Required reading: Citron on gendered cyber-harassment.

No particular commentary here (I sent her some comments on the paper, but they’re a little too meandering to reproduce here unless you really care), but I highly, highly, highly recommend Danielle Citron’s forthcoming paper on online harassment of women (autoadmit, etc.), “Law’s Expressive Value in Combating Cyber Gender Harassment.” In addition to being extremely smart, and avoiding the dangerous claim that the sorts of insane people who engage in online stalking are responsive to incentives while still offering a good argument for the use of law against them, it is blessedly short for a law review article: less than thirty pages! See also her two blog posts on the subject.

Society routinely fails to take seriously harms suffered by women. It trivializes or overlooks phenomena that profoundly impact women’s basic freedoms. No term even existed to describe sexual harassment of women in the workplace until the 1970s. The refusal to recognize harms uniquely impacting women has an important social meaning-it conveys the message that abusive behavior towards women is acceptable and should be tolerated.

The online harassment of women exemplifies twenty-first century behavior that profoundly harms women yet remains too often overlooked and even trivialized. This harassment includes threats of physical violence, doctored photographs portraying women being strangled, postings of women’s home addresses alongside suggestions that they should be raped, and technological attacks that shut down blogs and websites. It impedes women’s full participation in online life, often driving them offline, and undermines their autonomy, identity, dignity, and well-being. But the public and law enforcement routinely marginalize women’s experience, deeming it harmless teasing that women should expect, and tolerate, given the Internet’s Wild West norms of behavior.

Grappling with the trivialization of cyber gender harassment is a crucial step to understanding and combating the harm that it inflicts. My previous work Cyber Civil Rights explored law’s role in deterring and punishing online abuse. This Essay emphasizes what may be law’s more important role: its ability to de-trivialize cyber gender harassment and change the norms of acceptable online behavior. Recognizing cyber harassment for what it is-gender discrimination-is crucial to educate the public about its gendered harms, to ensure that women’s complaints are heard, to convince perpetrators to stop their bigoted online attacks, and ultimately to change our online culture of misogyny to one of equality.


10 Responses to “Required reading: Citron on gendered cyber-harassment.”

  1. eric Says:

    I also thought it was a terrific piece (and found it at least tangentially helpful for thinking about my own research on “griefing” in multi-user virtual environments). The comment thread at Feminist Law Profs is also illuminating, though perhaps not in quite the way that some of the commenters intend.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Hmm… I can’t find the Feminist Law Profs thread. Feel like linking? :-)

  3. Mike Says:

    Society tolerates all guys of mistreatment of men, too. Ever spend time in a boy’s locker room? Some pretty evil shit goes down there, too.

    The problem with that paper is that it’s solution tends to be the same: Coddle or protect women, because women are weak.

    Yet that in itself is insulting to women. It suggests that society needs to protect women. We don’t hear that about men.

    I tell women to buy a fucking gun, learn a martial art, learn to cuss, carry mace, be a fucking bad ass and if a guy creeps you out: Fuck his world up.

    In other words, I respect women as equals and thus do not look for ways to protect them. They do not require protection.

    If someone trolls my ass on a board, I’m going to troll right back. Why shouldn’t women do the same thing?

    That’s right: Because they are the WEAKER gender who needs coddled and protected by the manly society. That is the true implication of papers that supposedly address “female problems.”

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    Mike, that’s not fair. Replace women with some other group. Suppose that on the internet blackness was visible from someone’s name (which it sometimes is, but not nearly as frequently as femaleness is) and black people got vastly more shit than white people — and often explicitly race-based shit. Would objections to, and pursuit of legal options against, this special and unusual pattern of race-based harassment amount to infantalizing black people? Would it be acceptable to tell black people to just toughen up? No. Likewise with women.

  5. eric Says:

    Oh duh, that’s because I meant the Concurring Opinions thread. It was at FLP that I’d first learned about Citron’s piece, hence the confusion!

  6. Mike Says:

    Would it be acceptable to tell black people to just toughen up?

    Yes! I was even going to say, “It’s the same way liberals treat blacks.” It’s like benign racism.

    Imagine this….. That Yale Law Student gets harassed. Instead of freaking out, she posts, “You couldn’t rape me with your needle stick.” If she trolled along with it, it would have ended.

    The way to fight trolls is either not take the bait at all, or to counter-troll.

    Yes, all of us need to grow a bigger sack or clit, or whatever term you want to use.

    If my son were getting picked on at school, I’d tell the little shit to hit back. I’d tell my daughter the same thing. In fact, any daughters I have will be taking Gracie Jiu Jitsu from practically the womb.

    My approach is to empower women by treating them equally. This means I’m as much of an asshole to women as I am to men. Which means I say, “Stop whining and find a way to kick ass.”

    That is true equality.

  7. Mike Says:

    black people got vastly more shit than white people — and often explicitly race-based shit

    Incidentally, the answer here is to take back the power of words. Someone calls you a n—er? So fucking what?! If you don’t care, then the word has no power.

    I heard a great (probably fake) story about a Jewish baker.

    Three kids would ride their bikes by his bakery every day, yelling, “Hey, Jew!” They kids caused a disruption, and startled people standing in line.

    Rather than fight them, he said, “I’ll pay you ten cents every day you ride by to call me a Jew.”

    So the kids would call him a Jew every day, collecting their dimes.

    A few days later he said, “I can only pay you a nickel to call me a Jew.” The kids took the deal, calling him a Jew and collecting their nickles.

    Finally, the baker said, “Business has been bad. I can only pay you two pennies to call me a Jew.”

    Disgusted, the kids left. “As if we’d call you a Jew for only two pennies!”

    There is much to be said for that approach.

  8. Paul Gowder Says:

    Mike, I don’t disagree that under some circumstances the “beat up the bully” approach can work, but nobody should be required to deal with, and have to beat up, bullies day in and day out.

    The issue isn’t about treating people as weaker or less than equals. We treat people as equals when we give extra protection to anyone who gets a disproportionate amount of abuse from others, whether they are weaker or stronger than them. If for some bizarre reason a lot of people spent their time going around picking fistfights with professional boxers, it would still be appropriate to have a political and legal campaign to get them to stop, even though the professional boxers would, presumably, be able to easily handle the situation.

  9. Mike Says:

    Good points.

  10. Uncommon Priors » Women are ends in themselves too: the wrongness of sexual comments in non-sexual contexts and the Sheril Kirshenbaum post. Says:

    [...] post. Kirshenbaum sort of circles around many of the same points that Danielle Citron made in the required reading paper from a while back about the undermining of one’s ability to carve out one’s own [...]

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