Greta Thunberg. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Anita Sarkeesian. Emma
Gonzalez. When women are vocal about political and social issues,
too-often they are flogged with attacks via social networking
sites, comment sections, discussion boards, email, and direct
message. Rather than targeting their ideas, the abuse targets their
identities, pummeling them with rape threats, attacks on their
appearance and presumed sexual behavior, and a cacophony of
misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic stereotypes and
epithets. Like street harassment and sexual harassment in the
workplace, digital harassment rejects women's implicit claims to be
taken seriously as interlocutors, colleagues, and peers. Sarah
Sobieraj shows that this online abuse is more than interpersonal
bullying-it is a visceral response to the threat of equality in
digital conversations and arenas that men would prefer to control.
Thus identity-based attacks are particularly severe for those women
who are seen as most out of line, such as those from racial,
ethnic, and religious minority groups or who work in domains
dominated by men, such as gaming, technology, politics, and sports.
Feminists and women who don't conform to traditional gender norms
are also frequently targeted. Drawing on interviews with over fifty
women who have been on the receiving end of identity-based abuse
online, Credible Threat explains why all of us should be concerned
about the hostile climate women navigate online. This toxicity
comes with economic, professional, and psychological costs for
those targeted, but it also exacts societal-level costs that are
rarely recognized: it erodes our civil liberties, diminishes our
public discourse, thins the knowledge available to inform policy
and electoral decision-making, and teaches all women that activism
and public service are unappealing, high-risk endeavors to be
avoided. Sobieraj traces these underexplored effects, showing that
when identity-based attacks succeed in constraining women's use of
digital publics, there are democratic consequences that cannot be
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