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Empowerment and Abuse: The Harsh Realities of Female Blogging

23/09/2013 14:46 BST | Updated 22/11/2013 10:12 GMT

As we slouch into the endless drizzle of autumn, now seems like a good time to look back on a good summer for misogynists, and a spectacularly bad one for the rest of us. In June games blogger Anita Sarkeesian sent Twitter into sexist meltdown after she commented on Xbox One's overwhelming lack of female protagonists. Less than a month later, Caroline Criado-Perez received a slew of rape threats for suggesting women might be worthy of inclusion on banknotes. Then came Mary Beard and the great Twitter misogo-storm, before TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 decided to cap the season with two public presentations devoted to, respectively, breasts and masturbation.

It wasn't meant to be like this. Anyone who can remember the halcyon days of the early internet will recall how our new hyper-connected world was going to give everyone a voice. Through a combination of earnest Livejournal entries and GIF-tacular Geocities sites we were going to tear down the patriarchy, give intolerance a kicking and spread some of that good old plurality. I can still remember, 14-years old, getting online for the first time with the feeling that I was suddenly part of something bigger. Empowerment: heck yeah.

Obviously those dreams died fairly quickly. The internet's promise of a billion different voices working in harmony was quickly subsumed under the reality of YouTube comments and 4Chan memes. But the ability of the internet to empower the marginalised just about managed to survive. In February, Clutch magazine reported on the overwhelming prevalence of male bloggers compared to female, but concluded that the evidence showed blogging was "clearly positive for women". Just this month feelunique.com produced a glowing infographic on blogging as a tool for female empowerment in the beauty industry. These and other studies all point towards the positive effects of getting us girls online; so why are we still having to put up with this endless stream of abuse?

The ugly truth is that empowerment often goes hand in hand with nasty stuff like fear, intimidation and helplessness. That's the name of the game: the minute you step up for your rights, some dribbling simian is going to try and shout you down. But the sheer vitriol women bloggers face threatens to put the brakes on what small progress has been made. Over in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis has written eloquently and movingly about the "universality" of online misogyny and its terrifying consequences. I'll be blunter: it's a plague. A nasty, infectious disease that rots the very core of what the internet is meant to be about. Openness, communality, freedom of speech... what chance do these values have against a dumb, faceless campaign of hatred?

Online misogyny is our dirty little secret. The shameful thing none of us want to talk about. When a summer of abuse can pass with the feeling that it's simply inevitable; when a heartfelt Twitter campaign involving hundreds of thousands of people can't make the slightest dent in the number of rape threats sent to women, then we've officially failed as a culture. The harsh reality of female blogging is that, for all the power it gives to women, there are at least as many men who will do everything in their power to make it otherwise.

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