The (Sexual) Harassment of Women Online and Off

Composite photo of  Anna Simon, Saoirse Ronan, Kaley Cuoco, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Olsen, Vanesa Romero and Avril Lavigne  by  Eduardo Villena Mateos  (Creative Commons)

Composite photo of Anna Simon, Saoirse Ronan, Kaley Cuoco, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Olsen, Vanesa Romero and Avril Lavigne by Eduardo Villena Mateos (Creative Commons)

When I was younger, I thought that I'd grow up in a world that was better, kinder and more advanced. That people would help each other, we'd be to Mars by now and we'd find a way to make peace with each other. How dumb I was. I've been hearing a lot about GamerGate in the last month and it shocks me that in 2014 women are being threatened online. Anita Sarkeesian cancelled her Utah talk due to threats of a mass shooting and Felicity Day was doxed (her personal address was put up online) after she put up a Tumblr post about her thoughts on GamerGate. Fingers are being pointed in all sorts of directions and at the end of the day there are threats of violence, hatred and fear being spread online.

Let's take a step back a few months ago. At the end of August, nude photos of popular celebrities were leaked online. Jennifer Lawrence, Olympic silver medalist McKayla Maroney  (who was under 18 at the time she took the photos), Kate Upton, Kaley Cuoco, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and many more were hacked and had photos released online. Who the hell knows why it was done (maybe just to prove it could be), but the majority of accounts hacked were of women.

And what about 17 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot three times a few years back for standing up to write about the need for educating girls in her home town in Pakistan. Sense a pattern here? Death threats, intimidation, fear and hate against women. We now live in a world in which any person can be harassed or threatened not only in person but from a touch of a button on a smartphone.

I believe that it is critical and necessary that people be allowed to speak their opinions and to have their privacy. I'm disgusted in reading how Anita Sarkeesian received death threats and that she had to cancel her talk in Utah because the local police would not take steps to ban concealed weapons where she was going to talk. Can you blame her for cancelling?

In the case of the nude photo release, technology has reached a point in that your personal data can be hacked and shared with billions online. I can understand why Jennifer Lawrence calls the photo hacking a sex crime. She did not give permission to have those photos shared online. All her privacy was taken from her along many others by a willful violation directed mostly toward women.

We, as a global society, are in a sad state of affairs. There is some good being done, but again, let's stop and think about this: Malala Yousafzai, who at 15 years of age,  was shot by a gunmen for her blog posts about living under the Taliban and in wanting to go to school. This is the world that we live in. 

People are radicalized and hatred is all over the internet. But again, I believe there is hope. Read this opinion piece on Malala Yousafzai by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid and it gets to the root of an interesting point: There is a deep-seated fear in many men about what is true and what is a conspiracy and how your upbringing influences the choices you are going to make in life.

I wish I could say that the issues I'm discussing here are easy to resolve, but that's not the case. And I would be a hypocrite to say that I am innocent. I'm not. I grew up in an abusive household in which my mother was treated horribly by my father. I am a casualty of war. The violence that took place in my childhood home helped shape me for who I am today (for better and for worse). I wish I could say that I was perfect and blameless and point the finger elsewhere, but I cannot do that. 

What I can do though is to take a stand against the horrible behavior I'm seeing against women online and off. I can also take personal responsibility in how I treat people online and in my daily life interactions. Nothing is going to be different until we men self assess and decide to change.

In today's world, a woman can break up with a man and he can slut shame her. He can take the naked photos he took of her and share them out to the world to get back at the "psycho bitch" that left him. He can destroy her reputation and intimidate her in a way that's total and destructive.

The secret world of men can be scary. The ex-girlfriend example above can be translated to how men feel about women speaking up about the gaming industry or about the importance of women being educated. Anita Sarkeesian and Malala Yousafzai are people. They and many other women are daring to stand up and speak out. In response, men have threatened to kill Anita Sarkeesian and someone did shoot Malala Yousafzai. I believe the secret world of men isn't going to change until it changes from within. Other men need to step up and go against the grain to tell their friends that what they are doing is wrong.

But when there's a group of men that back each other up, the harassment will keep continuing. It's a vicious circle. I wouldn't be surprised if the guy who shot Malala thought he was doing a good thing for his country when he tried to kill her. He might even have bragged to his buddies about shooting her. Allegedly he and his comrades were recently caught though the court case could drag on for years. Will justice be served? We shall see. As for the threats against Anita Sarkeesian and other women in the gaming industry, I can see the wave of hatred being thrown at them from some men across the globe. In today's world, if a man can't control a woman through sexual intimation or violence, he can compose a 140 character tweet to threaten to shoot her and others. Don't believe me, check out this screenshot of tweets she received back in August 2014. 

So what can we do about these threats and how women are being treated? Let's all go back to the circle of men. We are husbands, fathers, sons and friends. The responsibility for what we do today will shape the future of tomorrow. On the most basic human level, we need to accept our role in how we treat women in person and online. We also need to take responsibility in how we treat ourselves and our place in the world. We can't just sit on the sidelines and think this has nothing to do with us. I believe it's time that men admit that we need to be more involved in helping to solve the problem. Look,  I've fucked up and made mistakes. I have. I am human. I have said and done things that I regret (haven't we all?). I am sure as hell not blameless and perfect.

What I believe is necessary is for each man to assess, admit our wrongs, ask for forgiveness and then do right. There isn't a magic wand that's going to make all the locker room talk go away. Again, I'm not naive and clueless. But I can make a start. You can make a start. We can make change by admitting there's a problem and then working to fix it. We can choose not to participate in behavior that harasses women and, more importantly, we can tell the men we're with that they better stop threatening and harassing because it's wrong. Plain and simple. It will be hard, it will take time and we will be ridiculed by other men. But in the end, it is the right thing to do.

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Ron Vitale is the author of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series who hopes that his own children will overcome any obstacles in their way and find their own happily ever after.