Emma Watson and the Order of the Internet Trolls

This article first appeared on Tearfund Lifestyle, 26 September 2014.

Having left Hogwarts behind years ago, I bet Emma Watson thought her troll-fighting days were over.

Yet, just days after she extended a ‘formal invitation’ to men to get involved in the campaign for gender equality as part of the UN ‘HeforShe’ initiative, an Internet troll appeared to launch a website counting down the days until he unveiled nude photos of the Harry-Potter-actress-turned-UN-spokeswoman, menacingly named ‘Emma You are Next’. However, in a dramatic and downright confusing turn of events, it transpires that the threat was apparently no more than a marketing hoax urging to shut down 4chan, the forum originally responsible for recently leaking naked photos of a whole host of high-profile Hollywood actresses. In the words of Dumbledore: ‘Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak.’

Bemusing and distressing as it may be, we can appreciate what this campaign was trying to do, even if the way they chose to do it was pretty reprehensible and not a little misguided (undoubtedly causing Emma, her family and her friends much anguish and fear, and furthering the use of shame as a weapon of terror directed at women everywhere). If anything, this huge publicity stunt highlights a very real and pervasive problem in our Internet culture: sex gets viewer ratings, and nakedness is great leverage. Online terror tactics of both a pictorial and verbal nature seem to be becoming more and more prevalent, particularly against women. Of course, nakedness and shame have been closely linked since Biblical times (Genesis is full of it… #figleaves), but in our Internet-age, this natural human sensitivity is being used as a way of silencing women who raise their head above the parapet. As some other articles elsewhere on the Web have pointed out, women who speak out online are very often the victims of hateful comments, Twitter abuse, and even sexual harassment. The aim is obviously to degrade women, to silence them; it says: ‘shut up, female. We want your body, not your mind.’

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So why is it our issue? If we ourselves aren’t at risk of such invasive exposure, need we care? Indeed, are campaigns for gender equality really worth all this fuss? After all, weren’t men and women intentionally created differently by God for different roles [insert more “Biblically-backed” political justifications here]?

I want to suggest that, regardless of what preconceived notions you may hold about the feminist ’cause’, equal rights and opportunities irrespective of gender should matter to us because equality is about justice, and justice is about righteousness, and righteousness is about God. Women desiring equal rights does not necessarily mean that we seek to become identical to men in all ways; it simply means we want to be treated by the same standards of justice and respect as our male counterparts. And that includes being able to talk about this aim without being silenced into submission, whether this manifests as a naked photo threat, a degrading putdown on Twitter, or a leery smirk as if to say, ‘Ahhh bless – she thinks her opinions matter.’ If women were good enough for Jesus to hang out with and offer the same salvation to as He was offering His male followers (not to mention appear to first post-Resurrection, just sayin’), then they’re good enough for all men to treat with respect too.

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In the excellent speech Emma Watson gave at the UN, she made the important point that ‘if men don’t need to control, women won’t have to be controlled.’ As followers of Christ, we should be invested in justice and equality for all; indeed, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that followers of Christ should, by default, be feminists. ‘Feminism’ is a bit of an unfortunate word; a young man I was discussing this with recently pointed out that it implies there should be ‘masculinism’ as well guarding and championing equal rights for men. As Emma also noted in her speech, many people still perceive feminism as ‘man-hating’; women having a good old grumble about not having access to areas they really have nothing to do with anyway, and ignoring the many privileges they already have. This may be true for some; I know I am extremely privileged to live in the way I do – I have a good university degree, I live in relative comfort and freedom without attacks on my privacy the likes of which Emma was threatened with this week (even if it was a hoax), and I have had very little experience of objectification or harassment. In fact, the majority of gender-based slurs I have received has been online in response to my Blurred Lines parody – and therein lies the rub. The Internet is making it inescapably clear that we still live in a Man’s World, as long as men feel justified in their seeking to control, limit and silence women. And while we’re still in a world in which [SOME] men believe they have a right to control, Emma’s bang on the money: we need men to speak as loudly as the women campaigning for justice that is blind to gender – especially in order to drown out these pervasive and persistent trolls who seek to subjugate and sneer right over the female voice. Even if, like me, you’re fortunate enough to not have much opportunity to champion women’s rights in your locality ‘cos all the people you hang out with are decent enough to get that respect should be paramount (good work, team), the Internet is still your territory. And there’s a lot to be done to make sure that CyberSpace doesn’t become a Man’s World as well. That’s why I’m in favour of the #heforshe campaign.

Let’s Petrificus Totalus these trolls.

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