The Beginning of the End: Final Project on Women, the Internet, and the Media

// Posted by on 11/17/2014 (11:48 PM)

I’ll kick off the posting with a Yik Yak I found a few days ago and screen shotted:


Some food for thought:










-Summer 2014: Pew Research Center surveyed close to 3,000 web users & found that more men had reported experiencing online harassment (mostly name calling,) but that women were significantly more likely to be stalked and sexually harassed.

-Findings echo a gendered split in victimization: men more likely to be violently assaulted by strangers, women more likely to be abused by their partners, stalked, and sexually harassed (esp. women 18-24)

-Offline harassment is clearly defined, but online harassment remains an “amorphous” category. Pew Survey didn’t provide context for “harassment,” leaving the term open to interpretation. Received a variety of responses ranging from threats of rape to being called a racist for criticizing a political candidate to chiding for their taste in sports teams, movies, etc.

-Cathy Young from “Daily Beast” thinks that feminist concern about “the Internet abuse of women” has an inherent double standard. Women are treated delicately/more deserving of consideration, and abuse towards men is accepted as the “…rough-and-tumble of public life, to be taken in stride and shrugged off.”

-Don’t know if men or women have it worse on the Internet. “What the Pew study does show is that the Internet is producing a lot of garbage, and men and women are served different flavors.”


-”The Student’s Progress” mural at UVA shows a male faculty member handing a student her bra as his wife comes up the stairs


-UVA has a rape culture problem…rape is normalized “as part of a larger system of attitudes and understandings of gender and sexuality.” Accepts rape as a norm that women have to work to avoid.

-”UVA doesn’t need shock. It needs sustained anger and energy.”–calling this situation an “emergency” implies that this event was out of the norm and insights panic that eventually subsides


-problem of internet harassment rooted in the misogynistic expectation that women are to be silent and subservient

-Internet harassment can’t be shrugged off as occurring “just” online (the Internet is physical and everywhere–there is no such thing as “just” online)

-Internet harassment is a new problem, relatively speaking, but it is not a unique one–it is an extension of the constant & ongoing harassment and violence that women face worldwide–presents new challenges, but the misogyny is ancient

-Ross Douthat (conservative columnist for the NYT) blames modern sexual repression (men are relieving impulses by being virtually abusive) and male anger at women’s changing roles–thinks feminists need to understand this problem as “simply a species of reaction”

-no evidence that the men who are harassing women online are too “shy” to do it IRL, more likely that the men who are abusive IRL are the same ones who exhibit that behavior online (know that this is at least a portion of the pop. because there are forums for men to chronicle their offline harassment of women)

-understanding online harassment as a succession from historical forms of abuse (cat calling, domestic violence, etc) challenges the assertion that it’s a modern phenomenon

-men harass, beat, and rape women because it makes them feel powerful and they expect women to be submissive

-studies show a strong link between a man’s celebration of traditional gender roles and his propensity for domestic violence

-Internet doesn’t create the urge to harass women and it probably doesn’t magnify it either (I disagree with that)–what it does do is make harassment simultaneously more efficient and personal (can reach many women around the world in a short period of time)

-Stalking women online is a much safer bet for the harasser because it’s less likely the cops will come after them, multiple venues for the perpetrator to approach his victim

-need to understand that online harassment isn’t happening in a vacuum–just a new way of expressing a very old sentiment

-long term solution is to keep fighting for women’s equality until any and all notions that they are anything but equal to men are relics of the past


-women’s status on the Internet is proof that technological progress and social progress don’t go hand in hand

-at Summer 2014 VidCon (conference for YouTube creators) women talked about the effects of YouTube harassment on their feelings of personal security and their ability to produce content

-idea that things will get better on their own without intervention is an Enlightenment-era notion–historians call the idea that social progress and technological progress go hand in hand and are inevitable, “the Idea or Myth of Progress”

-Internet has empowered women to start worldwide discussions on issues that matter to them, but they’re not the only ones who see these posts and are weighing in–men can band together to threaten and antagonize women very easily

-female game developers, bloggers, and journalism are easy targets because they’re more public & accessible

- difficulty understanding that the fact that the harassment is occurring on the Internet doesn’t make it any less real–urged to develop a “thicker skin” which turns the problem away from those who are actually causing it

-Katherine Cross (writer): ignorance of Internet abuse called the “Mobius strip: where the Internet is presented as a mobius strip of reality when it’s convenient and unreality when it isn’t–accepts inhumane behavior in this setting as inevitable

-Internet didn’t make men sexist, they were sexist to begin with, just able to express it more publicly & to a larger audience

-YouTube comments, Facebook posts, blog entries, etc. aren’t “just the Internet”

-narrative of social progress deeply flawed

-Enlightenment scholars hailed technology as the savior of humanity–John Locke never could have seen this coming

-”shed the dangerous habit of thought”

5)–this is an NPR interview with Amanda Hess

-complicating this argument is that research into the problem has only just begun

-scholars recently isolating stats that show that women are disproportionately the victims of online threats & harassment

-2006: researchers at University of Maryland set up fake accounts in chat rooms. Female usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit/threatening messages a day, compared to 3.7 for men

-women are a group that is traditionally marginalized IRL, witnessing similar marginalization online b/c the Internet is so connected to our real lives (arguably, it is our real lives)

-users targeting spaces where women are speaking out against misogyny and traditional gender roles as opportunities for gendered harassment

-law enforcement technologically & intellectually ill-equipped to manage the problem–evidence of the disconnect between social & technological progress

-accept that the Internet is real life

-whether or not these threats manifest in physical violence, they’re powerful enough to intimidate & deter women from using the Internet in the ways they want to/should be allowed to


-1/4 women ages 18-24 report being stalked or sexually harassed online (rate is 2-3x higher than for men)

-many websites have ways to block & report offenders, but they can get beyond blocks & little is done with the reports (can create new accounts that allow them to continue old behaviors)

-companies that manage the spaces where harassment occurs are largely male (70% of Facebook employees, 83% of Google’s tech employees, & 90% of Twitter’s tech employees)–may be why the sites aren’t more “tuned in” or motivated to address instances of gendered harassment

-part of the problem is that there aren’t sophisticated filtration systems on these sites that are able to weed out offensive comments–Twitter partnered with Women, Action, and the Media this month on a project that is currently being tested. If successful, it would provide users with an online form to report instances of harassment on Twitter. Twitter would use the data to better understand how gendered harassment functions & how they can better combat it


Some screenshots of recent Yaks (Richmond campus & Philadelphia International)



In response to my presentation on Monday, I got some great feedback from Elizabeth, Damian, and Nicola. Elizabeth told me about Bye Felipe, an Instagram account where users can post screenshots of hostile online reactions they’ve gotten from men after rejecting or ignoring them on dating websites. It’s a total goldmine of information for my project:

Damian sent me two yahoo articles, each with a string of offensive comments, which I think will end up being really valuable as most of my “evidence” up to this point has come from social media sites. Below is a screenshot of a comment posted on an article about Shia LaBeouf’s alleged rape:

Nicola emailed a screen shot of comments on an article about Kendall Jenner’s (part of the Kardashian clan) modeling career that popped up on her Facebook news feed. Kendall is no longer a minor, but I watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and I remember that suffered a blow from similar comments when she was still a teenager:

What all of this feedback demonstrates is that the harassment and demeaning of women online isn’t just happening on isolated sites. Interestingly, offenders appear not to fear revealing their identities, posting their content freely on public spaces. I would argue that this says something about the state of policing online offenders; they don’t seem at all concerned with being caught or punished. It is also important to take away that no woman, regardless of whether or not she is in the public eye, is  immune to becoming the target of offensive language. Just being and interacting online as a woman appears to open the door for harassment.

I’m most interested in the historical roots of this phenomenon. Women are being demeaned in a new space online, but the act of demeaning them is ancient. 3500 years ago, the authors of the Bible fixed the status of women for centuries in the story of Adam and Eve. Portraying Eve as submissive to Adam set forth enduring gender roles and expectations that have influenced societies all over the world.

Thinking about this problem in such a broad historical context is daunting. Challenging gender expectations that are thousands of years old in a way that demands societal change is even more daunting. If ever there was a time, though, now would be it. The Internet, for all the scary things it is capable of, can connect millions of people worldwide in ways that inspire reflection and empower change.


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