On February 6th 1918, the passing of the Representation of the People Act extended voting rights to women. Exclusion from parliamentary politics during the 19thcentury led to the congregation of campaigners forming the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Through persistent hunger strikes, street demonstrations and even the symbolic death of Emily Wilding Davison, hit by King George V’s at the Eposm Derby in an attempt to publicise their fight.
Last year in Manchester, home of movement’s leader Emmeline Pankhurst, Theresa May spoke to mark the centenary. The Prime Minister stated that: “Those who fought to establish their right – my right, every woman’s right – to vote in elections, to stand for office and to take their full and rightful place in public life did so in the face of fierce opposition. They persevered in spite of all danger and discouragement because they knew their cause was right.”
The direction of the speech was later aimed at the contemporary forms of activism we see on social media today. May addressed the abuse and intimidation that women are consistently subject to, particularly ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT+ community face in the online sphere.
In 2013, when Caroline Criado-Perez began her online petition calling for women to be represented on British banknotes, the campaigner was to an estimated number of 50 abusive tweets an hour with two arrests made due to the offensiveness of the posts. A topic more recently featured in headlines describes the online abuse that Munroe Bergadof, the transgender model and activist has been subject to. In early 2018 Bergadof, along with 20 other activists, were appointed as LGBT advisers to the Labour party’s women and equality minister Dawn Butler. After one week within the position, the model made the decision to step down from her role after “endless attacks on her character”.
These scenarios exemplify the huge amount of abuse targeted at women who choose to use the cyber space as a place to challenge and discuss the gender inequalities experienced within the offline world. Yet for many, most concerning example of how the online sphere can be a dangerous place for women is clearly illustrated by the report released by Amnesty International in December.
The non-governmental human rights organisation has described the social media platform Twitter, as a “toxic place” due to the amount of online abuse, harassment and violent threats the platform places women at risk
After analysing the tweets of 778 women journalists and politicians found shocking statistics, including that black women were 84% more likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets. The report also found that around one in 10 posts mentioning black women contained “abusive or problematic” language and one in 15 for white women.
“Abusive content violates Twitter’s own rules and includes tweets that promote violence against or threaten people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.”
In response, the Shadow Home Secretary and frequently targeted victim of online abuse Diane Abbot, has called for the platform to implement procedures in order to diminish the racist and misogynistic messages being posted. Twitter, over the last year has intended to make the feeds of users “healthier” in order to limit abusive language and encourage usage of the platform as a place of debate. With the release of this report, Amnesty International have provided solid data to support the necessity for Twitter to develop and provide safety tools for women to debate and discuss without fear.
However, if reforms and legislations are put in place by social media platforms and governments to criminalise these forms of prejudice, problems may arise by the way in the way in which they are characterised.
The protected characteristics which are currently covered by anti-hate crime legislation include race, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion. With a further push to limiting these online and offline crimes poses the issue of legislation being manipulated to see misandry as a criminal offence. For men’s rights activists and other movements who would benefit from being able to share dangerous agendas online without criticism, it is clear that ignorance to the idea of systematic oppression.
Does misandry place men a position where they are seen in a lesser position across the globe or implant the fear of being abused verbally, physically and sexually on the basis that they are men?
In the words of Margret Atwood, “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill.”
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