A Woman’s Room Online
[Trigger warning for images based on threats and harassment]
Get your black dresses- and your reading glasses out. There is an art show a comin’ to town!
For the past month I, along with the help of LAWAAG have been building an art exhibit called, A Woman’s Room Online. The art installation is about online harassment and stalking from the perspective of women, feminist bloggers and journalists who earn at least part of their income from working online.
The title of the show is meant, in part, to reference a feminist art installation created in 1972 called, Womanhouse. Womanhouse was organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Feminist Art Program. In that exhibit, an entire house was taken over by a group of feminist women artists and each room became an installation art or performance space.
In an attempt to reference that project but also to modernize and express the online spaces that women inhabit, I am building a free standing 8ft by 10ft office space, from the ground up, on the 2nd floor of The Center For Inquiry-Los Angeles. The room is intended to be an average office that a woman would work in. It is simply a normal office space, with a door, desk, chair and a computer and other small objects that one might have in a workspace, but this particular room has been transformed to clearly show the viewer what it can feel like to be targeted in your place of work, over multiple years with aggressive online stalking and harassment.
The room and its objects are blanketed with actual messages sent to, or publicly posted about the women who have contributed to the exhibit.
The messages are all real and were sent to or publicly posted about the women from July 2nd, 2011 up until now.
It’s your turn to read them. What has been sent to us, will now be on display for you.
People say to “ignore it” or “grow a thicker skin” or to “just walk away” when online harassment is brought up. But that advice ignores the fact that women have every right to earn a living and to peacefully exist online without being threatened. This is not about mere critique as the harassers like to frame it, this is about bullying, intimidation and the stripping away of privacy. It is also about silencing and the idea that women are not allowed to have their own space, their own opinions or even the right to their own body particularly when online. There is a false notion that online spaces are not real. That what happens online does not have an effect on the regular day-to-day life of people. As we have seen recently with the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence, high profile women are seen as mere objects and targets or play-things meant to be stolen, acquired and used- that if they can not handle these made up rules- that they should leave the internet and all forms of technology behind.
My art exhibit is meant to put you, the viewer, in their shoes if only for a moment. See what it is like to be obsessively judged based on “fuck-ability”, “rape-ability”, as an object, or alternatively as what seems to be a target in a socially accepted (or otherwise ignored) game of online stalking, harassment and silencing techniques.
I have been told by a lot of people to just “turn off the computer” or to “walk away” when I bring up the topic of online harassment directed at women. The people who say these things to me haven’t experienced the misogynistic, targeted attacks that certain women receive online. I created this installation to educate the public that the harassment and attacks are a serious problem, online life is real, and we as a society need to address these issues.
The dismissive attitude toward sexual harassment online is particularly virulent in the atheist and secular community, as evidenced by the misogynistic outpouring that followed prominent atheist Richard Dawkins’ statement belittling women who are harassed by fellow freethinkers. That is one reason why I wanted to create this installation in a location that represented the secular community.
This harassment is real, it’s happening right here, right now in your community. This exhibit is just one way that I, along with LAWAAG hope to combat these attitudes and educate and improve the community from within.
The internet is real life. It’s time society acknowledges that cyber harassment and targeting of women is a problem. This isn’t just about “trolls” it’s about hate crimes and terrorism directed at women using technology and we have seen one small subset of that. Now it’s your turn to take a look.
This exhibit will contain frank descriptions of sexuality, actual violent threats sent to contributors and language that may not be suitable for younger viewers or victims of sexual assault or abuse. We ask that all viewers be 18 and over or with a parent or guardian.
The opening reception for the installation is Saturday, September 13th at 7pm. The exhibit will be on display and available for viewing during regular daytime business hours at CFI LA until October 13th.
Message contributors to the exhibit:
Dr Ray Burks
Special thanks to Bob Dornberger for help fabricating the room itself and thanks to all the women of LAWAAG who helped and continue to help build the show and thank you to CFI for allowing us to create this installation on site.
A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online.
Opening reception: Saturday, September 13th at 7pm
Art exhibit open for viewing from September 13th –October 13th 2014 – daily.
Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles, (2nd floor)
4773 Hollywood Blvd.
L.A., CA 90027
For more info contact LAWAAG.