In her Sidney Award-winning essay last month in Pacific Standard: “The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” Slate staff writer Amanda Hess tackled yet another facet of cyber-bullying by focusing on the disproportionate abuse that female journalists endure online.
Some of the online comments, spotlighted in Hess’ piece, were downright threatening.
“Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head,” the user @headlessfemalepig tweeted to Hess. ‘You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.’”
In her essay, Hess reported that she discovered how existing cyber-stalking laws provide scant protection for women targeted for online abuse.
She related that while she was able to obtain an order of protection against one highly persistent cyber-stalker, it was only after multiple court visits, and only for a year.
“Without the support of law enforcement, women are forced to seek out protection services and civil remedies, like restraining orders, ourselves, in an effort to keep harassers at bay. It all adds up to a tax on women’s participation on the internet—we have to spend a lot of time, money, and personal emotional investment in order to deal with real crimes that the government nevertheless fails to recognize.”
Moreover, Hess wrote that her experiences were by no means unique.
The essay pointed out that a 2006 study revealed how simply having a female user name in a chat room dramatically increases odds of abusive or sexually-charged messages. Fake accounts with female names, Hess reported, averaged 100 such messages per day, while accounts with male names received just 3.7.
Sidney Awards judge Lindsay Beyerstein called the internet “the new public square.” She added that “when female journalists face death threats…neither free speech nor gender equality is safe.”
Hess’ work has also appeared in WIRED, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice.
Have you experienced online sexism or bullying? Let us know in the comments or Tweet to us @10000words.
To find out more about the Sidney Award, visit the Sidney Hillman Foundation.