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  • In Australia, over 75 percent of women under 30 experience online harassment, according to a Norton report.

    In Australia, over 75 percent of women under 30 experience online harassment, according to a Norton report. | Photo: Flickr / Richard Potts

Published 1 June 2016
We've made the internet an unsafe place for women.

Jess Phillips, a Member of Parliament with the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, recently became the target of yet another online harassment campaign after spearheading an initiative to end the abuse women frequently suffer on social media. I'm sorry. Did I say “frequently?” Perhaps I should have gone with “constantly.” This is a sad reality for women and individuals who don't conform to a gender binary, particularly those who are young.

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In response to Phillips' perfectly reasonable attempt to make the internet a safer place for women, Carl Benjamin—better known as the YouTube vlogger Sargon of Akkad—said something that no one with a soul would ever say. Specifically, he told Jess Phillips that he wouldn't even rape her. Let's just take a moment and unpack that, shall we? If Jess Phillips is so disgusting to Sargon that he wouldn't even rape her, does that mean there are women he would rape? If you think I'm being unfair, let's look at what he said in context. In response to Jess Phillips's statement that rape threats are commonplace for her, Sargon said the following: “I tell you what, Jess; I think that's terrible. And you know what? I wouldn't even rape you. I wouldn't even rape you. Not even.” The phrasing Sargon uses indicates that, for him, Phillips is the exception. So if not raping is the exception, what's the rule?

I bring this up because I want the men reading this to stop and consider questions like that. In fact, I'd really like to just sit down and have a talk with my fellow dudes. Gentlemen, can we just have a quick sidebar here? Great. Now that I have your attention, let me pose a simple question, something that I've been wondering for quite some time. Why do we do this?

No, really. I honestly want to know.

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Let's just pretend, for the sake of argument, that Jess Phillips is wrong, and online harassment of women isn't nearly as severe a problem as she claims it to be. Never mind that in the report released by Norton, 76 percent of the 1,000 women surveyed reported experiencing online harassment. Never mind the fact that women generally experience more severe forms of harassment than men do. Never mind the numerous reports of prominent women being driven from their homes after receiving a barrage of death threats over social media. Never mind the fact that harassment is now a part of our political discourse. Let's just pretend that we live in a world where 99 percent of the time, women can say whatever they like on the internet without fear of reprisal.

Let's pretend that Sargon's endless insistence that “claims of online harassment are exaggerated” is true. Let's pretend that Jess Phillips really is searching for a solution to a non-existent problem. How does that make it acceptable for Sargon to respond by insinuating that Phillips is too disgusting to be raped? As if being “rapeable” is some kind of compliment. The hatred in that statement is palpable.

Last week, I posed a question to the Bernie Sanders supporters who threatened Roberta Lange after Nevada's Democratic Convention. “Shouldn't the fact that threats and harassment are wrong—unequivocally wrong regardless of any misconduct the target may or may not have committed—be enough to motivate you to avoid such behaviour?” The same principle applies here. Shouldn't the fact that rape is wrong—unequivocally wrong, regardless of context—be enough to dissuade you from using it as a club to threaten women into silence? No matter how much you may disagree with their opinions?

In his videos, Sargon of Akkad likes to portray himself as a rational free thinker; no doubt his fans see themselves in the same light. And yet he still feels compelled to silence a woman by telling her she's too disgusting to be raped? Gentlemen, tell me, do you not see a contradiction in this? If Sargon is so rational—if his arguments are really based on evidence and reason—then shouldn't they be able to stand on their own without the vitriol? It seems to me that the “manosphere” is a safe, comfortable place where men will never have to hear anything that might challenge our preconceptions. Quite the opposite of rational free thought.

So, gentlemen, why do we do this? We've made the internet an unsafe place for women. We've made the subway an unsafe place for women. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if you sit down and talk with the women in your life, most of them will tell you that there aren't many places where they do feel safe. Is this really the world you want to live in? If not, perhaps it's time we looked within ourselves and asked some difficult questions.

Follow Rich on Twitter, @Rich_Penney

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