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Misogyny thrives when women are silenced online – and in the workplace

Sarah Everard’s murder has exposed misogyny in UK culture, and nursing is not immune
Sarah Everard vigil

Sarah Everards murder has exposed widespread misogyny in UK culture, and nursing is not immune

The recent disappearance and suspected murder of Sarah Everard has seen a huge outpouring of stories on social media highlighting the fear shared by so many women and their collective grief.

In deafening unison, women have been shouting the grim reality and oft-unspoken understanding that any one of us could have been Sarah Everard a woman simply walking home from her friends house.

Exposing a constant stream of hatred targeted at women

From rape and death threats to stalking, sexual harassment and doxing in which personal details about someone

...

Sarah Everard’s murder has exposed widespread misogyny in UK culture, and nursing is not immune

Protestors paying tribute to Sarah Everard in London on 15 March 2021. Picture: Getty Images

The recent disappearance and suspected murder of Sarah Everard has seen a huge outpouring of stories on social media highlighting the fear shared by so many women and their collective grief.

In deafening unison, women have been shouting the grim reality and oft-unspoken understanding that any one of us could have been Sarah Everard – a woman simply walking home from her friend’s house.

Exposing a constant stream of hatred targeted at women

From rape and death threats to stalking, sexual harassment and doxing – in which personal details about someone are revealed online – women are exposed to a constant stream of daily hatred.

This is what women have been speaking out about, sharing the stories and experiences of their everyday reality.

That this outpouring generated immediate backlash in the form of the #NotAllMen hashtag is illustrative of women’s online and offline experiences every single day.

A recent report from Amnesty International found that the scale and persistence of misogynistic abuse on social media is driving women out of online spaces and silencing their voices.

Online misogyny is not far from the surface

Women are dismissed, silenced and harassed for challenging a powerful status quo of male dominance that subjugates them, restricts their freedoms and yet doesn’t prevent their murder.

But what common ground do these men on social media – who see themselves as good people who would never commit a violent crime – share with those who express violent misogynist ideologies and who sometimes act on them?

#NotAllMen acts as both a conduit and a cover for violent misogyny.

Its use is a tactic employed and encouraged within the so-called manosphere – an increasingly influential online ecosystem of extreme misogynistic groups that use social media to radicalise boys and men to violent white male supremacist ideologies.

By silencing women, its use helps ensure the violence they experience remains hidden and unaddressed.

The casual dismissal and trivialising of women’s fear serves to normalise it, which prevents women from reporting domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault.

It further increases the risk that more men and boys will be radicalised, by allowing bias and discrimination, which act as gateway behaviours and beliefs.

Sadly, nursing isn’t immune from this; misogynistic behaviour exists in our own profession.

What does misogyny look like?

Not believing women Sexual violence has been effectively decriminalised due in part to belief in ‘he said/she said’ narratives

False statistics Always verify the source and scrutinise the data, consider the balance of evidence and limitations of studies

Lad culture/locker room talk Joking and banter that objectifies women actively contributes to experience of inequality

Stereotypes Believing that men make better leaders or that women prefer to be homemakers, ignoring the structural barriers women face

Ignoring discrimination and inequality Suggesting that gender pay gaps don’t exist or that men are promoted more often because they are better qualified

Collusion Legitimising the above by sympathising with those who express misogynistic views and presenting them as opinions

Sexual harassment is commonplace for nurses

International research shows that 43% of female nurses are sexually harassed at work – perpetrators including patients, physicians, male nurses and other colleagues.

Recent Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) data also show that 46% of referrals for male registrants related to professional boundaries, violent behaviour, criminal proceedings and sexual offences, compared with 22% of referrals for female registrants.

I have witnessed some male nurses and students dismissing their female colleagues online when they speak out about sexual harassment, violence and misogyny.

They tell women it doesn’t exist or to take it as a compliment. We should all be deeply concerned by such attitudes.

‘The casual dismissal and trivialising of women’s fear serves to normalise it, which prevents women from reporting domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault’

The implications for nursing are significant at every level.

We work with women, men and children every day, which gives us an opportunity to identify and respond to risk.

But we need to understand the nature of the risk to begin with, and despite the NMC code expecting cultural competency of all nurses, few understand internet culture and its offline manifestations.

As a result, too few nurses can identify misogynistic radicalisation and the resulting risks. Likewise, not enough can identify when it is happening online, which has ethical implications in terms of reporting it and professional participation where there is a risk of inadvertent collusion.

Change will be possible when women are listened to

As a profession, we are simply not providing the necessary education and policy to combat it because the discussion simply does not exist yet.

This is a complex issue requiring expertise and sophisticated solutions, which may explain why progress has been so slow. But, as we reflect on recent events and women’s stories, we must reckon with these issues.

Misogynistic ideas lead to misogynistic acts. Change begins with believing women when they disclose their experiences and calling out casual yet insidious dismissals of those disclosures for what they really are.

Doing that we will begin what is likely to be a very tough conversation in our profession.


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