Taylor Jarman | January 14, 2015

Following Alan Rickman’s recent passing, Emma Watson posted a series of photos on her Twitter feed in remembrance of him. Each came with a quote that originated from Alan, Emma’s co-star in the Harry Potter films. One of these images in particular struck a chord among an angry Twitter crowd. The image of Rickman says: “There is nothing wrong with a man being a feminist, I think it is to our mutual advantage.”

In 2014, Emma Watson was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. In September of that year she delivered an address at UN Headquarters to launch the UN Women campaign entitled HeForShe. This campaign specifically calls for men to advocate for gender equality, something Watson is very passionate about. Knowing this, we can easily understand why Watson included the said image in the tribute photo series. I can only imagine how special Alan was to Emma, and especially to her work in women’s rights advocacy. Alan was a shining example of that phrase: he for she. Something even more moving to imagine is how Alan Rickman might’ve felt towards Emma. I imagine him proud, applauding her as she bravely stood for gender equality, a fight they had in common.

The backlash Emma received after posting the tweet, however, was ugly and disheartening. Here are some of the reactions Emma received after honoring her late colleague:

“Don’t talk about feminism right now, we don’t give a f***. A man died and you’re just talking about him being a feminist Emma?”

“Emma, you are a repugnant human being using his death to push your agenda. Go f*** yourself, twat.”

“He’s not even cold and you’re already using him to fuel the feminist agenda bandwagon? Not impressed.”

Other tweets coined Emma as “a f***ing classless bitch,” and labeled her behavior as tacky, tactless, horrible, and disgusting.

Emma is accused repeatedly of using Rickman’s death as a means to “push a feminist agenda,” and countless tweets harass and degrade Watson for taking away from the death of Rickman by doing so. What’s clogging up my newsfeed, though, isn’t about the sad, unfortunate loss of actor Alan Rickman. What is are headlines like: “Emma Watson Accused by Trolls of Exploiting Alan Rickman’s Death” and “Twitter Trolls Accuse Emma Watson of Exploiting Harry Potter Co-star Alan Rickman’s Death to Further Her Own ‘Feminist Agenda.’” So, what is it that’s really detracting from Alan Rickman’s death?

The harassment of women online has been steadily increasing with the information age. Harassment targeted at girls and women is often generated because they are women. It is used to silence, scare, and/or punish the girl or woman—in Watson’s case, for being a feminist, which she defines as “one who believes that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Women who are harassed online are frequently targeted with derogatory gendered slurs, which were prominent in today’s Twitter attacks towards Watson.

Soraya Chemaly, a feminist blogger who’s received a number of death and rape threats herself, says that “women take online harassment more seriously not because we are hysterics, but because we reasonably have to. There is no gender equivalence in terms of the denigrating, hostile and sometimes exceedingly dangerous environmental effect that misogyny has, online or off. It has a long history and cannot be isolated from actual violence that we adapt to avoiding every day. The fact that that violence has always suppressed women’s free speech is only now becoming too obvious to ignore.”

Cyber misogyny is a tool growing in popularity to police and silence women. This doesn’t happen just when the f-word (feminism) is brought up. It happens to women all the time, no matter the subject. Ask your female friends, your sisters, your co-workers, your daughters.

Writer Amanda Hess has been a target of online sexual harassment for years. The female journalist was personally familiar with sexual harassment and threatening feedback from her writing, but one morning, the harassment was much more violent. She received an early morning tweet that said, "I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for manslaughter, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks." He then continued, "Happy to say we live in the same state. I'm looking you up, and when I find you, I'm going to rape you and remove your head." His last tweet to her concluded: "You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this." Amanda, feeling a whirlwind of emotions, called 911. "None of this makes me exceptional," Amanda says referring to the rape and death threats she receives on a daily basis. "It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection."

Online gendered harassment has severe implications for women's status on the internet. Social media, smartphones and what ties it all together—the Internet—is becoming a paramount part of human existence. Amanda states in one of her popular articles 'Why Women Aren't Welcome on the Internet' that "the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them—all arenas that remain dominated by men, many of whom have little personal understanding of what women face online every day."

Seeing the vicious responses to Emma's recognition of Alan today made me both scared and angry, but that made me ready to do something. I know we can do better than this. And, yes, each of us is responsible. Here are some things that you can do:

  • Show your support to targets of online abuse and harassment. Use your voice, speak up.
  • Men, stand up to other men who harass women online. And rather than speaking on behalf of the target, explain how it hurts you.
  • Send supportive messages and e-mails to women doing good work online—whether they are obviously being harassed or not. These kind messages will counteract the unseen hate-mail and the threats that so many women unfortunately receive.
  • Flag or report posts and/or pages that are abusive.
  • If a company is perpetrating online abuse, boycott the company.

 Let's do better. Let's be better.