You can disagree with someone online without using flagrant misogyny.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Republican candidate Ted Cruz is celebrating by defending the idea that a woman should be forced to carry a pregnancy caused by rape. It’s not hard to find examples of comments and actions of Conservative men that reinforce rape culture in the political arena. It’s also not hard to find comments and actions from men, including Liberal men, that reinforce rape culture involving the way women are often treated in the political arena.
A lot has been said about the blatant misogyny and sexist behavior directed at women who support Hillary Clinton. As a Hillary supporter myself, I’ve experienced this. But my good friend, colleague, and fellow writer here at Liberals Unite, Kimberley Johnson, supports Bernie Sanders and also experiences this. I’ve seen my friends and colleagues experience this whether they’re posting about a candidate or an issue.
When women make a post or Tweet, we’re expressing our thoughts and opinions in our own available spaces. It’s important for men to think about how they are choosing to interact with us within those spaces. I’m not saying men shouldn’t disagree with our opinions. What I am saying is that men need to think about the ways in which they choose to express their disagreement. If you behave as though if you just question us enough, insult us enough, mansplain enough, or yell at us enough that we’ll obey change our minds, that behavior reinforces the idea that it’s okay for men to question, coerce, force, or shame us in regards to our bodies.
Men need to respect women’s boundaries online just like they need to respect them offline. If a woman says certain types of posts or comments aren’t welcome in her space and you continue to make those types of posts or comments, you are forcing yourself on her even though she told you no. If you question her rules and boundaries based on what others are posting, you’re reinforcing the idea that what a woman chooses to do with one man she is somehow obligated to do with all men.
Women aren’t all the same. Our opinions and feelings aren’t all the same. Don’t tell us that just because other women agree with you, we should too. Let’s say I go to a club with one of my girlfriends. A guy comes up behind us and puts his hands on both of our rear ends. My friend doesn’t mind. I turn around and tell the guy off. He says, “She didn’t mind, so you shouldn’t mind.”
I’ve seen it argued that if women don’t want to attract this kind of behavior, we should limit our posts to a more private audience. I’ve also seen it argued that a woman who is out in public at what is perceived as the wrong place or at the wrong time is making herself a target for rape. Some say that the words or the tone with which a woman chooses to express her opinion justifies sexist online behavior directed towards her. Others say that if a girl wears a shirt to school that exposes her collarbone she is an impediment to the education of boys and that if a woman dresses too provocatively she is “asking for it.”
When we tell you what we think or how we feel, too many of you don’t believe us unless you agree with us. When we report that we’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, too many of you don’t believe us unless the circumstances agree with your definition of the terms.
Women don’t have equal representation in government. We don’t have equal rights under the Constitution. Empowering women is important, not just in terms of personal support, but in order to advance our rights and move forward in fighting sexual assault and advocating for victims through policy. Many of my female friends and colleagues have no problem taking what comes at us and dishing out what’s deserved based on it. That doesn’t mean what comes at us is correct. There are many other women – especially young women – who, because of the way they see us treated online, are afraid to engage and stay quiet.
It’s On Us to help prevent sexual assault. It’s on us to not only pledge to fight directly against rape and sexual assault, but also against the culture that encourages it. It’s on us to help create a culture of empowerment. When you see something, say something. When you have the chance to encourage and support, encourage and support. Be that guy.