Be a woman with opinions on the internet, goes the saying, and prepare to trade in your comfort, safety and self-esteem for an endless drip feed of abuse, threats and insights into the innermost thoughts of misogynists and mansplainers alike. While this very blatant assertion of power against women who dare to challenge a sexist status quo is nothing new, being reduced to a bubbling, mascara-stained mess over the words of a faceless egg might be – but only because their words feel all too real against the backdrop of a society where 1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual violence and where 2 a week will be killed by men (statistics from Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid).
The answer lies far beyond social media, tangled up in power structures and historical subordination and the usefulness of violence in retaining dominance at all costs, but its incarnations are infinitely shareable when boiled down to 140 characters or a 6-second Vine filmed with a selfie stick. After all, Dapper Laughs talking down an iPhone lens about women ‘gagging for a rape’ is only ever but three clicks away from the kind of Snapchat stories and video screenshots synonymous with Steubenville – its one-word signifier itself a testament to our hashtag culture – which were scrutinised and critiqued with Twitter as judge and jury, pondering over whether the victim had somehow, in all her unconscious mystery, asked for it. Some women are just gagging for a rape, after all.
But if social media shines a light on just how widespread rape culture and its defenders are, its also an infinitely powerful tool for forcing the glare back onto them, exposing the harm they cause and how pathetic it all is at its core. Women continue to defy these desperate pleas for us to stay in our places by carving out social media platforms and using them to shout even louder. Hashtags such as #IBelieveHer, rallied in the face of every all-too-common newsworthy assault, and #WhyIStayed, aiming to bust myths about the ease of leaving an abusive relationship, both garnered huge support and created communities of solidarity in spite of geographical borders. Much of this support is from women who previously would have been shut out of traditional activism by any number of barriers that should never have excluded them from having a voice.
With eggs coming at you from one side and apologists from the other, sometimes just staying online is an act of rebellion. For those about to tweet, we salute you.