**Originally appeared on the Canadian Women’s Foundation blog – Mar 6, 2014. Trigger warning.**
I’m reading online comments in Broken Pencil’s Deathmatch, a tournament-style short-story competition, and I’m getting fed up with hearing responses like, “he’s gonna mount you like a blow-up doll,” and commenters calling others “sugar-tits.” When my partner, Andrea Wrobel, was the only female writer to make it into the semi-finals I noticed that many of the comments became personal attacks against her and seemed to suggest she was too young and naïve for the competition. When other stories were criticized for sexism, misogyny, or promoting racial stereotypes those commentors were also personally attacked and authors were silent about the attacks and refrained from responding to the initial criticisms.
As I speak out against these comments and call them inappropriate, others tell me to “take it easy,” and cite how there are bigger injustices being done to women in other parts of the world. These individuals try to defend their language with these claims or by saying they aren’t serious. What these people are missing, and anyone who tries to justify hateful language, is how these words are sending a larger message to all women. Using sexist, misogynist, or pro-rape language (online or anywhere) sends the message to women: “You are not welcome here.”
The Internet is a young community that reaches almost all corners of the globe. It is a community with far more accessibility and possibility than any other. How we act online sets a far-reaching precedent and has long-term implications that extend beyond the Internet. Just look at the case of Rehtaeh Parsons – who spoke out about being gang-raped and was heavily criticized online and then attempted suicide – or Hannah Smith – a teen who committed suicide after being trolled on Ask.fm – to know that what we do online resonates past our screens.
The greater result of all this is an unequal presence of women in online communities. It has already been suggested that the Internet is male-dominated. This is bad for everyone. The Internet thrives on input and free-speech, and any exclusion of a group from that means the spread of ideas is a smaller and more restricted. In the case of Broken Pencil, this would mean less female authors participating; Elsewhere, fewer YouTube videos, less exercise tips, or a decline in criticisms of Business Management techniques. Basically less everything.
I don’t want this to happen. I believe the Internet is great when more ideas are being spread around in a way that encourages openness and discussion. So, I will continue to point out the negative and hateful comments and encourage the positive ones. I hope you do the same (when possible).
(If you would like to read the final two stories in Broken Pencil’s Deathmatch – Andrea Wrobel’s Eraser and Craig Calhoun’s The Idiot Without a Coat On, click here.)
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