Perhaps one of the worst thing about the internet is that it is essentially a mirage, drifting in and out of focus, always seeming to mirror our lives. It becomes very difficult to tell what is real and what is not (as highlighted in my last post). But there’s an even darker side to this: the element of ugliness and violence that persists throughout the internet, and particularly how often those things are directed towards women.
We are an enormous society. It is nearly impossible to comprehend the sheer size of it. We can sit in a cafe, or an office, or a stadium, and simply not be able to fully grasp how many other cafes, offices, and stadiums are filling the world at that very moment. Seven billion is not a number that we can wrap our heads around. This matters greatly, as it turns out, because we see individual examples and don’t realize how prevalent these examples are when multiplies by thousands or tens of thousands. And in the case of online harassment, we all see examples here and there of awful comments and posts directed at others. We think, “What is wrong with that guy?” It feels like a singular problem with a singular person, and I imagine that you and I are rarely the subject of such comments. But if we imagine for a moment the scale of those comments en masse, we might start to get a glimpse of what happens when someone is on the other end of them.
Recently I read an astonishing article by Amanda Hess called, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” It is a startling portrayal of what people face from online harassment—particularly women—and how little tools they have to defend themselves. It is something we all desperately need to be aware of, and I highly recommend that you read it if you can. It is an eye-opener.
In today’s culture of reducing government spending, I often think about what women might need to defend themselves against crimes such as these, and sadly there is no clear answer. We like to think that our police departments would step up and come to our aid, but the reality is that they are often too crippled to do so. We support funding them for the obvious protections, but it’s the grey areas that increasingly slip through the cracks. Budget requests for technology and lesser known crimes are probably turned down at an astonishing rate. And so it’s the crimes that don’t affect most of us that get lost—until one of us becomes the victim of such a crime. Then we realize our short-sightedness has failed to protect ourselves.
Without much hope for aid (local government or otherwise), we increasingly have two primary tools to fight such things: money and our influence. Money is terrific if you have it, as always. If you don’t (and most of us don’t), then all you can do is rely on society to cure itself. And this is where we too often fall short: we don’t raise awareness on the things that don’t affect us, and therefore most of us remain ignorant to the plight of the few.
At the moment, I’m using this blog to raise my own awareness of certain things. Just writing about them helps serve as a permanent reference that I can look back on and reflect upon throughout the year. I don’t want to lose the revulsion—and yes, even a touch of fear—that I felt as I read Amanda’s article. If even one or two of you do the same, then perhaps I’ve made a very small step down the path of influencing change. It’s very little, but it’s a start.
More than ever, we need to be aware of and police these things from within. A harassing comment, written by a friend as a joke, is not a joke. We need to step up and say something instead of remaining silent—something that I’ve done, and no doubt you have, as well. Silence lets one potential conflict pass but adds to the building problems we face as a whole.
Change happens one small step at a time, but thinking back to how large this world is, it isn’t hard to imagine what ten thousand small steps can do.