Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Kristin Merrilees
Image retrieved from Mashable
Disclaimer: This article discusses the sexism that women-identifying people experience online. We recognize that gender is fluid and that non-binary individuals also experience this as well.
The internet is supposed to be a place of exploration, creativity, joy, learning, and excitement, and for many members of Gen Z, it is. Online, we’ve been able to build communities and create new opportunities that didn’t exist as recently as ten years ago. These internet communities are especially helpful to young women, who historically have not been afforded the same opportunities to discover their passions and define themselves as individuals that men have. But that same internet, now a gold mine for inspiration and female empowerment, is still ravaged by sexism, misogyny, and harassment - which young Gen Z women are constantly bombarded by.
Misogyny on the internet isn’t new. Not even close. Several subreddits are infamous for their incredibly sexist views of women. One of these is r/TheRedPill, which describes itself as a place for “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” It encourages men to “take the red pill” (inspired by a concept from The Matrix) and become “alphas”: successful, masculine, and most of all, having beyond satisfactory sexual and romantic lives (“getting girls” would be a cruder way to put it). The problem is, they regard women in an extremely degrading and misogynistic manner, not to mention an inaccurate one. Women are described as unintelligent, irrational, overly emotional, and “crazy.” The men on this subreddit believe that all women are the same, using the term AWALT (“All Women Are Like That”) to describe their belief that women lack purpose or life goals and depend on a man for any meaning in their lives.
Furthermore, the members of this subreddit engage in tactics to manipulate women, such as “negging,” where they try to make comments or insults that bring down a woman’s sense of self-worth. One r/TheRedPill user stated, “Speak to women as though they are children - because emotionally, they are. They have the same passions and cravings for fantasy that children have - girls just want to have fun… you can speak to women as though they are children and observe first-hand that they respond identically to children.”
Obviously, this ideology is extremely misogynistic, not to mention dangerous. While this subreddit and other misogynistic communities have been around for a while, that same ideology has seeped into some of Gen Z’s beloved online hangout spaces - most notably, Instagram and TikTok.
For example, let’s look at the @feminist account on Instagram. It’s worth noting that this account does have some problems (discussed in this thread) but it does post a variety of substantial feminist resources, imagery, and art. But no matter what the post is, there is always a multitude of sexist and misogynistic comments. In fact, the popularity of this account is likely to be a motivator for these commenters who feed off of disrupting productive discourse, posting sexism where they know many women will see it, and engaging in “trolling” (which is still a problem). On one post that said “Girls can do anything boys can do,” one user commented, “Except for math, running, jumping, chess, working, making money, driving, and anything that takes talent.” Other common comments will bash feminism without making any substantial critique of it (ie. “feminism is trash”), victim-blame sexual assault survivors, and say that a women’s purpose is to clean and to serve men. Ironically, these comments that claim there is no need for feminism suggest the very opposite.
In the past few months, TikTok has become host to many misogynistic ideas and “trends.” For example, there was a recent “trend” of boys commenting “ratings” of girls on their videos. This would be two numbers followed by a letter, such as “28B+,” where the first number would rate a girl’s “top half,” the second number their “bottom half,” and the letter their face. This was particularly damaging as boys would comment these ratings on girls’ videos uninvited, shamelessly objectifying them.
Another past trend involved boys using specific audio to make degrading and/or inaccurate comments about women, such as “I just realized that boys put their headsets on for the same reason girls put on makeup. To play with the boys” and “They always taught men how to treat women... but they never taught women how to treat men.”
Objectification and victim-blaming is also a common issue on TikTok. When teen girls make videos dancing or wearing clothing that boys (and often, older men) deem to be too “provocative,” they are all too often unnecessarily sexualizing these girls and further degrading them with comments on their videos along the lines of “this is why I don’t want a daughter” or “wE aRE nOt ObJects” (mocking this phrase). This promotes dangerous notions of victim-blaming and implies that if a woman is dressing in a way that shows her body, she is “asking for it.”
A few months ago, teen girls and women on TikTok would make videos in which they would use paint to show where they had been assaulted and to demonstrate how strong they were. Many men made videos mocking these women and left comments openly doubting their stories - something which is extremely demeaning and dangerous to sexual assault survivors.
A few phrases have been used in response by women for solidarity and to fight sexism when they see it online; “men in cages” and “kill all men” are probably the sharpest of these phrases. Now, some may be shocked by the stark language used here and some men may argue that these phrases are sexist against them, responding with the phrase “rape all women.” But online misogyny and these misogyny-fighting phrases are not comparable. As Reddit user ChalkPavement describes, “Have you ever been so angry at someone that you just want to kill them? Like you’re not actually going to kill anyone but you feel enraged? That’s kind of what ‘kill all men’ is all about. It’s a type of ‘burn it all down’ expression.”
She continues, “It’s funny because it could never really happen. I sort of see it as an expression of powerlessness. The reality is that if women tried to fight patriarchy with violence, we would be dead ourselves.”
Online misogyny is particularly damaging because it is often characterized as “just jokes.” When legitimate criticism is brought up, people are told to “take a joke” and are labeled as “snowflakes.” But to the women who experience this incessant sexism and harassment-whether online or in the physical world- it is not “just a joke,” but a threat to their lives.
Written by Kristin Merrilees