EDMONTON — Jackie Dawson is a life-long Oilers fan. She’s also a writer and managing partner of The Oilers Rig, a website about the NHL team.
In the three years she’s been writing about the game, she’s received a lot of feedback from other fans. A lot of it is positive, but she’s also seen more than her share of hate.
“When you’re talking about hockey you’re already a target because you’re a woman and it’s a man’s world to them,” Dawson said.
“I’ve been told I should…get back into the kitchen. I’ve been told that I have no business even forming an opinion because, ‘what do I know? I’m just a woman.’ I’ve been told…’I don’t know why anyone would even listen to you, especially with a face like that.'”
It’s not just tough. It’s sexist.
“The critiques that Jackie was receiving weren’t anything specific about what she was saying, they were all about how she looked,” explained Dr. Cristina Stasia, a university professor and gender consultant.
“When it becomes a sexist action is when we’re trying to skew the focus from what a woman is saying to her physical appearance or her embodiment.”
It got so bad for Dawson that she reported – repeatedly – one of the worst offenders to Twitter. Eventually, after many complaints from Dawson and others, his account was suspended.
“That one was my tipping point I think,” she said.
“After that, I thought, ‘you know what? I just need to say something about this because it happens to so many women.’ So many women are scared to say anything about it because now you’re a target…but somebody has to speak up, so why not me?”
She wrote a blog about her experience. It became one of The Oilers Rig’s most-read articles and actually crashed the site.
“I was impressed that she wrote it,” said Stasia. “She took a big risk putting that online, especially given that she’s keenly aware of the harassment that could and did follow.”
Dawson felt the need to blog about the online harassment because she knew she wasn’t the only woman dealing with it. Stasia said she’s absolutely right.
“We see very often that it’s something women experience to a much greater extent than men online. They’re attacked for their appearance or their marital status or their embodiment, not their ideas.
“It’s amplified by social media but it’s one that starts from day one.
“That’s why it’s so critical that we begin in elementary schools to teach students about gender, about race and about media literacy, so they have those critical skills and so they learn that everyone has the right to an opinion and you can attack the opinion but not the person.”
A 2006 study out of the University of Maryland looked at online harassment and gender. Researchers created fake online accounts – with both male and female names – and dispatched them into chat rooms.
“They found that the average rate of harassing or sexually explicit message for profiles with a female name was 100,” said Stasia. “For users with a male name, it was 3.7.”
Dawson wasn’t surprised to hear the results. In fact, she did a similar social experiment herself, creating another online account with a male name and posting the same comments as her original account.
“They would completely trash me personally and they would completely trash my comments personally,” she explained. “But when it was me as a man, they would just trash what I was saying. I would throw a few back and forth and then it would stop. That’s where it ended. But when it was me as a woman, it continued to get more personal.”
While sexism is an issue in our society as a whole, Stasia said it is especially prevalent in new public spaces – like social media – and in fields considered traditionally male – like sports.
“It’s so ingrained in the culture and that’s something that we need to address in sports,” she stressed.
“It’s starting to be addressed slowly in some areas in order to change the way female reporters and female writers in social media are treated.”
Dawson encourages women to continue speaking their mind and sharing their opinions.
“Just do what you do…keep being who you are. And for everybody else, if you see it happening, don’t just look at it and go, ‘oh geez, that’s really bad’ and walk away. Take a look at it and say, ‘this is inappropriate, it’s totally disrespectful, it’s uncalled for and needs to change. Report the person.”
Her message to readers?
“Respond to what you’ve read, not who has written it.”