Talat Yaqoob is Chair and Co-founder of Women 5050.
Over the course of the weekend, the Women 5050 campaign was, as ever, given advice from a number of men who in their own words were, “doing us a favour”. The favour they were doing us was a helpful reminder of how women should respond to online misogyny (Yes, the irony was lost). The advice neatly fitted into one of two categories and I would like to take some time to explain why neither of these provide any helpful advice and detract from the importance of the issue:
Category 1. Ignore it – because the person being a misogynist isn’t worth it or our time is more valuable .
Has ignoring something, ever really made it go away? Women online could ignore misogyny all they like, but it will still come in droves and it will still attempt to silence them. If your first reaction to a woman online being abused is to recommend she ignores it, you either have no appreciation of the impact such abuse has or do not care. Whilst it may seem helpful to suggest we do not give the abuse oxygen, the reality is, covering our eyes and ears only makes the abuse silent to us individually, it does not overcome the problem.
Category 2: There’s bigger fish to fry – because there are real issues to deal with and we should know better.
We get told that online misogyny is nothing compared to FGM, domestic abuse and rape, those are real issues that we should be fighting. Well, firstly, violence exists on a spectrum and it is incredibly ill informed to think misogyny online is not linked to misogyny and abuse in “real life”. Secondly, we have the capacity and intelligence to fight against and care about online misogyny and all of the things you deem “more important”.
Here’s some examples of what our women parliamentarians have to deal with, which took me no more than 3 clicks to find. Please be aware, there is misogynistic and abusive language used here
Yes, I doubt there is an MSP or MP today who has not experienced some abuse online, but women MSPs and MPs experience a gendered or sexualised version of it. Study after study has confirmed it. For instance here, where a survey focused on men, still illustrated that women suffered more: “The survey of men found that women were twice as likely to be attacked purely because of their gender. One in four serious and violent threats directed at women were related to their gender, compared with one in 16 for men.”. If we look at MPs specifically the abuse is again, gendered, more likely to be experienced by women and often includes sexual violence.
Why does this matter to the Women 5050 campaign? Because sexist abuse online and the disproportionate abuse of our women leaders prevents other women from aspiring to these roles. Last year, GirlGuiding UK released a report stating that “49% of girls aged 11–21 say fear of abuse online makes them feel less free to share their views”. Earlier this year, Unison Wales told us that online abuse was putting women off politics.
Finally, the Inter-Parliamentary Union published a report in 2016 with 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries stated that “This study shows that social media have become the number one place in which psychological violence – particularly in the form of sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats – is perpetrated against women parliamentarians.”
If we want to see a more diverse Scottish Parliament, if we truly want to eradicate the gendered barriers preventing women from entering politics, then it is all of our responsibility to call out sexism in every place we find it; whether online or in our debate chambers.
If you see us tweeting to condemn online abuse of women, our supporters and our MSPs/MPs, why not considering joining us rather than talking down our efforts? Why not be part of a movement which stands up to sexism and be part of the fightback to make our politics a hate-free space? Hopefully, what is written here, gives you an insight into the damage of online misogyny and the consequence of staying silent about it.