Abstract - The Information Society 15(3)

Feminist Rhetoric in Cyberspace: The Ethos of Feminist Usenet Newsgroups

Christine Ann Nguyen Fredrick

Users of the Internet are stripped of voice inflections, body language, and other common cues of conversation - only their words are left. Some claim that the lack of these social cues and the lack of hierarchy in the structure of the Internet provide the potential for equality in cyberspace. Many others have shown, though, that the issues of power in cyberspace are similar to the issues of power in physical space. This paper examines an intersection of feminism and cyberspace in the ethos of online discussion. It is a rhetorical analysis of two popular feminist newsgroups, alt.feminism and soc.feminism. Do these newsgroups create a feminist and inclusive space online? What are the rhetorical strategies that make an online space more or less inclusive of women? Usenet newsgroups reveal the rhetorical power of these bare words. Although no formal means of discrimination is built into Usenet newsgroup discussions, discrimination does occur through the subtle and not so subtle use of language. This paper looks at how various characteristics of language are used on the two newsgroups. Though the ethos on such discussion forums is dynamic, the analysis reveals examples of how sarcastic questioning, strong assertions, accusatory disagreements, and sexist comments can create a hostile and non-inclusive ethos.

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