This article first appeared in issue 230 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
Many things make me despair for humanity: drop-crotch trousers; Katie Price; the Mail Online’s popularity. But the big one is Twitter’s trending topics list. It’s a regularly updated barometer of stupidity, but even by its low standards the trending topic #replacebandnameswithrape came as a surprise.
Feeling ready for some comedy? “The Backstreet Rape”. “Rape Cab for Cutie”. “Chase and Rape”. I could go on, but I’ve depressed myself already.
Time is wrong
And it wasn’t just the idiocy, It was the timing. While various mouth-breathers ROFLed about rape, others were using the #justiceforched hashtag to name and defame the woman Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans had been found guilty of raping. The hashtag was truly disturbing: some people posted measured comments expressing concern over how the case had been prosecuted; others preferred the terms “drunken slag”, “bitch”, “whore” and “money-grabbin slut”.
The hashtags have more in common than Twitter and stupidity. They’re on the same spectrum, shown at its vilest by a (removed) post on Uni Lad snickering “85 per cent of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds”. You can see how the jokes might have a negative impact: if rape is something to laugh about, something that one Uni Lad supporter describes as “surprise sex”, how dare some woman ruin a footballer’s career over it?
Naming rape victims is an extreme case, but online misogyny is hardly rare. Fat, Ugly or Slutty repeatedly and depressingly highlights the flak female gamers experience, while BioWare videogame writer Jennifer Hepler received vicious abuse when a 2006 interview in which she criticised some games’ stories was misquoted on Reddit earlier this year. Female bloggers’ combination of wombs and opinions drive some commenters to particular apoplexy. It’s hate speech, and we wouldn’t accept it for a second if the abuse was motivated by race instead of gender.
Even if you’re not on the sharp end of it, there’s plenty of sexism in tech. Witness Geeklist’s promo video featuring a woman in her underwear, and apparent threats to Shanley Kane when she called them on it (since apologised for), or Sqoot’s inclusion of “women” in its list of event perks, or Path exec Matt Van Horn’s SXSW speech with jokes about gangbangs and nudie calendars, or Dell’s recent summit where the MC urged men to adopt the mantra “shut up, bitch”.
It’s all meant as harmless fun, but so was the Uni Lad post, and the #replacebandnameswithrape hashtag. All that separates conference funnies from offensive tweets is the pay grade of those making the jokes.
The tech industry may be less sexist than most, but there’s still a frat-house atmosphere to some firms, hence the meme of the ‘brogrammer’. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were more outraged by sexism than by spam?
Photography: Iain MacLean