silence.
Social networking sites have provided the long awaited, non confrontational environment that the faceless misogynist always needed to make her distaste of anything, that might even slightly challenge the power hierarchies in the society, known. Since its conception in 2004, Facebook has emerged as a phenomenon with more than 845 million users worldwide. Lately, Facebook seems to be full of pages which promote misogyny and violence, graphic to the extent that they can be triggering for victims and survivors of violence. These pages are misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic and make light of issues such as child abuse (“Urge to Kick Little Kids”, “Dead Baby Jokes”, “Having sex with minors” etc), rape (“Grab somebody and slip them Rohypnol”, “I love the smell of RAPE”, “Calling your penis Jack the Ripper Because it Mutilates Slags”, “It’s not rape if you yell ‘surprise’”, “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife”), women’s rights (“You know what rhymes with women’s rights? Sandwich”, “I have Rights. LOL jk i’m a woman (sic)”, “Slutwalk is only about ugly, fat women seeking attention”), violence against women (“Piss me off again bitch, and your next periods (sic) coming out of your mouth”, “Dear sluts, go give a blow job to a knife”, “I just wanna punch a bitch in the face”) and sexism (“I’m not sexist, sexism is wrong and being wrong is for women”, “I’ve written a book about sexism. It has pictures so women can enjoy it too.”).
The prominent feature of these pages is that most of them are listed under the genre of humor or satire. An ongoing readers’ poll by The Oklahoma Daily shows that out of 152 voters, 50% felt that it was acceptable to make jokes about rape and sexual assault. The people who post (both men and women) on these pages do not look upon their actions as violent as they are not (or so they claim) physically harming anyone. People (mostly self identified feminists) who react to such pages are told that they do not have a sense of humor and are met with insults and abuses. Some women display willingness to go out of their way to sound anti-feminist. For instance, in the page ‘Girls who simply sexism’, users with female names, who post comments like “We belong in the kitchen” or “I love sexism” are warmly accepted as a part of the humorous fraternity (because allegiance to men and malehood is essential for recognition within the community). Within the page, topics such as ‘Your most sexist phrases to use on women (sic)’ or ‘Your greatest events of sexism’ are posted to which members reply ‘there is a reason why the space between the breasts and the vagina is called a waste’ or ‘I once head butted a bitch square in the ovaries’. Feminists who voice their protest against this kind of graphic violence are met with ‘someone would wanna put that woman on a leash’ or ‘shut up and get back in the kitchen.’ Despite the fact that Facebook rules and regulations clearly state that “You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence”, those who report against these pages to Facebook authorities, are most likely to receive an e-mail from them that says “Thanks for your recent report of a potential violation on Facebook. After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”
Given how the society is still so strongly inclined to favour patriarchal forces, any call for stronger censorship laws is more likely to work against the marginalized communities. For example, Facebook authorities once banned the picture of two gay men kissing and had removed a number of pictures where mothers were breastfeeding their children, while completely dismissing an online protest movement against sexist pages on the site by stating, “Just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.”. In such a scenario, the presence of feminism in cyberspace becomes of utmost importance and indeed, a necessity, to counter the hate content and generate stronger feminist discourses. For instance, Online campaigns such as “I need feminism because…”, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”, “Project Unbreakable”, “GotStared.At” and “Hollaback” have provided a strong critique of the misogyny that thrives in the virtual and in the real world. Rapidly growing Facebook pages such as “A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World”, “Being Feminist”, “Rabid Feminist”, “Wipeout Sexism on Facebook” and “Feminist Trolls” seek to provide a safe space for respectful dialogue on feminist issues, while also countering and reporting various sexist pages on Facebook. If the internet is to be looked at as just another public space, then sexist cyber bullying is just another way to keep marginalized genders out of it. Ignoring such misogyny, dismissing it as “trolling” and wishing it away will not make it vanish. It is essential to move beyond looking at social networking sites like Facebook as merely a social tool and look at it as a political space to engage with social issues.