« According to the current logic of online misogyny, a woman's right to self-expression is less important by far than a man's right to punish her for that self-expression. » Laurie Penny, Cybersexism
We are feminists. We share our ideas on the web. And we are connected by the experience of omnipresent online misogyny: on social media, in our public lives, and in our private lives.
When we express ourselves online, especially to criticize the many facets of violence endured by women, the backlash almost always comes with several insults and threats: "Cunt", "Slut", "Fat bitch", "Feminazi", "Idiot", "I'd cum all over your face", "I will cock-slap you until you shut up", "You need to be gang raped", "You should not have the right to reproduce", "If I was your husband, you'd shut that pretty mouth of yours".
This is just a small sample of routine online misogyny. These threats and insults testify to everyday sexism, anti-feminism; even an aversion to women so widespread over the Internet that it's considered common.
Cybersexism is all over the place in online conversations. It's on social media threads and on blogs, everywhere where women occupy digital public space. It takes many forms, such as patronizing paternalism, infantilization, mansplaining, surveillance, personal attacks, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, public leaking of personal information, attacks on women's physical well-being, rape and death threats, etc. This misogynistic violence takes a particularly perceptible and disgusting angle when it is added on to racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, transphobia or lesbophobia.
Those vile comments are always meant to shame and frighten women in order to keep them out of the public conversation and engaged online, to silence them or reduce them to cultural prejudices and gender stereotypes.
This language is not new: sexism was there before computers. Computers simply offer new technical possibilities to express hatred for women and hashtags, websites, blogs, Facebook pages and events offer new avenues to unify this hate and spread sexism. The anonymity of the internet also helps spread misogynistic messages.
Current solutions are few.
Answering constant sexist comments is exhausting and most misogynists will immediately consider any reply as the expression of a crazy hysterical woman.
Delete their comments? There will always be someone out there ready to wave the censorship argument. As if freedom of speech includes the freedom to threaten and insult... Register a complaint? Even if a threat is visible, a threat from the web will always be treated less seriously. Too many people dismiss these threats as if cybersexism is a normal and socially permissible part of life, as if reacting to and resisting these threats and insults would be the worst thing to do: "Ignore them", "It will make you stronger", "It's just a joke", "They're jealous of your popularity". The very real violence experienced by women online is therefore trivialized and the bully is vindicated.
We deplore this toxic situation and demand respect for all female expression. The web and social media are hostile to women -- especially when feminist ideas are expressed. However, this hostility is getting more and more pervasive, and forcing us to back off is limiting. We believe that a collective discussion should take place to make the web a safer place for everyone.
Also, it appears to us that editorial boards on all online media platforms have a key role to play in the fight against cybersexism. We implore them today to support us and we highlight their social responsibility to create a respectful environment in which to debate all issues. We respectfully suggest the adoption of editorial policies concerning published content and efficient moderating practices, encouraging a healthy discussion between collaborators and readers. Cyber-violence is a serious phenomenon, and when combined with sexism, it harms editorial diversity.
The Canadian Criminal Code contains laws concerning hate speech based on race, ethnic origins, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, but none about gender discrimination. Tools to fight against sexist hate propaganda are lacking, and particularly restrictive and too wide-ranging with regards to online hate speech. It is about time that we were given the legal tools to defend ourselves with new, expanded legislation.
Misogynistic violence, bullying and sexism online should be treated with the same seriousness we treat any other hate speech. Right now that's certainly not the case and we need to change this. Together, we can stop cybersexism.
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This text is co-signed by: Ericka Alneus; Dalila Awada; Isabelle Baez; Magenta Baribeau; Marie-Andrée Bergeron; Mélissa Blais; Marie-Anne Casselot; Léa Clermont-Dion; Alexa Conradi, Marielle Couture; Sissi de la Côte; Martine Delvaux; Elise Desaulniers; Toula Drimonis; Emilie E. Joly; Catherine Gendreau; Véronique Grenier; Roxanne Guérin; Marilyse Hamelin; Johanne Heppell; Marie-Christine Lemieux-Couture; Sarah Labarre; Sophie Labelle; Aurélie Lanctôt; Widia Larivière; Valérie Lefebvre-Faucher; Judith Lussier; Ikram Mecheri; Rim Mohsen; Isabelle N. Miron; Mélodie Nelson; Emilie Nicolas; Françoise Pelletier; Geneviève Pettersen; Elizabeth Plank; Marianne Prairie; Sandrine Ricci; Caroline Roy Blais; Annelyne Roussel; Tanya St-Jean; Carolane Stratis; Josiane Stratis; Kharoll-Ann Souffrant; Emmanuelle Walter; Cathy Wong; Lora Zepam; Assignée garçon; Feminada; Françoise Stéréo; Je suis féministe; Je suis indestructible; La semaine rose; Mauvaise Herbe; Mots dits (Journal Mobiles)
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Follow Élise Desaulniers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/edesaulniers