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Digital Feminism Must Be the Answer to Digital Misogyny

Social media platforms can be inspiring but are equally vicious when it comes to minorities. Women on social media face various threats, insults, and personal attacks on a daily basis. They are body-shamed, abused, sexualized, threatened, and harassed. With the COVID pandemic driving more and more people online, abusive content has increased by a dangerous margin, majority coming from men. Many women are quitting online platforms and many others are facing depression, eventually leading them to suicide. Instead of stepping back, women should use the same platform to spread awareness against ‘Digital Misogyny’, using ‘Digital Feminism’.

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of an opinion and a computer will cop a heap of sh*t. Insults, personal attacks, and threats of physical violence are par for the course.”

— Emma Jane in her book ‘Misogyny Online: A Short (and Brutish) History’

In the last few years, hatred towards a certain gender or religious groups has risen, the source of which is mostly social media, and is mostly targeted towards either ‘women’ or the ‘Muslim community’. Imagine waking up to your social media account hacked, followed by threats of circulating “dirty photos” on the Internet; imagine being body-shamed or sexualized or have opinions thrown at you for the way you dress. To perceive the mental, physical, and social strain on the person who had/has to go through all of this, is not easy.

According to a recent report, the use of misogynistic content increased by 168 percent during the lockdown, with India accounting for more than half of the content. These include words such as ‘bitch’, ‘slut’, ‘whore’ along with local language slurs, and were posted 97 percent of the time by men. Over 90% of the tweets in India are from self-proclaimed members of “misogynist organizations” such as ‘Men’s Day Out’, ‘Men’s Welfare Trust’, and others where they claimed men as the real victim of domestic violence by labelling feminism as a “western concept” and a “global conspiracy”. The organizations also made arguments of “false rape” cases, suicides among men due to harassment by women.

Credits: Twitter

Emma A. Jane, an author and media commentator who is currently running a three-year federally-funded research project into the impact of gendered cyber-hate called ‘Cyberhate: The New Digital Divide?’, said that after receiving threats and abuse on the internet, one of the withdrawal methods women use is removing all pictures of themselves from the social media or replacing their profile shots with heavily stylized images or images that don’t contain humans at all. Some even go as far as to remove all visual representations of themselves from the internet. According to a recent survey conducted by the girls’ rights organization ‘Plan International’, one out of every five women quits or reduces their use of social media. Abuse has been perpetrated on girls even as young as eight-year-olds.

A recent example is when Virat Kohli‘s 10-month-old daughter received rape threats after the Indian cricket captain chose to support Mohammed Shami, who was being abused after India lost a World Cup T20 match to Pakistan. Similar incidents occurred last year during the IPL, when MS Dhoni’s 5-year-old daughter Ziva was threatened with rape after Chennai Super King‘s loss to the Kolkata Knight Riders.

Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist, was recently featured in a bogus pornographic video and has received numerous death threats. “If you are a critic of the government and a woman, who also happens to be a Muslim, this ticks all the boxes to be humiliated and to be discredited.” Said Ayyub.

Ayyub went on to say that these online threats must be taken seriously because the line between online and offline is razor-thin. It’s time that our countries make it safer for us to stay where we are and not feel compelled to flee.

Credits: Reuters

If social media can be used to spread hate, it can also be used to spread awareness in the same way. For instance, in 2017, the ‘#MeToo‘ movement against sexual harassment, led by an American activist Tarana Burke, grew in popularity around the world, thanks to Twitter. By 2018, the movement had gained traction in India, allowing women to share their sexual harassment stories on social media. It also resulted in activists successfully lobbying the government to strengthen the ‘Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, which had previously been found to be lacking. The ‘When Women Refuse‘ blog, was started after several women were killed in California, US, for refusing to accept men’s advances, and has since been used to document women’s sexual violence experiences.

Many similar cases exist not only in India but throughout the world, leading to self-doubt, depression, and suicide. Consider the possibility that your single word is the cause of someone’s death. These are the issues that are routinely overlooked and swept under the rug. If there is Digital Misogyny, we can use Digital Feminism to raise awareness about these harmful practices, just as poison kills poison and iron cuts iron.

Maria Aqdas is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan

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Written by Maria Aqdas

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