There is a certain degree of optimism that lingers over the face of the internet. The perfect Instagram posts, the enviable Facebook worlds people create, the idea that on the internet, everyone is equal: free to post what they like, search anything, download everything. The internet certainly democratises, but there is a major problem with its functionality: Us. The internet requires an audience, and unfortunately we are all it has. A shapeless mass in our hands, we manipulate the internet in our own corner of the putty with impunity.
If we look at who holds the majority of that putty, however, one group stands out: straight men. By all accounts, the internet’s behaviour is eerily like that of a male teenager. The two activities that never lose popularity online are pornography and video gaming, two activities shovelled mercilessly in the direction of men, and those same men cram it all down with a giddy satisfaction of a fifteen-year-old. Yet both industries often find themselves making victims out of women. That damsel in distress that has followed Western culture for millennia thrives in the modern storytelling of the video game, as do hyper-sexualised heroines who apparently cannot adventure without the body of, as it happens, a porn-star. The internet falls into some misogynistic cycle whereby men in control feed men-customers what the former enjoy. And those customers do enjoy what they are served, proved simply by sales figures.
This is not a call, however, to have either the video gaming or the porn industry censored. The medium is not to blame for who is behind the wheel. My point is this: men are the executive producers of the sexism that seeps from every pore of the internet. They decide what is pumped out into the world and it feels as if the internet-age opinion is along the lines of, ‘Well, we gave them the vote, they owe us.’
There is a third cornerstone of the internet: social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. Seemingly a gender-neutral area of the online world, there lingers with a seedy breath the same sexism found elsewhere. To create an account on Twitter as a woman, and upload a photo of yourself as a profile picture, is akin to playing Russian Roulette. Except, instead of there being only a bullet to worry about, the remaining chambers are loaded with pre- and post-pubescent semen. That photograph will suddenly be subject to opinions from men anywhere in the world, shot directly to her notifications, the messages varying between ‘I wanna fuck you’ and ‘You’re fucking gross’. Why? Because men are taught to believe that the internet is theirs. Porn is for them, Call of Duty is for them. Anyone other than a man approaching the internet is subject to their review. Over social media, women are expected to send nudes by request, and accept and appreciate dick-pics without ever asking for the privilege.
Take Robbie Tripp, who took to Instagram to declare his love and adoration for his ‘curvy’ wife. The speed at which the internet moved from ‘how sweet’ to ‘excuse me?’ was impressive, but why was it a headline in the first place? A man celebrates the fact that he loves a woman larger than the Hollywood norm. That’s not brave or commendable but a piece of condescension that Tripp probably didn’t even register as insulting. There is the problem: he didn’t even notice. He posted his confession to loving his wife online and for a moment was lauded by social media (read straight men). A comparison: a man tells the world that he loves his ‘curvy’ spouse, on the cusp of saying ‘I love her, even if…’, and is briefly patted on the back. Anita Sarkeesian attempts to demonstrate that women are under- and misrepresented in video games, and is attacked daily, threatened with rape and murder, and requires police protection.
There are antidotes for this, as there always are for sexism in all of its shapes. But as long as men are taught that porn is theirs, and video games are produced with the heterosexual man in mind, as long as social media is treated as a trolling ground, nothing will alter. And physical proof is now with us, in the bright-beige shape of Donald J. Trump’s cock-swinging, pussy grabbing Presidential nomination, helped in its progress by that digital phallus we call the internet.