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eGirls, eCitizens

Jane Bailey
Valerie Steeves

Introduction: Cyber-Utopia? Getting Beyond the Binary Notion of Technology as Good or Bad for Girls

Jane Bailey et Valerie Steeves

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1This volume is the culmination of a labour of love more formally known as The eGirls Project, a three-year research initiative funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) partnership development grant that began in 2011. We hope, however, that this ending is also a beginning; an invitation to future research, education and policy initiatives, and grassroots activism aimed at ensuring substantively equal opportunities for girls and young women to participate in our digitally networked society.

2Together we co-led an interdisciplinary, intersectoral, international eGirls Project team investigation of the relationship between gender, privacy, and equality in online social networking. We conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups with girls (aged 15 to 17) and young women (aged 18 to 22) to explore their firsthand experiences of and perspectives on these issues. Our team of academic investigators included Dr. Jacquelyn Burkell (University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Information and Media Studies), Dr. Priscilla M. Regan (George Mason University, Department of Public and International Affairs), Jane Tallim (Executive Director, MediaSmarts), and Madelaine Saginur (Executive Director, Centre for Law, Technology and Society; CLTS). Our institutional partners included MediaSmarts (Canada’s leading digital literacy education organization), the CLTS (a University of Ottawa–based research centre committed to fostering interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and mobilization about law, technology, and society), and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC; mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada).

3The project was born of our researchers’ shared interests in and concerns around the future of privacy, identity, and equality in our increasingly digitally networked world. Our mutual interests were in part fostered by several of our team members’ prior involvement in the multi-year SSHRC-funded On the Identity Trail Project led by our colleague and friend Dr. Ian Kerr. Within the crucible of the On the Identity Trail Project, and through the connections between Professor Bailey’s research on the equality implications of technology for socially vulnerable community members (particularly women and girls) and the rich insights gained from students in her cyberfeminism class, Dr. Steeves’s research on youth privacy and its gendered dimensions, and her collaborative efforts with Drs. Burkell and Regan, as well as MediaSmarts and the OPC, these and other pressing issues relating to young Canadians online were initially recognized and forged.

  • 1 Daniel Brassard, Information Superhighway (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Research B (...)
  • 2 John Perry Barlow, “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996), <>.
  • 3 Renate Klein, “The Politics of Cyberfeminism: If I’m a Cyborg Rather than a Goddess Will Patriarch (...)
  • 4 Michele White, “Too Close to See: Men, Women, and Webcams” New Media & Society 5:1 (2003): 7; Hill (...)
  • 5 Plant, supra note 4.
  • 6 White, supra note 4; Koskela, supra note 4; Terri M. Senft, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in t (...)

4The origin of the eGirls Project was also grounded in our sense of dissatisfaction with the scholarly and policy dialogues around technology, especially as they related to girls and young women. The 1990s were punctuated by utopian forecasts of what digital technologies would mean, not only for the economy (including promises about the riches that lay along the information superhighway1), but also for the expressive freedoms and liberties of all citizens (such as John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”2). While some feminist scholars worried that digital communications technologies might represent the latest examples of patriarchal technological control,3 others predicted that girls and young women were particularly well situated to reap the benefits of digitized communications networks.4 Some feminist cyber-optimists metaphorically imagined the possibility of using the network to subvert patriarchy entirely.5 Others spoke of the ways in which individual actions might achieve revolutionary collective goals, including taking back the pen from the concentrated control of mainstream media. It was imagined that girls’ and young women’s firsthand accounts of the richness and diversity of their lives would proliferate in cyberspace, thereby undermining (and perhaps even destroying) stereotypical mainstream scripts that had previously constrained them.6

  • 7 Jane Bailey & Valerie Steeves, “Will the Real Digital Girl Please Stand Up?”, in New Visualities, (...)
  • 8 West Coast LEAF, #Cybermisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate (...)
  • 9 Valerie Steeves & Jane Bailey, “Living in the Mirror: Understanding Young Women’s Experiences with (...)
  • 10 Bailey & Steeves, supra note 7.

5By the early 2000s, however, academic and policy dialogues had become increasingly interlaced with dystopian accounts of digital communications technology focused on danger and risk,7 particularly in relation to girls and young women. In Canada, the fears aroused by these dystopian accounts were (and continue to be) used as justifications for expanded state and law enforcement powers, especially powers of surveillance.8 Too often, little to no effort has been made to specifically tie these expanded surveillance powers to the dangers claimed, or to address the underlying systemic factors that disproportionately expose girls and young women to sexualized attacks. At the same time, an impressive burgeoning body of surveillance scholarship has remained largely inattentive to the constraining forces confronted by girls and women,9 while policymakers have focused on individualistic approaches, many of which responsibilize girls for exposing themselves to harm and blame parents for failing to sufficiently monitor and control their daughters.10

6We suspected that girls’ and young women’s lived experiences with digitized communications were far more complicated than the dichotomous utopian and dystopian poles of debate. Perhaps more pressingly, we were concerned that neither theory nor policy was sufficiently informed by the lived experiences of girls and young women themselves. We envisioned the eGirls Project as a vehicle for examining these suspected gaps and imagining how they might be bridged. We were also deeply interested in knowing how girls and young women would feel about the ways they and their experiences were characterized in both scholarly and policy dialogues.

  • 11 Jane Bailey, “Time to Unpack the Juggernaut?: Reflections on the Canadian Federal Parliamentary De (...)
  • 12 Our conference “eGirls, eCitizens: Putting Theory, Policy and Education into Dialogue with the Voi (...)

7The eGirls Project proceeded in five stages. In the first and second stages, we analyzed the critical scholarship and Canadian federal parliamentary debates focused on the topic of girls, young women, and technology, to examine how critical scholars and policymakers have talked about girls and young women in general and their online experiences in particular, and the predictions that were made about the implications of technology for girls’ and young women’s lived equality.11 In the third stage, we conducted interviews and focus groups with girls and young women aged 15 to 17 and 18 to 22 to ask them about their experiences of privacy, gender, identity, and equality in online social networks, as well as for their reactions to the characterizations and predictions drawn from our review of critical scholarship and policy. In the fourth stage, we compared the results of our critical scholarship and policy analyses with the findings from the focus groups and interviews, in order to reflect on the gaps between our participants’ actual experiences and the scholarly and policy predictions about and descriptions of those experiences. Finally, in the fifth stage, we mobilized the insights gained in the earlier phases at a public conference held in March 2014, where many of the authors in this volume made presentations.12

  • 13 Within these chapters we often refer to both teen and adult participants as girls, rather than usi (...)

8Our findings from the eGirls Project interviews and focus groups, together with our reflections on their implications for scholarship and policy, are reported on in the chapters in this collection authored by Jane Bailey, Valerie Steeves, Jacquelyn Burkell and Madelaine Saginur, Priscilla M. Regan and Diana L. Sweet, and Sarah Heath.13 At the time of writing, eGirls Project partner MediaSmarts is intensively engaged in developing a multimedia educational unit designed to address the issues and concerns voiced by our participants. When completed, that unit will be made freely available on the MediaSmarts website.

9As we proceeded through the various phases of the eGirls Project, we were struck by how often decontextualized, individualistic accounts of technology and of girls surfaced. These narrow accounts seemed predestined to breed the kinds of unidimensional utopian/dystopian descriptions of and predictions about the impact of digital communications technologies on lived equality for girls and young women that had inspired the eGirls Project in the first place. Like many feminists who had confronted other types of social issues before us, we craved a contextualized analysis, one that moved beyond any individual or any one technology or platform, one that moved away from isolationist, victim-blaming judgment focused on risk avoidance. We imagined developing an approach grounded in the voices and experiences of girls and young women that sought neither to infantilize them nor to responsibilize them, but rather to respond to their own perceptions of their seamlessly integrated online/offline existences in a supportive, empathetic way. We hoped this approach could help to break policy free from abstract, objectified narratives and instead ground new reforms premised on girls’ and young women’s situated knowledge and experiences.

10Along the way, it occurred to us that too much of the theoretical and policy dialogue suffered from what Lessig years ago termed

  • 14 Lawrence Lessig, Code Version 2.0 (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 32, <>.

the fallacy of “is-ism” – the mistake of confusing how something is with how it must be. There is certainly a way that cyberspace is. But how cyberspace is is not how it has to be …. The possible architectures of something we would call “the Net” are many, and the character of life within those different architectures is diverse.14

  • 15 Ibid., at 6.
  • 16 Ibid., at 121.
  • 17 Ibid., at 6 and 123.
  • 18 Ibid., at 38.
  • 19 Ibid., at 32.

11Lessig’s approach challenged utopian accounts of the anarchic, unregulable, freedom-producing “nature” of the internet, positing both that how the internet “is” depended on how the network was coded, and that the underlying code was subject to change.15 A change in code could alter the architecture or “’built environment’ of social life in cyberspace.”16 Since code and thus the architecture of cyberspace could be shaped by and interact with other kinds of regulators of human behaviour – markets, social norms, and laws – Lessig suggested that there was no reason to presume that the internet architecture would be designed in ways that promoted freedom.17 In fact, he predicted that markets, social norms, and laws might coalesce in ways that encouraged changes in code that would fundamentally shift cyberspace from a once-presumed space of freedom to a space of unprecedented control.18 Lessig’s claims, however, were not advanced fatalistically. That architecture, markets, social norms, and laws could coalesce in the direction of de-liberation did not mean that they necessarily would, nor that citizens had to passively accept whatever the powers-that-be handed them. Instead, he suggested that “technology is plastic,” and so susceptible to being “made to reflect any set of values we think important.”19

12In terms of the eGirls Project, Lessig’s identification of the multiplicity of interactive forces at work in shaping what online communications are, will be, or can be offers a framework for unearthing the oversimplifications involved in the dichotomous utopian/dystopian accounts of technology’s meaning for and impact on girls and young women found in the scholarly and policy discourses. Perhaps more important, it offers hope for imagining that genuinely egalitarian online spaces, though not inevitable, are nevertheless possible. Whether digitized communication networks ultimately enhance girls’ and young women’s freedom and lived social equality depends not just upon the existence of an expressive platform, but also on how that platform is constructed within a capitalist marketplace, the social norms and practices of those who inhabit it and those who design its architecture, and any laws that regulate those spaces and those within them, as well as the interactions between all of these forces.

13We envisioned this volume as a vehicle for pushing forward scholarly and policy dialogue that shifts away from dichotomous good/bad, dystopian/utopian, on-one-hand/on-the-other-hand accounts of girls, young women, and technology toward a more empathetic, intersectional, and contextual account. We also sought to deepen our understanding of the ways social markers such as immigration status, ethnicity, rural/urban living, class, race, sexuality, gender identity, (dis)ability, and age intersect in the lives of girls and young women. Such an account must be both grounded in the voices of girls and young women and open to responses that move beyond neo-liberal discourses of risk and responsibility to acknowledge how the market, architecture, social norms, and laws (or the absence of laws) coalesce and interact to complicate substantively equal navigation of online social spaces by girls and young women. Each of the chapters in this volume grapples with one or more of these aspects of the online environment, and what their interactions may imply about the prospect of a lived social equality for girls and young women.

Part I: Its Not That Simple: Complicating GirlsExperiences on Social Media

  • 20 Claus Norreen & Lene Nystrom.“Barbie Girl.” Aquarium. Universal Music 1997, <>.

Hi Barbie.
Hi Ken!
Do you want to go for a ride?
Sure Ken!
Jump in …20

14Part I of the book consists of three chapters that explore the complexities of online life. Like Barbie in the Aqua song, girls have been invited to travel the information superhighway by policymakers and feminist cyber-optimists alike. However, as utopian forecasts have given way to dystopian predictions, the sociotechnical spaces that girls inhabit no longer look quite so simple.

15Bailey’s chapter sets the stage by making the case for putting girls’ own lived experiences at the centre of policy debates to ensure that their needs as a marginalized group will deeply inform the policy options that shape their online environment. Drawing on the eGirls data, she highlights the gap between the problems that Canadian federal policymakers have focused on and the problems that our participants would like to see addressed. She then gives voice to the messages that our participants expressly wished to pass on to policymakers. First and foremost, our participants wanted policymakers to know that the online environment can be particularly difficult for girls to navigate (as compared to boys) because the publicity it enables – which is a large part of the benefit – also creates a “powder keg” where one misstep can permanently damage their reputations. They accordingly called upon policymakers to address the ways that online architectures open them up to judgment and shaming if they fail to perform a narrow, highly stereotyped way of being a “girl.” To get the policy response right, policymakers must stop focusing solely on criminal responses that typically make girls responsible for their own safety. Instead, they should limit the ways in which corporations invade girls’ online privacy for profit, and regulate media representations that reinforce stereotypes and set girls up for conflict.

16Milford builds on these themes in his essay on cyberfeminism. He suggests that we can move beyond responsibilization and better protect girls’ online privacy by troubling the dichotomies that too often structure debates about girls and technology. He revisits feminist engagement with technology issues and suggests that binary thinking – offline vs. online, risks vs. benefits, vulnerability vs. agency – has limited our theoretical capacity to challenge policies that constrain girls’ agency in the name of protecting them from harm. By maintaining the tension between poles in a fully integrated online/ offline social environment that is both liberating and constraining, we can better understand how girls experience online representations as instances of both agency and vulnerability. Milford concludes that, in this environment, agency can best be promoted by providing girls with control over the disclosure and sharing of their own images. And, since agency can only be fully experienced once we address the constraining impact of the stereotypical media representations that increasingly colonize online spaces, this approach will also help focus policy attention on ongoing, systemic patterns of discrimination and bias across a range of intersections including gender, sexuality, and race.

17Kanai’s chapter explores notions of online agency in greater detail. She argues that feminist scholars should be careful to distance themselves from neo-liberal, postfeminist discourses that position girlhood as an ongoing project of self-improvement. The constant self-surveillance and discipline required in such a project are consistent with the commercial agenda behind social media, but they also work to collapse agency into a highly disciplined performance of self as a “brand.” Instead, Kanai applies a Foucauldian understanding of discipline to reinvigorate the interrogation of online spaces as complex, mediated sites of power, in which heightened conditions of surveillance and intimacy invite particular gendered practices of (self-)control. By complicating our understanding of social media in this way, we will be able to map the tensions that exist in girls’ online self-presentations and more empathetically appreciate how they “do identity” in the highly fraught and complex mediatized social environment in which they live.

18The chapters by Bailey, Milford, and Kanai all call for a deeper examination of the market forces and social norms that combine to constrain girls’ agency on social media. The next section of the book seeks to complicate our understanding, not of the environment per se, but of the rich diversity of experiences of the girls who live there.

Part II: Living in a Gendered Gaze

  • 21 Ibid.

I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world.
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!21

19Part II consists of five chapters that use the results of qualitative research to explore the lived experience of girls more fully by examining intersections between gender and other identity markers, including immigrant status, race, and rural/urban living, and the impacts of stereotypical mainstream representations of femininity on peer surveillance, online conflict, and gender and sexual culture among youth.

20Ndengeyingoma provides a fascinating overview of the ways that recently immigrated girls use social media to deepen their friendship connections and to bridge the social dislocation that is part of the immigration experience. In doing so, she highlights the benefits that attract many girls to networked media – the real value of easy and ongoing contact with friends and family, and the freedom to explore new relationships and social roles in relative anonymity. She also reminds us that every girl is situated within a wide range of socio-economic, cultural, and linguistic experiences, and that these factors intersect and play out in diverse ways. Ndengeyingoma’s participants spoke of how difficult it can be to bridge gaps between the expectations of the members of their community of origin and the relationships and opportunities they experience in their host country. Although they, like non-immigrant girls, worried about the possibility of being monitored online by others, recently immigrated girls faced a more onerous burden because they were open to being judged for failing to satisfy the norms of either the community of origin or the community of the host country.

21Burkell and Saginur explore intersecting differences between girls who live in cities and girls who live in rural areas. Using the eGirls data, they compare and contrast urban and rural girls’ experiences on social media. Again, the commonalities are striking. Although rural girls were very aware of their “rural-ness” (unlike urban girls, who never defined themselves as city girls) and felt that city girls were much more successful at “amping up” their virtual appearance through the use of makeup and Photoshop, the experiences of both groups of girls were very similar. Both used social media to reinforce their real-world connections to people who lived in their communities and to keep in touch with family and friends who lived far away; and both reported a similar level of pressure to conform to the expectations of peers. However, rural girls were more likely to take online conflict offline, and attempt to resolve issues face to face. Burkell and Saginur suggest that this may be linked to the fact that their real-world social circles were more limited in size and space, and also more interconnected (“everyone knows everyone”); this amplified the potentially destructive impact of ongoing conflict and increased the need to intervene face to face to repair breaches in relationships. Again, this illustrates the complexities of online life and the importance of accounting for the diverse constraints that girls experience because they are situated differently.

22Early discussions of girls and technology suggested that girls retreated to the privacy of the bedroom to create a liminal space in which to experiment with media representations of femininity and to pursue their cultural goals of “becoming” young women. This retreat was a conflicted victory; although it underscored the transgressive potential of access to communications technologies and the ways in which girls exercised agency as cultural producers, it also suggested that public spaces continued to be closed to girls. As new technologies emerged, however, some scholars argued that the line between the privacy of the bedroom and the publicity of online performativity was blurring. These scholars celebrated the networked bedroom as a hybrid public/private space that enhanced the emancipatory potential of resistive identities.

23Steeves uses the eGirls Project data to test this claim, and to explore the relationship between privacy, publicity, and resistance on social media. Her analysis reveals a complex and contradictory set of affordances and constraints. Although the publicity enjoyed on social media made it easier for eGirls participants to cultivate professional relationships with potential clients and employers, the easy slide between private experimentation and public performance opened them up to harsh judgment, especially from peers, if they stepped outside the narrow confines of a highly stylized and stereotypical performance of femininity. Steeves concludes that resistive and potentially emancipatory identity experimentation is more likely to occur if the privacy of the virtual bedroom is protected from commercial interests that seek to replicate the kinds of stereotypes that constrain girls’ enjoyment of the public sphere, and if girls are given more control over the virtual traces they leave in the public sphere.

24Regan and Sweet explore the nature of online stereotypes in greater detail by examining the ways that eGirls participants mobilized the term “drama” to describe the kinds of conflicts they experience on social media. They suggest that discussions of drama are closely linked to “mean girl” discourses that pathologize feminine social aggression and implicitly treat male aggression as neutral. Policy interventions using this lens accordingly overregulate girls. However, eGirls participants also talked about drama as a form of highly gendered peer surveillance; whereas boys’ behaviours were generally overlooked or accepted as neutral, girls were closely monitored to ensure that their behaviour conformed to gendered norms. In addition, eGirls participants talked about drama as an enjoyable form of entertainment, where stereotypical performances of gender were attended to for pleasure. Regan and Sweet conclude that policy interventions must attend to these alternative understandings of drama and, rather than punishing girls for social aggression, regulate the companies that own social media. By requiring online companies to provide users with more tools to control the flow of their information online, and by restricting the use of media stereotypes in online advertising, policymakers could constrain the environmental elements that encourage this kind of conflict.

25Ringrose and Harvey examine the digital affordances that mediate gender through four case studies that explore networked teens’ gender and sexual culture among economically and racially marginalized young people in London, England. They suggest that, although old binaries between boy and girl continue to play out in a hierarchy of gender power that privileges maleness, networked technologies add a layer of temporal, spatial, and performative complexity. Because networked devices enable a high level of visibility, there is an increased demand for photos of girls’ bodies. Creating these images can be pleasurable for girls, but it is also risky because they have little control over the use of the images once they are given to a boy. Boys, for their part, perform masculinity by collecting photos and selectively displaying them online in order to assert territorial claims against other boys. This translates into offline behaviours, including increased male judgment of girls’ bodies and increased sexual touching of girls as a form of “joking.”

Part III: Dealing with Sexualized Violence

  • 22 Ibid.

You can brush my hair,
Undress me anywhere.22

26The kinds of affordances that Ringrose and Harvey highlight make it more difficult to deal with sexual violence online, because these affordances continue to play out in ways that dismiss violence against women and simultaneously blame them for their victimization. Part III addresses these difficulties and suggests that we need new theoretical, legal, and policy responses to address the harms associated with sexual violence in digital spaces.

27Fairbairn opens this part of the book by arguing that the prevalent understanding of sexual violence as physical assault limits our ability to address the harms of online behaviours such as trolling, revenge porn, rape threats, and cyber-harassment. Given the blurring boundary between online and offline spaces, it is imperative that we define, document, and prevent violence against girls and women in all its manifestations. New definitions and new forms of data gathering are required because the interplay between power and control in digital spaces is complex and multifaceted. Moreover, the types of violence girls and women experience online are often discounted because they are perceived as “not real” or as the result of girls’ and women’s naiveté. Fairbairn concludes that, if we assume online violence can be ignored, we will continue to blame victims for the harms they experience. If, on the other hand, we acknowledge the real psychological and emotional harms that women experience when they are threatened, humiliated, and abused online, we will be able to create supportive responses that place online sexual violence within a spectrum of harmful behaviours.

28Slane examines the nature of online sexual violence by analyzing the arguments made in the NJ v. Ravi case. In 2010, Dharun Ravi, a student at Rutgers University, used a webcam to film his roommate, Tyler Clementi, engaged in intimate activity with another man. Clementi subsequently committed suicide and Ravi was charged with a series of offences, including bias intimidation. Slane focuses on the meaning ascribed by both the prosecution and the defence to Ravi’s and Clementi’s online conversations in the context of the bias intimidation charges. She argues that online communications must be understood in context, especially when criminal charges have been laid against a young person, particularly with respect to the degree of privacy/publicity expected in relation to communication on particular online platforms and to memes like “lol” and “hehehe” that superficially suggest levity, but can also be used as “covers” for deeper concerns. Her discussion of the relationship between homophobic expressions and heteronormative performances of masculinity underlines the importance of addressing the complexities that equality-seeking groups face in online communications. In addition, understanding masculine and feminine stereotypes is a critical component of understanding girls’ and young women’s experiences online because these same stereotypes shape and constrain the gender and sexual performances available to them.

29Shariff and DeMartini explore the meaning of sexualized violence in cases where sexts are distributed without consent in order to attack a girl’s reputation. They place the issues within three broader trends: the misogynist backlash against girls and women who use networked technologies to challenge online sexual violence; the gendered meanings attributed to the harms associated with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, as well as notions of responsibility and culpability; and the reactive response of legislators and educators. Their analysis reinforces Fairbairn’s claims that online sexualized violence typically implicates misogynist discourses about victim blaming and male privilege. Empirical data from the Define the Line projects at McGill University illustrates how easily young people can internalize these discourses, especially given the punitive approach that policymakers and educators are using to address the issues. They argue that policymakers should instead proactively address systemic factors such as rape culture and misogyny, and use education to help young people decode the discriminatory messages around them and interact in ways that are respectful of and empathetic to others.

30Angrove extends the discussion about sexual violence by looking at sexualized cyberbullying as an education, and education law, issue. She reviews cyberbullying initiatives in three Canadian provinces – Ontario, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia – to assess how well current initiatives actively promote a school culture that celebrates equality. All three jurisdictions have amended their education laws to respond to bullying, but only Ontario and Nova Scotia have gone beyond gender-neutral terminology to address gendered violence directly. More recently, Ontario has amended its curricular guidelines to incorporate issues such as diversity, consent, and the impact of media on body image and gender identity. Since teachers are mandated to teach young people about good citizenship, she suggests that there is untapped potential within the school system to devise more creative educational responses grounded in human rights and equality education.

Part IV: eGirls, eCitizens

  • 23 Ibid.

Imagination, life is your creation.23

31The final part of the book builds on the insights of the previous chapters, and outlines various interventions that can, and do, provide girls with the tools and knowledge they need to actively take up the role of engaged citizen.

32Johnson’s chapter argues that, to date, most interventions that focused on safety issues have had negative impacts on girls, who may be deprived of opportunities online due to exaggerated fears about unknown sexual predators. Johnson suggests that media literacy education is a corrective, because it encourages young people to develop the skills they need to use, understand, and create with digital technologies. Placing digital literacy within a broader context of digital citizenship also steers us away from punitive responses based on fears about safety from unknown predators, and moves us toward interventions that will encourage young people to develop the empathy, ethical perspective, and activist stance that are at the heart of acting responsibly online. He outlines a number of educational initiatives created by MediaSmarts, Canada’s largest digital literacy organization, that promote digital literacy, and urges educators to take gender into account in digital literacy education. In particular, since girls rely on social norms to negotiate a comfortable degree of online privacy, educators who teach online privacy issues should take as a starting point the need to have respect for the privacy expectations of others. Similarly, he suggests that educational initiatives that address cyberbullying, sexting, and media stereotypes should take into account the gendered nature of these harms, and call upon everyone – boys and girls – to act as responsible digital citizens.

33Heath uses the eGirls data to examine how girls use privacy settings and other technical tools to protect their online security. From the eGirls participants’ perspective, the technical design of the sites they inhabit creates particular security risks because the design makes it difficult for them to control the flow of the information they post there. They were especially concerned by design features that identify them when they wish to be anonymous, or make it hard to maintain a boundary between their various audiences. They were also uncomfortable with the commercial collection and use of their information. However, they actively engaged with their own security, and used a number of strategies to protect it. When faced with interactions that were deemed inappropriate, “creepy,” strange, or unfamiliar, they would block or delete users, carefully manage the types of information they revealed, or disengage from particular conversations. In doing so, they demonstrated a strong resilience with respect to managing their own security.

34Rosenblatt and Tushnet’s chapter illustrates how digitally literate young women can use network tools for their own purposes, to express themselves and to push back against constraining stereotypes. They analyze the experiences of young women who create fanworks (fictional works that remix characters from popular culture to create new narratives) and conclude that remix culture provides a unique opportunity for girls and young women to develop selfhood, emotional maturity, and professional skills, and to explore the intersections between gender, sexuality, and ability/disability. Unlike commercial works, where female producers are underrepresented, fandom works are dominated by girls and young women who are otherwise marginalized in mainstream storylines. Existing copyright laws, which permit the creation of new, non-commercial works that incorporate elements of copyrighted materials, provide a space for girls to insert their own stories and create and consume works about people who look, act, and feel like they do.

35Shade’s chapter examines the Stop the Meter campaign, in which young women used YouTube to speak out against user-based billing and encourage others to sign the Stop the Meter petition. The chapter illustrates how young women can engage with policies and practices that shape the online environment in thoughtful and creative ways. This provides an important counterpoint to the type of self-branding discussed by Kanai, and confirms concerns raised by many of the authors in this book about the commercialization of the digital spaces girls inhabit. Shade notes optimistically that despite the ways in which media culture encourages commodification of feminine sexuality, the fact that some young women are engaging in political debate and civic action online is encouraging.

Bringing It All Together

36eGirls, eCitizens challenges binary utopian/dystopian discourses and calls for the creation of more nuanced understandings that are both grounded in girls’ situated knowledges and mindful of the ways that the sociotechnical environment shapes their experiences. Not only should policymakers take girls’ own experiences into account, they must think more critically about how intersecting identity markers and stereotypes create constraints and affordances particular to girls and young women in networked environments. Sexual violence is one of those constraints, requiring policy responses that meaningfully address the barriers to equality that girls face through both reactive and proactive initiatives. As we move to address constraints, it is essential that we continue to promote the creation of online spaces that provide opportunities for girls and young women to articulate their own perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and fully participate as networked citizens.


1 Daniel Brassard, Information Superhighway (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Research Branch, 1994), <>.

2 John Perry Barlow, “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996), <>.

3 Renate Klein, “The Politics of Cyberfeminism: If I’m a Cyborg Rather than a Goddess Will Patriarchy Go Away?” in Cyberfeminism: Connectivity, Critique, Creativity, eds. Susan Hawthorne & Renate Klein (Australia: Spinifex, 1999), 186.

4 Michele White, “Too Close to See: Men, Women, and Webcams” New Media & Society 5:1 (2003): 7; Hille Koskela, “Webcams, TV Shows and Mobile Phones: Empowering Exhibitionism,” Surveillance and Society 2:3 (2004): 199; Sadie Plant, “On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations,” in Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies, ed. Rob Shields (London: SAGE, 1996), 170; Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, ed. Donna Haraway (New York: Routledge, 1991), 149.

5 Plant, supra note 4.

6 White, supra note 4; Koskela, supra note 4; Terri M. Senft, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks (New York: Peter Lang, 2008).

7 Jane Bailey & Valerie Steeves, “Will the Real Digital Girl Please Stand Up?”, in New Visualities, New Technologies: The New Ecstasy of Communication, ed. J. Macgregor Wise & Hille Koskela (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013).

8 West Coast LEAF, #Cybermisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment (British Columbia: 2014): 13, <>.

9 Valerie Steeves & Jane Bailey, “Living in the Mirror: Understanding Young Women’s Experiences with Online Social Networking,” in Expanding the Gaze: Gender, Public Space and Surveillance, eds. Emily Van De Meulen, Amanda Glasbeek & Rob Heynen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press: forthcoming).

10 Bailey & Steeves, supra note 7.

11 Jane Bailey, “Time to Unpack the Juggernaut?: Reflections on the Canadian Federal Parliamentary Debates on ‘Cyberbullying,’” Dalhousie Law Journal 35 [forthcoming], archived at Social Sciences Research Network, <|3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2448480>.; Hannah Draper, “Canadian Policy Process Review 1994–2011”, <>; Trevor Milford, “Assessing Girls’ Online Experience through a Cyberfeminist Lens: A Review of Relevant Literature”, <>.

12 Our conference “eGirls, eCitizens: Putting Theory, Policy and Education into Dialogue with the Voices of Girls and Young Women” was made possible through generous funding from a SSHRC Connections grant, the Shirley E. Greenberg Chair in Women and the Legal Profession, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, the University of Ottawa, and the Centre for Law, Technology and Society.

13 Within these chapters we often refer to both teen and adult participants as girls, rather than using the lengthier expression, girls and young women, because that is the language that our participants used to refer to themselves. Similarly, when referring to males, we use the term boys rather than the lengthier expression, boys and young men, again because this is the language our participants used.

14 Lawrence Lessig, Code Version 2.0 (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 32, <>.

15 Ibid., at 6.

16 Ibid., at 121.

17 Ibid., at 6 and 123.

18 Ibid., at 38.

19 Ibid., at 32.

20 Claus Norreen & Lene Nystrom.“Barbie Girl.” Aquarium. Universal Music 1997, <>.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.


Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law in the Common Law Section, teaching cyberfeminism, technoprudence, contracts, and civil procedure. She is the co-principal investigator with Dr. Valerie Steeves on the eGirls Project, which has been funded by a three-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Development Grant and team leader of Working Group 1 on a seven-year Major Collaborative Research Initiatives project entitled Rethinking Processual Law: Towards Cyberjustice. Her current research is focused on online self-exposure by girls and young women (including sexting and cyberbullying), online harassment and hate, privacy and equality concerns arising from surveillance, and access to justice

Associate Professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada. Her main area of research is human rights and technology issues. Professor Steeves has written and spoken extensively on privacy from a human rights perspective, and is an active participant in the privacy policy-making process in Canada. She is a co-principal investigator with Professor Jane Bailey on the eGirls Project and the lead researcher on the ongoing Young Canadians in a Wired World Project. Both projects examine young people’s experiences and perspective of networked media


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