The machine for kicking women out of public debate has never looked so good – 08/03/2023

We certainly live in the best time to be a woman in human history. In this I fully agree with the writer Meghan Daum, author of “The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars”, still untranslated into Portuguese.

Honestly, I never imagined in my childhood as many windows of opportunity to occupy public space as we have today. I mean a few decades. Thinking about the history of mankind, perhaps this is the first time that women are citizens globally.

This key change was quick. A few decades ago, women in public prominence were the exception. Today we openly debate the need for parity in these spaces. It is an impressive advance that inevitably generates strong contrary reactions, made possible by the internet.

“Women are the alien in politics”, writer Debora Thome taught me. There is still a feeling that we shouldn’t be there, that expulsion is legitimate. This adds to the individual frustrations of those who aspired for something they will not have.

Without competition from women in the public space, the expectation of success and notoriety was different. With the change of reality and generations, male profiles that would have some prominence even being mediocre, no longer have. There is more competition. It happens that this generates a feeling of losing something that was rightfully,
of having your shine taken by someone.

It is from this resentment that masculinist movements emerge that openly want to banish women from public space. These really vocalize what they want. They can be dangerous and need to be fought, but they are no match for the trolls and haters who camouflage themselves in apparently reasonable speech.

According to writer and disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz, there are basically four types of trolls. The world-haters we all know, comes out screaming, is aggressive, annoying, uses overtly sexist vocabulary, sometimes capitalizes everything and is proud of it. There are two others, that you see daily but maybe you don’t imagine it’s hater and misogynistic.

What she calls “@Prof.Dr.Explicadinho, the commentator”, is the one who makes an apparently polite speech, but whose structure is dedicated to showing the woman that she is inferior. Usually, they comment on every woman’s post. If it’s a picture of her breakfast, she explains that she should toast her toast more. If it’s a professional article she wrote, she’ll explain a detail to try to show herself superior.

There is also “@Ze.Acomodado, the man without Google”, who asks basic questions to divert attention from what the woman posted to him. If I post this text, for example, he’ll say: “what’s the difference between trolls and haters?”. It’s a tactic to take the woman out of focus and put herself in it.

The most insidious is “@Cavalo.Detroia”, the guy who usually approaches women in a collaborative and complimentary way. As he gets her to pay attention to him, he becomes aggressive. It is difficult to differentiate approaches from sincere and interested people from baits launched by those who want information about a woman only to use later in attacks.

Men are also harassed, but the tactics are different. By the way, here I refer to Andrew Anglin’s infamous radicalization manual, which updated Chapter VI of Mein Kampf for use on the networks. He recommends targeting a woman and utilizing the full arsenal of macho stereotypes.

The order is to pretend that this is political criticism, but to use completely different arguments. It attacks women’s physical appearance, sexuality and misogynistic clichés are inferred, such as her being vain, stupid or the version of skirts of some hated man.

One of the most effective methods, according to Andrew Anglin, of dehumanizing someone to the point of making the group laugh at his death is “cultural hijacking”. Instead of talking about the person, you put them as some character, a famous villain, someone ridiculous from a comedy show, a meme.

Followers will start attacking that avatar, that character they know. But the target will be a real person, the one the troll wants to banish from public debate. When hitting someone that the hater thinks has notoriety, he starts to fantasize that he is as important as that person. Who knows, superior. Imagines, sometimes, that he can take her place.

There are several surveys showing that women have changed their behavior online and avoided participating in the public debate, in a movement of self-censorship, because of this machine in uninterrupted operation. Many give up politics.

The price of being a woman with a public presence is constant harassment in those terms, which starts online and spills over into the physical many times over. More difficult than that is to see that even close people underestimate the seriousness, violence and real consequences of these attacks.

The problem is that people don’t understand how these mechanisms work. Until they are made aware, they will not stop this machine. They imagine that a guy is giving a political opinion and another is just making a criticism. I’ve had this illusion and you probably have too.

On this International Women’s Day, one of the best gifts for us is that you start to see this machine that expels women from the public debate. It is not to be confused with debate or political struggle, although it often mimics this discourse.

Trolls and haters are in the minority, but they manage to manipulate mass resentment. They gain notoriety by systematically destroying real people. Stop rewarding these individuals with microphones, money, prestige and power would make a huge difference in women’s lives.

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