The online real estate company ABODO analyzed the tweets from across America from June 2014 to December 2015, exposing the ugly underbellies of US cities and states.
On the state level, worst off is Louisiana, with “1,155 slur-containing tweets out of every 100,000, indicating that approximately 1 in 87 tweets originating from Louisiana over the studied time period contained at least one of these slurs.” Wyoming fared the best, where only 120 out of every 100,000 tweets featured a bigot revealing their true colors.
Locally, the news is not positive. In terms of derogatory language used against women Norfolk is in the top–or shall we say bottom–10, with 1,760 anti-women tweets per 100,000.
“It’s pervasive and not something men have to think about, but I don’t know how many women would be surprised by that ranking,” said Norfolk’s Brittany Shearer. “Norfolk, while growing and wonderful in so many ways, can be very insular.”
For those of you unfamiliar with social science norms, examining trends found in social media is an academically-supported research method. Social media and search engine queries have proven to be a gold mine for social trend researchers; in a field where surveying 1% of a total population is often considered to be an unfathomably huge number, social media represents one of our best hopes for learning more about how people in our communities actually communicate, think, and act. While this is far from a true academic study that should be used as the basis of governmental policy, there are broad trends illuminated.
Why would Norfolk have such a propensity toward misogynist tweets? Norfolk’s major cultural institutions are steeped in patriarchy. Starting with Christianity, whose holy text has countless charming directions of sexism, like, “Wives, submit to you husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness” (1 Timothy 2:11-12), and so many more we could be here all night. Old money Southern culture still has remnants of women-belong-in-pretty-dresses-in-the-kitchen active elements. And then there is the military, where, according to a 2014 MilitaryTimes article, “nearly 5 percent of all active-duty women said they had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in the past year.”
In the past year alone. The problem is so dire the United Nations is getting involved.
“Though it’s probably not the most popular opinion, I would argue that the toxic masculinity surrounding military culture contributes to (Norfolk’s sexism),” said Norfolk’s Jena Garren, who also cited the sexist banners hung at Old Dominion University. “I know many women don’t feel safe alone at night on the street, for fear or harassment or assault.”
The patriarchal culture of Norfolk and Hampton Roads can take some new to the area by surprise.
“Moving to the 757 from New York City was a major culture shock for me,” said Norfolk’s Christine Marie Rucker. “In every job except for a couple, I’ve experienced exhausting sexism.”
Sometimes the sexism can be so subtle it is unclear whether the offender even knows they’re being sexist.
“They don’t (always) realize they do it,” said Norfolk’s Nicole Carry. “I’ve seen a past president in my company walk through the office and say to men – ‘good morning Sam, good morning Bob, good morning Jack, good morning ladies’ and never call them by name.”
The most appalling manifestation of sexism is domestic violence, which is far too common in Virginia. From a 2013 statewide report by the attorney general:
It is estimated that, based upon the most recent data available, in 2012, at least 117 men, women, and children lost their lives to domestic violence, representing a 12.7% decrease in family and intimate partner homicides from 2011 to 2012. Also in 2012, there were more than 67,000 calls to domestic and sexual violence hotlines across the state. A total of 6,592 adults and children received 198,274 nights of emergency or temporary shelter due to domestic violence; however, 3,486 families requesting shelter services were turned away due to lack of shelter space. A total of 51,019 emergency protective orders were issued by magistrates and judges across the Commonwealth to protect the immediate health and safety of victims and their family members.
How can we, as a community, evolve on this issue?
“I think it lands on each one of us to call someone out on their behavior if it’s unacceptable,” said Norfolk’s Reese Beeler. “Tell your friends if they do something that makes you uncomfortable. In my younger days I would tell my guy friends not to cat call women or demean women solely based on the fact that they are women.”
Increased services for women can also be part of a cultural shift.
“I feel like Norfolk could really do better in terms of access to women’s health: waiting lists and red tape for city services are too long for people without medical access,” said Garren, an early childhood educator studying sociology and social work at Norfolk State. “I would like to see mammogram buses and women’s health clinics. I would like to see domestic violence campaigns that addresses how that issue contributes to women feeling unsafe in our city.”
Ideally, we are moving toward a society where the sex and gender of a person mean less and less.
“It’s about recognizing that what we want is equality for both our sons and daughters,” said La Wanza Lett-Brewington, director of ODU’s Women’s Center. “Teaching from a young age up that respect for equality.”
Things are no better when Norfolk tweets are analyzed for being anti-black. By that measure Norfolk is the sixth most anti-black city in America, with 54 anti-black tweets per 100,000.