Feminists Fight Back Against Online Gender-Based Hate

(This Article Originally Appeared on Lipmag.com) 

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It’s been a long time coming but Facebook has finally put on some big boy panties and got serious when it comes to gender-based hate speech online. In an official blog post released on Wednesday the social networking page announced that ‘it has become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate. In some cases, content is not being removed as quickly as we want.’

This announcement comes after a large campaign by Women, Action, and the Media (WAM) in conjunction with The Everyday Sexism Project , Destroy The Joint, and many other feminist women’s groups for Facebook to provide ‘swift, comprehensive and effective action addressing the representation of rape and domestic violence on Facebook’.

Facebook’s strange and erratic responses to material that is demeaning, damaging and offensive to women have been a problem for feminists on Facebook for some time. It has been common for artistic depictions of women’s bodies and genitalia or images of women breastfeeding to be quickly removed from Facebook like a peanut in a primary school.

Meanwhile, pages and images supporting violence, rape, slut-shaming and objectification of women and girls are allowed to hang around.

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I’ve lost count how many times I have reported the ‘Creepshots’ page, yet it’s still there. These sites are like the zombies; you can kill them but they just keep coming back. They might be mildly sanctioned after pesky feminists like me have a whinge and report them; pages like ‘It’s Not Rape If You Yell Surprise!’ have been prefixed with [Controversial Humour] tags.

What a punishment! Not only are those who create and frequent such pages not being effectively told that these messages are not ok, their views are validated as jokes. Haven’t you heard? Rape is FUNNY, guys!

By remaining silent and inactive on the undeniable issue of the culture of misogyny and sexist trolling online, Facebook unintentionally condones such behaviour. According to WAM’s official open letter to Facebook: ‘Your refusal to address gender-based hate speech marginalizes girls and women, sidelines our experiences and concerns, and contributes to violence against them. Facebook is an enormous social network with more than a billion users around the world, making your site extremely influential in shaping social and cultural norms and behaviours.’

I agree entirely that Facebook has become a major element of a significant portion of the population’s lives. It constitutes a whole new way of socialising. I might never leave the house some weekends, but I don’t feel lonely, disconnected or anti-social because I’m always talking to people, or seeing what they’re doing through Facebook.

Because of this we have got to stop thinking of it in completely different ways to how we think about everyday life offline. The way we construct our identities and perform who we are on Facebook largely mirrors our real life gendered selves. Thus, gender issues, just like those for ethnicity, sexuality and religion, are important and relevant for social media.

Gender-based hate and sexist trolling are issues as real as sexism in the real world, because the internet is increasingly becoming just another part of the real world. Sure, we might act slightly different online. We’re removed. We feel invincible. We can type things that we may not actually say or think in the offline world.

But expressing sexism through supporting or condoning the violent rape of women online is a problem regardless of whether that’s something you would admit to in person. It’s not ok, and hopefully Facebook will now start to convey that message.

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iDentity: Constructing Gender Through Apps and 4G Technology

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As we perform and construct gender through external costume pieces such as clothing, cosmetics and hairstyles etc, I believe we also portray ourselves as gendered through our material possessions. As we progress further into an information-based society our possessions are increasingly virtual, in the form of applications on smart phones for example. Although we see our use of these technologies as personalised, reflecting our individuality, what we begin to see are new discourses and norms around how to perform gender that reflect the stereotypes of the real world.

I am fundamentally interested as to what extent we are projecting ourselves into and through our online presence and use of Internet technologies. There are times when I have been sitting at my computer, or using my iPhone, when I have almost been entirely unconscious of my physical body. I may be interacting with my wider circle of friends in a legitimate and productive way, and yet I am doing this through an artificial and intangible networking system in which my body does not physically exist. In this situation how is my identity constructed? How do my friends make the conceptual leap from merely seeing a collection of symbols on a screen to actually feeling like they are interacting with the person they know to be me? As in all human creations and interactions, gendered meanings inevitably permeate this discourse even if it is disembodied in cyberspace. 

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I have a hunch that, as we progress into the future, you will be able to tell more and more about a person by their use of internet and smart phone technologies, to the extent that eventually someone’s combination of social networking profiles, photo sharing habits and applications will constitute a large portion of their identity. We can already see this happening in the ways people portray themselves online. What is it about a person’s Facebook page that tells us about their gender? They may have chosen male or female in their information, in congruence with their real life sex. There may be photos of their real world self that we can decode as being a particular gender according to their physical appearance, as we would in daily life. Perhaps they like certain pages, links and other profiles that may give an indication of their gender identity. I also think that the way we photo-share reflects our general worldview, which is profoundly influenced by our gender, and therefore works to construct our online image of ourselves through what we believe is worth sharing.

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I was inspired to write this blog because of my recent discovery of just how gendered many Apps are, and the extent to which we have projected aspects of our selves, our lives and our cultures through this new form of technology. There are copious numbers of pregnancy and menstrual cycle tracker apps for women. These often feature lovely pink backgrounds and graphics with cute little pictures. There are also gendered dating apps such as the infamous ‘OkCupid’ and ‘Grindr,’ which largely reproduce stereotypes and discourses of gender and sexuality in the outside world online.

I was simultaneously intrigued and enraged to discover earlier this week that Android are developing an iPad-like tablet “For Women” which features numerous pre-loaded apps (http://jezebel.com/5990404/tablet-for-women-is-like-a-regular-tablet-but-more-fucking-bullshitty?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow). This is fine in the case of iPhones/iPads that come with gender-neutral pre-loaded apps like ‘notes’ or ‘calendar’ or ‘maps,’ however, this device’s pre-loaded apps For Women include things like yoga, recipes, fashion, shopping, pregnancy and weight-loss apps… All stereotypical feminine pursuits clearly implying homogenising value judgements about women. As with my problem in my last blog on gendered toys (https://riseofthefembots.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/the-other-50-per-cent-gender-socialisation-through-toys/) I have no issue with these ‘feminine pursuits’ and anyone who does enjoy these things, however, I just think choice for women is integral. Like Lego, the tablet that was seemingly gender-neutral had to be elaborated on For Women, indicating that the original product was for people (read: not women). As we increasingly construct our gendered identities through our use of technology, the danger with such products is that companies can make broad assumptions about what women want and what it means to be a woman and market them as absolute.

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