You hear the lament again and again, while reading about anti-woman trolling online.
“Oh, the anonymity of the internet makes people behave badly!”
“If we just used real names, there people wouldn’t be as vicious.”
“Oh, that’s just 20-something guys in internet chatrooms. That’s how they all are.”
On the contrary, the viciousness we see, isn’t just a side effect of the internet. It’s a side effect of our culture.
No, I would go beyond that. It isn’t a side effect of our culture. It *is* our culture.
Why would I ever say this? I mean, everyone knows that those anonymous trolls on reddit would *never* act like that in the real world. It’s the structure of the internet that allows them to be assholes. Everyone knows that if we just avoid the problematic sites, like reddit, or the skeptics movement, or, well, anywhere else online, we wouldn’t have to deal with this.
People do act like that in the real world.
If you think that the nice guy ranting only happens on the internet, you’ve never had to deal with your thoroughly drunken friend shouting about how no girls would go out with a nice guy like him, even though he’s surrounded by single women he ignores because they aren’t attractive enough for him.
If you think guys getting pissy and escalating matters because you told people to stop making sex jokes is a feature of the internet, well, you’ve never asked anyone to stop making jokes that make you uncomfortable. (“Oh *that* makes you uncomfortable? Let me now tell you 10 jokes about dead babies and Nazis! Ha, that will show you!”)
If you think that inappropriate comments and requests for sex are an internet thing, you’ve never tried to stop a coworker or boss from hitting on you repeatedly, or a head of security, or the guy at the convenience store across the street.
If you think that being shouted at and asked to show people your tits just because you present as a woman only happens in chat rooms and online games, you’ve never walked past a frat house, or, unfortunately, through the main thoroughfares of either university I’ve attended.
If you think unasked for commentary on a woman’s looks only happens because girls post pictures on internet forums (which probably means they’re asking for it), you’ve never been at a bus stop, or the city square, or a mall, or… well, anywhere, really.
If you think insecure men trying to drive women out of activism only happens in online male-dominated communities, you’ve never paid attention politics. Or Fox. Or CNN, sadly.
If you think the reaction to rape victims is bad on twitter, try sharing that experience in person. Or try even standing up for a rape victim. Count how many minutes until someone points out “but men can be falsely accused! The woman just changed her mind! You just can’t believe those drunk *insert varying level of insulting reference to gender*!”
And people don’t just act like that for some undefined period between boyhood and manhood. They act like that their entire lives. These comments and insults and aggressions come from fifteen year olds and from seventy year olds. They come from every walk of life and every background. They come from every angle, and can often come at the time when you’re least expecting it, when you’re just sitting outside on a sunny day reading a book and enjoying the fact that spring has finally shown up, when the intrusion of someone aggressively pushing themselves into your mental space leaves you so shaken mentally that you’re shaking physically while trying to remove yourself into the closest approximation of a safe space that you can.
It’s not just the internet. And we can’t push the problem aside with a wave of our hands and an offhand comment of “Oh, that’s just how the internet is. Don’t you know better than to go to reddit?” For many women, reddit is not an isolated internet thing. It’s the community that we have to deal with face to face, day in and day out. So yes, we need to change online culture, but we also need to change the culture of which the internet is a mirror image. Only then will our online community reflect the community we want to be a part of.