The internet provides a multitude of opportunities for women to connect with one another in meaningful ways — through online support groups, networking opportunities, social clubs, and simple one-on-one relationship building. As women, we are social creatures who crave connection on a deep level, one that we have been able to cultivate both online and in real life. The internet has helped facilitate connections and relationships that have blossomed into important, meaningful parts of our lives on and off the screen.

But sometimes the internet can serve as a place where women attack and shame one another, often using the veil of anonymity to write hurtful, aggressive things that they would never say to someone in person. We’ve all seen the negative, unsubstantiated judgments made about other women’s body types, clothing choices, parenting styles, and eating habits. Maybe we’re even the ones who’ve made a cruel comment or two about someone’s relationship, children, salary, home, or lifestyle without ever really knowing anything at all about their day-to-day life — their struggles, their victories, their insecurities, their fears.

Based on a curated selection of photos and posts, it’s easy to assume that we know the whole story about another woman’s life and, when we’re feeling down, it’s also easy to shame her for the parts we disagree with in a disrespectful, public manner. Because this is done online, behind phone screens and computers and tablets, we get off scot-free, escaping the accountability of our actions thanks to the protection of the internet.

So, why is this scary behavior happening? And, most importantly, what can we do to stop it?

Why We’ve Started Turning Against One Another

While the internet can truly bring people together in profound ways, it can also serve as a path toward isolation. Instead of meeting friends for coffee or cocktails, we sometimes find ourselves tempted to curl up on the couch with our beverage of choice and our laptops, connecting with people screen-to-screen instead of face-to-face.
Shaming Women on the Internet: Why It Happens and What We Can Do

Of course, giving in to this temptation from time to time is not a bad thing in the slightest; scrolling through our social media feeds, reading blogs, and perusing Pinterest can provide us with much needed quiet time, allowing us to recharge our batteries. But if we find ourselves turning down invitations to connect with people in person in favor of spending time online, we may be heading down an unhealthy path. What can result is the loss of genuine community, the type that breeds relationships that are honest and vulnerable and open.

Instead of sharing our hearts and hurts with people in person, we either overshare to people we don’t even really know (or never spend time with in real life) or we clam up and share nothing at all. This behavior can manifest itself as cruel, shameful comments, the kind that we make that allow us to unfairly cast judgment on others as a result of our own personal issues and frustrations. As time goes on, if we prioritize screen time over other social interactions, we can lose touch with the members of our in-person communities who provide us with much needed emotional support, resulting in a barrage of unkind comments aimed towards others.

… it’s easy to assume we know the whole story about another woman’s life and, when we’re feeling down, it’s also easy to shame her for the parts we disagree with in a disrespectful, public manner.

The Comparison Game

There is no denying that we all experience feelings of jealousy or frustration when we see certain things online, whether it’s because we see someone we follow get something we want or we fear that we’re missing out on an opportunity, a gathering, or an experience.

When we’re in genuine relationships with members of our home teams, we have the ability to process these emotions in healthy, communicative ways by sharing our hearts openly with people we trust. When those relationships fade, we can find ourselves seeking other outlets for our jealousy and frustration, often turning to the internet for solace. There are so many spaces where we can share our thoughts and feelings online, making it easy to vent in cyberspace instead of connecting with someone in real life. We relieve ourselves of the pressures we feel by dumping our baggage on someone else online, a behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in a face-to-face conversation. We do this behind our screens in an attempt to make ourselves feel better, but in the end we only make others (and ourselves) feel worse.

When we lack healthy ways to process our emotions and feelings, we become more likely to cast shadows on others’ sunshine — and the easiest way to do that is online.

How Do We Move Forward?

In order to thwart this type of online shaming and aggression towards one another, women need to rejoice over the fact that we have one another to lean on. Instead of pitting ourselves against one another, let’s unite over the amazing strengths we share to lift one another up and celebrate each other’s achievements, families, lifestyles, and adventures. Let’s encourage one another, choosing words that are supportive and kind and life-giving. Let’s take steps towards creating genuine community, both online and offline, providing us with the necessary outlets we need to share our thoughts and fears and dreams.

When we lack healthy ways to process our emotions and feelings, we become more likely to cast shadows on others’ sunshine — and the easiest way to do that is online.

When we feel that we’re on the precipice of saying something cruel, let’s step away from our devices and get some fresh air or meet a friend for coffee. Let’s press pause, regroup, and dig deep to identify what’s really going on in our own lives that might be making us want to take our anger out on others.

Shaming Women on the Internet: Why It Happens and What We Can Do

Rather than making snarky comments online when we feel frustrated or hurt by someone else’s choices or actions, let’s confront one another personally (and privately) with gentleness and kindness, resolving issues with love and grace instead of with passive aggressive comments and veiled insults. Social media often gives us a peek into the lives of people we would never have interacted with otherwise — celebrities, friends of friends, career moguls — and we have taken this special kind of access for granted.

We should celebrate the fact that it’s a privilege, not a right, to have this fun glimpse into the lives of others instead of seeing it as opportunity to share judgments or harsh insights when we may not even be connected to these people in real life. If this access becomes too much for us to handle, maybe it’s time for us to unfollow certain accounts, or do a digital detox and step away from our social media feeds altogether. Maybe it’s time for us to evaluate what’s going on inside our hearts and minds, taking responsibility for our own actions and emotions instead of placing blame on others through the unwarranted shaming of their choices and decisions and lifestyles.

By building genuine bonds with the people in our lives (both online and offline), we’ll create community that allows us to freely express our thoughts and ourselves in kind, thoughtful ways, ridding us of the temptation to post harmful, shaming comments on our social media feeds.

And by doing this, we’ll make this world a much sweeter, more supportive, vulnerable, and open place.

How would you like to see the Internet change for the better?

Images via Sara Forrest

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12 comments

  1. That link is to just one film, by the way. There are others linked on that YouTube channel – all so moving, thought-provoking, and inspiring, like your article.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this!! We have forgotten what a privilege publishing is, even just on IG or FB, we have also forgotten to be gracious and courteous. So glad you also revealed our deep need for authentic community in the midst of the screen time.
    Great piece!

  3. I love this post Rachel! Thanks for being brave enough to confront cyber bullying head on. I didn’t expect this post to take the turn it did: exposing our need for real life, life-giving community. It also reminded me of the need for a home team, and my desire to build one by first being that to others. Thank you for the great thoughts to chew on, have a wonderful day.

  4. Gee, I hope you receive more comments than this from this post. I work in the NYC area, which means I’m worked to death. But I force myself to meet friends for dinner, drinks and now even just lunch. So many people have stopped doing this due to finances (no raises as normal now in the good paying jobs), exhaustion from long work hours, no time. So I agree, just even meet for coffee. I have friends starting small businesses, like myself, and we meet for 30 minutes, crack up, learn and share into, hug and feel motivated and take good action when we get back to our businesses. Gals and Guys, just be nice. A great post!
    http://www.pippihepburn.etsy.com

  5. This is a great article. And much needed. I follow Mimi Ikonn on Instagram and the amount of negative comments on her feed drive me crazy. It’s so easy to just lay into people simply because we have access to them, while forgetting that it’s actually a privilege like you said. Obviously, sometimes, we don’t agree or we don’t like something we see/read, but somehow we’ve forgotten how to express that with grace and compassion. Thanks again for this great call to action.

    1. Thanks for reading & commenting, Marie Therese! I love your reminder about communicating with grace & compassion.

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