When the initial findings of our Digital Confidence survey were presented at the Digital Women UK launch event last month, there was a lot of interest in the fact that the largest group among the 130 creative practitioners who responded were in the 45-54 age category. Another stand-out finding was not only the number of women who said they had been abused online (14 per cent), but the number who said that they done something about it (60 per cent).
The survey can only give a snapshot of creative women’s experiences online, but while there is cause for concern, it was heartening to read that so many of the women who had been abused online had confronted their abuser, with almost half having made a complaint to the social media provider concerned.
As research has shown, women not only appear in the media far less frequently than men, when they do they are presented as case studies or victims. We hear less about what women are doing in response to this unsatisfactory picture.
This perception of women as people things are done to partly explains why the media seemed so surprised that women took part in the protests that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. This same bewilderment characterised the ‘heroic’ response to the actions of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, Amanda Donnelly and her daughter, Gemini Donnelly-Martin who tended to the dying soldier Lee Rigby, who was murdered close to his barracks in Woolwich, London in May this year.
Journalists, more accustomed to portrayals of women as powerless victims, appeared to struggle to make sense of the three culturally diverse women’s calmness, kindness and courage. Yet many of us would recognise such a response, or even a more vocal one , when it’s all kicking off, as being part of who we are and what we do. So it’s of no surprise to us that women creatives are taking action and responding to the threats and abuse that have become such a feature of social media recently.
There are so many initiatives in the UK – and worldwide – that have been set up to counteract the injustices, abuse and misogyny that women face, many of them harnessing the power of digital media. There’s the Hollaback campaign, launched in response to street harassment, which now operates in 22 countries. The Everyday Sexism Project was established so that women could catalogue the sexism they encountered, while blogger Mikki Kendall started the SolidarityisforWhiteWomen hashtag on Twitter to express her frustration that the concerns of white women often dominated the feminist agenda. These are just a few examples highlighting how women are using social media creatively to fight back.
In the coming weeks, we will explore what women are doing to challenge abuse online – and investigate what else might be done to highlight the issue of trolling and challenge it. Please get in touch if you have any examples or suggestions that you’d like us to consider. The more creative the response, the better. You can reach us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @DigitalWomenUK or Facebook.
Julie Tomlin is the co-founder of Digital Women UK
Picture credit: Syracuse University