Combatting Sexism, Misogyny, and Harassment through Digital Media

In Speaking ‘unspeakable things’: documenting digital feminist responses to rape culture, researchers aim to understand how girls and women use digital media to combat the rape culture they experience in daily life. They get their data through an ethnographic approach by doing semi-structured interviews, content analysis, discursive textual analysis, and affect theories. The researchers argue that digital media builds a bridge to recreate boundaries for girls and women to stand up against the rape culture and sexism. Data for this study is drawn from a larger study, “Documenting digital feminist activism”; examination of three case studies include: (1) Posts to the online anti-street harassment website Hollaback!; (2) Experiences of using the Twitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported; and (3) Teen feminists’ use of social media platforms to challenge rape culture in and around schools. Findings suggest that digital media is used by women and girls as a way to combat the norms of sexism, misogyny, and harassment as voices that may have been silenced before find an avenue to share their stories and experiences.

The specific way in which content analysis is used by these researchers is through an in situ approach studying not only media content but also understanding the relationships and supports between users through media engagements. This allows researchers to gain perspectives of the participants to understand why girls and women choose to respond to sexism via digital media. Posts were sampled from the Hollaback! website coding three types of harassment: being confined, being followed, and being leered at. Additionally, the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported was examined along with 7 interviews from women who used this hashtag. The methodological approach seems to be a deductive approach where the affect theory is used to explore the forms of connectivity and sharing enabled through speaking about rape culture via digital platforms; broad generalizations are further observed through individual experiences.

This analysis successfully captures the daily experiences and stories of women and girls facing harassment and misogyny in all types of environments including in the streets and even in school settings. Such practices aimed to challenge the norms of sexism and hold more accountability of how the rape culture impacts women and girls. It’s interesting that content analysis was used to examine to what extent sexism was occurring but a deeper dive into why women chose to share their stories was captured through surveys and interviews. Because additional forms of data collection were used, i.e. surveys and interviews, I believe the researchers captured rich data that not only described women’s experiences but also how they felt about their experiences and the impact of finding support online. I found the thoroughness of data collection and methods impressive and would not change the approach if I were to conduct a similar study.

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  1. Hi Sana,
    Thanks for your analysis above, I enjoyed reading it! I agree with your sentiment in the third paragraph that the mixed-methods approach the authors used allowed them to go beyond quantifying the types of experiences and posts these women made to gaining insight on how speaking out digital impacted them. However, some drawbacks of the study that stood out to me was the lack of intersectionality in the analysis and some of the sampling methods used for the interviews. Although demographic data is difficult to collect in online environments, I would have liked to see the authors at least acknowledge how experiences of rape and harassment often vary by race/ethnicity and sexual orientation and note this as an area of future research. Additionally, I think some of the sampling methods for interviews could have been more robust. For example, having a greater number of interviews for posters using #BeenRapedNeverReported, as seven is very small. The authors acknowledge that recruiting around such a sensitive population was a barrier, but I wonder if they had tried employing methods like snowball sampling given the online communities that formed if they would have been able to collect a larger sample. Additionally, instead of using the Twitter of their research assistant to deploy a survey and recruit interviewees for their study, I don’t understand why the authors would not have contacted and sought to partner with more prominent feminist influencers, who likely have a larger and more diverse following on Twitter.
    Overall, I agree that it was a very interesting article and added to the field’s understanding of this topic. Just some food for thought!

  2. I definitely agree with Lindsay’s comments. I like this study, but they could have done more to get beyond an N of 7. I think some of the problems here are epistemological. Often, scholars equate “quantitative” methods as strictly generalizable type work. So rather than snowball sample a non-representative population, they sacrifice the opportunity to collect more data. We need to start reimagining what we use quantitative data for. We don’t need to make generalizability claims if we are first theory building using a snowball sample. We can apply the theories to more generalizable samples as those populations become more visible.

    Great conversation, Sana!

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