Why Is #WeHaveHerBack Necessary and Is It Going to Get Ugly?

When will it end?

Posted Sep 01, 2020

 Diana Eller  (Follow)
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When will it end? As a society, we are still in the throes of racist and sexist attacks on women of color. They often experience the double whammy, and now we have Kamala Harris as a case study center stage as the VP nomination for the Democratic Party. Within minutes after Joe Biden's nomination, the racist and sexist attacks on Harris' gender, identity, and appearance were already rolling in online.

Are we still talking about women in power positions and their appearance? Remember Hilary and the attention called to her wearing headbands and pantsuits? Women's groups are ready to do combat, and they are preparing to defend Harris and other women in power by taking proactive measures. As the Boston Globe claimed, "For women of color in politics, and specifically Black women, the Internet has been a powerful tool to tell their own stories and circumvent the traditional, predominantly white media establishment that too often ignores their campaigns or provides coverage that plays to racist or sexist stereotypes."

For this presidential election, Harris won't be alone to fight her battles. An online campaign has emerged to defend her from the attacks: #wehaveherback. According to Shropshire, founder of the political action committee BlackPAC, "We are preparing precisely because we think it's going to be ugly." With the arrival of online communities and the prevalence of social media, sexist attacks have become lethal and contagious. The researcher Karla Mantilla has dubbed this "gendertrolling." Trolling is the disruption of online conversations and spaces through absurd and incendiary comments. The source is often white, privileged men. Trolling is usually very coordinated and incorporates threatening language that is gender-based insults with threats of violence against women like rape or death. Even more, it can elevate to stalking women, posting pornographic images of women and personal information. These misogynist attacks are often performed by groups of men, which add more threats.

Some social activists claim the attacks and coordination are more detrimental for Black women. For Black women, the level of coordination is often more significant, the attacks harsher, and the protections much fewer, said Shireen Mitchell. She is the founder of the advocacy group Stop Online Violence Against Women, which has been tracking harassment against Black women and other women of color since 2013.

Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has experienced it firsthand. She has gained digital fame as "Auntie Maxine," hailed for her sharp wit, acerbic criticism of Trump and his allies, and her calls for impeachment. But after Trump launched attacks on her on Twitter, Waters received death threats, spurring her to cancel events in Texas and Alabama in 2018. Her Republican opponent posted a fake allegation on Twitter that the company refused to remove.

But Waters said none of it had deterred her. "It is vicious, and I understand that, but it does not unnerve me at all," she said of the vitriol. "It does not interfere with my progressive ideals and my ability to do my work."

So now women in power don't have to go it alone and will have a group that will monitor and, most importantly, calls out the threats and sexist remarks.