Who Has the Last Laugh? How Women on Social Media are Fighting Abuse Through Humor

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What do Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter have in common? The answer may surprise you: all have become platforms for women to draw attention to the harassment they face online, and all are playing crucial roles in creating solidarity among women and garnering support from many social media users to push for change.

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The first of these, Instagram, is home to a page called Bye Felipe where women are encouraged to send in screen grabs of encounters turned ugly with men online. The site calls attention to the way many men turn extremely verbally abusive should a woman not respond to their advances on social media sites (such as Facebook, Tinder, OKCupid, and other dating sites). The numerous examples sent in, which range from mildly aggressive to absolutely horrifying, question the aspects of our media culture that make such behavior seem acceptable, while creating a space for women to come together, share their experiences, and feel supported and validated by others who have faced similar threats or abuse. The whole project is a great way to diffuse tension, since it uses humor as a way to publicly shame men who engage in this inappropriate behavior (one woman claims to have e-mailed her screen grabs to the offending man’s mother in what I imagine must have resulted in a very awkward mother-son conversation). This use of humor has become important in garnering support from the male online community: it presents the behavior as problematic, ensuring that men in general do not feel personally attacked. Instead, they feel like they are “in” on the joke, and this feeling of inclusion may make them more likely to join in on the criticism and push for change, rather than waste time on trying to defend themselves.


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This trend has also carried over to Twitter, where #DudesGreetingDudes has exploded in popularity. The hashtag began as a result of this viral video of a woman documenting her experiences with being catcalled at on the street over a 10 hour period.

The video, which was filmed on a GoPro camera (itself a tool of citizen journalists) and originally posted to Youtube, represents the amazing potential of people to take media into their own hands. This woman created her own original content about a public issue that affects women everywhere, and she used social media as a platform for sharing that content with the world. It also calls attention to the normalized double standard that exists between men and women, where the harassment and intimidation of women by male strangers on the street is supposed to be seen as a “compliment.”  Though she received some negative backlash, critiques of racist undertones in the video, and even rape/death threats, #DudesGreetingDudes has been an overwhelmingly positive response, where men and women alike come together to express solidarity, again using humor as a means to create an inclusive environment for calling out the unacceptable ways men treat women:

That last Tweet is a valid critique…do men only listen to other men? Are “women’s issues” only valid when they become “men’s issues?”And should women have to tiptoe around what amounts to verbal abuse and harassment by cloaking it with humor to make it more palatable to the masses? Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you’re interested in the darker side of social media and women, check out my blogpost on Anita Sarkeesian.

Either way, it is clear that social media is playing a huge role in allowing women to share their experiences and find support, whether they choose to do so with humor or not.

UPDATE: I recently discovered that, in response to complaints by many women online and the rampant media coverage on the controversial group GamerGate, the group Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) has teamed up with Twitter to address such harassment. Women on Twitter can now fill out a form to report abuse and WAM! will pass on verified complaints to Twitter within 24 hours and track their responses.


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