By Rebecca Ambrose

The rise of digital media brought an emergence of new ways for women to represent themselves and their voices in initially male-dominated digital spaces. That being said, while it can be empowering, navigating the online world presents many challenges for women.

For many years, social media platforms and websites were dominated by men, with women having less visibility, but as technology and social media platforms advanced, more women have been able to to use it to express themselves in the digital realms. As social media has allowed women to connect with others and share their thoughts, stories, and experiences, women have grown to feel empowered when expressing themselves online. In addition, online platforms can also be a means for women to seek validation and make their presence known in a world where they may have little to no voice.

However, these spaces can also be hostile environments where women are attacked and harassed. According to a Pew Research Centre study, 59% of women have experienced online harassment, meanwhile only 30% of men have experienced harassment. Then, from 59% women, only 24% of them said that they would report harassment. Many do not want to report the harassment as they believe nothing will be done about it or are afraid of retaliation from their attacker. Thus, this demonstrates the dangers of digital media for women, as they struggle to feel safe in a space where they want to feel safe.

The Power of Authentic Expression in Digital Spaces

The Internet has allowed women to have open, honest discussions of their experiences, and this has given them a sense of power. Some women use their blogs to promote their personal businesses, while others write as a hobby to share their experiences and connect with other women. For example, many mothers use blogs to discuss motherhood and life after having children. Other women share their stories about how they overcame obstacles in their lives, such as depression, eating disorders, and addiction, in order to make other women who are struggling feel less alone. These platforms allow them to express themselves while also connecting them with other women who may be going through similar struggles.

Through the Internet, as well as many other modern mediums, women have found their individual and collective voices, and many have begun using  the internet for activism. For instance, they have used blogs to educate others about discrimination, violence against women, and other issues, in addition to sharing their own experiences.

Some blogs, such as Feministing, are solely dedicated to informing readers about women’s issues and providing a forum for discussion. Jessica Valenti, who writes an online column for The Guardian, founded Feministing. Valenti’s website features several writers who post articles on a variety of topics concerning women who face discrimination and violence. In an effort to encourage women to speak up about their experiences, the website also encourages readers to share their own stories too.

There is a plethora of websites such as Feministing that use the Internet to promote and strengthen women’s rights. Women have been able to share their experiences and connect with others in ways they would not have been able to do otherwise. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet has made it easier for men to harass women, often under the guise of exercising their right to free speech.

Overcoming Harassment: Women’s Safety Online

In an article titled “Where Does Online Sexism Come From?”, Alastair Reid interviewed Laura Bates, a British journalist who had been subjected to online harassment for years. Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project in 2012 after becoming tired of the online abuse she and other women were subjected to. According to the Everyday Sexism Project website, its mission is to “give people the opportunity to submit their stories to document instances of sexism encountered on a daily basis”.

The goal of this project is to create a space where women can share their experiences with online harassment and receive support from others. According to Bates: “Women experiencing harassment and abuse on social media frequently feel isolated, as if there’s something wrong with them”. Everyday Sexism’s goal, according to her is: “To reach out to these women and say: You are not alone, you did not do anything wrong, and this is just a manifestation of the sexism that already exists in our society.”.

Redefining Women’s Narratives: Inspiring Change

The power of connecting with other women going through similar issues has helped many people overcome feelings of isolation and given them hope. Many people have used the Internet to spread sexism and misogyny, but women have turned those same platforms into spaces for discussion and activism. They have taken these opportunities to represent themselves online in a meaningful way,  changing the narrative from what others perceive them as to who and what they truly are.