Online Abuse of Feminists is a Threat to Digital FeminismFebruary 21st, 2022
Many feminists have been subjected to cruel and derogatory comments online, based solely on the fact that they advocate for the empowerment of women – not for them to be seen as better than men, but equal. The nature of the insults would drive anyone away from public activism. But as Osongo D. Akinyi, a 26-year-old correspondent from Kenya, points out, these feminists consider their work far too important for them to retreat or cower in fear.
“A special place awaits feminists in hell,” “I hate feminists so much,” “w**** feminist,” “broke sl*t,” “fat chick,” “angry woman,” “sad woman,” “you should k*ll yourself.”
Feminist activists encounter these insults and other damaging comments every day online via social media, personal websites and emails. These derogatory comments often impact their mental health, work and feminism goals, and leaves some activists overwhelmed and discouraged. Still, those who strive to survive in the “online streets” accept the insults and continue their advocacy in spite of the vitriol.
Online abuse mostly targets women speaking on gender equality, misogyny, or who are engaged in feminist debates. Research exploring some comments feminists receive online revealed that these women go through extreme forms of abuse as they conduct their work and advocacy.
A study on online abuse found that women on Twitter are called either ‘whores’ or ‘sluts’ almost 10,000 times a day on the social media platform. The most prominent women to be targeted by these insults are celebrities, including Beyoncé Knowles, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton, who are undoubtedly some of the notable faces of women’s liberation.
Uju Anya, a university professor and feminist living in Pittsburg, US, has been called a foolish professor, a ‘whore’ and ‘slut-shamed’ for vocalizing issues to do with gender equality, misogyny, and her journey as an older queer woman.
Nigerian feminist, Uloma, who has faced similar insults, says she tackles them with fire. She notes that she cannot stop her work due to abuses from people who have been benefiting from women’s silence over the years. In a recent Twitter post, Uloma noted that she is not afraid of being called a prostitute – a label she says can be twisted to fit any woman in the world.
“Women and especially feminist women are called prostitutes for simply existing and pursuing their wild dreams, goals, and passions,” she says.
Feminists speaking about sexism at work, women in science, male violence, street harassment of women, and other topics that advocate for women’s safety and equality have received the vilest forms of online abuse. They have been called ugly, received extremely offensive language in private mails, asked to kill themselves, or told that they will be killed, raped or sexually abused.
Amai Tee, an entrepreneur and feminist from Ontario in the US, notes that ‘cishet’ men – (men whose gender coincides with what they were assigned at birth, and who are exclusively sexually attracted to women) – who hate feminists often hurl insults at her and other feminists because they are afraid of women affirming their power.
“Cishet men hate feminists because they challenge men’s patriarchal entitlement to women’s body, labor, and humanity,” says Amai Tee. “Some men have also hurt women and children, and they hate feminists because we have the power to expose them,” she adds.
Feminists are no longer keeping quiet about torture, different forms of abuse, sexual misconduct and misogyny they suffer at the hands of men and a patriarchal society. The anger from their outspokenness has led to an increase in online abuse as specific people want to silence them.
Despite the intimidation they receive online, these feminists have vowed to continue fighting for their causes and advocating for their rights. Retreating, they say, is not an option because it will only make the cowards behind keyboards win.
“Whenever women can, they should fight back. Feminism is about dismantling patriarchy and ensuring it fears us rather than embracing its power,” says feminist and writer Mona Eltahawy.
Photo Credit: Canva
About Osongo Akiyni: I am a digital journalist. I aspire to tell stories of women in Africa venturing into careers such as fashion, politics, science, and engineering. I want to tell stories of women who, like me, are making huge footprints on earth.