Women who talk about sexuality on social media have been suffering attacks and threats

Although internet seems like a lawless land, it isn’t a place where anything goes

São Paulo (SP) |
The way these women found to protect themselves was by blocking the accounts from where the attacks came - Foto: Álvaro Henrique / Secretaria de Educação do DF

Women who talk about issues such as sex and sexuality on social media have been receiving comments and threats which can exceed the online environment. That s the case of Maria Cecília Mansur, 42, who was physically attacked and suffered moral retaliation too.

On Instagram and YouTube, Mansur - who is an actress and sexual therapist - talks about sexual health and education. She approaches issues such as male and female hygiene, orgasm, masturbation, libido, and others.

“Hidden under a neighbor’s argument, I was physically attacked and morally retaliated. Currently, I have a judicial process that has not yet been concluded and is being heard in private. But everything leads me to believe, within the process, that my work was indigestion”, says Mansur. In her words, there is a “mortal hatred against my work and what I represent. All this was a terrible moral loss [for me]".

Her professional career started in 2013, and the first discrimination she suffered came from her own relatives. “When I showed the erotic short stories to them, they said to me that I would ‘contract AIDS’, that I had reached rock bottom”, she recalls.

In 2017, she premiered the show Hot – an experience in the feminine erotic (Gostôsa – uma experience no erótico feminino, in Portuguese). That's when Mansur faced issues like the fact women can’t talk about pleasure and sex and the feminine submission to the man’s pleasure.

“I started to work on a material to focus on liberation, being not so close to the performance. I wanted to produce a content that we could [use to] talk about sexuality in a way more connected to nature, more naturally. My work is to talk about pleasure and taboos. 

From the erotic short stories to the shows on social media, the attacks continued, and Mansur believes they are intensifying. They are, for instance, offensive comments and even obscene images inbox.

“Everything shows that this [kind] of hatred is like a disease. It’s almost a distortion of reality. We don’t know how it will decant. However, it’s dangerous, and the hatred is destructive. We're not just talking about the public anymore. We are talking about people interfering in someone else’s lives”, says the therapist.

Karine Dalsin, 42, has a Ph.D. in Sociology and Anthropology of Consumption. She is the founder of the project Neither a saint nor a bitch (Nem santa nem puta, in Portuguese), and affirms that a context of political, economic, and moral crisis intensifies the attacks on women.

“I’m not surprised with this persecution because it’s not something new in the history of mankind. If we take a look to what is happening beyond the specific Brazilian context, we see that, historically, the voices of the conservative people and the violence against women invariably increases in moments of political and economic crisis”, she states.

Before working on Instagram, Dalsin had a YouTube channel where she talked about her project, whose starting point was to reflect, through humor, how the images of “saint” and “bitch” are used to stigmatize women’s behavior.

At the video platform, Dalsin repeatedly received “rude and obscene” attacks and had been also threatened with rape. “A man posted a comment, then more men followed. After just a couple of hours, a storm of attacks. I decided to delete my [YouTube] channel because it’s really difficult not to be affected by something like it. Our body feels it as violence. Besides, it drains your creative energy”.

Once Dalsin suffered online harassment from a stranger. “He got obsessed [with me], he sent inbox [messages] talking obscenities, and I blocked him. Then he would create a new online profile and kept sending messages saying weird things. The bottom line is that he created five different social media accounts to follow me. I blocked one, then another came up”, he said.

Although the man never exceeded the online environment, to Dalsin the comments, harassment, and threats caused “real fear”.

As Maria Cecília Mansur, Dalsin also believes that this kind of violence against women is growing. “The macho modus operandi consists in reaffirming that women should be at home, ready to give pleasure to men”.

In this sense, women who dare to talk about sex – those who are socially restricted to feminine spaces – in the public space “represent an antithesis of the ideal wife. That’s why they must be publicly depreciated and ridiculed, that’s exactly what those comments and online harassment do against us. We talk openly about sex, and they ridicule us”.

Visual artist and illustrator Jota Carneiro, creator of Portal Xotânico, believes all people who work with sexuality, especially women, end up suffering some type of violence.

"On Facebook, for instance, they have already shared my work in a group. Overnight, I had to block more than 400 accounts, people commenting on my art all kinds of things, people wishing me dead and saying rude things."

Censorship from the platforms

If, on the one hand, the women who talk about sexuality on social media suffer from attacks, on the other hand, there is censorship from the platforms themselves about this issue. “The sex education contents are chased by the algorithm”, claims Maria Cecília Mansur.

“Every time I try to boost a sex education content, the platform classifies it as adult content. I had my social media accounts suspended for no reason, a random decision by a robot. Everybody I know who works producing sex education content is blocked every now and then.”

Similarly, Jota Carneiro says she misses “protection” by these platforms. “We end up being too exposed to this kind of attack which is stronger online. I feel that the platforms censor many contents about erotic art and sexuality and, on the other hand, they allow users to be violent”.

Internet: a lawless land?

The way these women found to protect themselves was by blocking the accounts from where the attacks came. To Carneiro, “it’s a common scenario to those who work with erotism and sexuality. These are issues with which we must be careful: the way how we talk and the kind of language we use. We must always try to defend ourselves through the skills at hand”.

Although the internet seems like a lawless land, it isn’t a place where anything goes. The typification used out of the online environment is the same applied to internet users, such as crime against honor, threat, the crime of slander, defamation, incitement to crime, etc.

According to the lawyer André Lozano, professor of criminal and procedural law, what makes punishment difficult is the identification of those responsible for the crimes.

“Usually, these are crimes already typified under criminal law. What exists is, for example, the crime of stalking, precisely because of the online persecution, mainly through social media. It's a legislative update,” he explains.

Lozano explains that, in some cases, the penalty may be increased precisely because the crime was committed in the virtual environment, which facilitates its propagation. “A simple sharing comment goes viral.”

Edited by: Vinícius Segalla