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How the Internet is Changing the Relationship Between Men and Women

The Internet has helped many men, myself included, look to resolve their sexist beliefs.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

2014 was a formative year for the Internet. While nothing changed in terms of its infrastructure or the way in which we use it, there was a major shift in the tone of the interactions that take place using it. Yes, it’s always been a place in which bile and venom is allowed to spew forth unfiltered, and in which the most abhorrent opinions from the deepest recesses of the most shameful minds can be verbalized virtually unopposed, but in a largely progressive era for Western society a sequence of events transpired last year in which those with opinions which contrasted with this progressiveness cultivated a platform for themselves.

This platform was, of course, GamerGate, a movement that ostensibly wanted to promote ethics within gaming journalism, but has since spawned the popularization of a variety of anti-progressive buzzwords and has become the vehicle for a backlash against third-wave feminism and similarly progressive political viewpoints. The mission statement of GamerGate is vague, as it has always stretched far beyond its supporters’ claims that it is fighting against ethical issues within the gaming industry, including a variety of non-gaming topics that mostly revolve around the topic of social justice and its supporters. Looking at GamerGate’s public face, the subreddit r/KotakuInAction, reveals just as many – if not more – posts fighting against the perceived shackles that social progressiveness places upon free speech as there are posts pertaining to video games. 

But GamerGate’s existence – as divisive as it may be – serves to highlight a dramatic change in the relationship shared between men and women, with its opposition offering a reminder that the freedom of communication the Internet allows has helped us men think outside of our respective bubbles, gaining empathy for women regarding a subject we know very little about: sexism.

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Sexism in the digital age.

Sexism is rife on the Internet, and though GamerGate’s relationship with it is the subject of debate (as are most facets of the movement) given that they do have their fair share of female supporters and its members mainly target “Social Justice Warriors” – a pejorative term used to describe those who, according to GamerGate, feign progressiveness in order to court popularity – they would argue against allegations that they’re actively seeking to hinder female equality, or that their male members view women as lesser beings. But the impact that GamerGate’s rise has had on the rest of the Internet has been unquestionably negative, allowing those previously withholding gross opinions to feel as though they have support from a wider community.

However, it is this ongoing, tireless debate between those who would never consider using the term “feminazi” to describe a feminist and those who use it with gusto that is changing the dynamics of the relationship between men and women, and that is seeing men who are not of the lunk-headed belief that feminists are somehow attempting to diminish their rights becoming more knowledgeable in regards to the trials and tribulations faced by women.

We all have been guilty of harboring prejudices that only evaporate once we acquire more knowledge.

There is another pejorative term banded about for these men too, of course: “White Knights.” This is essentially the catch-all description for men who defend women online, playing off of the “knight in shining armor” trope to undermine those who aren’t down with women facing harassment online. While it could be suggested that men “standing up” for women is undermining, whether or not that is the case firmly depends upon the situation, and even so it typically comes from a well-meaning place. With so many women using the Internet to speak up against harassment, gender discrimination and misogyny, men who haven’t resigned to a stubborn, archaic belief system have found themselves able to learn, more so than ever, about how sexism can impact the day-to-day lives of women, and forces them to question potentially harmful opinions they may have previously held.

Also See: Reddit Has Self-Imploded and Ellen Pao Must Be Ecstatic

I think the majority of us have been, or even continue to be, guilty of harboring certain prejudices that only evaporate once we acquire more knowledge regarding that subject. I, for one, know that even though I could never have been labeled as a misogynist, during my younger years I certainly held some sexist beliefs that I am ashamed of and, like most humans, I will probably continue to make mistakes in the future. But information passed along a steadily more progressive Internet has helped me learn more about what I, as a man, am doing wrong, and how I can improve. There are those who are unwilling to admit that they need to improve, but that’s the way it’s always been – the Internet has allowed those who are willing to educate and better themselves.

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The Internet has fundamentally altered the relationship between men and women, and along with offering an unfortunate platform for those who seek to do nothing more than make the world a Boys Only Club, it’s also given a platform to women who are continuing to open our eyes to prejudice and abhorrent sexist behavior. While the anti-feminists may be loud and unavoidable, men tuning out their rhetoric are able to listen to a wide variety of women, whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or through blog posts and news articles, that are standing up for equality and showing that feminism isn’t the dirty word that many are accusing it of being.

The women and men fighting alongside one another to quell sexism and gendered harassment are winning.

I’ve read countless posts about how the Internet is “making us more sexist,” but I don’t believe that to be the case. Yes, there’s a ton of online abuse hurled in the direction of women every day, far greater than what gets leveled towards men. But the angriest people are always those who are losing, and as they continue to be put in their place by a swelling number of people, forcing them to hide anonymously in comments sections because they know that revealing their real name could have justified real-world implications, the women and men who are fighting alongside one another to quell sexism and gendered harassment are winning.

It takes a lot of bravery to own up to one’s previous mistakes, and even more to push back against discrimination when you know that doing so could leave you vulnerable to more vitriol, but this is something that is happening every day on the Internet, and it deserves far more celebration than those spouting bubbling hatred pertaining to their age-old belief systems deserve attention. There will always be those pushing against change, but for the women and men who are seeking it, the Internet continues to provide them the communication tools to do so. 

Photos: Anthony Harvie/Getty Images