Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Fanning the flames of the new sexism

Somehow, the election of Barack Obama allowed all the racists to crawl out from under their rocks and expose their blatant bigotry. I’m not sure why opinions that in my youth would have been repressed as shameful, are somehow now acceptable in the light of day. The resurgence seems to be promoted by the anonymity of social media, its ability to unite people with unpopular opinions, and to pile on in twitter storms with hashtags.   This appears to have risen just as we have loosened community social norms and personal expectations, as people become more isolated from real life interactions.

Similarly, we seem to be under a rebirth of sexism,  with a vile new internet component. This has exposed a scary undercurrent of angry men and made our advances as women seem far more vulnerable than they felt 10-15 years ago..

Three on line articles that I saw today make this point.

Item 1: 
A female comedian posts a comment on Twitter about guns, and is subject to vigorous disagreement by men. Disturbingly, this degenerates into threats of rape and sexual violence, and internet stalkers spread the threats to friends and colleagues.
What’s upsetting is that so many men took that statement as a springboard to making me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. And they felt fine doing this because I’m a woman. Two male friends of mine with much larger followings had tweeted similar jokes and didn’t see a fraction of the hateful responses that I did. And I’m sure they saw none of the same threats.

This isn’t the first time that a woman has been harassed online. It’s definitely not the last time, either. That’s really the problem. This is one small instance in an unending series of events. We need to stop accepting this behavior as an unavoidable consequence to writing on the Internet. Harassment doesn’t need to be just the cost of doing business.

My point is for men: Stop doing this. The only thing gained from you saying disgusting, aggressive, sexual, violent, and threatening things on the internet is that we now know that you’re part of the problem.
This woman’s experience is a dishearteningly common. See, for example, “Gamer Gate”,  in which some male video gamers are angry that women and gays are part of the community and changing the sorts of games it produces, and reacting violently and angrily against inclusive gaming. It is deeply disturbing and ongoing online harassment including techniques such as “doxing” (publishing personal information online) and “Swatting” (telling the police there’s a shooter at your address) which are hugely frightening.

It is only a small step from this to

Item 2 
Apparently, there’s a figure named “Roosh” who advocates for legal rape of women, and is trying to arrange world wide gatherings in major cities of men who agree. These are men who assume that a woman’s body belongs to them by virtue of their sex. Roosh is part of the internet “manosphere”, the sort of online misogynists who inspired shooter Elliot Rodgers who complained he couldn’t get a girlfriend.  Rodgers went on a violent stabbing and shooting spree targeting women at the university of California, Santa Barbara, and killed six people.

This objectification, although contributes to the less scary but still disturbing

Item 3 
Seems that Susan Sarandon showed some cleavage in her dress for the recent SAG awards. Whereas this and more is apparently acceptable for the young things, the fact that Sarandon is 69 brought out ridicule and body-shaming.
To be clear, Susan Sarandon is a grown-ass woman who can wear what she wants. The suit was tailored, the bra was barely visible, and her breasts were only a “distraction” to those who would make them a focal point of conversation in the first place. You don’t want to be distracted by a woman’s breasts? Here’s a thought – LOOK AT HER FACE WHEN SHE’S TALKING. THAT’S WHERE THE WORDS ARE COMING FROM.
Another commenter writes,
it’s strikingly awful that Sarandon alone was the target of the social media bigots.

Sarandon is 69 and therefore it’s apparently not OK for her to remind us all that she’s still a living, breathing, sexual being.
Just saying, I thought she looked great.

Again, it seems to me that somehow the internet has empowered people (men, mostly) to express opinions that social pressure would normally?  at least, previously,  repress. And the speed of reaction and ability to connect across distance magnifies this.  

Indeed, we see violent reactions to political disagreements or other counter opinions on line, many of which are overtly sexual in their threats (to both men and women).  What is it about those who are angry and threatened that makes them think of sex as a weapon?

So instead of making steady progress toward a rational, equality driven future, we seem to be regressing into a violent, tribal past where the biggest man bangs his chest, and drags the woman away by her hair.


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