Whipping up a storm in a teacup is easier than one might think. Take a generous amount of generalisation, add a touch of casual reading around the “facts” of an issue, and throw in the odd random piece of information that serves no purpose other than to flesh out the aforementioned generalisation. And so it is that we have another article, following the furor that occurred yesterday with respect to the Demos/Twitter/misogyny info thing, that does little other than speak to those who love to leave comments at the foot of online articles, which, if you’ve ever taken the trouble to read such comments, you’ll find degenerate rather quickly into nasty slanging matches – now, where’s the taskforce to deal with those kind of comments?
Asserting that the Internet is “an exaggerator of everything human, where the bad is extraordinarily horrible and noisier than the good,” is such a simple, generalised position to take, in that it conveniently ignores all the good aspects of a medium that connects people around the globe in a way never before seen – and there are a great many examples of such. Following this, we are told of the “brave campaign in the House of Commons against online misogyny,” where politicians will “call for people to join a consultation on what can be done about the poisonous sexism, racism, homophobia and plain bullying the web has unleashed into the ether.” Now, I’m pretty sure that all of the “poisonous” things listed here existed prior to the Internet. The Internet hasn’t unleashed such things; it’s just that it’s way easier for people to express their views and for others to hear such views.
Then there’s the claim that the report focuses solely on the words “slut” and “whore.” It doesn’t. Demos also researched the use of the word “rape.” And here’s an interesting thing they found with respect to the use of the word rape: “79 per cent of users tweeted only once, 12 per cent twice, 4 per cent three times. The most prolific tweeter of ‘rape’ tweeted 392 times.” So, straight away we see that one person (the prolific tweeter) is responsible for a whole lot more uses of the word than anyone else. The same is also true of the use of “slut” and “whore,” where: “78 per cent of users tweeted either “slut” or “whore” once, 14 per cent twice, 4 per cent four times. The user who produced the most tweets containing these words tweeted 415 times.” It seems that most Twitter users whose tweets became part of the research findings may, in fact, only use these words a few times – and it is noted that the use of such words increases around things like media coverage and celebrity involvement in similar discourse, and so, the bulk of what we seem to be seeing is a form of public engagement, like it or not, with what takes place in the media and in the world of entertainment. Should we look to suppress such engagement? For sure, it might be nice to think that we could suppress the “prolific tweeter” mentioned above, but is that realistic? There will always be a minority who hold unsavoury views – just look at some of our current politicians.
Getting back to the article. It goes on to ask why such expression of hate via this use of language? The answer appears to be simple. It’s all down to the fact that, “like the sad angry men, girls lashing out express all their own insecurities and lack of self-esteem. If you hate yourself and your body, if you can’t match the impossible ideal woman imagery all around you, then you lash out to make yourself feel better.” This seems to be a very reductive view of the women using “slut” and “whore” in their tweets. Again, as mentioned in the previous post, we can look at women’s appropriation of such words in many different ways – some positive (Slut Walk), some negative. Surely we can’t generalise that all such uses are down to insecurity over body-image – that’s a really sloppy take on the situation and more than a tad convenient. One could even say it was misogynistic, right?
After all the generalisation, there’s also an example of the kind of random piece of information that I alluded to earlier. In this particular example, we are told of the Swedish education system and its sterling work at setting up “feminist girls’ clubs” to protect and support girls. Yet throwing this factoid in opens up another can of worms when we look at the figures that seem to suggest that Sweden has the highest rate of rape in Europe, where “according to a study published in 2003, and other later studies through 2009, Sweden has the highest sexual assault rate in Europe, and among the lowest conviction rates.” Again, it’s more complicated than this – stigma around reporting incidents may differ, the categorisation of what constitutes a sexual offence may be broader than other countries. In short, there’s no easy answer.