Books
Laurie Penny

Cybersexism

dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
The Internet is a real place. It’s where we live and work and fight and fuck and make friends. Harassment, intimidation and silencing online are more than ‘just words’, and not just because they are sometimes, in my experience, photos of your head pasted on porn, cartoons of you being beaten up, or phone calls whispering about your sexual history. Whoever cooked up the idiot axiom about sticks and stones breaking bones but words being essentially harmless never knew a teenager bullied to suicide by online taunting.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Fine quotes many of the world’s most respected psychiatrists and neuroscientists, such as Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, peddling such codswallop as: ‘The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.’
This, in fact, is the most persistent delusional artefact of what is known as evolutionary psychology. Women are good at feeling and men are good at thinking. Women have more ‘social’ intelligence, are better able to ‘multitask’, whereas men are better at things that require the sort of focus that can only be achieved when your wife or girlfriend is sorting out dinner.
Women can be almost as smart as men, but we’re smarter at different things, things like nurturing, listening, taking care of other people, managing social systems, throwing parties, publicising events and inventions men are in charge of, organising the diaries and offices of men that they might better concentrate on the important work, and, of course, raising children. Men, in other words, are good at doing, making and building things; women are good at making life easier for men. We’re not less smart, we’re just different smart. Smart at things that don’t involve being listened to or making an impact on the world. You know, different smart.
It’s a eugenics of gender that would be seen for the throat-closingly vile propaganda it is were the tests being done on people of different races, ethnicities or sexual preferences. And yet these myths persist because they are soothing, comforting, because they provide a halfway rational basis for the prejudices that poison our society.
Otherwise rational individuals cling to bad science to justify the ongoing dismissal of women in exactly the same way people once clung to religion to provide that same justification: once, women didn’t go into research and engineering because God had designed them to be full-time mothers; today, women don’t go into research and engineering because evolution designed them to be bad at maths and better at babies. This is, apart from anything else, a terrible misuse of a respected theory.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
It hasn’t occurred to Wong, and to every other angry man in front of his laptop, that not all ‘women’ have this power, because the category ‘women’ does not, in fact, include only ‘women David Wong wants to have sex with’.
Moreover, perhaps even the women who do have this kind of power don’t actually want it. Perhaps we consider it a raw deal that the power to turn men on is the only sort of power we’re allowed, and that we’re punished and resented and attacked and bullied, brutalised and killed for having it. Guys, listen up: we’re not conspiring with your boners against you. Women are people, not walking bags of pheromones and interestingly arranged body fat, and we like to be treated as such.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
One of the most important ways in which boys prove their social value, prove that they are or will shortly become men, is by exerting power over women: sexual power, physical power, the power to bully and threaten and intimidate and control. Sexism is a status play. At school, the fact that geek guys are normally lower down the status hierarchy is part of what creates the unique flavour of rage spicing up the murky broth of nerd misogyny, and the rage is knotted up with sexual frustration.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Capitalism, technology and the revenge of the socially excluded have come together to create a world where all of us, particularly women and girls, are products, all social capital shall be categorised for cash, and the geek shall inherit the earth.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
There is a real truth to the idea that the men – and at the time it was mostly men – who first built the web were at the margins of social power in a traditional, high-schoolcafeteria sense – and because a lot of them were young, the symbol of the social belonging they didn’t have was their inability to connect with women.’ Even though everyone is now online, including the jocks, cheerleaders and cool kids, Atal explains that ‘the culture still operates on the basis of woman as the inscrutable enemy.’
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
The getting of the girl is a pivotal part of this Pygmalion tale. The story simply wouldn’t work if the girl wasn’t hot. The hot girl, in fact, is the motivating factor, both the prize and the peril – she is the Dark Crystal, the One Ring, the McGuffin that makes the rest of the narrative hang together. She isn’t a real person, of course; that’d be inconvenient. In some variations of this story, the pretty, popular girl gets her comeuppance – usually humiliating rejection by the now universal Geek Boy – and is replaced by a less popular but equally pretty girl who has been pining for the protagonist since Act I. The trouble is that if the story doesn’t work out that way – and in an economic system designed so that most of us lose it really doesn’t usually work that way – people start looking for someone to blame.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Everywhere, people in positions of privilege warp and misuse the idea of ‘free speech’ to shut down and silence everyone else’s right to speak freely. Freedom of speech, for so many people used to the comfort of not having to examine their lives, simply means freedom from criticism and responsibility.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Fogg, “that this is not the Internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there’s a free speech issue there. But not the one you think.’
Freedom of speech does not include the freedom to abuse and silence others with impunity. It doesn’t even include the right to be paid attention to.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
rs definitely all possess.
In 2011 I wrote that a woman’s opinion was the mini-skirt of the Internet. Since
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
According to the current logic of online misogyny, a woman’s right to self-expression is less important by far than a man’s right to punish her for that self-expression.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
– no apparent distinction being made between the right to express your views and the right to have your ugliest half-thoughts paid attention to.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
s the way men have always spoken about women in private, and the reason it looks new is that women have never had so much instant and intimate access to these spaces before, where we can observe men speaking about us as they have for centuries when they thought we weren’t watching. The power to watch men back is something the web affords women, but men haven’t quite realised that yet.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
is in this climate, in this news economy of misogyny, this society where the male gaze is monetised as never before, the worst thing any woman or girl can be is ‘attention seeking’. Women are supposed to be looked at, but never listened to. We should be seen, but not heard – and god forbid we actually try to direct that attention or appear to enjoy it. If we raise our voices, we are ‘attention seeking’, and a woman who wants attention, never mind respect, cannot be tolerated. If you’re a woman and somebody calls you ‘attention seeking’, that’s a sure way to tell you’ve made an impact. It’s yet another slur that should be a source of pride.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
The fact that ‘attention seeking’ is still considered a slur says much about the role of women in public life, on every scale. From the moment we can speak, young women are ordered not to do so. Little girls who talk too much, who demand the respect they have earned, are ‘attention seeking’, and that’s very bad. Little boys who do the same are ‘confident’ or ‘engaging’. Men in public life, whether they are celebrities or politicians, rockstars or radio DJs, actors, activists or academics, are almost never accused of being ‘attention seeking’, with the possible exception of Bono. For a man to seek attention is no crime: attention is men’s due. Women, however, are supposed to be silent. We are not accorded the same right to speak. We are still little girls demanding ‘attention’, and we should learn our place.
The notion that women should be seen and not heard is not confined to the internet. The popular dead-tree press has always profited from objectifying some women and judging others. Readers are invited to pass judgement upon women’s beauty, upon their sexual behaviour, their fitness or unfitness as mothers, the shape of their bodies, the wobbliness of their thighs and their ability to snap back into a size six swimsuit two days after giving birth, and that judgement is the reader’s reward for skimming lazily over whatever propaganda the red-tops are peddling that day in the guise of news.
Even as women continue to be under-represented as journalists and editors, body-shaming, objectification and witless woman-hating filler copy remain the stock in trade of the ‘professional’ media.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Germaine Greer wrote in The Female Eunuch that women had no idea how much men hate them. Well, now we do. The Internet has a way of making hidden things visible, of collapsing contexts so that the type of banter that might once have been appropriate at a frat party exists on the same Twitter feeds where 15-year-olds are starting feminist campaigns. Combine that with the disinhibition provided by time-delay and anonymity and you have a recipe for the sort of gynophobic, racist and homophobic rage that women and men who are its targets often find incredibly frightening.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
Not all online sexism is intended to hurt women. Some of it is intended to impress other men, with hurting women as a regrettable but necessary side effect. A great deal of misogyny has always been a matter between men, performed by men and boys to impress those they consider peers, and forums, games and blogs are no different.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
The idea that this sort of hate speech is at all normal needs to end now. The Internet is public space, real space; it’s increasingly where we interact socially, do our work, organise our lives and engage with politics, and violence online is real violence. The hatred of women in public spaces online is reaching epidemic levels and it’s time to end the pretence that it’s either acceptable or inevitable.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
These messages are intended specifically to shame and frighten women out of engaging online, in this new and increasingly important public sphere. If we respond at all, we’re crazy, hysterical overreacting bitches, censors, no better than Nazis, probably just desperate for a ‘real man’ to fuck us, a ‘real man’ like the men who lurk in comment threads threatening to rip our heads off and masturbate into the stumps.
dannynicolinihas quotedlast year
The Internet recreates offline prejudices and changes them, twists them, makes them voyeuristic, and anonymity and physical distance make it easier for some individuals to treat other people as less than human.
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