Is online misogyny more prevalent now or just more evident?

Indian NGO Internet Democracy Project recently published a disturbing account of crude sexual and violent social media posts towards women in India. Frankly, it shocked me to see such overt online misogyny.

When I started to contemplate how widespread this behavior might be, it occurred to me that everyone may be somewhat callous to non-sequitur denigration of women on social media. Understanding that women are the catalyst for all social networks that aren’t LinkedIn, this behavior is both irrational and disturbing.

Not just India, not just now

It might be helpful to define misogyny. The dictionary says it is: “hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.” For the purposes of this piece, I’ll define online misogyny as any diminishing non-sequitur content towards a woman specifically because of her gender.

Dr. Judith Bennett wrote a fascinating piece about the historical evidence of misogyny as it relates to labor. She found a very specific example of “alewives” in British literature, describing how writers depicted women who worked with their husbands to create ale and how those products were diminished because of the woman’s labor contribution. That was the 1700s.

Fast forward to present day. A picture taken unknowingly underneath a woman’s skirt is posted on Facebook provoking comments suggesting rape, a British television personality is bombarded with violent and sexual social comments when she suggested that an austerity measure may be unnecessary, film-maker Anita Sarkeesia’s social accounts are blasted with hateful, misogynist ramblings because she dared question the way that women are depicted in video games, singer Chris Brown responds to a comedienne’s tweet by boasting that he would defecate in her eye after she performed a sex act on him. There are myriad examples of this online misogyny, but it’s not simply an isolated act. The easy amplification of social media allows congruent comments to spread. Chris Brown’s followers even went so far to make death threats to the comedienne and to warn the Pope (via Twitter) that she was a “bushpig.”

With all of the over-the-top overt online misogyny that exists, one assumes that there is a higher magnitude of subtle misogyny that is less difficult to identify.

What is the consequence of online misogyny?

The Internet Democracy Project recommended adoption of the Twitter hashtag #misogynyalert to identify people are perpetuating this hateful content. Search for the hashtag on Twitter and see some of the vile language people have used to diminish women because of their gender. Though it trended in India briefly (reinforcing how widespread the problem is), the hashtag become latent. One assumes that the behavior has not.

Some compare misogynist speech to trolling or spamming, but it’s more insidious that either or those. Trolling is defined as someone who posts inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response. Spamming is defined as sending unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising, indiscriminately. Online misogyny is gender-specific hate speech. With those parameters, it’s pretty easy to differentiate between those behaviors.

Which leads me to a question without a clear answer: what is the consequence for this behavior? Social networks don’t seem excited to police it. When it serves to assassinate a woman’s character, simply blocking one person isn’t an effective means to combat it. This is a problem with a rich history and now very efficient amplification. A recent study suggests that the best defense against negative speech on the Internet is to ignore it, yet it seems morally wrong to ignore hateful comments.

What do you think? Can online misogyny be diminished? Is it indicative of a greater ill? Is there any way to combat it? Does it affect the way that women use social media?




Image by Brian Kerrigan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR


    This is a very important topic which needs more research and honest discussion. Myself and a couple other women wanted to present at a well-known conference on the sexism or isms in general on social media. We were shutdown.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Ann Marie! When you consider some of the banal, insignificant topics that people discuss online it’s hard for me to fathom that no one will talk about something that is important to so many. Thank you for commenting and for how you framed the discussion when you shared the post online.

  • Cendrine Marrouat


    Thank you so much for writing on this topic!

    The other day, during one of my workshops, someone asked me what I thought about the controversy following Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban working from home. I answered that the reason why there is a controversy in the first place, is because she is a woman. I strongly believe that if a man had made such a decision, people would have talked about it for an hour, then moved on with their lives.

    Of course, my answer didn’t sit well with everyone, because I went on about the fact that we still live in male-dominated societies and that a lot of men often conveniently forget to acknowledge women for their hard work. Of course, things are much better than they used to be. But there remains a lot of work to do.

    I think misogyny is more prevalent than ever. Social media has actually given some people the excuse to practice it openly. Their excuse is that they are hidden behind their computer / mobile device screens, so no one will ever know who they are.

    To me, the only way to prevent misogyny to happen is to actually call it out publicly. By not responding, we actually give others the green light to continue.

    That explains why almost nothing is done to protect women from rape in India, for example.

    • jimdougherty

      Very poignant and wonderful comments Cendrine. I didn’t want to be redundant but you bring up a great point about Marissa Mayer and now Sheryl Sandberg – there are clearly gender-based expectations that they are held to that male executives would not be held to. And I’m disappointed that people don’t want to discuss these, because gender inequity appears (to me anyhow) to be quite obvious.

      • Cendrine Marrouat

        Thank you for responding, Jim! I’m glad you liked my comment.

        Like you, I am disappointed that more people don’t want to discuss the issue.

  • Robin E. Thornton

    Jim, thank you for speaking out on this. I hate to say this, but coming from a guy, it makes it more of an objective observation = credible, than if it came from a woman, where it would be sour grapes.

    But Cendrine is right. You can’t let it go. I tend to speak up, and I get looks and eye rolls and have the reputation of being a real PITA But hey, at this point in life, I consider that my reward for never letting a misogynist remark or action pass unremarked.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Robin. I have to admit that I read the article about the overt denigration that Indian women were subjected to and wondered if the same was true everywhere. And then a lightbulb went off and I was very shocked to think of all of the similar instances where the behvior is ignored or dismissed. @geoffliving just wrote a great article about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, and I think the scrutiny they endure showcases that gender discrimination and diminishment is something we experience everyday. Thanks for your comment and for helping me to realize that PITA can be more than a delicious bread to dip into hummus. :)