The gendered implications of online harassment

Women often subjected to anonymous persecution on social media platforms

Although online harassment is rarely discussed or recognized as a gendered issue, recent experiences on the Mount Allison campus tell another story. Last weekend, I watched Grease for the first time while home during the break. As a film generally considered a touchstone of the pop-culture canon, I was incredibly disappointed but not surprised that the 1970s classic fit within the heteronormative, sexist trope of “Guy likes girl. Girl likes guy. Girl changes everything about herself to please guy.” Like many a millennial women before me, I took to Twitter to sarcastically express my displeasure, discussing Danny Zuko’s mediocrity and satirically tweeting: “Ladies: men are generally terrible and not worth compromising an ounce of yourself for.” I went to bed with “Summer Lovin’” stuck in my head and moved on. However, when I woke up the next morning a fellow student I had never talked to or interacted with had retweeted it followed by subsequent accusations of sexism and assertions that I was not a true feminist. I replied, acknowledging that it was a satirical tweet about Grease, that I found it strange he only engages with feminism to “correct” random women on the internet, and invited him to talk to me in person. A friend then alerted me that he and some of his friends were insulting me via Yik Yak. I begrudgingly went on the anonymous app only to find that a group of men were posting my name and twitter handle, calling me a “dumb bitch,” equating my “extreme” feminism to ISIS, and threatening to get me fired from an on-campus position.

I was incredibly angered and upset that a group of men I have never interacted with felt entitled to slander my personality anonymously. When I confronted one of these men the next day about online harassment and my desire to be talked with in person, he replied, “I would talk to you, but you’d probably accuse me of sexual assault.” These comments would be inappropriate on any day, but were particularly offensive in light of the Jian Ghomeshi trial verdict, in which the presiding judge insinuated that false sexual assault accusations are commonplace. While I have never let the opinion of random men define me and have received an incredible amount of support, I am angered that a student community that prides itself on critical engagement also seems consistently ready to join a witch hunt.

This is not an isolated incident, and it is one I am sure many women on this campus can identify with. It fits within a wider societal framework in which men at various stages in our lives have thought it appropriate to catcall us while walking home alone, devalue our thoughts and speak over us in class, and police our bodies and minds. This “dumb bitch” will not be quiet about an attempted defamation of my character, nor will I accept that we should treat online harassment as an inevitable reality.

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