TIME feminism

There’s No Comparing Male and Female Harassment Online

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Recent arguments have suggested that men get harassed more than women on the Internet, but this ignores the violent reality

News about cyber-misogyny has steadily increased during the past year, since the publication of Amanda Hess’ “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” but many people challenge the notion that women’s online harassment is a matter of specific and particular concern. For example, a piece in the Daily Beast last week argued that men are harassed more often than women online. It’s a common refrain.

The starting point for the article, written by Cathy Young, is a recent survey by British think tank Demos that found that male celebrities are recipients of more abuse overall on Twitter than their female counterparts. This was a relatively narrow and unrepresentative study. There are many others documented in Danielle Citron’s new book, Hate Crimes in CyberSpace, that illustrate pronounced abusive sexism online.

In addition to the difficulty of comparing data sets of varying size and depth, however, comparing male versus female online “harassment” is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Young points out, women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history. The study pointed out that the harassment targeted at men is not because they are men, as is clearly more frequently the case with women. It’s defining because a lot of harassment is an effort to put women, because they are women, back in their “place.”

Second, online comparisons like this decontextualize the problem of harassment, as though a connection to what happens offline is trivial or inconsequential.

Third, the binary frame camouflages the degree to which harassment of people, often men, is frequently aimed at people who defy rigid gender and sexuality rules. LGBT youth experience online bullying at three times the rate of their straight peers.

For girls and women, harassment is not just about “un-pleasantries.” It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them.

According to Erica Olsen, Deputy Director of Safety Net, a program created by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), “In a 2012 survey, 89 percent of local domestic violence programs reported that victims were experiencing intimidation and threats by abusers via technology, including through cell phones, texts, and email.”

Online harassment is a key weapon in intensified stalking, for example. Intimate partners create impersonator content online, sometimes with brutal results. This type of harassment also includes rape and death threats, such as those at the heart of an upcoming Supreme Court case.

Rape and death threats made by strangers are also common, however. They coexist online with violent sexist, racist commentary on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and the sharing of gifs, images, jokes and memes depicting gross violence against women as “humor.” The “humor” can sometimes spill over into aggressive cyber mob attacks, which, as Citron explains in her book, disproportionately target women and people of color. These mobs include hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, systematically harassing their targets. #Slanegirl, a trending global public shaming of a teenage girl filmed performing fellatio is one example. Attacks on public figures like Anita Sarkeesian or Caroline Criado-Perez can take on surreal qualities whose effects can’t be underestimated—either on the individual attacked or on the environment.

Women are also the majority of people experiencing revenge porn, the distribution of non-consensual photography, often involving nudity and sex. Last month’s theft and distribution of the private photographs of more than 100 celebrities, almost all female, was a case in point.

Rape videos also harass women. In country after country, including ours, boys and men are recording and sharing their raping of girls and women. Some cases, such as the most recent, #Jadapose, explode into social media consciousness, but there are far more cases that most people never hear about. Videos like this are of a philosophical cloth with the common sexual surveillance of women in public spaces, from public bathrooms and changing rooms to rental apartments and subway platforms. These images are then used to populate online spaces created for sharing them, cyber-cesspools whose sole purpose is to deprive people of dignity by humiliating, and harassing them.

And then there’s the matter of human trafficking online. Social media is used by traffickers to sell people whose photographs they share, without their consent, often including photographs of their abuse of women as an example to others. Seventy-six percent of trafficked persons are girls and women and the Internet is now a major sales platform.

In theory, these things can happen to anyone—but they don’t. They happen overwhelming to women and the abusers are overwhelmingly men. Stalking, off and online, is a crime in which men are the majority of perpetrators and women the targets. Justice Department records reveal that 70 percent of those stalked online are women. More than 80 percent of cyber-stalking defendants are male. Similarly, a study of 1,606 revenge porn cases showed that 90 percent of those whose photos were shared were women, targeted by men. In gaming, an industry known for endemic sexism, studies cited by Citron show that 70 percent of women in multiplayer games play as male characters in order to avoid abuse.

As far as “harmless threats” are concerned, the reality of rape and domestic violence qualitatively changes the meaning and effect of threats when leveled against women by men. Women have a 1 in 5 chance of actually being raped and a 1 in 4 chance of being physically assaulted by an intimate. For men, the chances of being raped are 1 in 71, and 1 in 7 for being physically abused, also an asymmetrical comparison.

The harassment men experience also lacks broader, resonant symbolism. Women are more frequently targeted with gendered slurs and pornographic photo manipulation because the objectification and dehumanization of women is central to normalizing violence against us. Philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Ray Langdon describe in detail how this works: women are thought of and portrayed as things for the use of others. Interchangeable; violable; silent and lacking in agency.

Women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off. It has a long history and cannot be isolated from actual violence that we adapt to avoiding every day. The fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.

TIME feminism

I Shouldn’t Have to Dip My Nails In a Drink to Reduce My Risk of Rape

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Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

There's a lost opportunity every time we make girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape

Every few months, a new product to help women avoid rape hits the market. This week’s is an innovative new nail polish that can identify the presence of drugs when dipped in a drink.

Considering that conservative estimates put the percentage of American women who’ve suffered sexual assault between 20%-25%, there’s huge market potential for this product. Of course, there is the fact that roofies, a nickname derived from the sedative Rohypnol, are less commonly used by serial predators than alcohol itself. A 2007 National Institute of Justice study found that only 2.4% of sexually assaulted female undergraduates were either certain or thought that they’d been drugged. On the other hand, studies conducted on college campuses show that alcohol is involved in anywhere between 50%-90% of sexual assaults. It is the weapon of choice, as expert David Lisak puts it.

I don’t want to dip my nails into a drink. Or stop wearing my hair in a ponytail. Or start wearing hairy tights. Before I die, I’d like to not have to ask a man to walk me home at night. Cool new nail polish is just the latest in way for us to adapt to rape.

From the moment we are born, girls are told to change: change our clothes, our hair, our belt buckles, our underwear, our walks, our commutes, our friends, even our vaginas.

At the same time, the topic of avoiding rape for men is usually just a bad joke. What do men do if they want to avoid rape? “Stay out of jail.” The sick irony of this joke is that it’s true. In reality, the only place where male adults in the U.S. come close to facing the same level of risk for rape as women is in jail. Even then, women inmates face twice the risk. But that bad joke perpetuates a rape myth. Most men who have experienced rape, reported at 1 out of 71, are assaulted as boys. But what does it say that women’s day-to-day reality of “staying safe” is thought to be comparable to the plight of men in jail?

Despite everything we are trained to do, we can’t change the one thing that matters the most: the fact of our femaleness. The most highly ranked risk factor for being raped is being a female. Girls and young women below the age of 30 make up more than 80% of rape victims, regardless of what they wear, what they drink or where they walk. While women can and do rape boys, girls and women are raped by men in an overwhelming number of cases. (Men are also the primary offenders in the rape of boys.)

And yet, in the popular commodification of sexual assault, there are no deodorants rapists can wear that stain their armpits with indelible ink when they’re about to rape someone. Or binding underwear that makes it impossible for them to whip out a weaponized John Thomas. Or electrified jock straps.

According to the CDC, in the United States nearly one in five women reports having been raped or experiencing an attempted rape at some point. One in four suffer violence at the hands of an intimate partner. One in six women report being stalked. This level of violence is terrorism. Women and non-gender conforming people live with fear in ways that men, particularly those who present as straight men, find hard to fathom. Women have heightened awareness of stranger dangers related to sexual assault, even though the chances they are assaulted by an acquaintance or partner are higher. Women change their lives, at great cost, because of threats to their physical safety that are largely tied to the fear of rape.

Every time we focus on making girls and women individually responsible for avoiding rape, we lose the opportunity to address the systemic root problem that our mainstream culture grows rapists like weeds. Despite my snark, I do understand the need to balance safety with change. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the inventors of these products, but their true value resides less in their questionable efficacy than in the fact that young men like the creators of this one are engaged in confronting rape culture. However, each and every instance of “how to avoid rape” that media takes up is one less instance of explaining rape and reducing its pervasive threat.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and feminist writer whose work focuses on the role of gender and sexualized violence in culture, politics, religion and free speech. You can find her at @schemaly.

TIME politics

The Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Patriarchy, Not Democracy

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Supporters of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The Hobby Lobby decision displays the profound depth of religious and male norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to women in the United States when it ruled that “closely-held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control based on owners’ religious beliefs. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor partially joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 35-page dissent against the majority decision of the five conservative, male justices.

That the Court ruled this way should surprise no one. What should surprise, however, is the continued expectation that we overlook patriarchal religious fundamentalism, its collusion with constitutional “originalism” and its discriminatory expression in our political system.

Most analyses of this case will parse the law and, in doing so, make no challenges to two fundamental assumptions: 1) that the law and the Court are both “neutral” to begin with and 2) that we should not question the closely held religious beliefs of judges and politicians, even when those beliefs discriminate openly against women. This is a judgment. And judgments come from norms. And norms are based on people’s preferences. The Court is made up of people who have beliefs, implicitly or explicitly expressed.

In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments. Women’s behavior, especially sexual, is policed in ways that consolidate male power. It is impossible to be, in this particular case, a conservative Christian, without accepting and perpetuating the subordination of women to male rule. It is also blatant in “official” Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The fundamental psychology of these ideas, of religious male governance, does not exist in a silo, isolated from family structures, public life or political organization. It certainly does not exist separately from our Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, for example, makes no bones about his conscientious commitment to conservative Catholic ideals in his personal life and the seriousness of their impact on his work as a judge. There are many Catholics who reject these views, but he is not among them. These beliefs include those having to do with non-procreational sex, women’s roles, reproduction, sexuality, birth control and abortion. The fact that Scalia may be brilliant, and may have convinced himself that his opinions are a matter of reason and not faith, is irrelevant.

What is not irrelevant is that we are supposed to hold in abeyance any substantive concerns about the role that these beliefs, and their expression in our law, play in the distribution of justice and rights. They are centrally and critically important to women’s freedom, and we ignore this fact at our continued peril.

Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction—norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. What this court just did was, once again, make women’s bodies, needs and experiences “exceptions” to normatively male ones. This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.

While there are hundreds of bills and laws regulating women’s rights to control their own reproduction, I’m not aware, after much looking, of any that similarly constrain men or tax them unduly for their decisions. As a matter of fact, we live in a country where more than half of our states give rapists the right to sue for custody of children born of their raping and forcible insemination of women. Insurance coverage continues to include medical services and products that help men control their reproduction and enhance their sexual lives.

As Ginsburg outlined in her dissent, the costs that this decision will accrue to women are substantive. The argument that employers shouldn’t pay for things they don’t believe in is vacuous. Insurance benefits are part of compensation. Even if you reject that notion, it is clear that we all pay for things we don’t like or believe in through our taxes and, for employers, through insurance. That’s how insurance and taxes work—except when it comes to women and their bodies. That’s sexism.

That we live with patriarchy is evident. That this dominance is and always has been the opposite of democracy is not to most people. SCOTUS’ decision is shameful for its segregation of women’s health issues and its denial that what should be valued as “closely held” in our society is a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. American women’s equality continues to be undermined by the privileging of religion in public discourse.

Soraya Chemaly is a media critic and feminist writer whose work focuses on the role of gender and sexualized violence in culture, politics, religion and free speech. You can find her at @schemaly.

TIME The Good Mother Myth

School Volunteering and Parental Pressure: One Mom’s Unapologetic No

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Learning to resist the unhealthy pressure to volunteer for every possible activity in a child's school

For me, having children was like being run over by a small, fast locomotive. I had, to my enduring surprise, three babies under the age of three. From the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep (note that I did not say, go to bed) I was doing something, and someone was an expert in why I was doing it wrong. Bottles or breast. Co-sleep or no sleep. Mozart on. Mozart off. Clean floor. Dirty floor. Pets. No pets. Shots or no shots. Too much holding. Not enough holding. Being was an exercise in inadequacy. And that was just the mothering bit. I was also working. Outside of the home, which means for money. Deadlines, conference calls in bathrooms, meetings, overdue reports.

When my children all began school, I foolishly thought that I would have more time. Instead, it introduced a new pressure: parental volunteering. I’d never had children in school, so when it came to anything related to this experience, I, mom-in-headlights, did it. Book fair? Yes! Fieldtrip? Yes! Bake sale? Yes! I felt like a skirted flip-book stick figure that someone else was maniacally flipping. I said ‘Yes” because saying “No” filled me with maternal guilt. And, I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I looked women were frantic, engaged in contrived activity, exhausted by work, vigilance and maternal frenzy. What I saw around me in schools were women, talented, energetic and smart, often creating inefficient systems to pass the day in an effort to make up for workplace systems that made it as hard as possible and financially irrational for them to work once they’d become mothers.

One day, I woke up and my hands were numb. Then my arms. It took six weeks and a slew of medical tests for doctors to tell me what I already knew – I did not have brain cancer. I had children and was tired.

Then came the Incident of the Corn Husk Dolls. Are you familiar with cornhusk dolls? They were a toy that Colonial children played with. One year, I volunteered to staff the cornhusk doll station at a school event where children and parents (read mothers, 95% of the volunteers), dressed in colonial garb, pretended to spend a day in Plymouth. I did not know that prior to the event I was supposed to buy an obscene amount of corn, husk it, and lay the husks out to dry on my nonexistent lawn so that the children could have an “authentic experience.” I suggested that we should, children and adults alike, drink the colonial equivalent of beer all day, but this idea, sadly, met with failure. After many panic-stricken phone calls and emails about cornhusks from frantic mothers, I ordered, for the ridiculously low cost of $30, 3,000 husks and delivered them to the school, with a note that no other woman should have to think about this for several years.

Of course the scenarios I’m describing are reflexively associated with affluent, mainly white upper middle class women, and, it may be that this school is more gender imbalanced then most. However, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study revealed that, regardless of age, education or race, women volunteer more than their male demographic peers. (Volunteer rates for women and men are 23.2% and 29.5% respectively.) Schools benefit hugely from the unpaid labor of mothers – most of whom, today, don’t have the luxury of not needing jobs. The pressure to donate unpaid labor at schools is inextricably entwined with ideas about mothering and work. Every time volunteer cultures are gender imbalanced it is almost certainly a symptom of women’s work being taken for granted, invisible and unpaid. The “maternal labor” credit that gets applied to school budgets feeds into a lifetime of sex-based wealth and wage gaps and sex segregation in the workforce.

I know volunteerism is a kindness without which much that is necessary would not happen. It brings diverse people together for the common good and is vitally important. Communities, and individuals, benefit tremendously from this work. This is not to denigrate the real societal good of volunteering, which is not, per se, a problem. Additionally, value is calculated in many ways, not through financial compensation. I, for example, publish articles in the Huffington Post – and don’t get paid to do it. That may seem hypocritical, but to me, the compensation I receive is an audience, an asset that has value. And that is true regardless of whether or not I am a mother or a woman.

School volunteering is part of “good mother” mythologies that reinforce ideas about gender, sexuality, ideal workers and complementary roles for men and women. Additionally, because of our economic and social realities, volunteer demands also contribute to subtle race and class divides in school communities.

When I stopped volunteering at schools, I explained this to friends and to my children, who could not care less if I painted stage sets, or bought bake sale items instead of making them. I found other ways to contribute to communities that we belong to. Equally important, I learned to say no, politely, but unapologetically.

*Excerpted from The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital Norman Nathman. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2014.

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