Abstract - The Information Society 15(3)

The Rhetorical Dynamics of Gender Harrassment On-Line

Susan C. Herring

This article compares two extended interactions that took place recently on the Internet, one from a recreational Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, and the other from an academic listserv discussion group. The two interactions exhibit similar gender dynamics which can be characterized as harassment of female by male participants. This harassment takes different forms, in keeping with the possibilities inherent in the two modes of computer-mediated communication. Whereas female participants on IRC are kicked off the channel, in the discussion group, harassers must rely exclusively on language to intimidate and silence. This "rhetoric of harassment" crucially invokes libertarian principles of freedom of expression, constructing women's resistance as "censorship". A rhetorical analysis of the two harassment episodes thus sheds new light on the means used to construct and maintain asymmetrical gender and power dynamics in different modes of CMC.

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