If you are a woman with a presence online and dare to be as bold as sharing your opinion, especially on controversial and divisive topics, you will no doubt be familiar with the phenomenon of online harassment. While this is also something men face online, what women experience is something that speaks to a far deeper issue throughout society when it comes to gender.
Soraya Chemaly, a journalist who regularly reports on issues relating to gender inequality, states there are three main factors that people should know about the reasons women are harassed online, compared to men in an article for Time.
“Women’s harassment is more likely to be gender-based and that has specific, discriminatory harms rooted in our history…For girls and women, harassment is not just about ‘un-pleasantries.’ It’s often about men asserting dominance, silencing, and frequently, scaring and punishing them,” she writes.
Over the past few years we have seen some incredibly heinous online viral movements that are directly about the shaming of women, their choices and their bodies. The #Gamergate scandal attacking female gamers and people like Anita Sarkeesian Brianna Wu who dared to speak out about sexism in the industry. The 4Chan nude images of numerous female celebrities being leaked.
The horrific shaming of a young black girl who was raped while unconscious becoming a viral hashtag where teens all around the country “imitated” her incapacitated pose. And as Soraya Chemaly mentions in her piece, women are the overwhelming majority of revenge porn victims, new laws to prosecute which are only just starting to see the light of day in various legislatures.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but what she is explains is that women are attacked fundamentally for being women, and it is not so much the case for men. This may sound depressing and horrible, and indeed it is. But for all the bad that exists online, thankfully there are positive, affirming and inclusive movements that seek to combat the degradation that exists.
One such movement is the #CelebratingWomen campaign, started by Australian woman Dr. Kirstin Ferguson. In an article for the Australian Financial Review, she talks about her background in the military, then in the business world, and now being a board member for a number of companies. Dr. Ferguson is also an Australian Broadcasting Corporation director and the founder of an international consultancy that specializes in safety governance and leadership for boards and senior executives.
Throughout her career trajectory, she said she has seen the poor treatment of women as a common trait, and wants to use her expertise to combat this.
“The denigration of all women, particularly online, is something I am really passionate about. It is simply not OK. I have seen women in the media denigrated online with comments that if said in a face-to-face meeting would result in that person losing their job or the police being called…just because we are in an online environment, I don’t think it should mean we are any more tolerant of those words and actions,” she said touching on how the issue of online harassment sometimes doesn’t get taken as seriously as, say, physical harm.
Dr. Ferguson launched #CelebratingWomen as a way to use her voice in profiling the lives of women who are making a difference, in order to make her own small slice of change.
“I started the #CelebratingWomen project at the start of the year to see more celebration, and less denigration, of women online. I made a public commitment to share the profiles of two women, from all over the world, every single day in 2017,” she writes.
While she states that she knows her project alone isn’t going to fix the problem, her goal is to focus on women in a positive way to drown out the constant stream of harassment and degradation that many women face every day online. And she particularly wants to give a voice to women who aren’t necessarily celebrities or well-known names.
“We have had high-profile women including government ministers, authors and leading businesswomen involved but the project is primarily aimed at those women who would not otherwise be visible. I believe every woman is a role model in their own way and the more diverse female role models we can recognize and celebrate, the more we can inspire one another,” she said.
So far women from 13 countries have been featured. This includes women from Kenya, Serbia, America, the UK and Australia. On the list is a mathematician, a Canadian paralympian, and former presidential candidate from Iceland.
“Every single woman has done something inspiring for someone else, they are all role models. It doesn’t matter if their at home with their kids or running for president,” she told the Huffington Post in an interview.
The project is also people-powered. If you are reading this and want to submit someone to be profiled, visit the website, fill in the submission form (with their permission, obviously), upload 4 images, answer 4 questions, and add to the growing list of women whose stories deserve celebration.
“While I may be facilitating it and getting the stories out. It’s every woman that makes this possible. It’s a group effort of women around the world putting themselves forward,” said Dr. Ferguson.
We highly encourage our readers to take part in this movement, and take inspiration from the #CelebratingWomen hashtag where you can see some of the women who are already being talked about. If you believe in Dr. Ferguson’s mission to do whatever it takes to drown out the noise of harassment toward women online, find ways to support the women in your social network and use your digital voice to be a force for good.