For International Women's Day 2024:Sexism online - not a trivial offense!

We have been focusing our attention on gender equality on March 8 since 1911. Various organizations and activists celebrate the fruits and achievements of a tirelessly fighting women's movement. At the same time, the focus is on topics and areas in which gender equality has still not been achieved. klicksafe is marking International Women's Day by taking a look at the situation of women online and highlighting the consequences of sexism in the digital space.

According to the Duden dictionary, sexism is the "idea that one gender is inherently superior to the other and the [therefore considered justified] discrimination, oppression, degradation, disadvantage of people, especially women, on the basis of their gender".

Sexism online has many faces: sometimes it is blatant and obvious. Other times it is not so easy to recognize. Condescending comments, supposedly "funny" memes in which women are ridiculed, threatening messages and sexual violence - just like in real life, women are spared nothing in terms of hostility and overstepping boundaries online.


Mansplaining is the unsolicited and condescending explanation or instruction of a man who naturally assumes that he knows more about a certain topic of conversation than his female counterpart. The man has no interest whatsoever in an equal exchange of knowledge.

The conviction that he is in the right and has the authority to interpret a certain issue is based on outdated gender stereotypes that portray men as more educated, intelligent and experienced than women.

Mansplaining often leads women into a dilemma: if the person concerned defends herself against the belittling instruction, she may be disqualified again ("Don't be so oversensitive"). If she does nothing to counter the mansplaining, she is left with a bad taste and bad feelings. In the long term, the woman's self-confidence may also suffer.


Another form of degradation of women is slutshaming. Women who are open about their sexuality, who enjoy sex or who change partners frequently are called "sluts" and punished for their behavior.

But even if women dress too "revealingly" in the eyes of those around them, they are often sexualized from the outside. The yardstick for evaluation is exclusively the assessment of those around them. The responsibility for appropriate dress and behavior is seen as lying exclusively with the women. If the skirt is too short, women need not be surprised if they are sexually harassed or, in the worst case, raped. A classic case of victim blaming.

Catcalling, dickpics and other forms of sexual harassment

The English term catcalling is used to describe verbal sexual harassment without physical contact. Intrusive glances, whistling, kissing noises or calling out suggestive remarks are forms of catcalling in public spaces.

However, sexual harassment of women does not only take place in the analog world. Women receive lewd messages on social networks in particular, such as crude sexual advances and offensive comments about their bodies.

Last but not least, sending dickpics is also a form of harassment that does not involve physical contact. The problem with catcalling is that verbal sexual harassment - whether online or offline - is not yet punishable in Germany. According to Section 185 of the German Criminal Code, insults that violate honor can be reported to the police. In most cases, however, catcalling is an attack on sexual self-determination and not on honor.

In contrast, sending dickpics is a criminal offense that can be punished with a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine. Paragraph 184 of the German Criminal Code, which deals with the distribution of pornographic material, applies here.

Further information

Further information on dickpics and cyberflashing, as well as other forms of image-based sexual violence, can be found in this klicksafe topic area


Body shaming refers to the discrimination or insulting of people based on physical characteristics. In social networks such as Instagram, TikTok or YouTube, ideals of beauty and thinness are massively staged. Whether too fat, too thin, too wrinkled, too small, too big, too ugly knees or labia: Nowadays, there is nothing about a body that cannot be defamed as supposedly ugly.

However, negative judgment does not only come from the outside: constant comparison with others and constant self-criticism often lead to lifelong dissatisfaction with one's own body. This dissatisfaction has always been fueled by the media. However, social media exacerbates the problem. Beauty filtersThe enormous reach of trends and, not least, the algorithms used by providers contribute to the fact that women are constantly instilled with beauty ideals that they find difficult to achieve and that are sometimes even harmful to their health.

Further information

In this current article, klicksafe discusses the effects that the use of digital media has on young people's body-related self-image.

Hate comments

There is plenty of hatred and incitement against women in the comment columns of social media channels. "You're so ugly, bitch", "You're totally disturbed, go to a psychiatrist", "You should be f***ed up again", "Go hang yourself" ... these are just a few (comparatively harmless) examples of how women are reduced to outward appearances, declared mentally ill, sexualized and, in the worst cases, even massively threatened online.

Women who are in the public eye in any form are particularly often the target of smear campaigns. Whether they are politicians, activists, actresses or journalists, women who openly express their opinions on controversial topics, are confronted with rape fantasies or wished to die.

Even women who are active in supposedly male domains are met with sheer hatred online. When reporter Claudia Neumann comments on a soccer match, three people are employed at the same time to delete the worst hate comments online.

A 2020 study by Plan international found that women of color, queer women and women with disabilities are also particularly affected by sexist hate comments. For these groups of people, different levels of discrimination overlap and intensify and can no longer be distinguished from one another (intersectional discrimination).

Threats and insults are punishable under the Criminal Code. Not everything that is posted is protected by freedom of expression. Hate speech on the internet can constitute various criminal offenses such as incitement to hatred, insult, coercion, threats and public incitement to commit crimes.

Individual and social consequences

All of these mechanisms - from verbal aggression to sexual violence - confirm and cement unequal gender relations and patriarchal social structures.

For those affected, digital sexism and violence often have drastic consequences for their health and lifestyle. They are mentally and emotionally stressed, physically scared, feel powerless and at the mercy of others. Problems arise at school or at work. They suffer from low self-esteem, have less self-confidence and develop eating disorders or other mental illnesses. But shame and feelings of guilt prevent the women from seeking help.

According to the above-mentioned study by Plan International, 19% of those affected withdraw from digital discourse after being insulted and abused. A full 12% no longer use the platform on which they encountered sexist violence. This is silencing.   Silencing is a strategy that uses intimidation to silence people and force them out of discussions.

Silencing also has drastic consequences for our democracy: Women who withdraw are invisible online. Their opinions and positions can no longer be heard. Their withdrawal increases the space on which haters can operate. Right-wing populists and extremists know how to use this space and seek allies with misogynistic slogans. The diversity of opinions is increasingly restricted. And last but not least, a de facto minority of people leave the impression that they reflect the views of the vast majority.

What can we do against sexism online?

The internet is not a legal vacuum. And yet it offers a particularly predestined setting for discrimination, hatred, threats and calls for violence. Perpetrators can remain anonymous and post, like or disseminate such messages without having to reveal their identity. And the global network makes it possible to achieve a wide reach within a very short space of time . Control bodies and legal remedies are often non-existent, take effect late or can be circumvented.

What can we women still do against sexism online?

  1. We can fight back
    Fight back against sexist behavior online! You can find out how to counter mansplainers skilfully here, for example. You can also find more good tips on counterspeech at under this link. You should report hate comments that constitute a criminal offense. You can find out how to do this and where you can go here. You can find more information on hate speech in the klicksafe topic area.
  2. We can support each other, show solidarity and network 
    Even if you only read hate comments, you should take the side of those affected and intervene. The same tips and rules of conduct apply here as for those affected (see above). And the Chalk Back movement is a good example of how networked women can use colorful chalk to get themselves heard.
  3. We can get help
    If you are upset by sexual assault or if you are not feeling well, talk to your friends or someone in your family. Alternatively, you can also visit a counseling center - in any case, you should not remain alone with your experiences.
  4. We can floodour social media feeds with empowerment
    Take a close look at who you follow! Does your feed make you feel empowered and well (informed)? Does it inspire you or give you reason to constantly criticize yourself? Good content is always a matter of taste, but maybe there's something here for you: @maedelsabende,  @wastarasagt, @lisa.ortgies, @laechelnundwinken
  5. We can start to appreciate ourselves and our bodies - exactly as we are
    This is not only good for us, but also for other women. Because if you are unhappy with yourself, you not only devalue yourself, but also other people in order to feel better about yourself. #bodypositivity, #bodyneutrality
  6. We can be a role model for (our) children and young people
    Only if we stand up for women's rights will anything change. This is shown, for example, by the investigations by the BKA and the Frankfurt am Main public prosecutor's office into misogynistic postings with criminal relevance - including yesterday's nationwide raid(SPIEGEL reported). And to prevent girls from adopting gender inequality in their own understanding of roles and values, we need to set an example for our children - both on a small scale and in private, as well as in public spaces.