Silencing Women on the Internet

This is a guest post from Lucinda Marshall at the Feminist Peace Network.

The Washington Post recently published an article about the abusive and sometimes threatening comments that are becoming frighteningly common on blogs written by women. One of the key points made in the piece was the silencing effect that such harassment has. Women are less likely to write freely and openly if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.

Yet while the phenomena of blogging and comment sections is quite new, the harassment and silencing of women writers and of women who speak out has a long and damaging history.

In 1978, the late Tillie Olsen published Silences, a blistering documentation of the exclusion and silencing of women writers throughout history. She talked about the many things that have kept women from writing -- their roles as wives and mothers, the need for money, lack of workspace, being characterized as mentally unstable and many other reasons.

Olsen painstakingly catalogued the results. In a chapter entitled simply "One Out of Twelve", she detailed the woefully small percentages of women in every measure of literature and writing. The discrimination that Olsen found more than 30 years ago is still alive and well today with women being grossly underrepresented in Op Ed pages, books published and every other measure.

We also need to see this online permutation of gendered harassment within the context of the global pandemic of misogynist silencing that still takes place every day in so many forms throughout the world.

In Iran women are routinely arrested for speaking out. In Afghanistan women are invisibilized behind burquas, jailed for being raped and legislators such as Malalai Joya receive multiple death threats for speaking out. In Burma, activist Aung San Suu Kyi has spent decades under house arrest.

These silencings, like the ones that Olsen documented are damaging beyond measure and should not be tolerated. The continued harassment of women bloggers is not, as some assert, merely the exercise of free speech. It is, rather, the latest salvo in the ongoing, systemic, global and toxic effort to silence women.

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