Content note: misogyny, harassment, threats of violence and rape and death, images of same
Here’s the thing. For hundreds of millions of people, the Internet is our workplace: we go there to collaborate, to do research, to promote our work. The Internet is the place where we meet our friends. It’s where we get our news. It’s where we organize charity activity, or political activity. For hundreds of millions of people, the Internet is a central hub of human activity.
Now. Think about what it would be like if every time you went to work, every time you went out with friends, every time you went out to get a newspaper, every time you went on a charity walkathon, every time you went to a neighborhood meeting to plan the new public park, you had people screaming at you how worthless you are, how ugly you are, how much they hate you, how much they want to torture and rape and kill you.
Think about showing up to work at 8:30 in the morning, and sitting down in this room.
These are photos from an art installation, A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online, created by Amy Davis Roth (a.k.a. “Surly Amy”), creator of the Surly-Ramics jewelry that’s become iconic in the atheist and skeptical communities, blogger at Skepchick, managing editor at Mad Art Lab, and one of the main targets of online misogyny in the atheist/skeptical world. The installation is a room, a small office space — four walls and a ceiling and a floor, a desk and a computer, a phone and a wastebasket and a clock and a plant — covered in real-world, publicly posted messages of misogynist hatred, abuse, and threats, aimed at women on the Internet. (If you’re in the Los Angeles area or are going to be there soon, I strongly urge you to see this show in person: photographs don’t capture it, a description doesn’t capture it.)
Think about showing up to work at 8:30 in the morning, and sitting in this room — papered everywhere with messages of hate, messages about your ugliness and worthlessness, messages telling you in graphic detail exactly how you should be violently raped and killed. Think about riding the bus or the train, going out to cafes and restaurants and bars and game nights, all the same, all papered with messages of contempt and violent hatred.
Photographs don’t capture it; a description doesn’t capture it. Photos and descriptions don’t capture the extensive detail of the pieces of this hatred — and they don’t capture the trapped, suffocating sense of being surrounded by it.
This is what life is like for women on the Internet. This is especially what life is like for outspoken feminist women on the Internet. This doesn’t happen to all women on the Internet — but it is depressingly common, and it is especially common for women who say anything at all about misogyny, about sexism, about how it might be nice to have a woman’s face on their country’s currency.
It’s absurd to say that the Internet isn’t the real world. The Internet is where hundreds of millions of human beings work, play, organize, fundraise, share ideas, help each other, console each other. It is probably the single most important innovation in how the real human world operates in the last fifty years.
And it’s especially absurd for atheists to say this. Atheists are always going on about how we own the Internet, how the Internet is what’s going to bring down religion, how the Internet means nobody can be sheltered from the idea that God doesn’t exist, how it means nobody who’s let go of their god-belief has to think they’re alone. You don’t get to say that — and then say that the Internet isn’t real, or that what happens on the Internet isn’t important.
The Internet is important. The Internet is real. And for millions of women, the Internet is a toxic cesspool. Telling women that if we don’t want to be abused and threatened we should just not go on the Internet is telling us to not participate in the world.
Speak out. Don’t minimize it; don’t rationalize it; don’t deny it; don’t make excuses for it; don’t blame the victims of it. If you see something, say something. When you see people say these things, say, “That’s not okay. Don’t do that.” When you see people minimizing and rationalizing and denying and excusing and victim-blaming these things, say, “That’s not okay. Don’t do that.” Tell hosts of online spaces who tolerate it to stop tolerating it. Tell women who speak out about it that you support them: say it to them directly, and say it publicly. When women out speak about it, help them spread the word.
And don’t tell women to shut up about it. Don’t tell us that living in a room papered with hatred isn’t important, or that it isn’t real. Don’t tell us that listening to people scream at us how worthless we are, how ugly we are, how much they hate us, how much they want to torture and rape and kill us, is the price of living in the world.
A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online is on display at CFI-Los Angeles through October 13, 2014.