The Influence of the Internet, Social Norms, and Law On Girls and Young Women

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Jane Bailey, University of Ottawa, Common Law Section, is publishing A Perfect Storm: How the Online Environment, Social Norms and Law Shape Girls’ Lives in eGirls eCitizens (Jane Bailey and Valerie Steeves, eds; Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 2015). Here is the abstract.

Considerable scholarly and policy discourse has centred on dichotomous risk/opportunity; utopic/dystopic descriptions and prescriptions around girl’s and young women’s online interactions. Too often uninformed by the voices of girls and young women themselves, these discourses have frequently led to overly simplistic understandings of girls’ and young women’s seamlessly integrated online/offline existences. These top-down perspectives have produced reactive punitive policy approaches that blame girls for their misfortunes and incent parents and other adults to deny them their privacy by monitoring and surveilling them. Grounded in the literature and international legal standards that mandate participation of children in the formulation of policy and programs affecting them, with special attention to the needs of the girl child, this paper gives voice to the situated knowledges of the Canadian girls (ages 15-17) and young women (ages 18-22) interviewed about their experiences with online social networking by The eGirls Project researchers. eGirls participants described a world in which architectures structured to maximize disclosure (and minimize privacy) code high counts of “friends” and “likes” as “popularity”. These architectural constraints combine with social norms and marketing practices that encourage emulation of mediatized representations of female beauty and sexuality as ways of competing for recognition (often, for heterosexual girls, from males). Together these produce a perfect storm incenting self-disclosure that simultaneously promises both celebrity and recognition, but also a gendered risk of shame and harassment that is complicated by the enduring consequences of unnecessarily permanent digital records. These interactions invite policy responses that take into account the difficulty of navigating this complex environment and recognize the ways in which over-reliance on privacy-invasive surveillance based mechanisms undermines girls’ capacities to thrive in our increasingly digitally networked society.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

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