Anonymity and Sexism on the Internet
Anonymity gives people the gall to do and say what they would never think of doing if it had their real face and name attached to it. I suppose I am as guilty as many; I usually avoid frontal head shots in profile pictures or using my very distinctive surname. I like to use this anonymity to say things that I do not have the courage to say, or to say the things that I feel I have no real audience for. After all, no one in my Jewish family really wants to hear any negative thoughts about Palestine, do they? More importantly, anonymity allows me to act the way I wish, instead of how I think that others expect me to act. I am free to share my same-sex relationships here, away from people that know me, because of the judgment that I fear will follow me in my professional pursuits.
This anonymity has allowed me to grow as a person. I can be who I feel like I need to be, and say what I want to say without a fear of consequence. I can stand up for what I believe and what I think and not be just another cog in the machine. I have taken this opportunity to be anonymous with open arms, embraced it, and turned it into a marvelous experience of self-awakening and growth.
However, I increasingly find that this use of anonymity is fairly rare on the internet. In my public face-to-face feminist protests and meetings, very little negativity is said to my face. Most people have tact so instilled in them that they will not say something sexist to a very vocal feminist’s face. I am increasingly aware that this does not mean that they do not hold their misogyny very close to their hearts, and perhaps talk about that “bitch of a cunt at that Vagina Monologues table on Senior Lawn” to their friends. Most of all, I am very aware that if given the opportunity of anonymity, the expression of their patriarchy socialization knows no tact.
Anonymous message board postings have ruined my chance at an elected position in our large campus Democratic organization by references to my “feminazi adherence to Hillary Clinton” and the worry that I will “vote with my vagina” in university matters as well.
Myspace bulletins helped drive a high school classmate of mine to a suicide attempt when it was leaked that she was about to prosecute a high school teacher, the coach of the nationally placed soccer team, for sexual assault. Messages like “whore”, and “stupid slut, ruining an the life of an important part of our community” were commonplace. The case was dropped, the man who tried to rape an ex-student after plying her with alcohol goes free, and the combination of the injustice, betrayal, and shame land someone I brushed elbows with in Pre-Calculus in the hospital with charcoal and aspirin being bumped out of her stomach.
A political forum I frequent claims that I “give feminists a bad name”, urges that I “lighten up and remove that stick from your vagina”, or that I should “listen up you cunt”. JAP (Jewish American Princess), slut, attention whore, feminazi, Daddy’s girl are common slurs and double as argumentative tactics. A large group of seemingly liberal and educated politically-minded people find no fault with attacking a woman for daring to be a feminist in a public space, for having the gall to accuse them and their society of misogyny.
These are only my personal experiences. I do not doubt that most of you have had similar, and perhaps even more serious instances of shaming, assault, insult, harassment, and sabotage by expressing your adherence to women’s issues, by not having a penis, or any combination of the above. Once respectable communication outlets and blogs like DailyKos are overrun with bigots and trolls that harass female bloggers. TIME magazine mocks the feminist movement. The lowest of the low, 4chan.org’s random image board (very NSFW), is populated by anonymous users that share rape porn, inform women “[show us your] tits, [or] get the fuck out”, and circulate pictures of underage girls with cries to “stick it in her pooper”!
Meanwhile, new studies are showing that sexist jokes, the very kind of low-brow excuse that sexist pigs use when called out on their bigotry, foster discrimination towards women and higher toleration of sexism. Our days are littered with the corpses of thousands objectified and mocked women, and still it seems that nobody seems to grasp that there is some sort of negative consequence for the defense of the patriarchy that masks itself in humor and anonymity.
We have known for a long time that the streets are not safe for women. Public forums do not welcome those that do not adhere to their feminine socialization and titter appealingly at sexist slurs and demeaning groping. Even in our own homes, we are not safe. Not only are women at risk of being assaulted by their brothers, fathers, and husbands, they are verbally assaulted every day under the excuse of the First Amendment and humor and enabled by anonymity in chatrooms, by email, and in social websites.
The internet has allowed me to be who I truly am. However, the internet has also allowed many others the same opportunity, and it seems that they truly are sexist pigs.