Our collective definitions of harassment can often be too narrow, which doesn’t allow it to encompass the vast array of things that constitute it, particularly when it comes to online behaviours that are not only inappropriate but also border on harassment.
We often only recognise issuing threats or cursing out someone online as inappropriate online behaviours, and do not explore the whole realm of problematic behaviours that take place on the daily, most of which are directed at women.
When discussing harassment against women, we rarely ever acknowledge that harassment exists in other forms as well apart from its most obvious physical manifestations – rape or molestation. We also don’t discuss the whole realm of harassment that solely exists online, where it is possible to protect your identity by taking cover behind the veil of anonymity.
Online spaces belong to everyone, fostering and defending Inappropriate behaviour only makes it harder for women to own these places
Here is a list of what constitutes online sexual harassment, that we often overlook, even though it borders on harassment.
1. Asking Sexually Coloured Personal Questions
Women on the internet are often asked sexually coloured questions in the guise of having ‘fun’ or ‘getting to know each other’ and if and when they point out how uncomfortable it makes them and the overt inappropriateness of the entire situation, they are berated for being prudes or for holding dated ideas. Questions enquiring whether they view porn, masturbate, are sexually active, or how many partners they have/had are all inappropriate and cross the line. Most of these questions are asked with the intention of eventually leading women into a sexual conversation, with complete disregard for their interest, consent, or lack thereof.
2. Unsolicited Pictures
Sending someone unsolicited or unasked for sexual pictures, in the form of pictures of private parts, pornographic videos, gifs, memes, or any other pornographic content is problematic. People often resort to this hoping it will ignite sexual interest, but fail to see this is the most common form of online harassment. Riya* (aged 18) says, “A few years ago someone I was texting started to ask me for nudes, when I refused repeatedly and he sensed I wouldn’t budge and he sent me an unsolicited picture of his private parts. I didn’t see this coming and was rather surprised by the audacity of it all and disgusted by his failure to ask for my consent”.
3. Asking For Nudes
Pestering people to send nudes after they have declined is another common form of harassment. This often takes place among teenagers, where they are pestered to send nudes to ‘prove their love’ or the ‘realness’ of their teenage relationships. Sujata Nair (54), a teacher, had to say the following regarding the same, “I once had a 15-year-old student who pestered his then-girlfriend to send him nudes to prove their relationship is ‘real’. The girlfriend, a child of 14, folded and agreed, and the boy went around school showing them to his friends and classmates. When discovered and taken to the principal, along with the girl, the principal merely yelled at him, but slapped the girl, berated her, and called her parents”.
4. Repeatedly Asking Someone To Sext
Coercing people into sexting by repeatedly asking them to or initiating it without their explicit consent is often considered nothing out of the ordinary and is normalised, but it is another form of online harassment. Consent has to be sought for initiating anything sexual, not just sex. Our collective disregard for consent is a deep problem that we should begin to acknowledge and remedy.
5. Repeatedly Asking Someone Out
Asking someone out persistently after they have rejected your advances is a form of harassment that isn’t just normalised but encouraged and applauded. We glorify this ‘do or die’ attitude where persistently asking someone out is considered a gesture of love and their everlasting and ever-growing interest in them. This toxic behaviour is made out to be ‘romantic’ and normalised to the extent where this is the general norm and to ask someone out repeatedly, basically berating them until they say yes, is not considered unhealthy. The persistence involved in this form of harassment is made out to be impressive and not what it really is, agonisingly troubling.
6. Making Multiple Social Media Accounts To Contact Someone Who Has You Blocked
This happens more often than one would think. Making multiple social media accounts, either with the same name or different ones to conceal one’s identity, to get people to speak with you once they have expressed their lack of interest is also a form of harassment that often goes unnoticed and is trivialised.
Consent has to be sought, for initiating anything sexual, not just sex. Although, our collective disregard for consent is a deep problem that we must acknowledge .
These behaviours usually involve a gendered aspect, they are most often perpetrated by men against women because we continue to normalise and excuse toxic behaviours exhibited by men, by saying that it is the part and parcel of being a man. These behaviours are often dismissed as harmless or as boys having ‘fun’. Due to our ‘anything goes’ attitude concerning men, women, and appropriate behaviour, most people guilty of these things seem to be surprised when called out for their inappropriate behaviour. Feigning ignorance or berating women for speaking up are common responses.
The greatest problem concerning this arises due to the fact that most women made uncomfortable by these behaviours refuse to do anything about it because they fail to see this as harassment, but view it merely as men having fun at their expense, which we teach women is something they need to put up with, because men can choose how to exist in public life, even if it is at the expense of women.
It is time we begin to chalk-up boundaries, even when it is online and not excuse inappropriate behaviour just because it may not fit society’s vague and narrow ideas of what harassment entails. Online spaces belong to everyone, fostering and defending behaviours like these only make it harder for women to own these places and exist there comfortably and without being harassed.
In a patriarchal society, it becomes hard for most to see that these behaviours arise from normalised toxic patterns of behaviour allowed to boys and men in relation to women, but we need to begin remedying this, by educating ourselves about boundaries, women, and most importantly, consent.
*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the contributors.
Featured Image Source: Franziska Barczyk