It officially sucks to be female on the Internet: 95 percent of online abuse is aimed at women

The United Nations even says it's time for social media to get serious about threats, most of which target women

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published November 25, 2015 8:28PM (EST)

  (<a href=''>GenNealPhoto</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>)
(GenNealPhoto via iStock)

This likely won't exactly come as a shock — especially if you're a woman and especially if you've spent any amount of time whatsoever online. But it's a depressing validation nonetheless. The BBC's Valeria Perasso reports Wednesday that the United Nations has issued a "worldwide wake-up call" about cyber violence against women just in time for its annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And the next time someone tries to tell you it's not as bad as you say or it happens to everybody or go somewhere else if you can't handle it, please repeat this line: "The UN estimates 95% of all aggressive and denigrating behavior in online spaces is aimed at women." That's the United Nations saying that — about 95 percent of the crap that goes down. (The BBC has since removed but not issued a correction for the original statistic.)

As the UN defines it, online abuse against women takes numerous forms, from threats to harassment to revenge porn. The UN Women's Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka tells the BBC: "Online violence has subverted the original positive promise of the Internet's freedoms and in too many circumstances has made it a chilling space that permits anonymous cruelty and facilitates harmful acts towards women and girls." Why does it happen, why does it persist? Because it can. Because the trolls know there will likely be zero consequences for their behavior.

On a generalized level, that means anonymous self-described beta males can gather and post their fantasies of shooting up female students. They can wet themselves with glee over stolen nude photos of Hollywood actresses. And a self-anointed "creepy uncle of Reddit" boast of time as the mastermind of subreddits like Jailbait, Rapebait, Chokeabitch and Creepshots. More specifically, it means that Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian can get threats of mass violence before a scheduled event, and have a school official shrug that "They determined the threat seems to be consistent with ones [Sarkeesian] has received at other places around the nation. The threat we received is not out of the norm for [her.]" It means game developer Brianna Wu has to leave her home after her personal information posted on 8chan, and that she get warnings like "I’ve got a K-bar and I’m coming to your house so I can shove it up your ugly feminist c__t."

Think these are just isolated examples? Gosh, if only I had something to cite from oh, I don't know, this very International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Wait, how about what just happened to Holly Brockwell? Brockwell is the 29 year-old editor of Gadgette, a "tech and lifestyle" site aimed at females. Earlier this week, she wrote a piece for the BBC's 100 Women 2015 called "Desperate not to have children." In it, she admits, "There's nothing about creating another human that appeals to me," and says that her simple and private choice has made her the subject of invasive questioning and insistent arguments about why she should change her mind. She's even had doctors tell her she's "too young to even consider" her tubes tied.

But if she thought the garbage she's already put up with for choosing her own reproductive future was intense, it got much worse after her story ran. The abuse she endured was so intense she briefly shut off her Twitter account, "due to the number of creepy, abusive threats she got, mainly from men," she says. And when she went to the BBC studios for a Q&A session, she was met by a security guard. She told Business Insider this week, "In the half hour between it going up and me seeing it, the volume of stuff, and the harshness of stuff, was already worrying me and made me think uh, maybe this wasn't going to be fine after all."

A recent UN report calls for providers such as "Internet service providers, mobile phone companies, social networking sites, gaming sites and websites" to "explicitly recognize cyber violence against women and girls as unlawful behavior" and provide "relief to victims and survivors." But until then, the trolls will keep on trolling, and make no mistake, the people they're aiming their hatred at are female.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Anita Sarkeesian Brianna Wu Gadgette Holly Brockwell United Nations