Social Psychology vs Cyber-Misogyny

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There have been many high profile instances in recent years of the online harassment of women for airing feminist views online.

In my recent talk, ‘How not to be a woman on the internet: Understanding cybermisogyny and anti-feminism online’ – held, appropriately enough, on International Women’s Day 2017 – I addressed some of these issues, although the sheer scale and scope of online misogyny makes it far too large an area to cover completely in such a short space of time.

As a social psychologist, I am particularly interested in exploring how we can understand adverse reactions to feminist debate online, using social psychology to shed some light on the perspectives and motivations of those with anti-feminist views.

Women who receive harassment online are often told to simply ignore it, and reminded that anyone can experience harassment on online. However, women expressing feminist views appear to be particularly targeted, with a recent study showing that 80% of women who reported engaging in feminist debate on Twitter had received online harassment (60% for Facebook and 46% for other sources such as online blogs).

In 2014 the Women Against Feminism Tumblr site, where women posted images of themselves with anti-feminist placards, went viral and garnered coverage from many mainstream media outlets. Clearly anti-feminism is common, and is not being addressed by current attempts to change attitudes about what feminists and feminism are all about. Many people still refer to stereotypes of ‘man-hating feminazis’ when they see feminist debate online, and are reluctant to claim the label ‘feminist’ themselves because of the negative stereotypes the word conjures, even though they claim to believe in equality.

However, social psychological explanations of intergroup interaction can help us begin to understand this.

Social identity theory proposes that we think about ourselves primarily in terms of our personal identity (what makes us unique) and our social identity (made up of the groups we are members of). It is therefore possible that feminist ideals are…

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