• Emma-Jane

The nature of online activity against women is focused around pre-existing gender stereotypes

Online culture has contributed in socially constructed gender roles, pressuring women to conform to these expectations. The rise in social media has created more objectification towards women and the gender-bias nature of online crime supports this behaviour.

It’s 2019 and women still have an unestablished role in the gaming industry, making it hard to take full advantage of these platforms. The rise in social media has created additional platforms for activity and opportunities, encouraging gender equal participation and interaction globally. Aside from the developing opportunities, women no longer feel entirely safe or protected online. We see how the access to technology provides more opportunity for objectification against women.

Amnesty International conducted a study in 2017 on cybercrime against UK women. 59% of women said their perpetrator was a stranger, compared with 27% who personally knew the offender.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) say there’s a pandemic of Cyber Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG). These crimes include cyberstalking, non-consensual pornography (‘revenge porn’), gender-based slurs and harassment, ‘slut-shaming’, rape and death threats, electronically enabled trafficking. “The CPS has continued to engage across government on this work, recognising that online trolling and abuse can often disproportionately target women.”

Kate Allen, Amnesty International's UK Director, communicates the common way social media is used in regards to women. “What we’re seeing in social media is a space where violations of women’s human rights continue to emerge, where perpetrators can be violent, sexist, racist and homophobic whilst hidden behind the comfort of a screen... Violence and abuse of women are as real online as it is offline. Policy-makers and social media companies need to wake up to this and ensure that women can feel safe to communicate online.”

The disturbing nature of online activity against women is often focused around these pre-existing gender stereotypes; the pressures that society has created for women to conform to. This mindset has generated more scope for predatory men to oppress and harass women publicly, causing psychological and physical distress, whilst also depriving females of potential opportunities in the digital age.

The social construction of gender conflicts against the traditional behavioural expectations of women. Online magazine The Mediated Culture discusses the power of social media for promoting gender issues and inequalities. “Social media is the most prevalent technological intervention in today’s society; and thus, it is responsible for the most powerful movements in society.” These social constructions are derived from standard beliefs in society and although gender definitions and feminist movements developing over time, females still remain inferior.

The male gaze emphasises these socially constructed gender roles, something that is taken advantage of on the media. “As these negative depictions are repeated in the media, they become more accepted as appropriate and expected behaviours from women. These commercials dehumanise women, presenting them as fantasy objects.” With the media re-defining what it means to be a woman, we become conditioned to think about ourselves through the male gaze. Against these pressures, women would typically define herself as less than a woman in toxic comparison. More equality of gender representation in the industry would encourage women to use the media more actively and highlight the means of a woman through female lenses.

A Forbes article discusses social media and the potential it has in being more harmful to women than men, based on the nature and way girls use these platforms. Women and girls are more likely to make comparisons between themselves and others, trying to keep up with the expectations they see online that is supported through the media. This online culture has created gender expectations for women in society and the nature online activity is becoming toxic. The most commonly used platforms (particularly Instagram) are focused around self perception, which encourages egotistical thinking and the growing obsession around physical appearance.

We can reflect on the growing community of influencers and how they may be having a more negative effect than positive, especially when women have for so long been told that their physical appearance is all they are good for. Encouraging a superficial way of life around the nature of social media idealises this way of living. The rise in plastic surgery reinforces the social expectations of what women should look like, what has been shown as the must-have body, the current ‘fashion’ for body type. “It’s a culture based on validation from complete strangers. Being online should be used to enhance your life and your opportunities, it shouldn’t be your whole existence,” said Jennie Leighton.

These pressures leave women dedicating extensive amounts of time questioning their every social actions, “which in turn increased their own insecurities.” A study conducted by psychologist Jean Twenge “found that teens who spend more than a few hours a day on social media had an increased risk for depression, compared to those who spend less. Here, too, the connection was stronger for girls than boys.” The dangers of these platforms are ongoing but have gender specific impacts.

The World Wide Web Foundation found that “women around the world report being bombarded by a culture of misogyny online, including aggressive, often sexualised hate speech, direct threats of violence, harassment, and revenge porn involving the use of personal/private information for defamation.” Cybercrime towards women transcends social hierarchy and goes further than industry inequality. The nature of the online crime is often focused around misogynistic beliefs that have been socially constructed.

Amnesty International highlights that more than a quarter (27%) of UK women had received direct or indirect threats of physical or sexual violence, leaving more than half (55%) with stress and anxiety. “Tackling and protecting women against online violence and abuse requires decisive and coordinated action from social media companies, government and the police.”

The nature of online behaviour towards women is designed to intimidate, manipulate and control, commonly by perpetrators who often are unlikely to be identified or punished. The development of technology has created an opportunity for platforms to be used and taken advantage of, creating different potentials for cybercrime. Women need to be more educated on cyber victimisation and how to prevent or respond to this.

This can happen to anyone, by anyone and is so easily done with how much information people put out there. The biggest lesson learnt here is that social media is a platform being used to exploit and target women and it’s happening more than we think.

*excerpt from my journalism project*

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