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Misogyny in (anti) social media

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Sarah Cheverton
WVoN co-editor

Of 2,000 men and women surveyed in a recent study by BT Infinity, over 45 percent of participants said that they use social media more than any other online content.

Almost a fifth of women (18 percent) would miss online socialising more than anything else if the internet ceased to exist.

This compares to a somewhat more misanthropic 7 percent of men who would pine for the likes of Twitter or Facebook should someone ever succeed in breaking the internet.

Surprisingly, over twice the amount of men (13 percent) than women (6 percent) regularly share videos and pictures online – providing a long awaited answer to where exactly the ‘Serious Cat’ meme came from.

But if there are more women spending more time on social media, why do so many of us struggle to be heard there?

A number of recent cases of online misogynist abuse – highlighted on WVoN earlier this week by Julie Tomlin – may be acting to prohibit women from raising their voices in the virtual world.

With so many women on social media, solidarity isn’t always the result. The vast number of perpetrators of online abuse may be men, but women aren’t exempt from turning a digital knife on the sisterhood either.

After all, a disappointing number of supporters of — and four of the arrests made in — the recent ‘Justice for Ched’ campaign were women.

The same phenomenon can be found wherever women are writing or being written about (sometimes, we even dare to do both).

And while there may well be more women than men plugging in to social media, you wouldn’t know it from mainstream media coverage of the worldwide webosphere.

As Tomlin highlighted in her article last week, not even a fifth of the Independent’s recent Twitter 100 were women (18 percent).

The Huffington Post spotted this lack of recognition and even dedicated a regular column to women on Twitter to even up the balance.

In her WVoN article, Tomlin asked: “…a lot of questions remain about women in both the mainstream and social media. Are women de-selecting themselves or are the selection processes themselves at fault?”

Maybe a bit from ‘a’ and a bit from ‘b’.

The viral popularity of violent and threatening misogyny against female internet commentators and social media pundits certainly prohibits many women from raising their heads above the digital parapet.

But even when they don’t, mainstream media isn’t that interested.

Little coverage was given to last week’s study from Rice University, for example, which highlights the crucial role of social media in bringing a political voice to women in the Arab Spring.

Courtney Radsch, who conducted the research said: “While women and men struggle valiantly to bring about social change, these women cyberactivists stand out for their use of new media technologies and access to platforms that transcended national boundaries and created bridges with transnational media and activist groups.”

For better or worse, the virtual world can only reflect the real world of humans in all its glory — from the cruel repression of our social and power structures to our individual choices to resist.

For the contribution of women to be equally recognised and celebrated, a fundamental shift has to happen in our perceptions of women, our perceptions of their experiences and of our ability to listen without prejudice when women put a voice to their experiences.

That’s why our central mission at WVoN is this — building a world where the voices of women are heard by all.

This is not only about women offering, being offered and taking opportunities to speak. It’s about all of us questioning what it is that’s stopped us from listening, including why, as a society, we feel entitled to hurl gender-based abuse at women for the strange offense of possessing and voicing an opinion.

This requires us to ask some important – and frequently disturbing – questions.

Some of these questions are overdue and are becoming increasingly urgent, like questions between media coverage of rape and the dire rape reporting and conviction rates in the UK.

This issue is now seen as so important to cyberfeminists that the expressed misogyny inherent in the supporters of Ched Evans has given birth to its own resistance movement: We believe her.

Yep. Welcome to 2012 and the era of equality. We’re busy creating a solidarity campaign to support the victim of a convicted rapist from a significant amount of the public. And we’re talking about a witchhunt being launched on Rebekah Brooks?

In a world where women are dominating social media, solidarity is powerful and vital. But we can only understand the importance of standing together when we know how equally vital is the need to do exactly that.

For many, the absence of women in the media is still not seen as problematic, but as an issue of individual choice. Women don’t ‘choose’ to be journalists, broadcasters, film-makers…or politicians, barristers, footballers (delete as appropriate) in equal numbers as men.

But in a world where rape culture is now so pervasive that calling a female MP a ‘whore’ is becoming a routine news day, we do have a problem.  A serious one.

And it’s a problem that belongs to everyone, men and women alike.

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