Soraya Chemaly and Ashley Judd are two women who have experienced the horrendous harassment that can come from being a woman who has dared to express her opinion online. The abuse they received was personal, violent, misogynistic and so overwhelming in quantity that it’s led them to start the Women’s Media Centre Speech Project.
The Speech Project, chaired by Ashley and directed by Soraya, aims to raise public and media awareness about the scale and seriousness of online harassment. Despite growing acknowledgement of online harassment as a legitimate issue there’s still evidence that many people and important institutions, some of whom could help tackle the problem, don’t understand its severity or complexity and are quick to dismiss it.
The project acknowledges that whilst online abuse can, and does, happen to anyone, its focus is “on the ways in which women’s rights and expression are affected by intersectional harassment related to their gender, class, race, sexuality and more.” Because no project online can be just for women without having to explain that it understands the things it’s dealing with aren’t purely experienced by women in order to stem the flow of “but what about men!” messages. Though I imagine they still receive them, judging by their FAQ section.
Having an online presence can give women many opportunities that wouldn’t be possible offline, but this online presence also puts them at high risk of violent gendered threats. The Speech Project wants to be a social response to a social problem, “to increase understanding of the nature, scope and costs of online misogyny and abuse in order to contribute to new frameworks that will ensure that free speech is a right that extends equally to all.” They want an internet where women aren’t afraid to speak their minds and an offline world where limitations on a woman’s ability to speak freely aren’t trivialised or dismissed as their problem and no one else’s.
To achieve its goals, the Speech Project has been developed as one of the most extensive online harassment resources I’ve ever seen. It features articles analysing the scope and underlying reasons for gendered harassment of women online; it has an excellent FAQ section covering questions like “Isn’t this ‘just bullying’?” and “Harassment isn’t “really violent,” right? Not compared to offline violence?”; there are huge amounts of fully referenced research and statistics about harassers, harassment, and victims; tools and resources to help victims including a list of helpful guides and organisations to get in touch with; and finally a page called ‘Online Abuse 101‘ which highlights and explains the many forms online abuse can take. It even comes with a handy visual guide I’m calling the wheel of pain and misfortune, which highlights the tactics, legal issues and impacts of harassment.
For anyone who wants to find out more about online harassment, what they can do about it, or point someone who desperately needs to be educated in the right direction I highly suggest you visit the website.
If I’m honest, I find it endlessly depressing that this is a thing that has to exist but it does, so I’m glad there are women who are prepared to push us towards what is a clearly increasingly necessary cultural shift.