Three Dimensions of Gendered Online Abuse: Analyzing Swedish MPs’ Experiences of Social Media
By Josefina Erikson, Sandra Håkansson and Cecilia Josefsson, Uppsala University, Sweden
Women’s political representation has increased rapidly in the past few decades, but significant barriers continue to circumscribe women’s political participation in a myriad of ways. Previous research has indicated that online abuse constitutes one such obstacle. Yet, only a small number of studies have systematically examined and compared the experiences of online abuse of men and women politicians. We argue that it is not enough to merely state that online abuse is gendered if we wish to understand and tackle such abuse: it is essential to know how it is gendered. In this article we conceptualize gendered online abuse in terms of three dimensions—frequency, character, and consequences—so that we can provide a more comprehensive empirical understanding of its prevalence. Using original survey data and interviews with a large number of Swedish MPs, we demonstrate the merit of unpacking the concept of such abuse in respect to different analytical dimensions. We find all three dimensions to be gendered in the Swedish context but in different and sometimes unexpected ways. Although women do not experience a higher frequency of online abuse than men, the character of the abuse is gendered insofar as women MPs are subjected to more sexualized and gendered harassment. We also find that men exposed to high levels of online abuse seem slightly more inclined to leave politics, whereas women report that they feel that their personal agency is circumscribed to a greater extent.