At the beginning of the new year, The Oatmeal published (in his usually irreverent style) the Winter 2010 State of the Web , in which much fun is poked at various internet sites and fads. It’s lighthearted and fun, but not all internet trends are as humorous. As some of you may have noticed, the interwebs are not always warm and inviting to minorities, whoever they may be. Any group that is deemed to be less numerous than the others on a particular forum or game is often left out, ridiculed, and mocked for dissenting opinions, something made easier by the relative anonymity that the technology offers. Strangely enough, women seem to be included in these “minority populations” too, giving rise to the prevailing “no girls on the internet” joke. What happens, though, when this absurd joke is seriously believed?
In my experience, male becomes the default gender for everyone online. When it is assumed that girls are off in the real world, stereotypically socializing and doing other “girly stuff”, the majority of websites become seemingly “male” domains. Obviously, there are exceptions for forums, blogs, and news sites that target females, but “gender neutral” sites easily take on a more “male” appearance. When a poster is discovered to be a woman, they are seen as an aberration, an anomalous figure who has somehow intruded into this “men’s world”. This is especially prevalent in the realm of online gaming, which combines the stereotypically “manly” activities of video games and the internet. Statistically speaking, a group that makes up slightly more than 50% of the world population cannot be totally absent from these activities, but according to some sources only 15% of online gamers are girls. This relative lack of females only serves to reinforce the stereotypes that other players have about internet use, which can easily cause people to hide their true gender while in such virtual company.
“Why, Kelsey, surely you are exaggerating! No one cares if you’re a girl online!” Au Contraire. I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Fat, Ugly, or Slutty , a collection of virtual taunts, threats, and come-ons all directed towards female gamers (fair warning: the guys’ language is nasty, their grammar is even worse. View at your own risk). Most of the back stories are those of women who have happily played their video games the same way as anyone else would, but received only sexist jokes and threats once they were revealed to be female. The title “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” refers to the attitude that many of these vicious comments display – that any woman who plays video games (and *gasp* online, no less!) must either be too fat and ugly to have friends/a boyfriend (because clearly, this is a requirement for girls – to have boyfriends. That’s another discussion, though) or must be hanging around in the “man’s world” for the sole purpose of getting male attention and sexual advances. Even though every single guy online has a unique history and personality, every girl is expected to fall within one of these two categories. Why? I’d guess that it’s because these girls are viewed as deviations from the “normal”, and so are assumed to be somehow different from the slim, attractive girl the media portrays as typical.
In my own admittedly small experience with online gaming, I have never come across the same vitriol that the girls posting in “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty” encountered. I have seen similar (and worse, even) in other areas of the internet, though, and it is by no means an isolated phenomenon. To keep the insults from being directed at me in particular, I find myself adopting gender neutral names and appearances while online, which really only adds to the illusion that women simply aren’t there. There doesn’t seem to be a wining option – there will always be hateful people in the world, and the anonymity of the internet makes trolling for a reaction easier than in real life – but the best we can do is to try to lead by example. I think that by being open about who we are and treating that identity as a simple matter of fact could help – hopefully, it will send the message that yes, there are indeed girls on the internet, and it is not unusual. Perhaps seeing so many women eagerly participating in the same online activities that they enjoy will convince more internet users of this fact.
Or at the very least, maybe it’ll convince them to think twice before posting their latest “back to the kitchen” joke.