Opinionated women in the digital age

RSU president Andrea Bartlett responds to the controversy surrounding a decision to fire two RSU employees including a new mother on parental leave. (RyersonianTV)

RSU president Andrea Bartlett responds to the controversy surrounding a decision to fire two RSU employees including a new mother on parental leave. (RyersonianTV)

By Arianna Ongaro

So you get elected to overhaul a campus that hosts roughly 34,831 students. This was the position Ryerson Students’ Union president Andrea Bartlett was put in this time last year. There were some big changes that needed to be made, particularly making Ryerson’s campus safer for women.

In a Medium article Bartlett posted on Feb. 29, she explained the difficulties she has faced as the president of a sometimes change-averse student population. The business student got candid about the struggle of balancing tough decisions with her own feelings. She is human after all. A human with significant power and authority on campus. A human with ideas. A woman with opinions.

And as a result, she has become a target. In the personal article, Bartlett claims she is the recipient of weekly rape and death threats. Weekly. And where did they originate? Online, of course.

But this type of harassment isn’t anything new, nor is it an isolated issue on campus. It’s something that is seen all too often: women being threatened or harassed for taking a stance.

For example, there was that woman who received rape threats after refusing to smile, or the young girl who was turned into a meme after pictures of her passed out surfaced the night she claimed she was drugged and abused. What about the costume designer who won an Oscar and was ridiculed because she didn’t conform to Hollywood’s standard of beauty?

Earlier this week, an article published in Quartz India detailed the extent to which strongly opinionated women are treated. It made references to several cases of female journalists in India who have been harassed and threatened online. One victim was television anchor Sindhu Sooryakumar, who reportedly received over 2,000 calls where she was threatened, abused and referred to as a prostitute. This backlash came after Sooryakumar spoke about parliament accusing university students for making derogatory remarks about the Hindu goddess Durga. How did they find her number, you ask? According to Quartz, it was posted on WhatsApp by her abusers.

In yet another instance, an editor at a Malaysian newspaper had her Facebook account shut down after receiving vicious comments following a personal post. Back in November, VP Rajeena recalled her experience as a young student in India, claiming her peers, both male and female, were the target of sexual abuse by teachers. The post precipitated hundreds of abusive comments.

The Internet doesn’t cause misogyny, but it does provide an ideal landscape to perpetuate a sexist mentality. Think about the reaction to women being victimized — threats, jokes, tweets and memes that spread like wildfire.

Women who choose to be vocal face intensive backlash and this reaction needs to change, starting right here on campus. While Ryerson prides itself on being diverse and enlightened in matters of social justice, further progress is necessary.

Last week saw some key influencers in that change. On March 1, Ryerson students marched through campus in protest of workplace sex and gender discrimination, racism, Islamophobia and ableism. The rally was a landscape to promote a message of necessary change. And in order to widen the reach of that message, social media played a large part.

As a tweet posted by the Ryerson Feminist Collective during the rally said, “It’s not just chilly outside: it’s chilly in courtrooms, our work spaces, our offices…”

It’s time to warm up.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on March 9, 2016.

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