Sexism and misogyny online are the reality of the internet and can have an impact beyond irritation and anger to emotional abuse and anxiety disorders. I find misogyny and sexism online o be very similar to what we see in real life, with one notable difference. The women are not physically vulnerable on social media platforms.
This, in my mind opens several interesting possibilities in terms of engaging with the male mindset, being self freely or combating views that are harmful to women in ways that risk of physical abuse can render inadvisable in real life.
It is like walking on a street. The warning signs are there. You hear a catcall, you look elsewhere and pretend not to here till you are past the area. You hear another catcall, you look down, hunch your shoulders, hurry through. The next day it repeats, and you experience that bullying as an anxiety attack, tense in anticipatory anxiety, scampering through and heaving a sigh of relief.
This is not all that different from bullying and psychological abuse. There is an abundance of bullies who feel secure enough in the anonymity and distance provided by the internet to engage in behavior they would not be able to get away with in real life or institutional settings. Covert verbal abuse and bullying of women is common. Extreme cases have led to suicides. Less extreme cases have led to outright insult, panic disorders, police cases and considerable misery. A typical victim may have diminished themselves to a lesser role, blocking some, ignoring others and such.
I have found that it is verbal self defense to deal functionally with online sexual (or other verbal abuse across physical distance) harassment. Sharing some of my learnings. These use a context of Twitter, but will likely work anywhere in a social networking context:
- React early, react hard. There is really no need to wait until you get the rape threat or insult. You find a person less than respectful, hit back. Unlike the real world, there is absolutely no need to develop any ability to get along with someone who is harmful to you. The sooner you respond, the easier it is, because the undesirable behavior does not set up. It is also fine to not like people others find popular.
- Do not block. This must be stressed. The minute you block an offending profile, you lose track of what they are up to. Blocking is for pests, not attacks on you. At least not till you have a fair idea of what they are doing and have decided what you wish to do – more than a couple of interactions with you. Ideally, observing their normal tweets. But if someone is saying such horrible things that you can’t bear to read them, you want those things to vanish, not out of your sight alone. File police complaint. Or organized reporting abuse can also help get the account report bombed into oblivion.
- Do not ask for help. At least not where the person troubling you can see you easily. If you must, use private messages or alternative contacts. Also don’t ask too many people for help. Better to ask one or two really effective ones. Generally, if you start speaking up for yourself, people support you.
- A twitter hashtag helps. For example, certain hashtag #MisogynyAlert to catch whoever is awake and interested in seeing that behavior stopped instantly rather than wait for the specific people you know to land up.
- DO NOT LOSE YOUR COOL. Stay classy. Be entertaining to those following you.
- Engaging honestly helps. No one really has an ambition to be an evil person or the street thug. If you can make them aware of how they behave, that is the end of the battle in many cases.
- Understand that it is not about you. No matter how vile the language, it may be aimed at you, but it is an exhibition of what the speaker is. The more vile it is, the more important it is to not treat it as your reality. Thinking of it as someone inadvertently embarrassing themselves helps. If this is tough and you can’t but help feel angry, read the creep’s timeline for a while, and you are likely to find most of his attacks on vastly different people to use the same abuse – see it as his state of knowledge.
- The above point is doubly important, because if you lose your cool and stand beside the creep trading abuse, you have attacked your dignity worse than the creep ever can.
- Understand that it is the person who is expressing who crafts the message as per their ability to communicate. A person who sees c**ts everywhere is talking about scales he uses to understand people, not you. Your responsibility is to craft your message in a way that honors you.
- Be okay with winning some, losing some. Self flagellation is futile.
- Keep things as public as possible. Avoid private messages. Avoid direct replies. Use mentions.
- Talk sideways. If you are certain that the creep bothering you is not an innocent ignorant (in which case honest dialogue works better), but deliberately harassing you, do not talk to them direct. Use comments and RTs about their tweets instead of replying to them.
- Be wary about creeps bearing religion (or politics, ethnicity, country, caste, etc). It is like religious extremists. Inoffensive adherents of the religion serve as the live shield. Your insults will insult religion and add to their claims of victimhood. If-then statements work brilliantly in such times. For example: IF your God needs protecting by killing people who don’t believe him, THEN your God is malicious. This is best avoided till you have considerable experience defusing anger as well.
- Do not get humiliated. Feel free to engage in ridicule wars, but understand that the war is one of credibility. If you are not acting admirable, it will look immature bickering at best or may even backfire in worst case scenarios.
I will write a separate post with examples of strategies for different situations soon. May add to this one if something occurs to me. If you find these ideas useful, check back once in a while.