Is the internet fueling a new wave of misogyny?

OXFORD, United Kingdom — The internet is contributing to contemporary forms of misogyny, which are reversing the progress made in society’s treatment of women, new research contends. Linguist and researcher Deborah Cameron says despite significant legal advancements in women’s rights, women continue to face online abuse, including rape threats, which discourage them from taking on public roles. This suggests that prejudice, discrimination, and abuse have adapted to reflect modern conditions.

Cameron’s book “Language, Sexism, and Misogyny” delves into how sexism and misogyny manifest in today’s advertising and media. It covers trending topics like Andrew Tate, Donald Trump, the emergence of the “tradwife” concept, and the “manosphere.”

“The return of overt misogyny is visible both in politics and in popular culture. Though the misogyny of the twenty-first century is politically backward-looking, its style and mode of expression belong to the present,” says Professor Cameron, from the University of Oxford, in a media release.

The research discusses the role of social media platforms like TikTok in promoting misogynistic ideas, leading to an increase in online threats and abuse against women. These threats may be influencing women to step back from significant roles, such as in politics, where they often receive less speaking time than men.

Woman alone, sad while looking at smartphone
Linguist and researcher Deborah Cameron says women continue to face online abuse, including rape threats, which discourage them from taking on public roles. (Photo by Kev Costello on Unsplash)

“Surveys consistently find that most women who use the internet have some experience of online abuse, just as most have some experience of being harassed offline, on the street, or public transport,” says Prof. Cameron. “For some women—those who have a high public profile, for instance in politics, political activism, or the media—it has become a more serious problem. Though they are no longer excluded in the ways they were a hundred years ago, the reality or the fear of being bombarded with rape and death threats is leading many to exclude or remove themselves.”

However, Prof. Cameron also acknowledges that women are using language as a tool to fight back, creating new terms, reclaiming derogatory slurs, and advocating for changes in media reporting, dictionary definitions, and job advertisement language.

“Sexist and misogynist language is everywhere, it’s insidious, and in an age when we’re often told it’s no longer a problem the forms it takes can be subtle,” Cameron adds. “To fight it we need to be able to see it and understand how it works, and that’s really what this book is for.”

South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.