For every awesome thing the Internet does, you can almost guarantee that ten truly horrific things will pop up to cancel your renewed faith in humanity. As much as the online world can be a haven for some, it can be a hell for others, as we’ve seen in numerous accounts of cyberbullying and the like. Currently, the #cutforbieber drama has my full attention, and not just because of my fascination with Internet culture or my interest in mental health. It’s because #cutforbieber speaks to me as a lesson in misogyny, homophobia, and the Internet.
Earlier this week, #cutforbieber started trending on Twitter and Instagram. Pictures with this tag featured graphic images of self-injury, mostly cutting, and pleas to pop star Justin Bieber to “stop” and “don’t make me do this anymore.” Trust me when I say that you don’t want to see these images, as they are quite disturbing to behold. When the tag first gained popularity, I (and many others) were under the impression that the fans were injuring themselves as a ploy to get Justin Bieber to stop smoking pot. For legions of youth who have been told that recreational drug use is the worst thing anyone can ever do, one imagines this could be rather distressing for them. As it turns out, the entire show was simply a cruel “prank” by online behemoth 4chan to get teen and pre-teen girls (and boys, for that matter) to injure themselves, presumably for having the gall to be a fan of an extremely popular singer. Apparently that’s hilarious.
There’s an underlying current in the #cutforbieber incident of misogyny and homophobia that isn’t immediately obvious. When I first read about it, I was upset for reasons that I couldn’t immediately place. It wasn’t just the pictures that, as someone who has struggled with self injury for most of my life, made me angry. It wasn’t just the meanness of the Internet; after all, I’m kind of used to that. It was the sneaky, vile misogyny steeped in homophobia that truly angered me. 4chan is seen as a mostly male entity. It isn’t, from what I know, a place where women venture, probably because it’s positioned itself as the He-Man Woman-Hater’s Club of the deepest and darkest recesses of the Internet. And at some point, someone at 4chan thought it would be just the best thing ever if they could get a bunch of dumb little girls to slice up their bodies. Most of the pictures from #cutforbieber are a hoax. They’re photoshopped or they’re stolen and appropriated from the accounts of real people with real issues. They were, however, stolen with the goal of producing real results from real fans who are really cutting. If a hypermasculine entity tricking a fanbase of primarily girls into mutilating themselves isn’t misogyny in action, I don’t know what is.
One might say that 4chan did this because they hate that so many people are so in love with a guy who produces generic, bland pop music. It’s not unreasonable to roll your eyes at the 12-year-olds blaring “Boyfriend” and swooning over pictures of Biebs. They’re kids, and they have reliably superficial taste in music because they’re kids. I shudder to think of how much I loved the Backstreet Boys at 11, but I can’t imagine doing anything but laughing and shaking my head at 11-year-old me. This incident is more than just a disdain for music that some people think is inferior. It’s a way of lashing out at a guy who isn’t the most masculine in appearance yet still has girls pining for him, a hypermasculine response to a perceived threat. Compounding the issue is the homophobia surrounding Bieber, who according to multiple asshats “looks gay” and is just so horrifically girly that surely he must be a femme gay dude, which is obviously totally insulting and the worst thing in the world. If there’s one thing entitled, misogynist types hate, it’s someone who doesn’t fit their social gender constructions.
This is just the latest and most disturbing incident in Internet misogyny, but it won’t be remembered that way. It will be remembered in the context of typical, if extreme, cyberbullying. Cyberbullying itself is often rooted in misogyny and homophobia, though it takes a backseat to parenting criticism, school administration, and talk about growing a thicker skin. When we have people killing themselves because they’re being slut-shamed or threatened because of their queerness, these issues can’t afford to sit in the back. Unfortunately, we as a society don’t like to dig that deep. It makes us uncomfortable and shakes the norm. But it needs to be done, or things like this will keep happening. Worse yet, we’ll keep shrugging them off.