Public internet shaming and sexism.

For those of us that have been online for a while, it is well understood that with or without a concrete reason, things spread online virally often garnering massive amounts of support in a flash, irrelevant of how serious, true or false allegations may be. You never know when you hit “publish,” what the outcome will be, what unintended consequences might come out of it and who’s gonna hate you now. This is also true for those that are “caught” doing things online and become villains overnight. It is often hard to trace the reason for why certain issues resonate and this idea of online vigilante justice is very much at the core of why many of us blog in the first place, but sometimes, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. And in an attempt at punishing someone for something, people engage in full on smear campaigns that are tragically offensive.

I came across this article from a few days ago in the NYTimes (via Courtney Young on twitter) about Mary Bale, a woman caught throwing a cat in a garbage can, who became the object of tremendous scrutiny and online protesting over the video tape of her actions.

The tabby’s owners heard the cat’s cries 15 hours later and posted the video online, hoping to find the offender. They were in luck. Within hours, Ms. Bale’s name and address were published on an Internet forum. She quickly became the object of global derision. Hate pages popped up on Facebook, among them, “Mary Bale should be locked up for putting Lola the cat in a bin,” which garnered 20,796 fans, and “Death to Mary Bale,” which Facebook later took down.

A video on YouTube of a man dressed as a cat stuffing a woman into a can was watched by two million people, some of them posting comments critical of Ms. Bale. The episode even spurred a wave of anti-Mary Bale Twitter accounts.

As friend to the felines, I am appalled by anyone that hurts animals. Ever. And I do think those that abuse animals should be fined. But there is something uniquely troubling and sexist about the protests against Bale. Beyond a Facebook group that had to be removed asking for her death, someone created a video stuffing a woman into a trash can. To me, that smacks of opportunistic sexism in the name of justice. Of course, no one should throw a cat in a trash bin, but suggesting that a woman should be, is well just sexist.

I am all for holding people accountable when they do things that are deplorable. But there is a unique type of public shaming that occurs to women when they are “accused” of things online which allow others to air their grievances online irrelevant of how sexist, racist, ableist, or just generally messed up those characterizations may be. This is one example, but there are countless examples of women being publicly shamed online for things they may are may not have done. That’s not vigilante justice, that’s just another opportunity to hate on women in new and unique ways.

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