The Internet: a way to champion diversity and justice, but also to threaten it
A guest post by Catriona MacLennan
The Internet and social media have been pivotal in opening new ways to campaign for justice for women.
Globally, most women have very limited financial resources, but Facebook means that pages can be created at no cost for raising awareness about issues, discussing strategies and promoting events. Women in different countries can work together effectively without the previous limitations of time and communication costs.
Blogs and online opinion pieces in newspapers and journals mean more women than previously can voice their opinions – although their views are still massively outweighed by male voices, and non-Pākehā women’s views are even more severely marginalised.
Twitter allows issues to be brought to public attention with a hashtag and a compressed message of 140 characters.
An example of this is the hashtag #YesAllWomen*. In 2014, a young man killed 6 people and wounded 13 others in Isla Vista in the United States. Following the shootings, there was online discussion about misogyny. Some twitter users responded by creating the hashtag #NotAllMen, to argue only some men had anti-women views.
That hashtag was quickly met with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which explains that, while not all men discriminate against women, all women experience the impact of discrimination in many ways, including lower pay, sexual and domestic violence, and restrictions on our behaviour enforced by law, custom and outright violence.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was rapidly coined following the police killing of Michael Brown in Missouri and a continuing string of other black men’s deaths at the hands of police. Now the hashtag #BlackWomensLivesMatter is being used to emphasise how violence against black women has been downplayed in the debate about police killings and the black community. A national day of action on 21 May to end state violence against black women and girls was publicised using the slogans #BlackWomenMatter, #JusticeforRekia and #SayherName.
Other examples of hashtag activism relating to women include #changetheratio, #girlsrising, #womenshould, #wearresilient, #WeAreSilent, #NotBuyingIt, #bringourgirlsback, #LeanIn, and #Ask4More.
The Everyday Sexism Project started in the United Kingdom and has now spread to many other countries. It catalogues instances of sexism faced by women in every single country on the planet on a daily basis. The website aims to promote gender equality by demonstrating that those who say women have already achieved justice are wrong.
Women can write very short accounts of the discrimination they face and these can be quickly uploaded.
In Tunisia, a revolution began in 2010. Thousands of Tunisian women demonstrated in the streets, with activists using blogs, twitter, Facebook and YoutTube to spread their messages and to keep in touch. Lina Ben Mhenni wrote about events in her blog www.atunisiangirl.blogspot.com.
In Turkey, thousands of women took part in a twitter campaign to criticise men who invaded their space by spreading their legs while sitting on buses. So many messages with Turkish hashtags appeared on Twitter that the campaign trended globally.
But, for all that the Internet and social media have facilitated the spread of ideas about discrimination against women, there is also a very ugly side to the new technology. Women who speak out in social media are often subjected to rape and death threats, and vicious abuse. The authors of such comments are overwhelmingly male and many are so cowardly that they hide behind pseudonyms.
When a journalist rang and asked how I felt about my home address being published on the Internet, it was the first I knew that male activists had circulated details about me online.
The reason they did this was because I speak out in the media about domestic violence, rape, pay equity for women and our shameful demonising of mothers on benefits.
When I write about such issues in the New Zealand Herald, the Herald frequently has to shut down comments and remind those commenting that their responses should be fit for publication.
English feminist Caroline Criado-Perez received multiple rape threats and daily abuse for advocating that Jane Austen’s picture should be on a banknote (the pictures on the other three notes are men).
That’s right: some men thought it was acceptable and appropriate to threaten a woman with rape and death because she had suggested that 25% of British banknotes should bear a woman’s picture.
The rise of the Internet has also seen the emergence of revenge porn, online bullying of women and cyber stalking.
Women are often advised to guard against such harassment by keeping their online pages private, or by removing themselves from social media if they are targeted.
This is exactly the same approach as telling women to guard against rape by not going out alone after dark.
It places responsibility for the sexual assault or harassing behaviour on the women. That is wrong.
These are not women’s issues: they are men’s issues. Men are the majority of the perpetrators and it is time all men spoke out and joined in efforts to stop this abuse.
Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and journalist.
*For example, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11440602.