Rule 37 is Ruining the Internet

Internet victims

For full video, please click here (opens in new tab).

For lack of a better term, I think, because I don’t think what I made is necessarily intended as an art piece (sans the very beginning with the alcohol. Granted, it is low art, but it says something nonetheless, and not just my status as a typical college alkie), I’m still calling this section my artist’s statement. I made Rule 37 Is Ruining The Internet primarily to inform people about what it’s like to be a girl on the Internet and why it’s become more and more problematic.

The video is largely anecdotal, which defeats the purpose of this being a research project. However, that’s not to say that no research was involved. I conducted a survey targeting women who use social networking sites to gauge their experiences and if they were any similar to my own. I had experienced my fair share of abuse for being a female on the Internet and wanted to hear from other women who may have experienced the same.

I had recorded the statistics on video originally, but as the video grew in length, I deemed it unnecessary. I have listed the statistics here for brevity’s sake.

Out of 577 responses:

    49% of respondents were 18-24 years old. 39% were between 25 and 34.
    94% identified themselves as cis-female (meaning that they identify as a woman both biologically and psychologically)
    3% identified as gender neutral/genderqueer and only 1% of people in the other categories (transgender, not sure or prefer not to answer).
    The majority of women use Facebook (94%), Reddit (77%) and YouTube (73%).
    Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter also ranked well enough, but none were over the 50% mark.
    95% of women use social media more than once a day.
    37% of women answered YES to whether they had felt harassed on social media because of their gender identity. 7% weren’t sure.
    5% answered YES to whether the abuse carried over from the Internet into real life.
    When asked how often they noticed harassment on social networking sites directed at other women, 49% answered Sometimes. 30% answered Often.

Basically the only thing we can infer out of this data is that harassment on social media due to gender happens, but I wanted to see the numbers for myself. In retrospect, I should have added questions that allowed respondents to reveal their race and define what harassment actually means to them. Racism often plays into gender discrimination as well; the struggles of a black woman or an Arab woman are not the same as a white woman. Pretending otherwise is discriminatory in itself. Asking those questions would have given me better insight.

In any case, this project ties into when we were talking about memes in class near the beginning of the semester. I don’t necessarily mean memes like the image macros of Advice Dog, Good Guy Greg, etc. but with what we associate widely recognized ideas. Rule 37 is a meme, along with the more recognized Rule 34 (“if it exists, there is porn of it”), and this particular meme is damaging to an idealistic Web experience.

“Rule 37: There are no girls on the Internet.” Why not? In a whole world that was built on unchecked privilege and wealth, why do men feel the need to conquer the online frontier as well? What do they stand to gain by erasing women completely except to objectify and dehumanize them? The common rebuttal to this is “but not all men are like that!” Great, except you are acknowledging that there are men like that. Some men, a few men, one man like that is too many. Women deal with enough misogyny in the real world. Why should the pattern continue on the Web?

Another question that you might ask (and by “you” I mean “my professor”): why not just write a paper about it? For one thing, the project encouraged using a more creative outlet than a ten to fifteen page paper. For another, the medium is the message. If I’m going to dissect gender politics on the Internet, I need to do it on the Internet. YouTube and Tumblr are both powerful mediums for sharing ideas like this. In fact, Tumblr has a large social justice warrior (SWJ) culture that has attained mainstream attention, albeit somewhat ridiculed. Ideas on change and how people can become better at recognizing erasure, sexism, discrimination, casual or militant racism are easily spread via the microblogging platform.

This project is a living, breathing testament to how gender politics affect how we use social networking and frankly, it’s time for a change.

Further reading (all links open in a new tab or window):
The Encyclopedia Dramatica article mentioned in the video

TV Tropes entry regarding no girls on the Internet

Relevant xkcd

Virtual Gender: Technology, consumption and identity (edited by Eileen Green and Alison Adam) ($25.75 on Google Books, link is a preview)

Women on the Internet: Promise and Perils
(Janet Morahan-Martin, Ph.D.)

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