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Event Discusses Cybersexism, Gendered Online Dialogue

Margot McCrillis ’18, Staff Writer

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Marie Tessier, a moderator of the comments section at the New York Times Opinion website, spoke on the lack of women’s representation in online comment sections and throughout forums in other areas of society and politics to an audience of about 80 comprised of Dickinson students, faculty and staff. Her lecture was the Clarke Forum’s last event of the semester. 

When Tessier began her role as comment moderator, she immediately noticed the discrepancy among women’s and men’s comments. She “was completely vexed,” and immediately began investigating the causes of this phenomenon. Her research widened to include women’s representation in society as a whole, and she found the difference to be consistent throughout. Tessier told attendees that women speak less in public affairs forums of all kinds, virtual or physical, and make fewer motions in public bodies. Women are also more often subject to negative reactions and she said there is almost no data on minority women’s representation in online forums.

“Women’s willingness to speak is a reflection of how welcome they are,” she argued.

That lack of statistics or discussion focusing on minorities stuck out to some members of the audience.

Bianca LoGiurato ’17 said, “I thought this lecture was interesting, as it re-affirmed the ideas of a verbal gender gap and the damage of ‘mansplaining,’ but I can’t help but wish that Tessier had spent more time thinking about the intersection between race and gender…”

Tessier defined the problems leading to underrepresentation as having five key components, which include women’s voices missing throughout public life, communication and technology are gender sensitive and the cybersexism makes things worse. She posited that commercial platforms require new engagement strategies, and it is a winning business paradigm. She said, “Inequality in society contributes to women being the ‘silent sex.’’’

One attendee from the Carlisle community, Vonny Eckman, asked why women are not more represented when, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus says that women speak many more words a day than men. We have more to say.” She also said that she enjoyed the talk and thought Tessier was very “approachable.”

Tessier said that there are fewer women in leadership; women’s voices, priorities and images are underrepresented in news, business and government. She explained two conditions that elevate women’s status and reduce negative interruptions by men; when they are a supermajority in any forum or when a woman leads a committee.

Tessier also pointed out a key difference in online commentary, where women prefer moderation and social harmony, while men are more upset about threats to free expression and prefer a “jousting atmosphere.”

Tessier said, “I think that we need to totally redefine public debate and our concept of democracy.” She described some responses to online abuse, including the Women’s Media Center’s Cybersexism Map designed to categorize incidents, consequences and the Gender-Informed Product Development at Stanford University. She said that women’s approach to relationships must be accommodated, along with establishing inclusive procedures such as unanimous rule and inclusion of all voices, not just assertive ones. Tessier suggested emphasizing women’s online values, increasing women’s participation in computer science through more inclusive curricula and fixing the gender gap in business by engaging with women, only one percent of whom say consumer technology products are designed with them in mind.

Clarke Forum Student Supervisor Megan Magruder ’17 said the event “went well,” and “the purpose was to discuss how women face more harassment online and post and share their opinion less often than men.”

The event, which was co-sponsored by the Churchill Fund and the Departments of American studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, took place on Thursday, April 27 at 7 p.m.  Tessier also attended a lunch earlier that day with students and faculty.

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Event Discusses Cybersexism, Gendered Online Dialogue