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Abuse aimed at women on the net - what do you think?

(98 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 25-Jan-13 10:54:59

This week, we're calling for your thoughts on women, the internet and cyberbullying. It's been a hot topic this week, with historian Mary Beard documenting the online abuse that she's experienced - abuse she calls "truly vile" and which is "meant to hurt and wound".

Jane Fae in the New Statesman says the attacks on Beard are motivated by "misogyny, intimidation and silencing"; over at the Telegraph Christina Odone reckons Mary should stick to lecturing undergrads if she doesn't have the stomach for it.  The columnist Suzanne Moore spoke eloquently at BlogFest '12 about her own experiences, while Mumsnet blogger WeekWoman suggested the hashtag #silentnomore, to encourage others to share their stories and stand up against the bullies - thread here for more info.

So what do you think? Are women being silenced - or is online abuse simply something that people with a high online profile - male and female - have to face? And what, if anything, can be done?  Post your URLs here if you blog about this - or if you don't (yet wink) have a blog, let us know what you think here on the thread.

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 11:25:45

Really, the only way people might be a little more circumspect in their online postings on forums is if they know they can be named and shamed.

I think I recall correctly, though, something about the vicious cyberbullying of a teenage girl where one perpetrator who was named turned out to be a 47 year old married father- and how seriously his outrage at having his anonymity breached was taken by quite a few people. I think it was in Canada?

People simply wouldn't post stuff if they knew they could be identified. You only need to read the bile on other forums to see what people think they can get away with and compare it with the generally polite and tolerant behaviours one sees in face to face interactions to recognise its that cloak of anonymity which 'permits' such poor online behaviour.

I think also that 'PC' has a lot to answer for. It drives genuine, honest debate about real, difficult issues 'underground'

In this instance, I do feel women are being silenced because by and large, the vitriol aimed at them is so personal, often they, not their opinions, are attacked. I am not surprised a Telegraph writer is taking the stand she is: she's writing for a paper, 'The Daily Mail for people with 'O' levels' grin which is a mouthpiece for a political belief system that thinks women's place is in the home, supporting hubby, unless that women has 'balls' like Mrs Thatcher, and behaves like a Bullingdon Club member.

We still, even in 2013, haven't reached a level of grown-up maturity that can recognise the important, nay necessary place women's voices need to have in modern debate. The 500 years of men-in-charge hasn't actually turned out to be an overweening success, has it?

Flickstix Fri 25-Jan-13 11:32:51

Oh the irony of mumsnet standing against the cyber bullying of women, have you visited AIBU recently?

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 12:09:57

Flick- thing is, when one posts on AIBU, we all know we have to be ready to defend our stance- and afaik, no one calls each other a stupid, fat f***ing c* or the like, do they? People might strongly challenge views, which I think is acceptable; what they don't do is necessarily attack the writer personally. Yes, sometimes well-known posters write something in one Topic and are 'brought to task' because they have contradicted themselves, or even maybe lied according to something they've chosen to put in another Topic, but which someone has read as well.

I must say what I see on MN isn't really what I'd call 'cyberbullying' and 'not being nice' isn't quite the same! I actually think that by and large, MN is intellingently well moderated.

I also ask questions on DIYnot, a site as you might imagine that is dedicated to DIY matters. It is almost compulsory to receive at least one post back telling you how fekken stupid you are for not knowing what size RSJ needs to be used etc. I ignore these because usually another poster reminds that twat that I wouldn't be asking if I knew, would I? .

TheFallenNinja Fri 25-Jan-13 12:14:23

Consider expressing a strong view, maybe not a popular one and almost instantly be called names, jeered, booed and accused of all sorts of nonsense. Consider this in an environment where it goes pretty much unchecked,day after day after day.

Consider that tittle tattling and twisting of words and meanings is broadly carried out with no consequence.

I give you, the House of Commons.

This is the example.

Flickstix Fri 25-Jan-13 12:14:55

I have seen downright bullying on mumsnet, women being called cunts, 'stupid woman', thick and backwards are names that spring to mind, and this is for voicing opinions. Don't get me wrong I think MN is fantastic and I do realise that AIBU is only a tiny area of the website, but my point is people in general appear to behave horribly towards one another under the guise of internet anonymity and even MN is not immune.

torychicetc Fri 25-Jan-13 12:38:25

Yes we need to keep our excesses in check. Mumsnet could never be a pub bar. It needs emphasising that we are not totally anonymous.And need to take that into account

NormaStanleyFletcher Fri 25-Jan-13 12:45:52

I think the important thing here is the nature of the attacks.

I have not yet seen reports of attacks on men threatening violence of a sexual nature (rape, give a good seeing to etc.)

I have not yet seen reports of attacks on men centring on their genitalia or whether they shave, or their sexuality, or the state of their leg hair, or whether they conform to the expectations of society’s view of their gender.

The attacks on women (that I have heard about) do seem to do this. Their sexuality, ‘personal grooming’ and ugliness is commented on or questioned. They are threatened with rape or other violence (“I will make you choose which of your children I will kill” is one I heard about).

Does this happen to men? Are they questioned about how much hair they have on their genitalia or their legs? The size of their penis?

That is the difference to me.

NormaStanleyFletcher Fri 25-Jan-13 12:49:08

And that Christina Odone thing where she says that if you are a woman you should basically suck it up or get out of the public eye is so depressing.

I DO NOT agree that women should just have to take this "because it is the way it is". We should challenge the "way it is".

Startail Fri 25-Jan-13 12:51:19

She's an adult, she can answer back or press the delete key.
Words off someone you've never met and are never going to meet are just that words. There are already laws about hate mail and inciting violence, racism and homophobia that can be adjusted.

It's totally different to cyberbullying in schools or amongst adults who know each other in real life, which clearly has to be tackled before it does real harm.

I think internet nastiness and stupid appearance based comments are something all women in public life have to learn to ignore.

But also and it's a huge BUT, we as women need to learn not to join in.

No way are our DPs, DHs and most importantly our DSs going to stop, until women stop judging other women too!

If we judge women purely on their weight or clothes in front of our sons and daughters, we have only ourselves to blame if they repeat the pattern.

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 12:52:36

“I will make you choose which of your children I will kill” shock but not surprise. See I think that poster should confidently expect the Police to knock on his door and for his caution to appear in the local papers.

I mean, if McAlpine can be allowed to find out his Twitter accusers in order to sue them, ordinary people should be allowed easily to find out the names and addresses (via the Police) in order to prosecute threats like that. I'd never type anything online I wouldn't accept being directly attributable to me.

FloatyBeatie Fri 25-Jan-13 12:53:26

Agree, Norma. It is the specifically sexual nature of the insults and the threats (as well as the extremity of these) that make women a target of especial verbal violence.

And the worst thing is that it matches the historic use of sexual intimidation to keep women quiet and to keep them out of physical real-life spaces. Think of the epidemic sexual attacks on women in Egypt at the moment, which is conceived of by men as punishing them for being on the street and/or being politically vocal. And the horrendous punishment rape in Libya during the "Spring" there (I'm sure there were many such, but one in particular had a lot of publicity.

I think it would be right to say that we have all faced low-level (or high-level) sexual intimidation in real-life spaces that was explicitly aimed to make us be quiet, butt out, etc? And online threats are disturbing because they remind us of that and tell us that even when we stay at home we haven't butted far enough out.

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 12:54:21

Startail you do have a point but it's very hard when everything about the female race is judged on appearance and whilst men continue to hold the purse and political strings, the culture of objectifying women will continue and women will, in order to 'get ahead', denigrate other women.

NormaStanleyFletcher Fri 25-Jan-13 12:57:18

I think internet nastiness and stupid appearance based comments are something all women in public life have to learn to ignore

WHY.

Why should WOMEN have to put up with this when men do not?

Show me where that happens to men (the stuff I mentioned in the post upthread)?

How can it not be a problem that women are treated in this way? Because we have the vote? <<that's all you need to make you equal dear - pat on head>>

NormaStanleyFletcher Fri 25-Jan-13 13:01:49

It also reminds me of something I heard on the radio about the under-representation of women as broadcasted experts on R4. It was a quote from a woman who was an expert, but did not put herself forward for those shows where they need a couple of experts (to disagree with each other).

She said "why would I expose myself to that"

Who could blame her?

But this means my children are growing up seeing mainly male 'experts' and talking heads on television. WHat message does that send? That men know stuff and women dont?

FloatyBeatie Fri 25-Jan-13 13:04:48

I do feel torn, though, about how far it is appropriate to treat specifically misogynistic verbal violence against women online as a separate problem from the larger issue of the very poor state of online conversation generally. To an extent it is a separate issue, but the other ways in which people are silenced and hounded online are pervasive and very damaging. I'm thinking of the whole Suzanne Moore thing, and the ways in which, in some conversational contexts, anything other than a rehearsal of orthodoxy is treated to powerful cold-shouldering and orchestrated attack. Very obstructive, very silencing.

HardlyEverHoovers Fri 25-Jan-13 13:14:34

Erebus, just for the record I was recently called names very similar to the ones you mentioned on AIBU. The post was removed. Luckily I'm thick skinned, but it did make me reflect on the dangers of online anonymity and I wondered if that same person would have used that language if we had been sat talking in a cafe...probably not!

GirlOutNumbered Fri 25-Jan-13 13:16:41

I have never really experienced any form of online harassment or been aware of any until coming on mumsnet. The way some women talk to other women is shocking, just because they have differing opinions.

I have absolutely no doubt that these women would not say these things if they were in RL.

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 13:20:09

No they wouldn't use that language BUT the thing is, the post was removed because MN doesn't tolerate it. But it would be good if that poster couldn't then just name change and come straight back on.

I readily see that there's a problem with shelving anonymity, in particular in our current climate where there was serious discussion by our government of recording and monitoring all email, texts and phone conversations 'to stop terrorism'- it would mean that legitimate protest could be silenced easily, but I do think that given certain grounds, forum providers should be forced to divulge the details of vile posters to the police, and be made to do so easily and without fuss if a certain standard has been legally met for forcing them to do so.

StoicButStressed Fri 25-Jan-13 13:26:51

I have to be vereee careful here as do not want to out myself (reason I love MN is CAN discuss very personal issues, ESP re DC's, and I have done so in other posts), but I just CAN'T not respond to this with a personal experience (but forgive me if it's a tad oblique).

Amongst other things (Mama being the primary onesmile), I am a TV Presenter. In 20XY I had a primetime series on one of the 4 main terrestrial channels regarding the subject matter in which I am 'expert factual talent' (their lingo, not mine so no flaming please as am just trying to offer an experience here). Production company of said series had (as is very usual) screen-tested umpteen presenters for show. This included a male who has his own site (as do most/many other presenters/TV 'talents', including me). When series aired, he actually (& I still cannot get over the utter insecurity of this) posted comment on his own site along lines of 'who is better? Stoic or me'?

I was SLAUGHTERED. And NOT for my professional expertise/presenting skills/knowledge or ANYTHING like that... but comments around my appearance, my size, my pretty much everything. And LOTS of those comments WERE, unquestionably, ones that would NOT have been addressed to a blokesad. Probably the saddest thing was that this particular bloke - having STARTED thread - subsequently jumped in with a "well, I wasn't going to say anything, but since YOU all have, (insert vitriol of your choice here, as you prob won't be far off what he said!)..."

What a tragic wanker. And yep, def misogyny both from him and from some of his 'fans'...INCLUDING women. Depressing huh?

[Incidentally, the show was in top 10 ratings every week, so unquestionablly it was NOT about me/the series/the outcomes etc, it was SOLEY about me getting it over him; his not liking that; then a shedload of very, very, personal abuseangry]

There are some hideous comments on the Daily Mail website, a fair few are from women, but there are a large number of men who have serious problems with women. If you are ordinary/plain/slightly overweight/overweight or thin, then you can expect nasty comments about your appearance. If you are beautiful or pretty then you may get less nasty comments about your appearance, but you get lots of men posting what they'd like to do to you. The Daily Mail has articles slating working mothers, SAHMs, mothers on benefits, single mothers, blaming the riots on mothers..... No tabloid is perfect, but the DM, IMO, is one of the worst offenders. Their articles inspire anti-women, hateful comments.

I have seen some horrible comments on MN, heaven forbid if you are over a size 12, or wearing the wrong clothes, but thankfully for the most part MNers are a lovely bunch, or I wouldn't use this site.

tiktok Fri 25-Jan-13 13:45:19

Sometimes, the women on here can be nasty (and they may not all be women - we have no certainty of anyone's real ID on here and the occasional outing of a male pretending to be female for his own reasons is likely to touch the surface only).

But the self-policing on here is good - it is lightly moderated only, which is as most people want. Nastiness and poison is rare and quickly dealt with.

More often, someone posts something silly and tactless that presses someone's buttons, and that's the worst of it.

The very worst of the nastiness here is nothing compared to other stuff I have seen on line ( the sort MB reported) and there is some horrible stuff which anyone can read on mainstream sites.

MmeLindor Fri 25-Jan-13 14:02:37

Comparing AIBU threads with the sustained campaign of abuse towards women in the media is ridiculous.

For one thing, MNHQ is pretty quick at deleting personal attacks, particularly any really nasty ones. And there generally aren't vile filled comments of a sexual nature, which is common place on the forum that Mary wrote about.

We should not minimise it by saying she shouldn't read it, or care if they comment on her appearance.

The photoshopped a vulva onto her face.

If you want to know more about the website, read Cath Elliot and the links to other women who have also been abused online

Please don't tell me that it is unreasonable to not want to read comments like that about yourself online? And yes, it is silencing.

I thought about writing about the Suzanne Moore Twitterstorm recently, but didn't because I was wary of the responses.

I think there are two distinct areas of concern:

1. Misogynistic comments not being taken as seriously as eg racist or homophobic comments

2. The level of abuse online

I have blogged about online abuse, and education of our children - Our kids are the first Social Media Generation, using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr... and whatever comes next.

For all those parents who dismiss Twitter as being ridiculous, or who don't understand why people want to share their lives with strangers on FB -- do you actually KNOW what your kids are posting online? And what the long-term implications for your child could be?

SonOfAradia Fri 25-Jan-13 14:47:17

Interesting Ms Blog article about online abuse of women

Written by a male blogger, with interesting advice about supporting female bloggers who come under attack.

Erebus Fri 25-Jan-13 15:18:32

Blimey, stoic- yes, what a wanker indeed! I imagine your line of work would also attract a certain sort of person who behaved like that more than in some other areas of employment, too.

It is also very true that, as with siding with the school bully in order not to become the next victim, women do join in in personal abuse against other women. If we 'stand up' to be counted we're called lesbians as a term of abuse. Or dykes. Or worse.

Q..." but there are a large number of men who have serious problems with women. If you are ordinary/plain/slightly overweight/overweight or thin, then you can expect nasty comments about your appearance. If you are beautiful or pretty then you may get less nasty comments about your appearance, but you get lots of men posting what they'd like to do to you."- and the most ridiculous thing is the vast majority of such posters will be sitting, fat, unwashed and unshaven in their Y fronts, crouched over their PC in their mum's spare room, aged 47!

I do wonder how things might change if every time you were about to hit 'send' or 'post' a 'yes/no' message would appear, saying 'Would you like your wife/mum/children to read what you've just written?'

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