What It’s Like to Be a Woman Online

Regular readers of Vagina News are familiar with the street harassment – an issue that regularly affects 80-98% of women.

But lots of people spend lots more time online than they do outside nowadays. So does this kind of casual, everyday harassment happen on the virtual street too?

(I suspect you already know the answer.)

In fact, women experience 25 times more malicious private messages per day than men do. (How do we know? A simple study that created bots with female-sounding screen names, male-sounding screen names, and gender-neutral-sounding screen names. The bots were present in various chat rooms, but did not speak or participate. The ‘female’ bots received 25 times more malicious messages – an average of 100 per day – than the ‘male’ bots. The gender-neutral bots received 4 times as much harassment as the ‘males.’ (Thanks to my husband for finding & sharing that study with me.)

This is not news to women (myself included) who DO speak and participate online. Journalist Amy Wallace recently wrote about her experiences with online harassment in a New York Times op-ed. I screen every ‘Like’ on the Vagina News Facebook page to verify that the person has some interest in feminist or other progressive issues in an attempt to stop such harassment before it starts. And I’ve learned never, ever to read comments on an article that has anything to do with feminism. (Remember Lewis’s Law… The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.)

Most men are unaware of these daily realities for women. Organizations like Stop Street Harassment and Hollaback! have begun to tackle the issue of street harassment by proactively increasing awareness. The same approach applies to online harassment. If you experience this kind of harassment, talk to people about it – especially men.

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