IWD #3 | Being a woman online

March 12, 2018

The internet is a great tool for us. We have knowledge at our fingertips, everything and anything are accessible to us. Unfortunately, that means everything, good and bad.

If you were born in the last 20 years, you’re part of the ‘internet generation’. A generation of people who have not just had to deal with the restrictions of the patriarchy in real life, but the same restrictions have trickled over into the realm of the world wide web.

Last year, a study found that 37% of young women aged 18-24 have experienced online abuse. Most of this abuse is of a very disturbing nature.

I wanted to speak to women from varying backgrounds, who had experienced this abuse, women who were comfortable sharing their personal stories and how they think online harassment can be tackled.

I spoke to Georgia from Hello Georgia, a 21-year-old university student who runs her own online social media and marketing business. I also heard from Lizzie, an online gamer & Sabriel, a student/mental health blogger.

The women I heard from had different experiences and it was no surprise to discover that not all of the heat came from men.

First and foremost, do you think women face problems online?

Georgia: I believe women do face problems online, yes. Especially when voicing their own opinions. Recently, I saw the scholar and classicist Mary Beard facing backlash for discussing her own views and it was just disgusting seeing the comments users (read: mostly men) were leaving.

I think also women face this issue of feeling ‘safe’ online (and even offline) such as when internet dating (something I use myself) comes into play and there’s a whole world of people out there who you can instantly connect with and we’re always told to ‘be careful’ and that can sometimes be infuriating especially when someone wouldn’t think two seconds about saying that to a man!
Sabriel: I think women do face problems online but more on social media sites, a lot of what gets thrown at women is done in order to troll, to get a reaction more than anything deeper like proper hatred for women. I’ve seen accounts that do that and they do it to both genders but will target the ones who react the most.
Lizzie: I would definitely say women have problems thrown at them while being online. My father always taught me and my brother to watch what we post online for this very reason. This is one of the things that makes me angriest as a feminist myself. I’ve seen women face sexual harassment online along with being bullied or ridiculed because of what they believe or what they say.

What have been your experiences online?

Georgia: I’ve had mixed experiences online. I’ve been writing blogs from a young age and I always got praise from fellow bloggers.

However, as soon as I began to mention my feminist views, once I got trolled by someone who told me to “Get back in the kitchen and make [them] a sandwich” which as a 17-year-old girl was an unpleasant experience and I was put off Twitter for a little while.
That being said, I do feel very safe online and feel secure to express my own opinion and I feel there is a great community, especially on Instagram. It’s just a bit of fun!
Sabriel: I’ve had a couple of experiences which really stick out to me. In one example, one girl on Twitter took offense to the most insane thing, after realizing I wasn’t a fan of her music idol she went, batshit crazy is the best term to describe her. I had weeks of constant abuse in my mentions. I found out that there were people trying to find out where I lived and what my phone number was. I deleted my account.
That’s not to say I haven’t had issues with men. When I first started on Twitter I had a picture of myself up and I’d get random messages from men of a sexual nature. But they were occasional and easily ignored/blocked. Of course, all of this is just my personal opinion and experiences. But as I said before, the most cutting and deeply hitting abuse I’ve received has always been from other women, and it’s usually been related to an opinion.
Lizzie: I’ve had a lot of positive interactions with people, though I’ve had a lot of negative interactions as well. I’ve been bullied several times and even cat-called because of my breast size.

In all forms of online platforms, be it gaming or social media, abuse in a variety of forms are thrown at women. Why Do you think women are targeted?

Georgia: There’s always been this underlying rule in our society, that women must be ‘silent’ and they can’t speak up about their abuse and I think that’s why women, in particular, are targeted because their abusers know that they probably might not end up saying or doing anything about it.

Particularly in the gaming community (although I know very little about it), it can often be seen as a very ‘male-dominated’ group and when a woman enters that world, they either perhaps feel threatened or like they ‘don’t belong’? So they cease to lash abuse and comment on them. There’s also the whole issue of sexualisation and objectification which would be a whole other rant/story (call it what you will!). 
Sabriel: This might be an unpopular opinion but I sometimes think women are targeted because they generally react more than men do. I think men tend to either ignore it, block them or just insult them back and move on.
Lizzie: Personally, I think women are being targeted because we’re women. I’ve seen men think that we are the “fairer” sex and shouldn’t be seen as gamers because of it. They think we aren’t as good a gamer as they are so that’s where the abuse starts. Plus, we’re judged for how we look.

How can online abuse be combatted?

Georgia: Talking about abuse can be a way to combat it, which is why I applaud the movements like ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘Me Too’. Although these weren’t strictly speaking about ‘online abuse’ the way that people were able to openly share their stories and get that off their chest, and also feel like their not alone must be so liberating.

Whether it’s tweeting, writing a blog post, a youtube video, publishing an online article – you name it – having the courage to speak out against abuse can be a great first step to combatting it and then that can spiral into an energetic and massive thing and then people in authority might just take notice!

I also think the bigwigs at Facebook, Twitter and the like can definitely do more combat online abuse on their platforms. Yes, we have things such as being able to report people, but that’s part of the aftermath of abuse and I just think it can be policed much better.


Sabriel: It depends on what’s happening, sometimes muting or blocking is enough. But if they decide to take it further and track down where you live or making accounts purely to troll then reporting it is a must.

Lizzie: I think one of the best things we can do for each other is to band together. We need to put our foot down and prove that we aren’t as “abuse-worthy” as some people think. I think we’re a lot stronger than people give us credit for, personally.

 What would be your advice for young women online?

Georgia: You do you. Honestly, if someone gives you gip, block them and don’t let them ruin your day. It can be disheartening when people abuse you online and throw comments at you and yes, it can often be relentless. Be open about it and don’t be silenced!


Lizzie: My biggest piece of advice, coming from experience, is to not take everything you hear or read to heart. I know that’s really difficult when people are being downright mean but I’ve learned that some of the meaner people want to see the negative reactions we come out with. If we don’t give it to them, they seem to calm down for the time being.




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