Social Media – A Tool For The Enforcement of Misogyny?

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. These forms of social media, which have become entrenched within our everyday vernacular and daily routines, are in their infancy. The first forms of modern social media were developed less then 20 years ago and, though still in their juvenile stages, social media has had a profound impact on the nature of relationships, communication, and societal functioning. This newly fledged medium, centred about user generated content, has showcased and facilitated innovation and goodwill, spurred on change and reform and fostered relationships. However, social media is far from an autocratically positive innovation, but rather it is a tool that has been utilized by many to instill hate, perpetuate hetero-patriarchal, racist, cisgender and colonial scripts and to devalue personhoods. This phenomenon is not rare or isolated to a select few instances, but rather an issue that has been synonymous with the construct of social media from the get-go, and is only becoming more and more normalized within society.

This disparaging and innately harmful use of social media takes on many forms; however, the intent is analogous – cyber harasser’s chief intent is to exercise and gain power and dominance over the intended subject, through the infliction of psychological, sexual or verbal torment and insult via virtual forms of communication[1]. Such practices have become so ingrained into the fabric of society, and seemingly condoned, that such harassment is publically solicited to heighten the amount of damage inflicted against the intended target. One such example is the overtly hateful, disparaging and vile response and backlash that actress Ashley Judd received in response to a quip she posted to Twitter about the sports rival of her alma mater during March Madness[2][3]. The backlash was swift and severe, but out of respect for Ms. Judd and all others who have been victim to such forms of harassment, I shall not validate or award any additional reiteration of the comments themselves. The slanderers’ remarks were pervaded by misogynistic themes that sought to humiliate and embarrass her through the degradation of her personhood by leveling violent and overtly sexualized responses[4]. These responses further questioned her qualifications as a woman, and subsequently her capacity to comment on and have an opinion on sports[5]. More importantly, they are emblematic of the egregious institutionalization of the sexual violence, objectification and harassment inflicted against females, both verbally and physically, which has occurred at every level of society. That is, in today’s society, a woman’s character, physical appearance, reputation and identity, are seemingly all qualifications of her merit and validity as a person and key qualifiers of any act enacted by or against her[6]. The scrutiny leveled against Ashley Judd in response to her post were by no means limited to her knowledge and qualifications of college basketball, which may have been appropriate to question, but rather included responses that addressed her appearance, sexuality, intellect and age. It is here where the misogynistic and hetero-patriarchal rhetoric is overtly obvious, and the construct of hegemonic masculinities becomes evident – if a male had posted the same tweet, any responses leveled would have been contained to the realm of college basketball and not situated about the reduction of a person’s character. It is not until one critically evaluates, through an intersectional analysis, that the true nature and depth of disparagement leveled against women and other minority groups by social media users becomes evident.

This apparent institutionalization of language and conduct has thus conferred and established a quasi-pseudo status quo, which is situated about a phenomenon termed culture of humiliation[7]. That is, we live in a society situated about binary thinking and polarities, where social validation and acceptance comes at the expense of social humiliation, where such humiliation is ultimately puppets of misogynistic, patriarchal power structures[8]. The continual public and private verbal raping and disparagement of females’ qualifications across social media outlets are emblematic of the androcentric and gender polarization themes that pervade our culture. This culture of humiliation is thus utilized as a policing agent to dismember and abate any acts or qualifications that threaten the established hegemonic ideologies.

The semblance of anonymity allotted to social media has resulted in a vicious and damaging double standard, where the words spewed across the dark abyss of the Internet and social media sites are insults and slander that would never be spoken in the real world. However, there is a paradoxical disconnect on how we, as society, view the Internet versus reality. That is, we understand the Internet as being a space that is fluid, instantaneous, fleeting and thus nonpermanent, which seemingly is justification for some to insult and disparage[9][10]. This understanding is erroneous and obtuse at best, and there is a deep and urgent need for a transformation in understanding of the implicit and lasting impact that cyber harassment has on individual personhoods, as ones’ presentation across social media is now an analogous form of the public and permanent record.

To find out more about this story, read Ashley Judd’s articulately and eloquently penned essay, which you can access here.

~ Elin

Bibliography

[1] Nuccitelli, Michael. “Cyber Harassment: Internet Defamation & Internet Trolls.” IPredator. IPredator Inc, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

[2]Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” TIME 19 Mar. 2015. Web.

[3] Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Identities Mic 19 Mar. 2015. Identities Mic. Web. 1 Apr. 2015. <http://mic.com/articles/113226/forget-your-team-your-online-violence-toward-girls-and-women-is-what-can-kiss-my-ass&gt;.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lewinsky, Monica. “The price of shame.” TED. March 2015. Lecture.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Judd, “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” 2015.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media – A Tool For The Enforcement of Misogyny?

  1. Moira

    Hi Elin! Thank you for your post! I thought you mention of a “culture of humiliation” was very interesting. It really summarizes the reality of power structures and who gets to express themselves or be vocal. When the hegemonic “centre” is threatened, it has many tools at the ready with which to dispose of the dissenting margins… one of which is humiliation. The smaller, less powerful, and less worthy they can make marginal individuals feel and appear, the less likely these people are to challenge the status quo or vocalize their opposition again.
    This culture of humiliation is also alive and well even with no “instigation”. Consider the photographs disseminated of the intoxicated, unconscious high school girl being raped and assaulted repeatedly. Even more disturbingly, when the lens of humiliation is turned (i.e. news coverage of the trial of the rapists) it becomes tragic – the ruin of two young promising athletic careers.
    So, who do we humiliate? Who is it okay to humiliate? And what does it say about power differentials in our society? How is humiliation a tool of hegemony? Why is it humiliating for certain groups to do something (girl on “walk of shame”) but “badass” and not humiliating at all for another (guy having a one night stand)?

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    1. Elin

      Hi Moira,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree completely with your analysis of how humiliation is used by the pervading ideological state apparatuses and power structures to dispose of and discredit, any ideas, theories, movements or people which threaten the established status quo. To address your questions specifically, I believe that the use of humiliation as a tool to enforce and affirm current power structures is a possible tactic which may be employed against any member of the society who possess such a threat and is understood to be an agitator. However, there are certainly certain members of society who are more susceptible to such tactics; unfortunately enough, often it are those members of society who make up minority populations. This understanding further illuminates the power differentials which exist in society and aptly denote the established forms of systemic marginalization which pervades culture.

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  2. Rosa Queen

    Hi Elin,

    I would like to start by saying that you chose a great article to blog about! As constant internet users and the young adults of the 21st century, we are arguably the most active age cohort on the world wide web. What started as a method of sharing data has grown rapidly over the last decade becoming a method of sharing, well everything. Nothing is off subject on the internet and it also provides a guise of anonymity that allows those that would like to share negative and degrading comments the confidence to do so without the fear of rejection by their peers as they would be in real life. In this way, the internet becomes a concentrated pool of racism, sexism, victim blaming and general hatred. Even casual glances at Facebook comments can provide us with the androcentric misogynistic ideas that have been brought up in this article. In this way, is the internet a resource or a weapon towards marginalized groups? I also like that you brought up the consideration that we live in a culture of humiliation, full of victim blaming and the portrayed innocence of those that victimize others. Even recently in light of numerous assault and rape charges against fraternities across the US, there has been a thunderous uproar of the public claiming that fraternities are a symbol of school pride and should be protected, even though certain groups have been shown to promote rape culture. You have astutely pointed out that the society in which we live in constantly degrades and shames women based on other people’s definitions of what it is to be a women, not their own, especially on the web. Do you think that the internet has provided an outlet for these hateful feelings in a manner that is more hurtful than in real life? Does the internet provide a breeding ground for these kind of ideas to leave the virtual world and enter the real one?
    As always, I was blown away by the ideas presented and your well articulated writing style. Thank you for a lovely entry!

    Sincerely,
    Rosa Queen

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    1. Elin

      Hi Rosa Queen,

      Thanks for your kind words and thoughtful response. You have raised a series of interesting points and questions to ponder. I feel as though the internet has, in may respects, provided an outlet that allows such comments to be more harmful then they would be in real life. This is because the anonymity that is allotted by the internet makes the comments in one aspect less personalized but at the same time that much more searing and hurtful. Further, such situations facilitate vicious comments to build off of one another resulting in a self perpetuating cycle of harm, abuse and degradation. As for your second question, I’m honestly not sure whether the internet provides a breeding ground for these kind of ideas to leave the virtual world and enter the real one, thorough I do feel as though such behaviours are desensitizing the general public, and as a result this may led to such comments and ways of speaking to and about others becoming common place in the real world.

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  3. gndsgirl11 Post author

    Hi Elin!
    I read this article about Ashley Judd’s social media harassment and found it so shocking that I continued to read her entire essay response to the problem. I find it very interesting whenever celebrities speak out about cyber-bullying and violation through social media, as it is something so apparent in our society yet nothing seems to be done to put a true end to the situation. It is fascinating how people become so confident with what they are saying behind the screen because they know it is highly unlikely for them to reap the consequences. Thank you very much for your, once again, thought provoking blog about a very present issue among society. I hope you have a great summer!

    -gndsgirl11

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  4. Darkling

    Hi Elin!

    I think you raise some excellent points about heteropatriarchy, racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc. being perpetuated on social media. As an avid internet user and as someone deeply engaged in social justice communities on the web, I’ve been able to create and participate in amazing networks for unlearning oppression and fighting bigotry, but I’ve also experienced some measure of the harassment and degradation that you describe. I think that too often, people perceive the internet as being somehow detached from reality: they conceptualize it as uninfluenced by the structural oppressions and inequities upon which our society is founded, and silence concerns with statements like “it’s just the internet.” You’ve done an excellent job here at analyzing why this isn’t true. Do you think that the pseudo-anonymity and lack of regulation on the internet actively contribute to more misogyny, homophobia, racism, etc., or that it reveals the bigotry already present in society? Is there any way to regulate the hate speech and harassment posted online, and if so, would it reduce the impact of systemic oppression offline as well? Do you think that with more education offline (through schools, through workplace training) the bigotry expressed online could be reduced? These are things I often wonder about. I don’t think that the opinions being expressed are anything new or exceptional, but perhaps the platform is conducive to sharing them more readily. One positive thing about people posting bigotry online is that when they do so on Twitter or Facebook, people sometimes contact their employers or schools and get them fired or suspended. I’ve seen efforts to do this have some success in the past, although I think it’s absurd that the responsibility falls to the people being harassed and degraded, and that legal institutions so rarely get involved.

    Thank you for writing this piece. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts this semester! I hope you have an amazing summer!

    -Darkling

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    1. Elin

      Hi Darkling,

      I’m really not sure whether I believe that the internet creates more bigotry or rather fosters that which is already present, but I do believe that it gives people platforms that they may not otherwise have and an attentive audience. In doing so, this creates situations and scenarios that would not otherwise exist. As for your other question, I do think that more education offline on the real implications that online communications have will only help to mitigate further such abuses.

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