Trigger warning: Contains reference to physical and emotional abuse.
Is it okay to troll public figures on the internet? What makes it appropriate?
What is your definition of trolling? Is it abusive messages? Harassing the individual on any post, any tweet, any photograph? Continuing to harass someone after they have stopped responding? Inciting people to ridicule and humiliate? To hate? Photographing people and uploading them to sites? Creating a public spectacle of someone who is otherwise unknown?
What is your line? Your line between reality and what you do online? And when do you know you have crossed it?
I ask because the world has a body of evidence not necessarily in online abuse and violence, although that is developing, but in the actual world we live in. 1 in 3 women in the world will have experienced physical or sexual violence either from a partner or non partner according to the World Health Organisation. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women states:
In Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States, intimate partner violence accounts for between 40 and 70 per cent of female murder victims .
Further statistics are available here. I want to, if you can, step through the internet into these bleak statistical references. Cross the line between the detachment of a social media community and really see what it is going on in our global community. And think:
What does this mean for women online?
What does this mean for women in surfing?
I ask you to think about it because so often, I am confronted with people who tell me what they cannot see. Surrounded by women: sons of mothers; brothers of sisters; fathers of daughters; audience members of the ASP tour; women who are privileged; they are surrounded by women and they do not see sexism. They do not see violence. They can not see the world that one in every three women are victim to.
I don’t want you to quiz the women around you in the water, online, in your life about their experience. Whether you are male or female, it is not your position to judge, deny or expose their vulnerabilities or humiliation. Victims of violence or abuse should not have to justify their experiences to anyone. But I would like people to be aware that surfing does involve women, not just in the lineup and in the ASP tour, but in the online community. These women are publicly marginalised at least in surf media, the ASP World tour and perhaps also in the way they are discussed online. I am not just talking about Steph Gilmore or Cori Schumacher, although Wok openly discussing violence has been the subject of this blog before. I am talking about women who are ordinary, like me. Or women who are far less outspoken than I am, who look up to the women surfers in the ASP.
The pro surfing females who perhaps have the highest profile and are considered successful are often considered targets for trolling and ridicule. It seems a tenuous idea to suggest compassion and act as an advocate for women who might be millionaires living the surfing dream. Some are young. Some are privileged. You might consider them annoying or partially responsible for perpetuating inequality. How does their surfing career and self objectifying behaviour link to the pain and suffering of victims of violence?
Objectified, paid less and given less opportunity, the women in the ASP tour are in a competitive environment that encourages self objectification; they compete in an environment that is decidedly misogynistic. First, a definition of misogyny:
Next, let me qualify that misogyny can be perpetrated by anyone regardless of gender. I repeat: misogyny is not only perpetrated by men. Women can also treat other women in a misogynistic fashion. As far as the online experience is concerned, a woman is just as likely to troll and abuse online as a man but not as likely to physically abuse or kill in real life.
Paying women less; denigrating their performance because it is different to men; objectifying them is all a symptom of a misogynistic system. Violence against women is also a manifestation of misogyny.
There is a smaller body of evidence pointing to misandry, the mistreatment of men. Some feminist theories insist that the level of disadvantage against women is so outrageous, misandry cannot possibly exist. Regardless, the majority of the victims of violence are women. We are told not to walk the streets alone; not to wear that kind of outfit; not to get too drunk; not to put ourselves in the line of fire and speak out. It is as if we are responsible for the violence and the abuse. But we are not.
We are responsible for being aware of these statistics. For doing what we can to address inequality and advocate for women who are being discriminated against. It says something truly staggering that we have to advocate for successful women; in our sport as well as women in a suburb; in our local towns or cities. It says something that the highest profile athletes regularly fall into situations where they are exploited or considered worthy of abuse. It says something that your abuser is not just a stranger. It could be anybody, even your sporting association.
And this is where I get to my point. It is never okay to advocate for inequality. Nor is it ever okay to advocate abuse- online or in real life. It is never okay.
Parody and satire are one thing, if done well, but even the most experienced social commentators will trip up. The rest of us are even more likely to do more harm than good. Maybe you want to make a point in an argument, or you consider trolling to be a marker of status. Trolling is never an indication of equality. It is never an indication of a public figure’s importance or achievements.
It is never okay to perpetuate misogyny, whether you are male or female. To do so is a form of abuse.
I realise this is a heavy opinion. Usually ‘trolls’ in the surfing community are people erroneously labeled by the industry simply for showing a critical interest in the affairs of commercial surfing. Being called a troll is often an inside joke. But once in a while people cross the line. It would do us all a world of good to think about the fact that online behaviour can be a complex mirror of society, just as sport is a complex mirror of society.
We all have our different opinions and sometime arguments can get out of hand. However, we need to realise that among us are people who have seen what we do not ordinarily notice. One in three women around us have suffered, are suffering, or will suffer violence. We need to stop trivialising women. We need to stop trivialising abuse. We need to stop the violence.
If you need help for abuse, New Zealand has the following sites:
Are You Okay?
If you are outside New Zealand, please seek confidential information here.
Please, if you have committed violence or feel like you could, seek help through the same avenues of assistance.