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Originally published April 16, 2013 at 4:12 PM | Page modified April 17, 2013 at 11:24 AM

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Guest: The rise of sexism and misogyny in a Facebook era

Social media has morphed sexism and misogyny into a cruel and powerful beast, writes guest columnist Grace Gedye.

Special to The Times

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A FACEBOOK page titled “Slut” has 581,845 likes. The term is used casually in teenage conversations both as a cutting insult and a term of endearment.

Slut-shaming is nothing new; since the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne and “The Scarlet Letter,” girls have been branded with titles because of their sexuality.

And while womens rights have come a long way since the 1850s, social media of the 21st century has morphed sexism and misogyny into a cruel and powerful beast.

Facebook and Twitter make objectifying women easy. A mere click of a button guarantees you a large audience. Teens who never make lewd comments to someone’s face create Facebook groups called “its (sic) not rape if u shout SURPRISE!!!” or “its (sic) not rape, it’s a snuggle struggle” which have almost 1,000 likes.

That is the incredible power of social media. One person can start a misogynist Facebook group, type an insulting comment or make a sexist status update and amass support from the Facebook community in the form of “likes.”

And the insulting statuses reach a far larger audience than just those who “like” them. Bystanders who passively scroll past the content, maybe stopping to read it if bored, are equally responsible. Their nonchalance is terrifying and absurd at the same time.

It’s absurd that millennial teens are exposed to this content on such a regular basis that it barely grabs attention, and terrifying that adults of tomorrow are largely passive about everyday misogyny.

Full disclosure: I am of that generation. As a 17-year-old, I check Facebook more than once a day. When I see the offhand sexist comments, there are often a few words of backlash, but it’s rarely enough to change the offender’s habits.

And while it may be somewhat less common, there is a surprising number of female participants in those rape-as-a-joke Facebook groups. Yes, that made me do a double take as well. It’s the mindset of our generation, male and female both.

Sexism may be an age-old problem, but we are the first generation to navigate the issue through the lens of social media.

How we discuss sex, women and rape online sets a powerful precedent for future teens, who will no doubt be further entrenched in online-networking groups. It is time for us to recognize the position we are in and step up to the plate.

But how on earth do you go about changing a social norm? The go-to answer is education, which can work well with young kids, but in this case would likely be ineffective.

What could prompt a subconscious shift is a change in the portrayal of women in the media. Consumers are assaulted with a barrage of Kim Kardashian updates. “Is that butt real?” “How is her marriage going?”

When we cover more accomplished female leaders, all too often the focus is on haircuts and pantsuits, rather than ideas and issues. We must spend fewer column inches on plastic pop stars and more on women making decisions that affect the lives of many.

By changing the coverage of women in the media, we change the dialogue in society, which in turn shifts the tone of online interactions.

In the meantime, each person can take a stance on online sexism. Respond to offenders, letting them know that kind of talk is not appreciated and use the “report” function on Facebook to get the worst images taken down.

We have two choices: We can passively scroll by offensive posts, or we can throw off the cloak of apathy and make sexism on social media a thing of the past.

Grace Gedye is a student at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences and studying at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership.

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