Taking Back the Web

May 3, 2007

‘- Inspired by the case of Kathy Sierra and by two recent research studies, Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post looks at how threats and general harassment are affecting women writers on the web — and how their intensity and frequency seems to be increasing:

Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms — a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.

A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. A 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the proportion of Internet users who took part in chats and discussion groups plunged from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2005, entirely because of the exodus of women. The study attributed the trend to “sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”

Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, “it’s been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men.”

Arianna Huffington summarizes the dilemma succinctly to Nakashima when she says that the anonymity of the world allows “a lot of those dark prejudices toward women to surface.”

Plus: Lucinda Marshall has more with “Silences Redux

– A new edition of the Scholar & Feminist Online has just been posted: “Blogging Feminism: (Web)Sites of Resistance,” co-edited by Jessica Valenti and Gwendolyn Beetham, features articles by feminist scholars on cyberactivism and online movement making; women and politics in the blogosphere; gender disparity and web access; and building online communities. The publication, created by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, includes a first-ever blog portion.

– Dana Goldstein at Campus Progress points to an easy way to determine how many times the words “he” and “she” appear on a website. The findings, of course, are skewed in part by a reliance on using “he” in gender neutral contexts, along with the higher percentage of men in the news. I wonder, though, if the only sites where “she” ranks higher than “he” are woman-centered websites, like this one.

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