The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

CBA/ABC National

SNAP CHAT: Professor Jane Bailey, Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Law

February 21 2016 21 February 2016

The University of Ottawa professor is dedicated to fighting spread of hatred online especially for young women and vulnerable youth. Her work has examined the impact of online hate propaganda, child porn, cyberbullying and non-consensual distribution of intimate images on privacy, equality rights of targeted groups. Considered Canada’s leading expert on cyber harassment, she is acclaimed for her contribution to the eGirls Project investigating girls’ experiences of privacy and equality in online social media.

Q: What did the eGirls Project discover about the online experiences of girls and young women?

A: As co-leaders of The eGirls Project, Professor [Valerie] Steeves and I interviewed 34 girls and young women aged 15-17 and 18-22, some residing in a rural town in Ontario and some residing in an Ontario city. While our participants clearly told us that being online was far from being all bad, they faced real constraints, especially with respect to how they represented themselves. Essentially, they described a world where online platforms were structured to make it difficult for them to exercise privacy strategies, while encouraging them to disclose information and quantify popularity according to “likes” and “friend” counts. In turn, while popularity was most easily gained by repeating recognizable media stereotypes of feminine sexuality, getting those representations wrong opened them up to peer surveillance and attack and the potential of reputational ruin. Their complex understanding of the way that the environment shaped their social interactions encouraged us to think about policy responses that focused less on telling girls what to do or simply reacting punitively in individual cases and more on thinking about how the commercial structuring of online platforms may actually be setting kids up for conflict and how systemic discrimination sets girls up as targets of sexualized violence.

Q: How does the propagation of hateful stereotypes online “expose vulnerable groups to heightened surveillance?”

A: By dehumanizing and degrading the members of entire groups, propagation of stereotypes both online and offline creates an “other” who can be positioned as a threat to the broader community. In this way, stereotypes are used to justify a variety of de-liberating behaviour, including monitoring and surveillance of targeted groups, as well as diminished efforts to protect members of those groups. For example, international bodies have recognized that dehumanizing representations of indigenous women and girls have paradoxically contributed both to their disproportionate criminalization and to neglect of their needs and those of their families and loved ones.

Q: What needs to be done to make the cyber world safer for girls and women?

A: We need to think about safety in a different way and we have to move from a focus on reactive, individualistic approaches toward more proactive, systemic ones. Instead of focusing solely on “stranger danger”, we have to think about cyberviolence as another manifestation of the inequality of women and girls – an inequality that, among other things, renders them vulnerable to being targets of sexualized violence. Women and girls can’t truly be safe until a lived substantive equality is realized. So making girls safer means addressing the root causes of their inequality – misogyny, racism, homophobia, colonialism, ableism and other forms of oppression.

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