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School of Arts and Sciences

Sarah Sobieraj: “Credible Threat: Attacks Against Women Online and the Future of Democracy”

Friday, October 15, 2021 - 1:30pm


As part of the New Books and Projects Series, Professor Sarah Sobieraj, Chair of Sociology at Tufts, will discuss her latest book.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Greta Thunberg. 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. Identity-based attacks are particularly severe for those women from racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups or who work in domains dominated by men. Feminists and women who challenge traditional gender norms are also frequently targeted. 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 civil liberties, diminishes our public discourse, thins the knowledge available to inform policy and electoral decision-making, and teaches women that activism and public service are 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 ignored.