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Bitch, slut, skank, cunt: patterned resistance to women’s visibility in digital publics

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Resistance to women’s public voice and visibility via street harassment and workplace sexual harassment have long constrained women’s use of and comfort in physical public spaces; this gender-based resistance now extends into digital arenas. Women face extreme hostility in the form of digital sexism in discussion rooms, comment sections, gaming communities, and on social media platforms. Reflecting on two years of in-depth interviews with women who have been on the receiving end of gender-based digital abuse (n = 38), conversations with industry professionals working in content moderation and digital safety, the extant literature, and news stories about digital attacks against women, I offer a lens to think through the prominent patterns in digital sexism, showing (1) that aggressors draw upon three overlapping strategies – intimidating, shaming, and discrediting – to limit women’s impact in digital publics, (2) the way femininity and femaleness are used to undermine women’s contributions, and (3) men call attention to women’s physicality as a way to pull gender – and the male advantage that comes with it – to the fore in digital exchanges. Finally, I argue that when digital sexism succeeds in pressing women out of digital spaces, constrains the topics they address publicly, or limits the ways they address them, we must consider the democratic costs of gender-based harassment, in addition to the personal ones.
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Keywords: Gender; bodies; digital harrassment; inequality; political discourse; public sphere

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA

Publication date: November 2, 2018

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