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The Online Harassment of Women, and One Artist’s Unique Response

Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 13, 2014

This past year, the widespread abuse of women who are active online has been well documented. One artist, however, has found a unique way to own the harassment.  Lindsay Bottos, a fine arts and photography major at Maryland Institute College of Art, posts frank images of a number of subjects on her Tmblr account. Her self portraits almost exclusively attract some hateful comments. As Bottos writes, “The authority people feel they have to share their opinion on my appearance is something myself and many other girls online deal with daily.” Her response has been to take the comments and superimpose them on self portraits, which she’s collected into a project, “Anonymous.” The project photos render the comments powerless, accentuating their hostile stupidity, while the arch expression on Bottos’ face provides commentary.

For a number of women, though, online harassment goes beyond spiteful comments. A widely read article by Amanda Hess, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” was published in January in Pacific Standard. In the article, Hess, a writer for Slate, describes anonymous misogynistic attacks, culminating in threats of rape and beheading from one enraged cyberstalker. She lists several other well-documented cases of women being targeted for abuse, from feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, who affronted by suggesting that the Bank of England feature at least one woman other than the Queen on a banknote, to well-regarded technology writer Kathy Sierra, who had to put her career on temporary hiatus.

Sadly, women in technology and gaming have to deal with especially virulent attacks. Anita Sarkeesian, a gamer who started a Kickstarter Campaign to support her video project exploring the stereotypes of female characters in gaming, discovered doctored pornographic images of her posted online, as well as a web-based game which permitted players to virtually punch her. Zoe Quinn, an illustrator and game developer, twice submitted her game Depression Quest to Greenlight, the peer-review community for the online gaming platform Steam. Both times her submission generated a torrent of abuse directed towards her via social media and forums, as well as anonymous telephone calls which forced her to change her cell phone number. Both women succeeded in their ventures despite (and to an extent, because of publicity generated by) the harassment. Sarkeesian’s campaign raised more than five times the amount she originally requested, and Quinn’s game is now available on Steam.

Photo © Lindsay Bottos. Used with permission.

Photo © Linsday Bottos

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