This Room Shows How Awful It Is To Be A Woman Online
Amy Roth, also known as "Surly Amy," is an L.A. artist and writer. She writes about vegan cuisine and for the skeptic site, Skepchick. She founded the Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG), and she also gets harassed online a lot.
To provide an experience of what it can be like to be a woman on the Internet, she and her colleagues created 'A Woman's Room Online.' It's an 8 by 10 foot room in which every surface is covered in examples of harassment she and others have received.
The project at The Center for Inquiry is meant to reference Womanhouse, a 1971 art project from Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in which a group of feminist artists took over an abandoned Hollywood mansion and transformed each room.
"I wanted to reference that project with my art project with a goal of expressing what it is like in modern day online spaces for feminist women. That is one reason why I titled my project, "A Woman's Room Online'," she said.
Roth says it took about three months to finish 'A Woman's Room Online,' and involved several woman who make at last part of their living by working online, including Lindy West, Amanda Marcotte, Melody Hensley and Rebecca Watson. The women involved compiled the comments, printed them out, then built the room from the ground up with help from Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group.
Roth told LAist she loves the Internet and the way it can be used. She loves how it can connect average people with those who are famous or in power, and how it can spread news and causes faster than TV. But throughout her work, she says she's received plenty of hateful messages. And while any blogger receives the odd piece of hate mail, an outspoken woman seems to receive a bounty of sexist comments, not to mention a disturbing number of detailed rape and death threats.
"All one has to do is look at the type of harassment women receive online and compare it to the messages men receive to see that sexism is a huge factor," Roth wrote, in an e-mail to LAist.
These messages are often about a woman's appearance—whether the commenters found her ugly or attractive, whether she too fat or too thin. A lot of the vitriol includes wishes for or threats of sexual assault. Roth said she is aware that men get harassed too, but says it's more likely, statistically speaking, that you will be harassed if you are a woman, and that the harassment is different.
"When men are targeted online, their arguments are attacked—or they are insulted by being compared to women when insulted because women are considered weaker," Roth said. "When women are attacked online, they are called ugly and un-fuckable or threatened with rape. They are photoshopped or have naked images stolen or created and passed around."
She continues, saying, "We see similar harassment and blatant violation of privacy in the Trans* community. Bigotry and bullying plays a major role in the policing of other people's bodies and the desire to silence these people and the messages sent reflect that."
You can see examples of this for yourselves, if you want. You can scroll through these comments on video game blogger Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube channel. Or here are some she received via Twitter. There are woman like Rebecca Watson, Anna Gensler and Zoe Quinn, who can show specific messages they have received that clearly have a lot to do with them being a woman. These messages go beyond disagreements or dislike.
Roth says she receives more harassment online than off, partially because of her work with Skepchick. When she was younger, she said she received considerable 'street harassment' which, of course, she denounced, saying, "Women should be able to walk down the street without being treated like an object. Women should not have to fear for their safety whenever they leave their home."
The online harassment, she believes, is indicative of the sexism that already exists everywhere else, but it's easier to document.
"I think of the Internet as a powerful magnifying glass that one can point at different aspects of society. Sexism and objectification of women is still a problem everywhere. The blatant harassment of women online verifies that. We literally have a written record of rape threats, harassment, objectification and the attempted silencing of women now."
I asked Roth if she thought anonymity inspired a "cyber mob mentality." Roth said that the Internet isn't some "magical other-world" where anonymity is guaranteed, and that the most vicious of harassers can be tracked down using their IP addresses and others means. However, online harassment as a whole is relatively new to law enforcement, harassers and the victims. Roth thinks people that do the harassing often think of it as a game with few consequences.
"Until we see more people held responsible for cyberstalking and cyberbullying and until we see more prominent people speaking out against this, then the behavior that my art show points out will continue," Roth said. "Misogyny, sexism and in particular online harassment are pervasive and negative aspects of our society that have gone somewhat ignored and have been magnified by the Internet-—but I'm confident this will eventually change."
So far, Roth says the reaction to 'A Woman's Room Online' has been positive.
"The most common reaction I get from people is that they had no idea that such specific targeting, bullying and harassment of these women was even happening," she writes.
Which is great, because Roth says awareness is the key. "People need to realize this abuse is happening everyday and we need to work together to stop it."
This includes convicting the worst online stalkers and harassers, and recognizing that the Internet is "real life." There should be real consequences for those that threaten and act poorly, and those who work online should not have to deal with that kind of behavior, just as they should not have to deal with it in the office.
A Woman's Room Online' will be on display through October 13 at Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles at 4773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor, Hollywood. Free. Visitors can also pick up a scroll with tips to shut down harassment they witness online. if you can't visit in person, you can watch a live feed from the room.