Taking Back the Net
What’s the Big Deal? Types of Sexist Harassment Online

The hashtag #mencallmethings may be off the trending list, but it’s produced quite a few posts about the nature of harassment women face, including trends.

Let’s take a look at the Big 3, common to these three useful roundups of online abuse, in decreasing order of severity:

1) Actual violent threats

This is a no-brainer. But paradoxically, it tends to be the type of harassment least discussed, possibly because most people agree that not only is it not acceptable, it’s illegal. And only a complete fuckwit would do it in a way that can be traced back to them. Yet that can cause the actual prevalence of this behavior to be understated.

2) Just Plain Sexist Insults

Also called “hate speech” for the way it deliberately targets women (similar to how racist and homophobic hatespeech targets racial minorities and LGBT), this includes a large number of gender-specific or gender-related slurs: “slut,” “ugly,” “whore,” “cunt.” While not blatantly illegal, it is still classified as “hate speech” and has the same oppressive effects.

3) Accusations of hysteria/overreacting

Some people don’t think that this is particularly damaging, not compared to outright threats.

But in addition to being an accusation that is disproportionately targets women (how many times have you heard “hysteria” or “case of the vapours” applied to a man?), this one is especially insidious because its very presence legitimizes 1) and 2). 

The line of reasoning is something like this: if women are just “overemotional” and “overreacting” then clearly their reactions to being threatened or called a “cunt” are also overreacting—and that therefore this behavior is acceptable. 

So it enables and continues the cycle of silence and abuse.