Friday, October 9, 2015

UN Commission Report on Online Violence Against Women

Like any space on this planet, the internet contains violence, including violence against females.  So the report CYBER VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS (shouty ALL CAPS from original) certainly has a valid subject.

The report itself is steeped in sex-negative assumptions that are not made explicit.
For example:
  •  Referring to "revenge porn" (posting explicit material about a woman without her permission) simply as "porn" as if these are interchangeable things. 
  • Sexting is discussed only as a risk, not a positive and deliberate expression of sexuality between competent and consenting individuals. 
  • "Mainstreaming" of the pornography is treated only as a problem.
  • Pornography is characterized as inherently abusive in content and damaging to male viewers.
  • Non-heterosexual content and female consumers of pornography are not acknowledged to exist.
Many women I know have been effected by threats, stalking and various kind of online harassment (including group attacks) that were gender-based. And I do think the overall goals of this report to increase women's' access to online opportunities is a good one.  But the implicit assumption that this will not include any kind of sex-positive material (a.k.a "pornography") is self-defeating.

The report has a pervasive assumption that sex work and pornography of any kind is only damaging, and not a realm in which opportunity can also exist.  The very choice to refer to pornography as "porn" strikes me as telling. As it the choice to cite alarming statistics about how most porn depicts abuse and turns men into abusers without ever defining what is being counted as porn (in a document where almost every other repeatedly used term is explicitly define, porn is still "I know it when I see it"?).

What I think is missing is that online opportunities for women include the ability to explore and express their sexuality and take part in creative activities and exchanges about sexuality. Fostering, as much as possible, a safe environment online does not meant rendering the online space neuter and completely asexual. (Indeed, even the exploration of asexual identity requires being able to explore responses to sexualized material and discuss sexuality and asexuality freely).

In summary: Addressing the problem of cyber-violence against women requires that women's sexual and gender identities must be addressed positively. Sexuality cannot be framed only as a danger to women from which they must be protected, and never as a trait to be celebrated and expressed. This sex-negative approach effectively silences women on an important subject, one of the core subjects that is being used to restrict and victimize them.

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