Feminism, Privacy and Law in Cyberspace

Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the U.S. (2021 Forthcoming)

32 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2021 Last revised: 3 Dec 2021

See all articles by Michele E. Gilman

Michele E. Gilman

University of Baltimore - School of Law; Data & Society

Date Written: February 4, 2021


Feminism has long centered on breaking down the public and private divide that traditionally organized social relations and subordinated women. Privacy is lauded for giving women space for self-determination, but also criticized for creating spaces where patriarchy and misogyny can flourish unchecked. Cyberspace heightens the stakes of this tension because it creates almost limitless access to people’s personal data. We live in a datafied society powered by digital profiling, automated decision-making, and surveillance systems in which we no longer control our personal data; rather, it is used to control us. Women face multiple, gendered harms in cyberspace, including online harassment, digital discrimination, and sexual surveillance by the “femtech” industry. Yet the United States lacks comprehensive privacy laws, and its analog-era anti-discrimination statutes are no match for the digital world. American privacy protections hinge upon a notice and consent regime that puts the onus on users to protect their privacy, rather than the entities that benefit from gathering individual’s personal data. This chapter presents an overview of the oppression women and other marginalized people suffer through a loss of privacy in the digital age and the efforts that activists have taken to ameliorate the harms of cyberspace and to shape privacy norms in a feminist and inclusive manner. It describes the meaning of privacy through four waves of feminist theorizing and activism, analyzes how American privacy law responds to major gender equity challenges in cyberspace, and highlights current feminist theories and models of resistance.

Keywords: feminism, privacy, data privacy, cyberspace

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Gilman, Michele E., Feminism, Privacy and Law in Cyberspace (February 4, 2021). Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the U.S. (2021 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3779323 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3779323

Michele E. Gilman (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States

Data & Society ( email )

36 West 20th Street
11th Floor
New York,, NY 10011
United States

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