Feminist Online Activism: An Alternative Utopia or Same Old, Same Old?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ruth LEWIS, University of Northumbria, United Kingdom
Mike ROWE, University of Northumbria, United Kingdom
Clare WIPER, University of Northumbria, United Kingdom
Many feminists have grasped opportunities presented by social media to extend, deepen and develop engagement with feminist politics. However, the trolling of visible and audible women demonstrates that the web, once envisaged as heralding a new, democratic, public space, suffers under the same gender inequalities as the offline world. In the UK, some online abuse – or ‘ebile’ (Jane,2014) – directed at feminist commentators has received intense media attention (examples include Caroline Criado-Perez and Mary Beard) but many others also experience abusive, sexualised, misogynist online communication.

This paper reports findings from a national UK study of experiences of online abuse amongst people who debate feminist politics. Rather than focusing on definitions or categorisations of abusive communications, it will examine the experiences of those receiving them, asking: how do they describe their experiences? How do they respond to them? What impacts do these experiences have, especially in terms of their use of online space and engagement in feminist politics?

Drawing on a tradition of feminist research about sexual and domestic violence, it will explore whether online abuse is usefully conceived as a form abuse or violence towards women. Following this tradition, in which women are conceived as ‘survivors’, rather than ‘victims’, this paper will acknowledge the agency that survivors enact and will explore the strategies and tactics deployed to confront and challenge online abuse. Their reasons for, development and use of such strategies will be examined as a form of ‘community policing’ to understand how the community regulates itself, and how self-regulation connects with regulation by official social and legal agencies (Williams, 2006). In examining the consequences, the paper will address experiences of fear and women’s engagement with on-line and off-line space, in the context of scholarship about the impact of fear and the gendering of space (Pain, 1991).