Alumni News

August 31, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Alum Combats Cybersexism, ‘Rhetoric of Misogyny’

by Kristin M. Distel

Bailey Poland, an ’11 Ohio University alumna in creative writing, has published her first book, Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, with Potomac Press.

Bailey Poland, OHIO alumna and author of 'Haters'

Bailey Poland, OHIO alumna and author of ‘Haters’

Cybersexism, stalking, and online bullying and harassment have long captured Poland’s attention and served in part as an impetus for writing Haters. The spate of abuse that takes place on social media platforms prompted Poland to examine these issues more deeply.

The book is slated for a November 2016 release. Poland is currently working on her Master of Arts degree in Rhetoric and Writing at the University of Findlay and, in addition to writing, works as a communications analyst. Poland also dedicates her time to feminist activism, which informs and helped give rise to Haters.

Cyberfeminism Combating ‘Rhetoric of Misogyny’

“As I witnessed women I know and women in my network deal with individual stalkers, harassment mobs, and coordinated abuse campaigns, I began to see both patterns of behavior and a stunning lack of support. Additionally, being on the receiving end of my own share of stalking and harassment (including an incident where a man showed up at my home) has given me plenty of motivation to figure out what I can about this problem. I started writing about the issue for one of my master’s courses at the University of Findlay, and the paper I wrote became the basis of the book,” Poland explains.

Cover of book

‘Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online’ by Bailey Poland, published by Potomac Press

The paper that gave rise to the book examined cyberfeminism, which, Poland explains, refers to “early forays into online feminist activism and theorizing.” Poland is interested in the intersection between cyberfeminist and cybersexism, especially in the ways in which social media users can employ cyberfeminist theories to combat online harassment and abuse. “Understanding the rhetoric of misogyny that so often comes through in instances of online harassment has helped me look beyond the immediate impact of such attacks to see the assumptions, beliefs, and fears that often serve as their foundation,” Poland remarks.

People Don’t Learn to Hate Women in a Vacuum’

In the book, Poland emphasizes that abuse, particularly that which is aimed toward women, has far-reaching effects that extend beyond the internet.

“People don’t learn to hate women in a vacuum; abusing women online is only one arena where that hatred is let loose,” she explains. The book also defines the sometimes ambiguous and contested term “cybersexism,” in addition to examining the targets of said abuse. “Early in the book, I describe what cybersexism looks like, and demonstrate that there are types of abuse that women (and particularly black women, women of color, queer women, disabled women, etc.) experience that men simply do not. Later on, I delve into specific hate groups and movements online that target primarily women, such as Gamergate.”

Haters also examines the recourse available to victims of cybersexism, “most of which are woefully ineffective,” Poland notes. The book culminates in a note of hope, as Poland gives suggestions for “making the Internet a better place.”

One of the particularly significant obstacles in the road to eradicating cybersexism, Poland says, is the lack of primary research on the subject of online abuse. Though primary research is nearly nonexistent, Poland does cite books such as The Internet of Garbage and Hate Crimes in Cyberspace as important sources for her work. She also credits organizations such as Working to Halt Online Abuse and Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) and Pew Internet Research as providing important data for her project.

The purpose of the book is, ultimately, to make the public more keenly aware of how very pervasive cybersexism has become and how little has yet been done to counter it. Poland wants to show readers that abuse has far-reaching and unrecognized consequences, especially for women. Poland identifies three groups that she hopes the book will influence: “I hope to reach women who are dealing with this type of harassment, but haven’t had a word for it or feel like they are dealing with it in isolation and silence. I hope to reach people in positions of decision-making power who can look at how the websites and systems they oversee enable groups of men to casually yet often irrevocably alter the life of a woman. And I hope to reach the men who engage in the behaviors I describe throughout the book, to give them just a moment’s pause as they realize that what they are doing is seen and understood, and will be fought.”

Obtaining a Strong Foundation at OHIO

Poland credits her undergraduate studies at OHIO for preparing her to think more broadly about the world, and for helping give her the tools to write Haters. “Attending Ohio University gave me the writing background I needed to know that I could tackle actually writing a book—it has always been a goal of mine, but having been through the Creative Writing program at OHIO, I felt much more prepared to take on a project of that magnitude. OHIO also has a number of outstanding feminist groups and an activist student body, which has fueled my desire to make the world a better place in whatever way I can.”

Specifically, her studies in OHIO’s English Department, both within and outside of creative writing, helped give Poland the foundation she needed to write the book. “Dinty Moore was one of the most supportive, challenging, and fun professors I ever had the privilege to take a class from, and he has continued to support me since I graduated. Eric LeMay was another wonderful professor who pushed me to improve my writing—I still talk about his food writing class (and make people very jealous). Joe McLaughlin is the reason I came to OHIO in the first place! He met with me during my campus visit and convinced me that OHIO was the place for me. Katarzyna Marciniak’s critical theory class shook up my thinking and worldviews in ways that are still useful to me. I could go on; I really don’t think I ever had a bad class!”

Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online will be released in November and is currently available for pre-order via Amazon and Potomac Press.

 

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