Did you know that if you are a female, there is a 47% chance that you will have experienced online harassment? If you are a female under 30, this figure rises to a staggering 76%[i]. And do you want to know the worst part? This harassment is primarily by other women.
At the recent ‘Women in Media – Exposed: Women journalists and online harassment’ event, I learnt that women in media are exposed to some of the harshest criticisms online.
As I sat there in a room full of successful and inspirational women, the conversations that took place were nothing short of amazingly liberating and eye opening. This was unexpected and astonishingly new territory for me, a young female just two years into my career.
One statement took my attention in particular, and I am in no doubt it will capture yours.
“Having a vagina is enough!”
I have to admit, I was a little shocked when the words came out of Julie Posetti’s mouth. Julie is the Head of Digital Editorial Capability at Fairfax.
I hadn’t even finished my first glass of wine and already we were throwing around controversial statements. She did have a point though, as if we didn’t already have it hard enough. Many of us experience uncomfortable cramping every month, and don’t even get me started on bikini waxes.
To put my learnings into perspective, of the 50 or so successful and inspirational women in that room, more than 30 of them have experienced, or will experience, online harassment in their lifetime.
My question is, are our anxieties that bad that women have delved so deep into an ever-consuming world of social media that they feel the need to put down the next successful woman?
I wonder, are we that intimated by the success of someone else?
I know I am also a woman, but not even I can answer that question.
It is however, quite obvious that this harassment has come about from the increased capacity of broadening online sources. This means that trolling, character assassinations, cyberbullying, sexual harassment and threats of physical violence have become easier, and more anonymous, than ever before. A large percentage of women are witnessing this in real-time – but only 10% are actually reporting it[ii].
Let’s take Edwina Bartholomew for example (who attended the event).
Picture this. Successful Australian journalist, television presenter and radio presenter – attends the Oscars in a glamourous red carpet frock and moments later logs online to see she’s making headlines – “Edwina Bartholomew wears vagina dress at the Oscars” – all over the internet.
Not to mention the comments:
“It would have been a lovely dress, bar the anatomy hanging off it”
“Your face and body are to die for… But, sorry, the thing on the dress looks like a part of a female anatomy. I know I am not the only person thinking this…”
“Nice but why is there a uterus on the outside of your dress?”
Although Edwina was able to make light of this situation at the event, she copped a fair amount of flack online over, to put it simply – a dress. Are you kidding me?
We should be looking up to other women, not putting them down.
Mia Freedman, founder of Australia’s fastest growing women’s website, Mamamia, urged women in the room to take back control of their social media accounts. Remember that you have the power to block, delete and control your page. Social media platforms like Twitter take online abuse incredibly seriously and have developed tools to make the online experiences safer, and allow us to take back this control.
My question is – why aren’t we using these tools to our advantage?
However I was encouraged by what I heard at the event that, today and more so then ever before, many women are choosing to set their own page guidelines and display them for all to see.
I don’t know about you, but I want the freedom to be able to share my thoughts and opinions on social media. Perhaps it comes at a cost, but how high is that cost?
In a study on how social media transforms the way we live and do business, American author Erik Qualman stated that ‘if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world behind only China and India’[iii]. This is intimidating. And that is just Facebook!
That is a lot of people, commenting, sharing and passing judgement. To reiterate my earlier point, more than 76% of women in this ‘mass’ group of people have experienced harassment online. Women in media is but one segment of a huge corpus being attacked purely for being successful women.
What happened to the GIRL POWER I used to hear about in Spice Girls songs?
Well, Julia Posetti said “Having a vagina is enough” and I’m going to say “Enough is Enough.”
Things need to change. I want to be part of that change.
[i] Norton Survey, Online Harassment: The Australian Woman’s Experience: https://phoenix.symantec.com/Norton/au/online-harassment-experience-women/assets/A4_Norton_infographic_Online_Harassment_Against_Women.pdf, 2016
[ii] Norton Survey, Online Harassment: The Australian Woman’s Experience: https://phoenix.symantec.com/Norton/au/online-harassment-experience-women/assets/A4_Norton_infographic_Online_Harassment_Against_Women.pdf, 2016
[iii] Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, Erik Qualman, John Wiley & Sons, United States, 2011