Michael Nugent, the chair of Atheist Ireland, put up an interesting post comparing what happened when the same (really terrible) joke went up on two Facebook pages. In one case, the joke was accompanied by a no-doubt-non-consensual upskirt picture, and in the other, there was no picture. The illustrated one was spread much further—it had 43,000 likes and 24,000 shares—than the non-illustrated one, which had 53 likes and 18 shares. But the gap between the two isn’t that interesting, since the illustrated one was initially posted on an already-popular page and posts with pictures get shared more anyway. But it is interesting that so many people believe it’s appropriate to share an image that was taken against a woman’s will for no other purpose than to humiliate her.
What’s even more interesting is that, because this was Facebook, it was easy to figure who was writing the vicious, sexist garbage in comments mocking the victim of this upskirt photo. Interesting, because there’s a tendency, when women complain about online abuse, to dismiss the men who spew it as fringe characters and teenagers. The belief is that mainstream, adult men with families and jobs aren’t doing this, which allows the denialist to claim, therefore, that misogyny is not tolerated or encouraged by society, making women who complain about it whiners and babies.
So, here’s a list of some of the men saying stuff about the upskirt photo:
In other words, mainstream men who have real reputations to guard and who have widespread acceptance and support from their communities. These are not a bunch of teenagers screaming invective because they can or a bunch of fringe weirdoes who no one supports. These are men who have power, men who have families, men who have respect in their communities. So what kind of things did these well-supported, mainstream men have to say about a woman who has an image that is almost surely non-consensual being circulated around the internet for her humiliation?
The main themes are:
Naturally, you’re seeing the inevitable attempts to distract from the most important thing here, which is that men who promote vile misogyny and violence against women rarely pay a social penalty for it. The strategy is to complain that the back-of-the-envelope statistics Nugent came up with weren’t rigorous enough, and to hope that dwelling on that can deflect attention from really grappling with the fact that these men aren’t going to face any pushback from friends, family, or employers for saying in public that they think men should beat and rape women to control them. No doubt if Nugent had just skipped the comparison part and simply focused on the widespread popularity of making rape jokes about a woman who is already being routinely humiliated in public, there would be some other reason offered as to why we can’t look directly at the real issue here of the widespread social acceptance of misogyny. I’m guessing the “just a joke” claim, even though the reality is that rapists and abusers hear these “jokes” and believe, often correctly, that no one really cares if they hurt women.
Of course, there is a silver lining in this, which is that it shows that feminists do have a lever to pull. So often, misogyny and even violence against women are treated like the weather, like this thing that just happens and isn’t subject to pressure. The reality is that sexism flourishes because people don’t steand up to it, and that standing up to it more could very well be the solution.