September 06, 2012

Being Feminist, Being Online…

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.

15 comments to Being Feminist, Being Online…

  • David Carver

    I haven’t had too much access to Facebook over the last two years (living in China) so I’d no idea the landscape had become so polluted. The old saw, “The women who listens is lost” should probably these days be changed to “The woman who DOESN’T listen is lost,” insofar as women need to pay attention to the real oppression exemplified by these pages, then protest actively and daily against this kind of mental gutterwash regardless of how they might be labelled. Are you aware of any particular reasons why misogynist jokes, rape jokes, et al. seem to have increased so much over the past 5 years? Perhaps it’s been a longer trend, but that’s been my impression.

    • Shreya

      I cannot really point to when this disturbing trend started, nor can I fathom why its grown as much as it has. When it did come into prominence, though, is sometime in October 2011 when a page titled,”You know shes (sic) playing hard to get when your (sic) chasing her down an alleyway” sparked a worldwide online campaign, initiated by feminist pages, asking Facebook authorities to take down “rape pages”. It is in this context, that a Facebook representative made the “just like telling a rude joke…” comment. I don’t know if the number of such pages have grown since then, but the attention and negative publicity given to them by pages like “Wipeout Sexism on FB” most certainly has.

      I think there has also been a growth in the trend of “ironic sexism”. Since most people have started believing that gender equality has been achieved and feminism is a redundant philosophy, they feel that its totally cool to be joking about sexism and derogatory stereotypes on women. Personally, if I have to hear the “go make me a sammich” joke ONE more time, I will let my female hormonal histrionics take over and shoot myself.

      Thanks for reading and responding to this!:)

  • Abhaya Acharya

    Not to mention the not-so-out rightly offensive pages and images which reinforce gender stereotypes for the purpose of ridiculing it, especially about women regarding their preferences of colors and outfits, alleged excessive envy, obsession with perfecting looks (funnily, to match standards set by a patriarchal society itself) and self-admission of lack of driving skills, arithmetic dumbness and hate and criticism for others of the same gender to name a few.

    Many women themselves have been endorsing this under some notion that conforming to these stereotypes is a feminist move. In the process of accepting these regulations on gendered behavior, they feel that they are engaging in some self-branding exercise wherein they are proud to be all this while completely ignorant of the fact that they are a subject of ridicule for the other gender and are just going further in to conforming to how our patriarchal society wants to see them.

    E.g “Every bitch before me was a mistake and those after me would be a fall in standards”- reinforces the concept of jealousy among women. Don’t men have feelings regarding their partners’ ex-es?

    “I am my Dad’s princess” – women are to be handed from one man to another. There existence has to be legitimized by the presence of a man in their lives.

    “The only time I will touch her without permission is to wipe her tears”- women need to be rescued! Are women are still the helpless damsels trapped in a tower and need their prince charming to save them?! And what notions of selfless virginal love are they publicizing?

    “Bitch, please!”- the masculine word for ‘Bitch’ is strangely not a cuss-word!

    Youtube video featuring two cars- the one going awry claims that a woman is behind the wheels. This one was specially shared by many in my friend list!

    The fact that women can be heterogeneous group with different preferences is ignored and gendered behavior is being reinforced. If sexism is spreading then that is because women are endorsing it at many subtle levels, even if they are opposing issues like rape and violence!

    • Shreya

      I agree with you, Abhaya! A lot of such posts perpetuating stereotypes have taken over the internet world. Usually, lashing out against women who post such things just closes any space for dialogue (even though its so hard not to). This is why I feel it’s so important for respectful feminist dialogue to be out there!

      Thank you for the solidarity!

  • Arpit Goel

    Hi Shreya ..

    Finally I am very happy to have found this kind of site discussing women issues. I am an ardent supporter of women rights and Feminist issues . And i can understand the hurt that male egos are exposed to when a feminist clash takes place. The importance of women in our lives and their issues comes by seeing my mother everyday . Will follow and recommend the site ..

    Arpit G

  • Very well-written, Shreya. I was unaware of such extreme sexism on FB. I totally agree with the argument that social networking sites are a political space for discussion on social issues. Cheers! :o)

  • Garrett

    This is shocking…I’m a male feminist, and thus am scared about the people who make these pages, and actually mean them…Thanks for still fighting in the face of such horrific adversity..

  • Loved your article and would like to speak with you more if possible. Thank you!

  • […] Surprisingly, this is not uncommon. An ongoing readers’ poll by The Oklahoma Daily shows that out of 152 voters, 50 percent 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. ~ Shreya Sen […]

  • […] Asian democracies, thrives. (If in doubt, please check out the rampant trolling that YouTube and Facebook is rife with, curated rape videos and sexist jokes ‘liked’ by platoons of hormonal male […]

  • Outstanding article! Thanks so much for sharing it in the Comments section of my Ms. blog. I will share it myself – on Facebook! 🙂

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