Is the Internet good or bad for women? The Internet is incredible. It has allowed the current generation of young people to be able to access the most information of any previous generation. It has allowed us to connect to people on the other side of the world faster than anything before. It has given people a voice with which to speak their minds in an environment, which could be seen by hundreds, if not thousands of other complete strangers. It has allowed people to find their purpose in life, for some, it is their purpose in life (see any famous YouTuber). The Internet was made to create opportunity. Opportunity for learning, for discovering, for meeting, for helping. But it has also given opportunity to hurt and mislead and exploit.
Despite the good and the bad the internet was made, in the words of the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, “for everyone”. The Internet was created as a place of equality. No matter what race, gender identity, sexual orientation, the Internet was made free for everyone. The Internet allows us to access information on almost anything we can think of. But the Internet does not have a regulator. It can’t tell us what information is accurate, what might be damaging, what might be helpful. The Internet is just there. We have to decide how to use it ourselves, and we are, for the most part, free to do so.
Now this is where things get tricky. While the world wide web was certainly intended to bring about a whole new lease of freedom for people and their ideas and opinions, its lack of a supervisor means that there have been some intense clashes amongst its communities, with certain people using the internet to control and deaden the voices of others, just as they would in real life. While being online can give people the courage to speak up about matters that may be hard to talk about in real life, the anonymity of this environment has also created a whole new way of manipulating and hurting others. The technical term for this is ‘cyberbullying’, but this phrase to me sounds far too pedestrian, as if it only affects 12-year-olds who get a comment on Facebook saying their nose looks funny in a picture. In reality cyberbullying stretches far beyond the school playground and can have devastating, even fatal consequences.
Despite the fact that the Internet is supposed to be a place for everyone, women unsurprisingly still have to dodge sexism in the virtual world if they choose to make their gender known. Inappropriate comments on YouTube videos, leaking nude pictures onto Facebook and forums, which talk about actively seeking to destroy feminism are but a few of the misogynistic obstacles that women have to face when they go online.
The number one thing young female YouTubers complain about when it comes to being online is the sexist abuse they face in the comment section. Same goes for female Twitter users, bloggers, journalists. Whatever they write about, however they say it, women are guaranteed to experience misogyny in one way or another. If a man does not agree with something someone has to say online, and said person happens to be female, then it’s all the more likely that he will use the person’s sex as a means of demeaning their point. In the same way someone may write the word ‘fag’ in the comments of a certain video they don’t like very much, the words ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ also remain firm favourites for male Internet trolls.
But what can we do about it? It seems nowadays when we talk about sexism we have to say “not all men” before every sentence. But why? Of course we know that not all men act this way. Of course we’re not trying to generalise the whole male species, we’re just trying to point out the problems that are being ignored. When we have to dilute our language so much to avoid offending men, we start missing the point of the argument entirely. The Internet is great. But like all platforms of free information and opinion, people end up exploiting it. More needs to be done to ensure women are respected online, but unfortunately, I don’t think this can happen until women are better respected in real life.