‘In ye olden tymes of 1987, the rhetoric was that we would change genders the way we change underwear,’ says Clay Shirky, media theorist and author of Here Comes Everybody.‘[But] a lot of it assumed that everyone would be happy passing as people like me – white, straight, male, middle-class and at least culturally Christian.’ Shirky calls this ‘the gender closet’: ‘people like me saying to people like you, “You can be treated just like a regular normal person and not like a woman at all, as long as we don’t know you’re a woman.”’
The Internet was supposed to be for everyone… Millions found their voices in this brave new online world; it gave unheard masses the space to speak to each other without limits, across borders, both physical and social. It was supposed to liberate us from gender. But as more and more of our daily lives migrated on line, it seemed it did matter if you were a boy or a girl.’
It’s a tough time to be a woman on the internet. Over the past two generations, the political map of human relations has been redrawn by feminism and by changes in technology. Together they pose questions about the nature and organisation of society that are deeply challenging to those in power, and in both cases, the backlash is on. In this brave new world, old-style sexism is making itself felt in new and frightening ways.
In Cybersexism, Laurie Penny goes to the dark heart of the matter and asks why threats of rape and violence are being used to try to silence female voices, analyses the structure of online misogyny, and makes a case for real freedom of speech – for everyone.
Laurie Penny. Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). PDF here.