The metaverse’s depressingly predictable misogyny problem
Warning: this article contains multiple references to the “metaverse”, which is an extremely annoying buzzword that extremely annoying people love throwing around, normally in conjunction with “blockchain” and “NFT”. If you’re anything like me, then seeing the word “metaverse” makes you a die little bit inside, so I wanted to prepare you in advance. This article also contains multiple references to sexual harassment because, as was utterly predictable, the metaverse has already become yet another place that is deeply hostile to women.
Last week, Meta (the holding company known as Facebook until October, when Mark Zuckerberg dramatically rebranded it in an attempt to distract people from the company’s PR problems), opened up a virtual reality (VR) platform called Horizon Worlds to anyone over 18 in the US and Canada. Horizon Worlds is Meta’s first big step towards building a new version of the internet called the metaverse, where the physical and digital worlds come together. Your avatar floats around with up to 20 people and you can play games, hang out, and build custom digital environments. You can also grope people. Last month a beta tester told Meta that she had been randomly groped by a stranger on Horizon Worlds; she later posted her experience in the Horizon Worlds beta testing group on Facebook.
“Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behaviour.…”
Meta’s response to this? A bit of casual victim-blaming. An internal review concluded that the beta tester should have used a tool called “Safe Zone” that users can activate if they feel threatened. The tool essentially sticks you in a protective bubble and stops people from interacting with you until you come out of the bubble. It’s the digital equivalent of telling women that if they don’t want to get harassed while walking down the street then they should just stay at home. It’s old-fashioned misogyny repackaged for the digital age.
But, hey, what else would you expect from Meta? Facebook, let us remember, was first born as “Facemash”: a tool where students could rate their female classmates’ attractiveness. Misogyny is in the company’s DNA and, over the years, little seems to have changed. I don’t need to tell you that the company has repeatedly been criticized for ignoring misogyny and sexual harassment on the platform. It was also recently reported that Dani Lever, who is a Facebook communications executive, used to work for Andrew Cuomo and helped the disgraced former New York governor smear Lindsey Boylan, a staffer who had accused him of sexual harassment. “I think we can victim shame on the record,” Lever said of Boylan in a text message made public by the New York attorney general’s office.
Sexual harassment in digital spaces has been a problem ever since the advent of the internet. But, as the beta tester who was groped on Horizon Worlds noted, the immersive nature of virtual reality adds a whole new level of violation. The whole point of virtual reality is to trick your brain into thinking your body is actually experiencing something – I don’t need to spell out just how awful that has the potential to be when it comes to online harassment. And yet there are still far too many people who are quick to dismiss or diminish the concept of virtual abuse because there aren’t “real” bodies involved. Regulation also hasn’t kept up with the pace of innovation and harassment in virtual reality is a legal grey area. As MIT Technology Review points out, there is also “no body that’s plainly responsible for the rights and safety of those who participate anywhere online, let alone in virtual worlds.” The likes of Zuckerberg want us to think the metaverse is the future, but it’s just a new venue for age-old problems nobody seems to want to solve.
South Korean dairy company apologizes for comparing women to cows
Seoul Milk released a very weird advert in which a man secretly filmed a group of women who then turned into cows. This did not go down well for numerous obvious reasons including the fact that South Korea has a massive problem with “molka”, a practice in which women are secretly filmed and the footage uploaded to subscription websites.
Indian politician apologizes for saying you should ‘lie down and enjoy’ rape
“There is a saying that when rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it,” Congress leader KR Ramesh Kumar said during a debate about farmers rights in the state assembly. A bunch of male lawmakers apparently thought this was hilarious and laughed. He’s now given a halfhearted apology for what he called “an off the cuff remark.”
Chris Noth accused of sexual assault by two women
The encounters, which took place more than a decade apart, have been meticulously reported and are extremely disturbing. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, the Sex and the City actor called the allegations “categorically false” and said the encounters were consensual. Noth is already facing new allegations, however, and a newspaper clipping from the 90s detailing accusations against the actor by his ex, Beverly Johnson, is being shared on social media.
Claudette Colvin, civil rights pioneer, has arrest record cleared
Everyone knows Rosa Parks’ name, but you may well not have heard of Colvin. In 1955, nine months before Parks was arrested for not moving from her seat on a bus, 15-year-old Colvin was charged with the same ‘crime.’ As Gary Younge has written, “local civil rights leadership felt Colvin was too dark, too poor and, once she fell pregnant, too compromised” to be a face of the movement; Parks was a more ‘worthy victim.’ Not only was Colvin denied her place in history, she also retained a criminal record for the incident. That has finally been expunged. “My name was cleared,” Colvin told CBS News. “I’m no longer a juvenile delinquent at 82.”
Indian female journalists scammed with ‘Harvard’ job offers
Unknown scammers have been going to extreme lengths to try and trick prominent Indian female journalists into leaving their jobs and taking (completely fake) positions at Harvard. No one knows why these women were targeted, although there are theories it could be linked to criticism of the Indian government. It’s a wild story and well worth reading.
Jacinda Ardern casually confirms orgies can resume in New Zealand
“I can confirm that Tinder liaisons have reopened,” Ardern announced on national TV. “It’s not strictly embedded in the traffic light system but…up to 25 actually, in a red area.”
The week in pawtriarchy
A highly scientific study has finally uncovered the answer to the age-old mystery: what sort of Christmas music do dogs like best? According to a survey of 1,000 dog owners, our furry friends’ favourite festive tune is Wham’s Last Christmas. Jingle Bells and All I want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey were runners-up.
Arwa Mahdawi’s new book, Strong Female Lead, is available for order