Pink hair has nothing to do with online abuse!
Dr Siouxsie Wiles is an Associate Professor and head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland. She's also a hero of Aotearoa New Zealand's reponse to the Covid-19 pandemic, communicating extremely clear facts and opinion about what's been going on.
Thanks to her collaboration with artist Toby Morris we've read brilliant articles with amazing illustrations that helped us understand how to beat the virus.
As of 04 July 2020 there is no community transmission of the virus in this country. That took the combined efforts of our population of 5 million, stunningly good leadership and superb science communication.
So it's infuriating to not only see that Dr Wiles has suffered extreme (but all too common) online abuse, but that anyone can even hint that it's anything to do with how she is as a woman, rather than the fact that she is a woman. So this is well-meaning but way off track:
Australian political scientist Jessica Megarry, who has spent years studying the online abuse of women, says part of the problem is that we expect women to look a certain way.
"It's hard to win this, right? if you're too feminine – if you're too stereotypically attractive – you're going to be ridiculed on that basis. If you're not feminine enough, you're going to be ridiculed on that basis."
It's not about how people expect women to be. It's about silencing women. Full stop.
Wiles' University of Auckland colleague, physicist Shaun Hendy…
"In general, the online abuse is often targeted at women or minority groups, and the white males like me generally get an easier ride," says Hendy.
"She's an extrovert, she's got pink hair, she really stands out, and I think that really annoys some people... You often see her being accused of attention-seeking, when actually she's just doing her job."
It's not about the pink hair or standing out. It's about her being a woman.
Women who go online get abused. Women who don't go online get abused. Women get abused.
Covid-19 has been and still is a global threat to everyone, and we have rightly taken extreme measures to defend against it. It's far from the only global pandemic though. Try an online search for
covid-19 domestic violence and you'll quickly see that everywhere the existing problem of violence against women has been escalated by those measures. Just as domestic violence increases during the Christmas break and at other times when families are pushed together.
There are also global problems of poverty and many other issues, of course, none of which have fared well, but there is one single division of people of every race, skin colour, age, economic status, religion or any other characteristic that you can think of, and that is into male and female. These days there is increasing understanding that that division is way more complex than has ever been imagined before, but it is still the most fundamental division in all our societies.
And wherever you look, whenever you look, women suffer abuse.
It's not a matter of pink hair, or body shape, or expertise, or any other damn thing. It's because Dr Wiles (and all the millions of other women who've ever spoken a single word anywhere) is a woman.
Bazillion dollar response? No. Shut-down society? No.
A woman's individual characteristics have nothing to do with online or offline abuse. It's because we're women.