Online harassment has become the new norm as an aspect of bullying that used to take place on a one-on-one basis. In short, the personal aspect of this negative social interaction has all but been removed, replaced by technology that often allows it to become a relentless attack, day and night, twenty-four hours a day. This added to new issues of gender as perceived by society have obviously contributed to the degree and breadth of harassment. Where twenty years ago transgender issues were a hidden, secretive topic addressed only in context as a murky subculture, today the topic effects every social issue from surgery to correct sexual orientation to what bathrooms transgender people can use. Gender harassment in the more common context of male and female is the issue most explored and undoubtedly the most prevalent. According to Citron (2009), “The online harassment of women exemplifies twenty-first century behavior that profoundly harms women yet too often remains overlooked and even trivialized” (p. 373).
Cultural, Social Roles, Social Inequities, Impact of Social Change.
Beginning with negative connections, we compare our topic from the above four-pronged perspective. Culturally, Duggan (2014) suggests women of color can come under attack as a form of both racial and sexual abuse. Social inequities certainly play a significant role as racial discrimination, which these days seems to be growing in today’s political climate in relationship to a plethora of hate crimes. As Morahan-Martin (2004) suggests, existing social conditions “amplify rather than diminish existing gendered social, political, and economic inequities” (p. 683). Women perceived as generally weaker become easier targets. Harassment relative to social roles is clearly a factor, as harassment as pointed out by Duggan (2014) occurs regularly among hierarchies of women themselves, particularly among teens and mature women who may perceive another women as a competitor for men, or for a position within the immediate social culture.
The impact of social change and rise of gender-based online harassment is unclear. One personal theory that negatively impacts the issue may also be related to competition, as people of color and various ethnic groups move steadily up the social ladder. On-the-job online harassment has been associated with job satisfaction and quitting behavior. (Shields & Wheatly, no date) However, this ladder mobility has also created a cultural situation where the ability to explore and express feminist views can be easily targeted. “Women who are well-known through their job roles may be targeted to a greater extreme than their male counterparts” (West, 2015).
Exploring the positive and neutral connections, there is no doubt that “the Internet opens up new possibilities for women of social, political, and economic power” (Morahan-Martin, 2000, p 683). According to Citron (2009), the existing social conditions and relative equality of Internet accessibility and its use has created more equality between the sexes. The Internet as a vehicle for discussions important within the culture has provided women with the ability to reach out to a wider female audience on issues directly related to them. Abortion, for instance, which used to be discussed in private among limited groups can now be addressed on an international level, with all of the global power of opinion this suggests. (Citron, 2009)
As a factor of the existing social condition, it might be safely said that the Internet, for good or ill (neutral) has definitely and irrevocably effected relationships between and among the sexes. This can be considered a sign of growing equality between the sexes. That the Internet itself has produced an ever-expanding forum for sexual harassment is impossible to deny. However, its positive repercussions are clear and may, from a neutral sense, negate or at least strongly counter opportunities taken by the few for harassment.
It is not clear how or to what degree online harassment has actually impacted social roles. Women as sexual targets is nothing new; only the form has changed. What has changed significantly is the ability to perpetrate such harassment on a massive scale that signals the disturbing “abandonment of the social contract” (West, 2015).
- Citron, D.K. Law’s expressive value in combating cyber gender harassment Michigan Law Review, Vol. 108 (3), Dec., 2009, pp. 373-415.
- Duggan, M. (2014, Oct. 22). Online harassment. Pew Research Center.
- Morahan-Martin, J. (2004). Women and the internet: Promise and perils. CyberPsychology
- Shields M.A & Wheatly S.W. (no date). Racial harassment, job satisfaction and intentions
- West, L. (2015). What happened when I confronted my cruelest troll. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/02/what-happened-