This article is part of a series of staff insights, observations and perspectives to commemorate Women’s History Month. Click here to see similar posts.
The rise of the internet has brought many advantages to society and connected people around the world. But the Digital World can be a harrowing place, and it can be particularly treacherous for women. Online spaces only provide a glimpse into people’s lives and who they truly are. The apparent glow of life as presented on social media can drive down women’s self-esteem and comments made on public forums can quickly turn into harassment, with the anonymity of the internet bringing out the worst in online bullies and so-called “trolls.”
One of the worst examples of online harassment is the notorious #GamerGate in which videogame players brutally targeted several women in the videogame industry over the increasing influence of feminism and diversity on the male-dominated videogame culture. Under the anonymity of Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter, supporters of #GamerGate sent violent threats to these women and relentlessly harassed them. The controversy led individuals, both in the gaming industry and the larger online community, to develop methods of addressing online harassment, but it is still a prevalent issue.
Furthermore, social media can promote unrealistic standards of beauty and force young girls to grow up fast in order to conform. From contouring make-up tutorials on YouTube, Snapchat filters that enlarge eyes and clear skin, and Instagram beauty icons who make money showing off their supermodel looks, there is a lot of content that can negatively impact women’s self-esteem. This leaves young women and girls feeling inadequate and under pressure to change themselves in order to be considered beautiful. And the more young girls try to emulate these unrealistic beauty standards, the more they open themselves up to situations of online harassment or physical danger.
All this does not even touch on the world of dating apps – Millennials’ and Gen Z-er’s most efficient way to meet romantic and sexual partners. Women must weed through dozens of unwanted virtual catcalls to get one decent first date, and even then, there is always a risk that a man met online will turn out to be dangerous. It has become standard practice for women to always tell a friend where they are going and when they expect to be back. Some even send photos of their date and his license plate after being picked up so people know who to look for if, heaven forbid, she doesn’t come home.
But the rise of social media hasn’t been all bad for womankind. These platforms have allowed women to speak up about important issues and spark movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp. Women can gather in online spaces and connect around the world, building numbers much larger than is possible in person and demanding that our voices be heard. Facebook groups unite women on a global scale based on experiences with mental illness, abuse, motherhood, and more. And larger online communities mean access to more resources for those who need them. APCO uses our digital tools to identify important women leaders on social media and bring them to the attention of our clients. These partnerships benefit all those involved by amplifying important messaging.
Another benefit that the Digital World provides is the immortalization of history. Credit for hundreds if not thousands of female accomplishments have been lost to history due to the systematic erasure of women’s presence in the past. But now that virtually everything is preserved online, future generations will know what women have contributed to society’s advancement and, hopefully, will be inspired to continue to build a better future.