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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cybersexism
This is a short book but it raises some serious issues for women who use the internet. It also asks questions about what exactly constitutes free speech. Any woman who uses the internet regularly - especially forums, chat rooms and social media will have come across misogyny in one form or another. Even expressing mild opinions about anything leaves you with the feeling...
Published 21 months ago by Damaskcat

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, some limits
This is a subject desperately overdue some serious discussion, and Laurie Penny has long been a pioneer in bringing it to public attention. We need a lot of books like this.

This isn't so much a book as a pamphlet; in length, it's short, and in the research and examples it covers, it's more a basic introduction than an in-depth study. If you've been following...
Published 22 months ago by Hello


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, some limits, 23 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
This is a subject desperately overdue some serious discussion, and Laurie Penny has long been a pioneer in bringing it to public attention. We need a lot of books like this.

This isn't so much a book as a pamphlet; in length, it's short, and in the research and examples it covers, it's more a basic introduction than an in-depth study. If you've been following the discussion, her examples will be familiar, such as the Sarkeesian case and Ally Fogg's soapbox analogy. In its cases, it works mostly as a compendium of some of the most egregious recent examples and astute recent observerations; useful, but not exhaustive.

Its best feature is probably Penny's epigrammatic style. 'Germaine Greer wrote in "The Female Eunuch" that women had no idea how much men hate them,' she writes. 'Well, now we do.' Penny is a readable and snappy stylist with a knack for putting her finger on the nub of a subject, and this book is no exception.

It does have some limits which I regret, though, and they're mostly to do with the fact that she seems unable or unwilling to separate the issue of cybersexism from the issue of geek identity. Two related issues stand out to me:

1. She begins by stating, importantly, that much of the harassment comes from 'perfectly ordinary men holding down perfectly ordinary jobs' - that cybersexism isn't confined to any 'fringe' but is a problem coming from all walks of life. Later, though, she dedicates a big chunk of time to analysing the nature of 'geek misogyny', going into detail about its origins with a degree of compassion, and insists that 'Geeks aren't just the problem. Geeks are also the solution.' This seems to be rather contradicting her earlier important point that it *isn't* just geeks who are the problem, but sexist men in general. It feels as if she got distracted into the issue of her own subculture, which is not the main point when it comes to sexism. When misogyny is a society-wide problem, not just a subcultural problem, we need the focus on the whole of society. The title of the book implies as much, but by the end, it's narrowed down.

2. She doesn't acknowledge the degree to which non-geeks are using the Internet, and have the right to. Everyone is online now; geeks may have started it, but they don't own it, and it's an issue that concerns everyone. It's even a feminist issue, as women are more likely to be non-geeks than men. Frankly, my experience is that geekiness can be something of a protection for women: despite all the 'fake geek girl' hate, a woman who actually is a geek can generally rely on a large body of people, male and female, to defend her on the grounds that she's 'one of us'. A woman who isn't a geek is out there on her own; she very often gets trapped between straight misogyny on the one hand and geek resentment of non-geeks (both from male and female geeks) on the other. You don't get much defence against the 'uppity b****' contingent from people who've decided you're a boring mundane or some kind of mean-girls cheerleader simply because you don't share their hobbies. Geek flag-waving obscures this problem, and it's a serious one. If a woman has to love the right media or tech to have defenders online, that's not okay.

She also doesn't address a problem that I've experienced as major. Straight misogynist slurs and threats are a very bad business, but there's also a more insidious kind of sexism that drives women offline: the men who furiously argue with women and discuss respectfully with men. Such men don't openly use misogynist language, they just treat women more aggressively - and as such, it's very difficult to prove that they're being sexist, and often women find that raising the issue involves so much work trying to convince the 'neutral' bystanders weighing in saying 'Hey, he's just disagreeing with you,' that it just isn't worth it. While those men aren't as frightening as the threateners and hackers, they're a lot more numerous, and they get challenged and condemned a lot less.

I'd also like to see more discussion of the problems of internalised misogyny online; women can create a hostile environment for each other by pressuring each other to conform to sexist stereotypes of women as nurturing and polite. Women online who speak civilly but confidently, in a style that would be respected from men, don't just get attacked by men. They also often get complaints and criticisms from women for not being 'nice' or 'safe' enough, complaints they often wouldn't think to direct at men, or at least not for simply having a confident tone. There's a 'tyranny of niceness' from women online that pushes a severe double standard. Women online who aren't expected to be silent are often expected to be nurturers - and when you can't say anything that could be taken as non-nurturing, that's its own kind of silencing. We need to talk about that.

So while this book is well-written, addresses a very serious issue and makes good points, reading it as a woman who's been harassed online I regretted that it only addressed the more egregious kinds of hate speech and didn't take in the more insidious kinds of misogyny. (Which, short of credible threats and hacking, can actually be more exhausting than direct hate speech. After a while, getting called a c*** starts to resemble a toddler shouting 'POO BUM!'; it's unimaginative and sameish. Knowing that whatever you say about anything will get jumped on and argued with, in a way that you're expected to engage with, by men who would be shocked, shocked if you accused them of double standards, in the a culture where many women still expect you to be 'nice' and look after them no matter what harassment you're going through, and will start their own campaigns of calling you a terrible person if you don't - that burns you out.) And as a non-geek online - insofar as anyone, since the Internet, can be called a non-geek any more; the word's losing meaning - it ultimately felt more pro-geek than pro-women.

I'm glad this book exists, but we need more books and a broader focus.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More hyperbole than evidence, 20 Dec. 2013
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Psychologist (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
I'm female, a feminist, a clinical psychologist, a research scientist and I spend a lot of time online. I've followed the Sarkeesian story and I know there are huge issues around gender that need to be resolved and that these are playing out in cyberspace in new media. I should love a polemic like this, but it fell short because the grand emotive claims and dismissal of other perspectives are not well evidenced.

For example, Simon Baron-Cohen's research. It seems she's only heard of this from Delusions of Gender and hasn't read the numerous papers and books herself. Simon B-Cs work isn't some sexist opinion, it's a body of meticulous research around traits relating to autism, by a Cambridge Don, including exploring why autism is diagnosed more in men. Studies have shown increased 'folk physics' and reduced 'folk psychology' (mentalising) in people with ASCs and their relatives, and population studies show this is an exaggeration of a difference shown between the genders (whether learnt or innate). In my reading of his work he has never once devalued the more 'female' pattern or said the patterns are binary or have a one to one correspondence with gender, but has talked predominantly about the impact of these deficits in ASCs.

I don't believe we have to be identical to be equal. Women are on average a bit shorter, lighter and carry less muscle and more body fat than men. This doesn't make us less good or attractive or valuable. So why does the idea of gender differences in brains cause such fear? Why can't we dismiss erroneous ideas from the past and explore what is determined by social learning and gender expectations whilst being open to new evidence?

Similarly, I don't feel like sexist and aggressive talk online is equivalent to the same things said in person. The net has a culture of exaggeration and shock value humour and whilst it isn't nice or acceptable, particularly when this reaches the threshold of threats and harassment, I very much doubt that most posters of 'give her a slap' or 'get back in the kitchen' comments would actually believe these are appropriate real life gender expectations or are revealing their convert inner hatred of women. The threshold to 'cyber' is not the same threshold at which we'd share bodily fluids, and the threshold to be provocative and offensive online is not the same IRL either.

So overall close but no cigar.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Great Disapointment, 2 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
I'm a big fan of Laurie's work so I was excited to see that she was tackling such an important topic in her new books (there's a second one to come next year)-but unfortunately I feel she's really missed the mark this time around. Despite focusing on sexism online and the changes cyberspace has wrought on gender relations her argument here really hinges on a very old fashioned and largely discredited idea, namely that while female gender roles are culturally created (and therefore can be changed), male gender roles are natural and inalterable.

Laurie argues that online sexism is a result of "geek" men seeking out new spaces online where they can escape the normal social hierarchy where "jocks" rule. These reductive and rather American terms presuppose that there is a natural order - a pecking order of sorts - with jocks at the top and geeks at the bottom, and that it is a refusal on the part of the geek men to accept their place in that hierarchy that causes problems, rather than limiting models of acceptable masculinity.

By attributing online sexism to bitter geeks who were unable to form relationships with women in the real world, and now resent finding them online, Laurie not only relies on some pretty ugly generalisations, she also seems to be blaming natural allies and failing to acknowledge that in 2013 everybody is online -geek, jock or otherwise, and that even those perfect examples of the jock stereotype she puts on a pedestal are capable of being sexists, both on and offline.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cybersexism, 10 Sept. 2013
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Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
This is a short book but it raises some serious issues for women who use the internet. It also asks questions about what exactly constitutes free speech. Any woman who uses the internet regularly - especially forums, chat rooms and social media will have come across misogyny in one form or another. Even expressing mild opinions about anything leaves you with the feeling that women should be seen and not heard and that the internet is no place for women - we should leave it to the men.

The author asks if we are doing the right thing by overprotecting children - especially girls - from the internet. Are we perhaps perpetuating a situation where abuse of women is acceptable - because it is just banter and if you can't take a joke then you shouldn't be here. But it seems the jokes only go one way - against women.

I found myself agreeing with most of what the author says in this hard hitting book. I have in the past tried to debate issues of interest to women in a calm and rational manner but have received such virulent abuse from men that I have stopped doing so. Maybe I was wrong - maybe we need to fight back and to make sure our views are heard. Currently it is the free speech of women which is being restricted.

Free speech is not about abusing and threatening others and never has been. Fortunately the law agrees but the fight to make ourselves heard and be able to debate subjects without being abused is far from over
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars interesting but not truly explored the subject, 30 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
having seen some of the exploits on places such as second life , cybersexism was a bit disapointing rather than an authorative look at the subject it seems more a placing glance and did not hold my interest of indeed my imagination for many pages
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it, if you follow Laurie's columns, 24 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
Enjoyed it, if you follow Laurie's columns, you will recognise parts of it but this does not take away from the book.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent primer for gender relations in cyberspace, 23 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
There's never been a better time for a pamphlet like this, when the British media is finally starting to pay some attention to the harassment women face simply for existing on the internet. But in a way, the issues discussed within are familiar ones. As Penny points out throughout the text, the internet's digital nature makes it no less real than "meatspace", and the excesses of online trolls are only notable compared to previous centuries of misogyny because of how visible our actions have become in the digital age.

Any attempt to comprehensively cover the points Penny hits on in her epigrammatic style- witty and wry, but burning with righteous fury- would result in direct quotes running to thousands of words. The short yet wide-ranging text finds room to discuss most of the recent headlines in the fight against sexism online: from Anita Sarkeesian's travails trying to explain that videogames might be a bit sexist, to Caroline Criado-Perez's refusal to accept abuse on Twitter. From how patriarchal society has made women more used to existing in a state of permanent surveillance, to the specific contours of online geek culture and misogyny, Penny weaves personal experience, media analysis and gender theory into a structural critique of how patriarchy operates through the internet. Yet it remains deeply personal throughout; rather than academic distance, Penny aims for inspiring polemic, and succeeds effortlessly.

I anticipate that there will be a contingent of men that will find it difficult to accept the text's skewering of male privilege, who might be tempted to dismiss all this as women needing to learn their place. But take it from another dude- what women tell you about their everyday lives is true. If you have any empathy for the women in your life, and you find yourself wondering how their online experience compares to your own, you owe it to yourself to read this book, and others like it.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly essential, short, easy reading., 23 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
Laurie Penny has produced an insightful, thought-provoking petit-treatise on online conduct, its origins and methods, specifically in relation to misogyny. Speaking from a clear, professional understanding of the subject and from personal experience there are moments of candour that are simultaneously heart-warming and teeth-clenching. Whilst there are some conclusions and - at times, sweeping - assertions with which I politely disagree, it remains an approachable, erudite and compelling piece of writing. I read it in one sitting, re-read it and then sent thoughts to the author, who I consider to be one of the more exciting young journalists around. To say that it is essential reading for anyone who uses the internet would be an exaggeration, but not a wild one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 5 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
This is great just as i expected
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening, 26 July 2014
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This review is from: Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (Kindle Edition)
An excellent extended essay recommend for any geek with a burgeoning interest in feminism. The section on Anonymous needs updating, as they've since proved that they include as many misogynists as feminists, but that can't be helped in the context of this essay.
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