Women’s issues belong to us all, and they are a reflection on us as humans. These issues are varied, but one is alarmingly out of touch with reality: Hateful and misogynistic treatment of women on the internet. Thanks to horrifying behavior from small minded assholes who think it's a game to tell women they'll be raped, the Internet is often an ugly, scary and dangerous place. In 2014 we have to, all of us, men and women alike, make a choice that this behavior can no longer be acceptable. You may disagree with a prominent female writer’s analysis of Governor Christie, but you are a despicable human being the moment you tweet anything sexually or physically threatening in response.
This brings us to the main issue: whether or not such online threats warrant discussion at all. Many people, including Jen Doll at The Atlantic Wire, take the approach that ignoring might be the best policy. It’s true that many of the men perpetuating these attacks are inefficient at everything, including following up with a true physical assault. However, the emotional and personal instability that comes from being told you're going to be raped and beheaded can not be dismissed. Nor can the reality that physical harm can come to a victim of online harassment.
When severely and repeatedly threatened, a woman has to take some action, and it often takes an emotional and financial toll. Lawyers may have to be retained, subpoenas sent along to social networking giants like Twitter have to be issued, and hours of time spent with local police who often have no idea what social networking is can be taxing. “Get over it” is not a solution to a problem so pervasive online.
The discussion is beyond cyber bullying, although it does have a root in that phenomenon. There’s a misguided notion that because women are perceived as the weaker sex, that they’re more sensitive to the issue. The truth is that online harassment occurs for women far more often, and so they must yell out to be heard. A study by the University of Maryland, where they set up fake online accounts, found that feminine names would receive 100 sexually threatening or violent messages a day. The masculine names got 3.7. That’s a drastic difference, and means we’re not crying wolf with the issue.
The largely male law enforcement system, as of a few years ago only 19% of FBI agents were female, has to be taught how to deal with the issue. Laws are on the books to deal with cyberstalking, but an innate understanding of what is social media and how it relates to modern society has to be paramount to the treatment of cases involving online threats towards women. Not all of the men in law enforcement who are dismissive of a woman’s claim of online harassment are misogynistic, the issue is truly more a level of ignorance. Police still rely on a pad and paper to take notes from witnesses, and there’s a good old boy club attitude that is out of touch with a modern reality. There’s no reason law enforcement should be so behind on the times, as they’re tasked with the protection of society. When a Palm Spring police officer asked writer Amanda Hess what Twitter was after she explained about a threat she’d received, the problem is not that he isn’t aware of Twitter but rather that he hasn’t been informed as part of his training.
No one wants to swing the issue too far the other way, but at the moment and for the entirety of civilization, women have been treated like second class citizens. They deserve not only our respect and care, but to be able to log onto their professional Twitter account and not be barraged by messages of being raped at a specific time of day.
Much more discussion has to be had on the problem, and I’d recommend every person read Amanda Hess’ enraging and enlightening article, ”Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet, that goes into great detail on this and many other issues. It’s an insightful inside look into the world of what it’s like to be threatened online, and the courses of action currently available to women.