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Concordia postdoctoral researcher presents a new documentary tackling online misogyny

Léa Clermont-Dion: ‘Cyberviolence on women creates fear that pushes them from public spaces’
October 20, 2022
Young, smiling woman with long, blonde hair, wearing a black turtleneck top.
Léa Clermont-Dion: “Hope in the form of education and awareness can be very powerful.” | Photo by Martine Doyon

CONTENT WARNING: This story includes references to sexual violence

“Let’s send rapists to Boldrini’s house… so she can smile again.”

This is an example of the tens of thousands of online threats that have been directed at Laura Boldrini, a politician who served as president of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy.

Boldrini is one of several prominent women profiled in Backlash: Misogyny in the Digital Age, a new documentary by Concordia postdoctoral researcher Léa Clermont-Dion. Co-written and directed with Guylaine Maroist, Backlash is a sobering examination of the ubiquitous online hatred and misogyny faced by women the world over.

For Clermont-Dion, the genesis of Backlash is personal, professional and academic.

As an accomplished author, radio host, podcaster, filmmaker and body image activist, she has received numerous violent online threats over the last decade. This led Clermont-Dion to further explore cyberviolence as part of a PhD in political science from Laval University.

“The cumulative effects of cyberviolence on women is that it creates fear that pushes them from public spaces. The sheer amount of online misogyny normalizes hate speech and creates its own form of censorship,” she says.

“By the end of my doctoral thesis and the production of Backlash, I could only see darkness when it came to this issue.”

Finding light at the end of the dark tunnel of hatred

In many ways the internal despair caused by experiencing and studying cyberviolence led Clermont-Dumont to Concordia.

She had a connection with Vivek Venkatesh, professor of inclusive practices in visual arts in the Department of Art Education in the Faculty of Fine Arts and UNESCO co-Chair in the Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism and was drawn to his Landscape of Hope project. It’s a youth-led digital arts initiative that empowers young people with the tools to create multimedia performances that describe their experiences with hate, discrimination and cyberbullying.

“I had known Vivek for years and always admired the unique preventative nature of his work. Hope in the form of education and awareness is something that can be very powerful and a potential solution to what so many are experiencing today.”

As part of her postdoctoral work, Clermont-Dion is developing a podcast called je t’écoute that builds on her previous research regarding women and online hate. It will also delve into the issue of social networks as a space for youth empowerment.

“Léa’s expertise on gender violence provides a unique opportunity for our Landscape of Hope team to learn from her and the extensive network she leverages in Canada and internationally,” Venkatesh says. “We are so proud to play a role in contributing to her groundbreaking body of public engagement materials.”

‘We want to create empathy that will lead to action’

Education is also a key element in the rollout of the documentary.

“Part of the goal of Backlash was to make the viewer see the real-life fear that women face in light of cyberviolence. We want to create empathy that will lead to action,” Clermont-Dion shares.

Backlash will be shown in Quebec high schools and is accompanied with a toolkit for teachers to ask sensitive questions meant to spark meaningful discussions around the issue as well as informative video capsules aimed at students. These include practical steps young people can take in preventing online hatred and what they can do if they are victims of such crimes.

Clermont-Dion hopes that such education spreads to politicians and police forces so that laws and protections can be created to better protect people. “It’s not feasible for people to tackle this type of hatred on their own. We need stronger laws in place.”

As the mother of two young children, ensuring a safer online future is personal.

“I know my kids will to some degree see online hatred and violence in their lives. But we can do better.”

Find out more about Concordia’s
Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance.

For more information on Backlash: Misogyny in the Digital Age, including screenings, visit Backlash the Film. 



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