Here we are again. Social media. Most of us have it, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Bebo (ah, those were the days). The list goes on. We rely and depend it on really on a daily basis, with so many of us glued to our phones. What did we ever do without it? TALK to each other? Perish the thought.
Social media hasn’t just provided us with ways to connect with new people and interact with friends and families no matter when or where they are. It hasn’t just enabled the government to collect an abundance of personal data and keep tabs on where we are, who we’re with and what we’re doing. It hasn’t just given us ways to stalk our exes and judge their new partners. It’s also given women platforms and opportunities which have helped empower them, enabling them to speak up and be heard. Or ‘read’, rather.
Social media gives women a channel to speak out about their personal experiences and share them with others. From something trivial like what they ate for breakfast (who honestly cares?) to more pressing issues like their experience on the train that morning. That last one wasn’t a sarcastic comment (for once). Women are sexually assaulted on public transport on an alarming and disturbing scale. So much so that the British Transport Police have launched a TV campaign urging women to report it.
Hashtags such as #TimesUp, #WhenIWas and #MeToo among others have provided women with a channel to speak up and share their sexual assault experiences. Women share things that they have kept built up for months, years, decades without telling anyone. So why are they tweeting about it?
Everyone has their own reasons, to generalise would be unfair. But here are a few common ones:
1) They feel as though they have a voice and their story is heard
2) It’s easier to type than say face-to-face. We’re all guilty of resorting to messaging rather than doing something in person, because you can to some degree reduce confrontation, embarrassment, and rejection.
3) The audience.
4) There’s a degree of anonymity which gives extra confidence and reduces potential embarrassment or fear.
If you’re going to report an incident to someone, who do you go to? Your friend? Family? What are they going to do? They can’t (legally) punish the perpetrator. So, go to the police? What if they don’t believe you? Do you have evidence? Witness statements? Did you somehow manage to capture this on video? A signed confession and DNA samples? No? Oh. Well, then, hmm, that’s tough. How do you know you’ve told the right person? What if you haven’t, will the message be passed on?
Few women report incidences of sexual, physical, or emotional/psychological abuse. Sadly, the criminal justice system has failed so many of these. What do you do when you’re not being listened to and being ignored by those supposed to help you? Go elsewhere. So we go online. We tweet about. We tell everyone. Maybe we’ll be listened to when the problem is so big that it can’t be ignored. Do you think one woman coming forward inspired a national campaign about sexual assault on public transport? Sadly, the police want numbers. They want ‘big’ numbers. How many women have posted their experiences online? How many of them do you think would go to a police station and report it there? In person, a woman can speak about her problem. But thanks to social media, women, as a collective group, can shout about it.
Now just say the police do choose to ignore this (imagine that !!), even though they do have a ‘big’ number and evidence. Do you think Twitter can ignore it just as easily? These admissions are liked, favourited, retweeted and shared. Most likely millions of people have seen at least one of these entries. We all know that once something is online, it’s there forever (dun dun dun). Yes, that goes for those photos of you when you went through your ‘nobody understands me’ goth phase. And your full fringe phase *shudders* – don’t worry, we all had one.
Why stop one perpetrator and try to change their behaviour, when you can try to stop and change the behaviour of a whole society? Social media is making a massive audience aware of these issues and incidents which have sadly become normalised, and a taboo. It gives a glimpse into others’ lives and what lets us understand and get an idea of things we may have had no idea even happened.
Being able to share these stories means that women can see that they’re not alone. Which, in a way is sad because it shows the scale of how many people are subjected to such horrendous behaviour, and how often it happens. Women can find support and reassurance from total strangers, people who have absolutely no loyalty to them. You know if you tell your best friend something that they’re going to have your back; so having strangers treat you this way is in a way more reassuring because they’re less likely to comfort or support you if it’s undeserved.
So, despite the issues and negative impact social media has had on women in today’s society, some good has come of it. Good in the form of empowerment. Women have spent too long being silenced, so post a photo of your breakfast, take your duck-face selfies, share your experiences. You go gurl. *sassy click*