On Friday 16 March 2018, Australian schools will stand united in their communities to celebrate the eighth National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. The National Day is a positive day of action, bringing school communities together to help find workable solutions that address bullying and violence. While there has been a lot of attention paid to cyberbullying, approaches to preventing, responding and addressing this issue need to be more attentive to gender.
Over the recent years, there have been several studies conducted looking into the gendered nature of cyberbullying. Often they were focused simply on the gender of perpetrators and victims rather than investigating the more complex question of “how acquired gender-related beliefs can be linked to cyberbullying”[i]. While the analysis of the available research finds that all genders can be both perpetrators and victims, there were a number of conclusions made that allow us to understand better the gendered nature of cyberbullying.
First, despite varying research outcomes, most of the work in this area has shown the majority of victims are women.[ii] Second, while more males are exposed to cyberbullying entailing physical aggression, more females are victims of cyberbullying that includes non-consensual sharing of intimate images, unsolicited sending of sexual and pornographic images and other forms of cyberbullying entailing sexualised behaviour[iii].
Third, the impacts of this behaviour are gendered as it is rooted in outdated stereotypes about gender roles, sexuality and sexual norms for women. For example, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and the threat to share such images, occurs in the context of the sexual double standard, which unfairly judges women but not men for enjoying their sexuality, and is often a dimension of controlling/coercive behaviour in ongoing relationships as well as relationships that are breaking down or have ended.[iv] There are also forms of online abuse such as shaming girls for their appearance, which relate to the underlying gender dynamics that drive violence against women.
Finally, the underlying cause of violence inflicted through technology lies in the “social and structural context of gender hierarchization”[v], in other words, power relations between men and women as well as other intersecting social groupings, the dominant position of men over women, and the desire for control and coercion.
In short, violence and bullying generally are strongly interlinked with dynamics of gender and sexuality. The normalisation of male violence and restrictive expectations about women and girls are some of the key drivers of violence and bullying generally.
Alongside the gendered dynamics of cyberbullying, we need to be taking an intersectional approach to address the issue recognising diverse experiences. Reports over the last 10 years indicate that from 60 to 80 percent of people who identify as LGBTIQ have experienced homophobic abuse including cyberbullying.[vi] Transgender women and men experience significantly higher rates of non-physical and physical abuse compared with women and men who identify as homosexual.[vii]
Henry and Powell also found that people with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are among populations vulnerable to the increased rates of technology-facilitated abuse more broadly. The dynamics of cyberbullying for diverse groups will be underpinned not only by gender, but also race, sexuality, and disability.
It is important that we work to address cyberbullying, and to effectively do this we need to address the overlap between cyberbullying and violence against women.
One of the ways that responses to cyberbullying can be strengthened to prevent violence against women more broadly is to integrate an understanding of the sexual and gender aspects that exist in the online interactions of children and young people. We need to move away from approaches to educating young people about online conduct that perpetuate gender inequalities and norms which blame young women for their victimisation.
A better approach would be to make sure that content about young people’s use of digital technology is included in sexuality and relationships education, and that this education addresses attitudes and norms which create hurtful and abuse behaviours (eg non-consensual sharing of images) avoids educational approaches which demonise all online sexual behaviours, victim-blame or put the onus on young women to prevent their own abuse.[viii] There is also a need to address the experiences of diverse groups in relation to these issues unpacking the intersectionality of their identities and experiences. These efforts need to be made alongside achieving gender equality, combating homophobia, transphobia, and racism, and promoting respectful relationships.
[i] R.Navarro et al. (eds). Cyberbullying across the Globe, Chapter 2 Gender Issues and Cyberbullying in Children and Adolescents: From Gender Differences to Gender Identity Matters.
[ii] Henry N., Powell A. (2016) Sexual Violence in the Digital Age: The Scope and Limits of Criminal Law Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 25(4) 397–418
[iii] Cassidy, W., Brown, K., & Jackson, M. (2012). ‘Under the radar’: Educators and cyberbullying in schools. School Psychology International, 33(5), 520–532. doi:10.1177/0143034312445245
[iv] Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S. & Harvey, L. ‘A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’: a report prepared for the NSPCC’. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, London, UK 2012.
[vi] Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Writing Themselves in 3: The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people(2010); ACON, Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth inquiry into the impact of violence on young Australians (2009), p.4; Also see Tomsen & Mason 2001; Australian Human Rights Commission Violence, Harassment and Bullying and the LGBTI Communities https://bullying.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/pdf/bullying/VHB_LGBTI.pdf
[vii] Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Writing Themselves in 3: The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people(2010);
[viii] Young Women’s Advisory Group (2017), Submission to the inquiry into improving the delivery of respectful relationships and sex education relevant to the use of technology in Queensland state schools, https://www.equalityrightsalliance.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/YWAG-Submission-QLD-respectful-relationships-20170814.pdf