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Women online are facing harassment – the #ToxicHush campaign is tackling it. – Women of influence

By Shari Graydon

The TV reporter told me on the phone that he needed to interview someone who wasn’t a beauty contestant. I qualified.

It was 1992 and I was on the board of MediaWatch, a national organization that works to improve the representation of women in the media. The reporter thought my perspective on the cancellation of the Miss Canada pageant might differ from the perspective of previous winners he had also interviewed.

I looked at her camera and said how heartened I was that a contest treating women’s bodies like cattle at an auction was no longer popular enough to attract advertisers. My sound bite played between equally brief clips of Miss Canada 1991 and Miss Canada 1992.

But I had a lot more to say about how society objectifying women makes it harder for us to accept our physical imperfections or be taken seriously at work. So I channeled the rest of what I thought into a journal comment.

Its publication emboldened me. I started scouring the news regularly for opportunities to write about the things I knew and cared about. As a result, I did a lot of commentary on CBC radio and television, and for three years wrote a weekly column for the Vancouver Sun. These experiences led to a 13-episode television series, a job in the BC Premier’s office, and numerous speaking engagements.

What I’ve learned is that when you have a public voice, it’s much easier to get your phone calls back, convince people to fund the causes you believe in, or change policies to suit your research. And that realization inspired me to start Informed opinions support other women to increase their influence.

The newspaper column also gave me experience in dealing with hate mail. The envelope of the very first letter sent to me in care/from the Vancouver Sun was addressing “Shari Graydon, Bitch of the Year club”. Inside, my correspondent continued, “You’re a dog-faced bitch.”

“The envelope of the very first letter sent to me in care/of the Vancouver Sun was addressed to ‘Shari Graydon, club female dog of the year.’ ”

Other readers have sent me religious tracts making it clear that I would roast in hell for supporting same-sex marriage or for demanding action against missing Downtown Eastside women. A male columnist called me “feminazi”; another – employed by my own newspaper – described me publicly as the kind of person who “can’t stand to see other people having fun”.

So I thought I knew what it was for women targeted by ugliness. But I was wrong.

Two years ago, Informed Opinions hosted a roundtable with a group of accomplished women with intersectional identities profiled in our expert database for journalists. I told them that we were assessing how well we reflected Canada’s diversity and asked them how we could better reach and support others in their communities.

“We don’t want to invite women from our networks to join your database,” they told us. “It’s brutal out there. Can’t you do something about the toxic hate we’re getting? »

They shared stories I was unable to imagine about unrepeatable insults, physical and sexual threats and despicable lies, all dumped on their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or in their inboxes by anonymous trolls determined to silence them. And their experiences reflect the international to research findings that Black, Indigenous, Asian, Muslim and immigrant women, those who identify as LGBTQ+ or live with disabilities, are significantly more likely to be targeted than their white, cis and straight sisters.

Because these high-achieving women had careers they fought for, families they cared about, and reputations they needed to protect, sometimes the trolls succeeded. Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic or anti-Islamist attacks they suffered became physical and financial, costing them not only productivity and sanity, but also the ability to travel or the will to undertake new activities. Opportunities.

That’s why Informed Opinions has invested in measures to combat unique hate speech specifically aimed at women. Last year we released our #ToxicHush Action Kit provide a free online resource to help targeted individuals know how to respond and where to complain.

“Sometimes the emotional and psychological impact of the degrading, sexist, racist, homophobic or anti-Islamist attacks they suffered became physical and financial, costing them not only productivity and sanity, but the ability to travel or the will to take on new opportunities.”

And in June we broadcast “A people’s tribunal: every woman has the right to express herself without hate online” draw attention to the human rights violations that affect thousands of women every day and encourage change. The event featured moving testimonies from courageous women recounting their experiences in the context of their work in journalism, advocacy, politics and health care.

In opening the Tribunal, the Honorable Marci Ien made reference to the malice she had received due to her visibility as a black woman on television and in politics.

Award-winning Indigenous journalist Brandi Morin quoted a scathing death threat to her inbox and affirmed her intention to use her voice “for those who cannot speak.”

And prominent human rights defender Amira Elghawaby said she was threatened so often that she met the police and set up a security system.

“The fear of being attacked on social media and having that hate spill over into real life,” she said, “means I often have to question what I’m saying online in case it’s wrong. used against me… to justify hatred and violence.”

Senator Kim Pate, in her role as one of the three “citizen judges”, provided legal context to inform the actions we are urging the government to take. She spoke of the constant assault on women’s rights to participate freely and fully in public debate.

“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she noted, “does not guarantee carte blanche freedom of speech…There is no constitutional right…to threaten to rape or kill a woman because you disagree with its policy. But she also observed that in the absence of any formal regulation, the default practice is that anonymous abusers can say what they want, while the impact on women is “speak at your own risk”. . ”

The event was moving, enlightening and infuriating. And as part of our #ToxicHush Campaign Against Online Hate, we complement the Tribunal’s hard-hitting stories with data collected from many more people on how they were targeted, where and what impact the abuse had on how they feel and act.

So if you’re concerned – or know someone who is – help enrich the stories our data can tell by complete this simple survey.

“Unchecked online abuse threatens not only to thwart much-needed progress, but also to reverse decades of progress on equality.”

To date, 76% of 270 respondents say they have seen an increase in online hate over the past two years, with Twitter and Facebook being the most frequently cited. More than half are the target of insults and insults, and almost 20% have received threats of physical or sexual violence.

Individual attacks re-traumatize survivors of sexual assault, and the cumulative impact of turning your cell phone into a delivery vehicle for abuse becomes a serious deterrent to women who might otherwise be willing to share their ideas publicly and increase their visibility and influence.

Indeed, unchecked online abuse threatens not only to thwart much-needed progress, but also to reverse decades of progress on equality. Despite the progress made, Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracking shows that Canada’s most influential news media continue to quote men almost 70% of the time.

We have dedicated the last 13 years to bridging this gap, to amplifying the voices of women and people of gender diversity, to connecting them with journalists, to helping them increase their impact. Because we all understand the truth behind “if you can’t see her, you can’t be her…”

And if women’s realities and experience-based perspectives are not part of our public conversations, helping to set agendas, shape policies and influence spending, the resulting imbalance will continue to deeply undermine our democracy.