The Internet is a wonderful place, especially for people who enjoy cute animals and staring at a screen for hours on end, but for feminists, it can sometimes become a battleground. Though a recent UK study suggested that fewer men are using conventionally sexist terms to describe women in conversation and on paper, the prevalence of sexist terms on the Internet has remained constant thanks to pesky trolls who fuel disparaging conversations about gender. If we want to change that conversation, we should start by being mindful of the viral vocab that has emerged in the past few months and years, and start by nixing the following terms from our web-speak:
1) White Knight: a derogative term for a man who supports feminism
In early 2013, Zoe Quinn released a game called Depression Quest that sparked negative criticism among male gamers who believed the game was receiving more attention and praise than it deserved. The incident, which resulted in Quinn receiving hate mail and death threats, kicked off a larger debate over Gamergate, an “ethics in journalism” collective that’s been blamed for targeting female gamers with misogynistic threats. “White Knight” was a product of this debate. The term refers to a man, usually a male gamer or video game journalist, who supports the positive representation of female characters or games. It’s often used mockingly by anti-feminist gamers to suggest that supporters of feminism are “white knights” riding in to save the day just so they can reap the benefits of doing so (i.e. sleeping with the women they defend). This whole situation makes me think that I’m trapped in a middle school boys locker room, where one boy who tries to defend his female classmates is immediately mocked by the other, immature boys for doing so. Soon, someone is going to start singing “White Knight and Amy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” while making kissy faces.
2) #TheMistakesGirlsMake: a hashtag that ended up mocking women
Like superpowers, hashtags can be fun and powerful if used responsibly. If used to shame people, though, they can perpetuate bullying behavior and reinforce damaging stereotypes. #TheMistakesGirlsMake is one such hashtag that was started, perhaps, in good fun. But things got ugly fast. In June, the topic blew up on Twitter, according The Hindu newspaper, as thousands of men (and women) began to berate women. “‘A girl being made is itself a mistake,” wrote one user. “‘Betray a trustworthy man by testing him with her low IQ,” added another. Of course, this is just ONE example of the many hashtags that have turned into cruel bullying platforms on social media. If circulating such toxic ideas is as simple as writing a hashtag, we really need to rethink how we communicate information on the Internet.
3) Thot: a form of slut-shaming
My brother used this term the other day and it took every ounce of restraint in me not to hit him over the head. Thot originally began as an acronym for “That Hoe Over There” but has since become a standalone noun, joining the list of derogatory terms for women who like sex. Yay, a new term for shaming women! That’s DEEP sarcasm, FYI.
This term can mean one of two things: A person, suggestively female, who spends too much time on the Internet OR a girl who uses the Internet to find men to sext or sleep with. (Thanks Urban Dictionary.) Do we see the problems here? There are so many. First of all, the term whore, a derogatory term for a sex worker and a term that’s often used to slut-shame girls, is being applied. Period. Secondly, Internet addiction and digital romance aren’t exclusive to any one gender, and shouldn’t be judged via pejorative slang. Also, why is “Internet Whore” specific to women and not to men? Why do we relate females’ sexual history with their Internet activity? How does that even make sense?
5) The Fappening: the sexist reaction to celebrity nude leak
When hackers horrifically leaked dozens of celebrity nude photos on the Internet earlier this year, a group of Reddit users decided to dub the event “The Fappening” to highlight the number of men likely, er, pleasuring themselves to the newly released images. “The Fappening” takes an event so personal and tragic and makes a joke out of it, prompting many people to take the leak less seriously. As J-Law perfectly put it, the hacks were a “sexual violation.” They violated personal privacy, exploited women, and ultimately attempted to shame victims. To make light of this with sexual innuendo is super-sexist. And just kind of gross and sad.
So there you have it. Some Internet terms we don’t really want to be friends with this year.
Featured image via Refinery29.