What’s This Internet Contraption Doing to Women?
I don’t necessarily think that the hatred men have for women has either increased or decreased over the years. What appears to be the case (and one could say this holds for every aspect of societal evolution over long periods of time) is that how the hate manifests can appear to intensify. The hate levels and proportion of infected hater population can stay the same, but the manifestations of the hate can appear to escalate in horrificity. With globalization and improvement in modes of communication and information sharing, there has definitely been a change in the spread of hatred towards women.
A handful of years ago, whilst living in rural China, a local teacher explained to me that the internet made people bad. It is still a commonly held view in China that information censorship is a good and necessary thing. My immediate reaction was to oppose her view. I like freedom of speech despite that the principle does not yet serve the oppressed like it does oppressors. We just don’t live in a world where the principle is applied equally. Oppressors (men, religious people, straight people, breeders, etc) use freedom of speech to spew hatred and perpetuate violence, while those they oppress (women, atheists, lesbians and gays, non-breeders, etc) are often censored. And I think the definition of ‘speech’ is often twisted and abused in order to include and protect violent acts like pornography that serve to hurt the oppressed and make money for the dominant class.
Communication tools can be harmful and beneficial at the same time. Unlike the Chinese teacher, I don’t think there is a simplistic and direct, one-way, causal relationship between tools and people’s goodness or badness. That is not to say they don’t influence each other. They do. I would argue that there may be more harm than good being done, but then again, I don’t think any society in our world is set up to reward good behaviour to the extent that they do bad behaviour. That is Patriarchy, and it’s not a good system for most people. The internet was created as a tool to serve Patriarchy, and while some have managed to do good things with it, it still serves its masters: men.
Anyhow, back to the people.
Assholes existed before the internet was created. Awesome people existed before the internet was created. And then came the internet. Assholes became more assholish (perhaps a few stayed the same or reformed). Lots of people found ways to become assholes thanks to this thing called ‘relative anonymity’ – one key, defining element of the internet. And many awesome people became more awesome. Some people used the internet to learn and self-improve, or help isolated people organize and overcome various hardships. Other people found convenient and rewarding outlets for their hate and self-indulgence that they never had before, or found ways to make money off peddling hate. In short, like any other tool, it is impossible to label the internet as good or bad. It made some people better, had little real effect on several folks, and it made lots of people worse. And of course, people had an effect on the internet in a myriad of ways. Cause and effect are hard to discern.
Let’s get back to the woman-hate problem.
Woman hate has existed for a long, long time. The internet has provided a means for that hatred to manifest in disturbing ways. And these manifestations are colouring human interaction in the meat world, which then continues on to affect the online world. Now, the internet has:
a) provided a common, virtual space for men to meet and bond regardless of race, age or religion in a new kind of brotherhood of hate,
b) provided a platform for manifestos and other writings advocating for hate of and violence against women that can be accessed by anyone in the world. Unlike in previous times, ‘publishing’ is no longer limited to those who can write well or think well, or who are connected enough to find a respectable publishing outlet, In essence, any dickface can jizz online and be read by millions of other dickfaces,
c) increased men’s boldness and willingness to hurt women by allowing anonymous hordes of dudes to e-threaten or e-gang rape a woman who dares speak in public. The kind of repulsive hate speech you can easily find online is like nothing we have ever seen before. These dudes far outspew historic sex-based hate writers, such as de Sade. Previously, men had few places where they could go to bond with other men over rape and sexual violence (e.g., strip clubs) and were limited to private hate at home, in the office to a certain extent, or during the clandestine paid rape of a prostitute. Before the internet, men who couldn’t find support for their hate may have suppressed or localized their violence, and may have even questioned themselves, out of fear of repercussion and lack of support. But these days, group think and group acceptance has increased male boldness and made it easier to let loose on women violently, both online and off.
d) provides unlimited access to free or inexpensive depictions of horrific sexual violence (e.g., porn, ‘edgy photo art’ and BDSM sites) for many who never before had access, including young boys. The latter are getting their sex education primarily from sites fetishizing gruesome sexual violence against women and girls. And pairing this ‘learning’ with boners and orgasms (previously not possible in public, but now possible anonymously at home) is unnervingly effective.
There is plenty more to say on that, but I’ll stop at four.
On the positive side of things, the internet has:
a) allowed abused women who have been socially isolated by patriarchal structures such as marriage and poverty to find support, strength and the courage to escape in online support groups,
b) allowed women who haven’t found a community of like-minded women in the real world to find hope and support in online communities,
c) provided knowledge of and access to feminist literature that cannot be found in most libraries due to censorship of women writers/radical material or bias towards providing published penis’ pointless pontification,
d) allowed marginalized radical feminists an outlet and a voice in the form of blogs and web sites that they themselves can control. Men still try to attack them and derail them, but women can choose how much to interact or allow on their sites. They can also choose anonymity and still speak to promote positive change. This is impossible in the real world, and many women have stayed silent in the past due to very real, constant threats to their safety at the hands of men and sometimes patriarchy-supporting handmaidens,
And of course, there are other ways women benefit from the internet.
How does it balance out? Impossible to say, exactly. The positives are encouraging and do provide help to individuals, although I doubt women are taking advantage of it in the way they need to to effect real change on a societal level.
The negatives are disturbing, and I’d hazard a guess that one of a few things will eventually happen.
1) Violence against women will become so normalized that we’ll regress as a society and end up with a repressive something-or-other akin to what Margaret Atwood depicted in her classic novel or the way things went in Iran, post-Revolution.
2) Western men will become so addicted to and distracted by the pornification of women that more controlled and focused societies (aka China) will easily take over global dominance. China is no picnic in terms of women’s status, but they are definitely not as obsessed with porn and normalized, widespread depictions of rape as the West is.
3) Highly unlikely, but I dream – women will finally wake up, get out of their Bibles and off their dance poles and say, “Enough is enough. Time for revolution. Either you’re for human rights or you’re against ’em. Pick yer side!” and shoot the whole place up. Not for the imposition of another dominance structure such as matriarchy, but for liberation from sex-based oppression.
I root for #3, but I suspect #2 is the most likely scenario. As I mentioned in another post, I increasingly find myself in the position of having to explain the American porn and sex obsession to my Chinese undergrads, Masters and PhD students. It’s what they’re learning about and are confused about in Western entertainment.
I love the internet. My life would be incredibly different and much smaller without it. But I worry. It depresses me to no end that so many men have used such a valuable and amazing tool for the most disgraceful, shameful, boring and base of power fantasies.
Posted on August 27, 2015, in Feminism, Language, Male Privilege, Tools, Violence and tagged China, culture, hate speech, internet, oppression. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What’s This Internet Contraption Doing to Women?.