“Can I have a button that hides just Mic Wright’s posts or do I have to unlike The Next Web’s Facebook page?”
That was a genuine query yesterday from a reader who is less than delighted about the things I write here. God bless him, experiencing the internet must be a constant trial.
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The reason he – and lots of others aren’t happy – seems to be my insistence on writing about issues like the tech industry’s casual contempt for inequality and the internet’s raging ‘woman problem‘ i.e. a lot of men online actively hate women.
Any time a man speaks that incantation – men online hate women – they’re opening themselves up to a surge of bile and spite, spluttered accusations of being a ‘white knight.’ That’s the risk you take for telling the truth.
I received my first – and only – clutch of rape threats when I wrote about the Russian anti-gay laws when I was working for The Daily Telegraph. It was a grim experience.
Did I believe that Russian ultra-nationalists truly wanted to violently anally violate me as a result of the opinions I had expressed? No. But the brutality of the sentiment, however crudely rendered, was disgusting to experience.
My female friends get that feeling often, sometimes on a daily basis. Male strangers butting into their conversations, men on dating sites rapidly moving from polite greetings to vile slurs because they feel slighted, ‘expert’ boys dismissing their opinions because ‘girls’ just don’t get it.
When I wrote about my friend’s Tinder experiment recently – asking men to name five books written by women – I ended up spending a few days in a ‘woman on the internet’ simulator.
Suddenly, my Twitter mentions were swarming with men nitpicking minor details, the same obvious arguments chewed up and spat back at me again and again, a slurry of ‘not all men’ and ‘what about sexism towards men?’ arguments. And then there was the ‘I don’t see gender” defence.
It’s easy for men to say they don’t see gender, like it’s easy for white people to claim they’re not aware of race. When you’re treated as the default avatar by society, the problems faced by others are easy to ignore.
Saying you’re color or gender blind doesn’t make you progressive, it makes you goddamn clueless.
A female friend talked on Twitter this week about being harassed by a man while she was out picking raspberries. He made that fun excursion into an eruption of threat and fear. Other men stood by and didn’t help.
Men online – men who think of themselves as ‘good men’ or ‘nice guys’ (double yuck for that one) – have to stop standing aside or throwing their hands up to exclaim “NOT ALL MEN!”
Don’t say, “Oh, I’m a really cool guy. I love my mom and sisters.” Even some of history’s greatest monsters could claim to have loved their mothers.
If you genuinely care about women and want to make the internet better: Stop making them feel unsafe in spaces online, stop butting into their conversations, stop nitpicking their arguments in ways you wouldn’t with men. Start treating them like peers, start listening.
It all boils down to a four word mantra: Stop being a dick.
Feature image credit: Penguin.