Middle Fingers Up

 

Somehow following the two prior posts, I’m thinking about the word resist, and the hashtag behind it. As an adjective – nothing grand at all, but still it seems to cause great drama. With one specification: only if it’s a woman resisting.

Scandal- reactions-scandal-reactions
It’s been a rough week. While the president of the United States wants to grab us ladies by the pussy, news in my Facebook feed says a Swedish artist pushes a young woman’s face against his crotch during a gig just because he felt like it. What gets me up after all this are the reactions that always follow. Social media feeds explode with debate articles, hashtags, anything to bring light on the issue of men taking advantage of female bodies. While Trump signs an anti-abortion executive order the feed screams. Women and girls are raising their voices in capital letter texts on my screen.

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQDAOxqj3ob/?taken-by=supersnippan&hl=en

Societal breakdowns answered by social media response/activism. Facebook posts and hashtags as reactions to global political events. I’m scrolling down and that’s what I get: the one after the other. Political scandals, then a resistance movement, brought to the world in a collective digital manifestation. Trump grabs a pussy, #PussyGrabsBack.

One example. A photo of all white men taking further control over women’s rights to their own bodies. Then Isabella Lövin, the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation posts a similar picture of an all women crowd supporting her while signing the Council on Legislation of Sweden’s new Climate Change Act. This kind of media activism is getting more frequently used, it seems. The strange part is that people are seldom prepared for a counter-thrust.

Social media as battleground, social media as weapon
This week, a Swedish handball player became a viral media sensation. Linnéa Claeson had enough of men sexualizing and harassing her through the internet, so she started the Instagram account Assholesonline where she posts the offensive messages she receives, and her replies to them.

Skål då! Dricker male tears och drömmer om att riva ner samhällsstrukturer som accepterar att kvinnor behandlas som objekt och översexualiseras samtidigt som den kvinnliga sexualiteten även förtrycks och kontrolleras i form av exempelvis slutshaming, skambeläggning av mens och amning samt inskränkningar i aborträtten. Fantiserar om att machokulturen och attityder som boys will be boys förintades i alla åldrar och alla länder. Önskar att jag kunde sätta stopp för våldtäktskulturen, victimblaiming och hålla alla offer som utsatts för sexuella övergrepp i handen och säga till dom att det INTE var deras fel och att jag alltid kommer stå på deras sida. Jag tänker inte bara sitta och drömma, jag tänker kämpa för att det här ska bli verklighet, varje minut, varje dag, i resten av mitt liv. // Linnéa Claeson @linneaclaeson #assholesonline

A post shared by Tired of assholes online? (@assholesonline) on

Linnéa Cleason receives offensive messages, videos pf rape and nude pictures. When she answers by telling the man she has forwarded all his messages to his family and friends, he is very angry and offensive, saying she has destroyed his life. Reading this, I get a feeling that I’m still in primary school, playing football or basketball or whatever. Boys against girls. The thrilling sense of danger. The underdog feeling. The teamwork.

Women visible in media get sexually harassed every day. By men, and that’s men of all sorts (but #NotAllMen of course what do you think?). At the same time, there seems to be nothing more provoking than a woman doing the same. Nothing more unthinkable for a man, than a woman using the internet right back against him. Will there ever be anything more politically charged, than a woman resisting a man?

It might not be all men. But it’s all women. We carry the fear of rape collectively, even though not all women have been sexually assaulted. We know what the world looks like because we have to. I carry my keys as a weapon in the pocket of my jacket. I clench my fist and write a hashtag because us women are bundled together as one, harassed because of our gender.

#YesAllWomen know. We have been told and showed the risk of having a female body in the era of the internet. We have been warned about revenge porn and online rapes. We have seen the slut shaming and aggressive sexual attacks of female public figures. We know the risks of putting our pictures, words and work online, where the pack of hungry wolves is waiting to push us down, oppress us, reduce us.

Clay Shirky claims social media have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide. He says: social media’s real potential lies in supporting civil society and the public sphere-which will produce change over years and decades, not weeks or months.
Parmelee and Bichard responds: Social media, Twitter in particular, is a powerful tool for the civil society to influence politicians. It forces them to get to the point, and to respond and act quickly.

The media is reporting on events like Linnéa’s. Online harassment is nothing new. Maybe, one issue is that we keep on sounding surprised that the internet opens up for these kinds of interactions. And one question that keeps coming back to me while reading on Assholesonline is: How couldn’t these men see the resistance coming? One answer is that the internet, not surprisingly, is reproducing the AFK– patriarchal world, where vulnerable women are repeatedly silenced by societal norms.

Evegny Morozov says: Given how fuzzy the very idea of the Internet is, derivative concepts like “Internet freedom” have become so all-encompassing and devoid of any actual meaning that they can easily cover the regulation of 3D printers, the thorny issues of net neutrality, and the rights of dissident bloggers in Azerbaijan.

Online activism is often called “slacktivism”. Clearly you won’t ever change something at all only by clicking like on a Facebook post, but what’s the alternative? The feminist movement needs to act on what is going on online. Men have long used social media to fight for their right to hate women. It’s only about time we all claim some digital space, raise a middle finger and outsmart the internet trolls.

References
Shirky, Clay. The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change. Publication info: Foreign Affairs 90.1 (Jan/Feb 2011): 28-I.
ParmeleeBichard (2011). PoliticsTwitterRevolution. Chapter7: Conclusion.
Morozov, Evgeny (2013). To Save Everything, Click Here. The Folly of Technological Solutionism.

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2 Comments

  1. Elin, thanks for this interesting post highlighting very important gender issues and discriminations against women and Girls. Reading it both makes me extremly furious but also gives me a lot of reasons to continue the struggle. And the ecouraging examples you highlight are very inspiring!
    However, acnowledging the fact there is still so much to do Before women can enjoy the same rights and act upon the same arena as men without beeing harrased or insulted, I get the feeling new media can be an important arena for tis struggle. And reading this on the International Women’s day, just a few hours Before going out to strike with thousands of chilean women (and hopefully men) I get even more convinced this is a global problem, as you say, and I totally agree : It’s about all women. Beacsue, If women are not allowed to #resist, as the Swedish Handboll player Linnea Carlsson is doing, defending herself against the harassments she recieves online – in Sweden , which is supposed to be one of the most equal countries in the World – it is defenítely about all Women, everywhere. Due to the global aspect of women’s rights and gender issues, I agree with you regarding Shirkys (2011) argument about the potential of social media, for supporting the civil society to create social change in a long time perspective. Moreover, I belive it also can empower women, as I adressed in my recent post, based on Keller (2012) who says “new media activism has allowed us to productively rethink of women as ‘active agents’ rather than passive victims and cultural dupes in the online World”. The case of the Swedish handboll player responding to the sexual harrasments, is a great example of this happening in real Life.

  2. Elena Poletti

    Thanks for this interesting post. Verbal aggressivity against women, conveying anger through sexual insults and threats is unfortunately quite common online, in my country (Italy) as elsewhere. As a woman and a feminist (and a human being, I guess) it is shocking for me to see how some people automatically use sexual insults to address women to express their disagreement over random issues, as if sexuality was the main feature of a woman and the core part of her person to attack, in case of conflict, to silence her. Sexualisation as the ‘ultimate’ weapon.
    I agree with Cecilia’s comment: social media can be seen as a key arena where social tensions, narratives and conflict are expressed.
    Last year, in Italy we witnessed a verbally violent public debate, in Parliament and within the public opinion, about the introduction of civil partnerships for LGBT and straight citizens. The tones of this debate were particularly harsh and uninformed on the Facebook pages and web pages of the main national newspapers, especially around the sub-theme of stepchild adoption (which was eventully dismissed). Whenever I read some news about the political discussion of this law proposal, the comments sections were loaded with a mix of hating discourses against LGBT people, also overflowing with heavy stereotypes about “what is a real man/father” and “what is a real woman/mother”.
    I find it interesting how the discussions about gender roles and relationships and about sexual minorities are topics which can ignite some of the most aggressive and angry attacks online.
    This documentary by Kyrre Lien published by The Guardian contains interviews to a few “internet warriors”, and one of the conclusions is that “haters” often are very opinionated people, who feel left behind by the offline society and use internet as an outlet.
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2017/mar/10/the-internet-warriors-meet-the-trolls-in-their-own-homes-video?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=internetwarriors&utm_campaign=documentaries
    I guess we are living in a time of major transformations within gender roles and family forms and dinamics, and internet trolls attacking women (or other historically non-dominant categories) are a part of the struggle accompanying these tranformations. Social media reflect the conflict between the forces which enhance change and those trying to oppose it or to slow it down, who can use these platforms to express their distress or anger, feelings that are, maybe, growingly difficult to express in real life.
    Luckily, social media also allow to sensitise the public, to diffuse and discuss good practices and to fight back against prejudices and violence. Digital space can be seen as a new, key frontier of feminist activism, in that sense.

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