Online Harassment and Societal Attitudes about Women

This week in EC&I 831 we are learning about the heavy but important topics of Trolls, Bullies, Racists and Masogynists on the internet. The readings for the week all relate to online harassment and threats, especially of women. I want to talk about how these online issues relate to societal attitudes in general. Additionally, I will talk about the term rape culture. I know this is a difficult subject. But it is one that infuriates me and that I believe we all need to talk more about.  I would also like to refer to the recent trial of Jian Ghomeshi.

John Oliver spoke about Online Harassment in a segment of Last Week Tonight.  By the way, I’m so glad John has a talent for making poignant, important statements in a hilarious format that gets people’s attention.  In this show John states, “ If (online threats don’t) seem like a big deal to you, well then congratulations on your white penis.” As you are busting a gut you realize John makes an important point.  This is a problem that generally affects women.  Men may not even notice.  They can look the other way.  John goes on later to say, “It can potentially affect any woman who makes the mistake of having a thought in her mind and then vocalizing it online.”  John also refers to the common practice of victim blaming in society and describes how poorly equipped police forces are to deal with these crimes.  Near the end of the show, John states, “It comes down to us and fundamentally changing the way we think about the internet because you hear people play down the dangers of the internet as they say ‘relax, it’s not real life’. But it is. And it always has been.”

In Matt Rozsa’s article With Gamergate, it’s Not Enough to Ignore the Trolls he explains that online harrassment is a gendered phenomenon and that 73%of cyber-stalking victims were female. He also quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca, “that shame may restrain what law does not prohibit”  Rozsa is referring to the unfortunate fact that our legal system does a poor job of protecting women from these crimes.  He is encouraging us to shame those who harass and threaten online.  We need to stand up to these harassers, not ignore them.  He quotes Amanda Hess who says, “No matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment – and the sheer volume of it – has severe implications for women’s status on the internet.”He also writes about Caroline Criado-Perez who states, “If there’s one thing I want to come out of what happened to me it is for the term “don’t feed the trolls to be scrubbed from the annals of received wisdom”. Criado-Perez’s comments means that we need to stop telling women to just “shrug it off” when they are harassed and threatened online.

I agree with John and Matt.  Whether it is online or in real life, we need to stop blaming victims and change our attitudes.  I believe we live in a society that allows, even encourages, men to see women as objects.  We see images of nearly naked women acting sexual to sell everything from cars and beer to clothes.   Movies and music still portray women as objects to be controlled and used.  Remember that it wasn’t really that long ago that women were literally considered property.  We have not even reached the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in Canada or the U.S.

Now I would like to go a bit further and talk about rape culture.  Please stay with me here.

Wikipedia describes the term rape culture  as”a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal views about gender and sexuality”.

Last week Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian journalist, was acquitted on all charges of rape and choking of three women.  The reaction to this verdict was split.  Some said that justice had been done as the judge could not find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Many were outraged.  Outraged because this keeps happening.  Most women who are raped do not report.  Those that do, generally do not have justice on their side.



Photosource: Huffpost Canada

Let’s think about it for a moment.  How can rape be “proven”?  If the woman immediately goes to a doctor and has any marks on her body she will have a better chance of proving she was raped.  However, if she does not go to a doctor, or if there are no marks on her body, her chances of “proving” the rape happened are not good.  It is her word against his.  And even if there are marks on the woman’s body, and the man says, “but you wanted rough sex” it is still her word against his.  And whose word unfortunately holds more power in our society?  Well, let’s be honest, his.

These cases are also further complicated because women who have become victims of rape, especially date or acquaintance rape, often continue to communicate with their perpetrator.  Sometimes women are unsure themselves whether to call it rape, especially if they were attracted to the man.  They feel ashamed and blame themsleves.

The outcome of Jian Ghomeshi’s trial outrages me.  As a society I feel like we have not come very far. We need to continue to work to raise awareness.  So what can we do?

If you have not seen this video comparing consent to tea please watch it.  Again, the humour adds to the power of the message.

Please also read about Rape Trauma Syndrome and self-blame.

As women, we need to be strong and confident.  We need to raise girls who are strong and confident.  We need to raise boys who are respectful and stand up for women also.  We need to stop using or encouraging language that promotes negative attitudes about women.  We need to speak up.  We must not ignore the trolls.  And we must not ignore rape culture.  Also see some useful resources below that I found in my research.

And please share your thoughts.

No! The Rape Documentary

Rape Culture 1975 Documentary

The Unslut project

The Hunting Ground

Wikipedia list of documentaries about violence against women


4 thoughts on “Online Harassment and Societal Attitudes about Women

  1. Great post! And I’m thrilled you brought up the Ghomeshi trial. I’m only assuming it will come up in class tonight, and if not, I’ll bring it up. I, too, am sick of rape culture, and I hope we can change it. Someone has to.


  2. Great post!! You said many things I was thinking this week. Ghomeshi’s trial also struck me as unsettling-and questioning if justice was in fact served. Certainly this is a great Canadian example, but there are many others that have surfaced recently in pop culture. If we consider the alleged decades of assaults committed by Bill Cosby, and the fact that he has still remained unscathed by the judicial system.

    Alternatively, we’ve got the other side of the coin when we saw pop singer Kesha being slut shamed at her recent trail accusing a producer (I think) of sexual assault.

    We are no further ahead (in my opinion) in real life, than we are online when it comes to women as the ‘lesser’.

    I really enjoyed your insights with this post, thanks for sharing!


  3. Thanks ladies. Yes, I thought about mentioning Bill Cosby also, Amy. But I decided I had plenty to talk about. And thanks for bringing up the Kesha example also. There are so many examples to mention, unfortunately. We need to be fierce in talking about this!


  4. You make so many great points! I was enraged when I read about Ghomeshi last week. I think that we just spread the message that rough sex isn’t rape rather it’s just not palatable for most of our culture, and that there are no consequences to these sorts of beliefs/actions because it’s hard to prove. I feel like our justice system is still very much about protecting the perpetrator (Bill Cosby is another prime example), violating and reliving trauma for sexually assaulted victims, and the more money you have the more power you have to let the laws NOT apply.

    Liked by 1 person

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