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Information, Communication & Society
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Online cultural backlash? sexism and political
Isabel Inguanzo, Bingbing Zhang & Homero Gil de Zúñiga
To cite this article: Isabel Inguanzo, Bingbing Zhang & Homero Gil de Zúñiga (2021): Online
cultural backlash? sexism and political user-generated content, Information, Communication &
Society, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2021.1962940
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2021.1962940
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Published online: 20 Aug 2021.
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Online cultural backlash? sexism and political user-generated
, Bingbing Zhang
and Homero Gil de Zúñiga
Department of Political Science and Administration, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain;
P. Bellisario College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA;
Comunicación y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
Prior research highlights substantial beneﬁcial eﬀects of political
user-generated content (UGC) in society, such as diversifying
political viewpoints, mobilizing the electorate, and fostering
citizens’civic engagement. However, important user asymmetries
exist when creating political content. Gender, age, media uses,
and skills gaps have been identiﬁed as key variables predicting
UGC. This study addressed the political UGC gender gap from a
political perspective. We build on previous theory about feminist
media studies, political polarization, and cultural backlash theory
to disentangle whether hostile sexism predicts UGC creation.
Drawing on online survey data from four well-established
democracies, we ﬁnd that those individuals holding hostile sexist
views are more likely to generate political content online. Further
implications for democracy and the role of women in the digital
sphere are discussed.
Received 20 November 2020
Accepted 24 July 2021
sexism; polarization; cultural
backlash; gender gap
Previous literature on digital content creation suggests that women are less likely than
men to create and share certain types of online content, which is in part due to media
and technological skills gaps (Bode, 2017; Hargittai & Shaw, 2015). Even when women
do raise their voices in the digital sphere, they are at times confronted with oﬀensive
comments, harassment, and hostile sexism (Chen et al., 2020; Searles et al., 2020;
Sobieraj, 2018). It is unclear whether women’s participation in online content creation
is deterred precisely by this hostile and sexist digital entourage, or whether sexism
play a part in men and women’s likelihood to produce online political content, thus con-
tributing to the gender gap in UGC. Indeed, to our knowledge, no study has yet explored
the role of sexism as an important individual antecedent predicting online political con-
tent creation. Does hostile sexism inﬂuence UGC creation? And if so, how?
To answer these questions, we build up on three strains of research: (1) feminist media
studies, (2) political polarization, and (3) the cultural backlash thesis. We argue that since
gender equality and women’rights have become a salient issue both in the public and the
political agenda, certain politized individuals might want to share their own views on the
topic. But who is creating and sharing more online content? Those who are more
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Isabel Inguanzo email@example.com
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed doi:10.1080/1369118X.2021.1962940.
INFORMATION, COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY
polarized on gender issues or just those with more hostile sexist views? The literature
suggests two competing hypotheses to answer this question.
Drawing on polarization literature, we should expect that ideologically divergent indi-
viduals, and those polarized over gender equality, should produce more online political
content. Alternatively, and following the literature on cultural backlash, traditionalist and
sexist individuals might be perceiving a strong bias towards gender equality in society
institutions, media, and elites. Since these individuals do not ﬁnd conﬁrmatory news
or messages for their prior beliefs on mainstream media and political institutions, they
have more incentives to search and create new content online aligned with their sexist
The present study aims at solving this puzzle by relying on online survey data from
four countries –Germany, Spain, UK and USA, which have undergone processes of
polarization and cultural backlash, and share similar levels of quality of democracy, gen-
der equality and human development. Overall, ﬁndings suggest that in Western democ-
racies ideological polarization is not directly related to UGC creation. In contrast, and
while we ﬁnd some support for polarization over sexism and UGC creation, sexist atti-
tudes per se are a more robust predictor of online political content creation, lending sup-
port to a deleterious linear association between unfavorable attitudes towards women
and their political role in the digital sphere.
Contemporary technologies provide broader channels and opportunities for citizens to
generate news content which blurs the boundaries between news consumption and
news production (Dylko & Mccluskey, 2012), especially when it comes to online news.
Prosumers of news are known as user-generated content (UGC) creators (Holton
et al., 2013). Broadly speaking, any practice of producing and circulating content related
to public aﬀairs and news may be regarded as political UGC. But who is creating and dis-
seminating this online content? Are all segments from society equally participating in the
creation of political UGC?
Interestingly, research has consistently found diﬀerences across demographics regard-
ing UGC creation and sharing (Ardèvol-Abreu et al., 2018). Men are usually more
engaged in political content creation than women, which is reﬂected on studies showing
that the blogosphere is dominated by male-created content (Meraz, 2008; Wall, 2015)
and that the gender gap may be bigger in platforms with weak-tie networks (Koc-
Michalska et al., 2021). According to this well-established literature, we expect:
H1: Women will generate less political UGC.
Some authors have explained this UGC gender gap based on internet and technologi-
cal skills (Hargittai & Shaw, 2015). Others, according to socialization theory, suggest this
might be due to women engaging in less visible political activities, and then abiding with
patriarchal norms that keep women away from the public space (Bode, 2017;Coﬀé & Bol-
zendahl, 2010). In the present research, we approach this gender gap on political UGC by
looking at its potential political antecedents. We contend that diﬀerences in UGC cre-
ation might be the result of diﬀerent processes of polarization between men and
women over ideology (Harteveld et al., 2019) and sexism (Kunst et al., 2019). While
polarization can be approached through diﬀerent dimensions and measures (DiMaggio
et al., 1996) here we adhere to Layman et al. (2006) and we consider polarization as the
increasing distance between the poles of one or more policy dimensions. Empirically, this
is usually measured by capturing the absolute distance to the average position (Thomsen,
2014; Wagner, 2021).
Ideological polarization & UGC creation
One of the most well-known gender diﬀerences in political behavior is voting. The litera-
ture on political science has established that men are more likely to vote for radical par-
ties while women vote for more moderate ones (Harteveld et al., 2019). However, it is
unclear whether these diﬀerences in party preferences reﬂect diﬀerent ideological pos-
itions or diﬀerent political motivations (Harteveld & Ivarsﬂaten, 2018).
Alike voting, the relationship between individual ideological polarization and politi-
cal UGC creation is also contested. For instance, while men are more likely to share
UGC from populist parties as compared to women, gender diﬀerences were not signiﬁ-
cant between radical and moderate parties (Bobba et al., 2018). Conversely, recent
studies have shown that grassroot party activists, from new parties with more radical
ideologies, are over-represented when it comes to create and share online content on
social media (Koiranen et al., 2020; Lobera & Portos, 2021). Others suggest that new
digital media and people’s news platform preferences fuel political
engagement (Bachmann & Gil de Zúñiga, 2013), but also ideological binaries fostered
by populist actors (Rensmann, 2017). But why would these radical parties’supporters
be more likely to engage in UCG creation? Here, explanations from the supply and
demand side provide diﬀerent responses.
On the one hand, from the supply side, alternative online news sites have been showed
to be partisan and niche-oriented instead of balanced and mass public oriented (Baum &
Groeling, 2008), which may reﬂect that online prosumers have incentives to create and
disseminate partisan online content among audiences that are small but loyal. Coupled
with users’selective exposure (Garrett, 2009), homogenous group discussions, (Dvir-
Gvirsman, 2017), and online echo-chambers where trench warfare dynamics take
place (Karlsen et al., 2017), individuals reinforce their previous attitudes and ideological
positions. The result would be a vicious cycle between polarization, consumption and
creation of online partisan content. Additionally, internet and social media lower
entry barriers for new and ideologically extremer parties and opinion leaders, who
were previously marginalized by mainstream media editorial ﬁlters (Hopster, 2020;Gil
de Zúñiga et al., 2020). Therefore, internet incentivizes polarized individuals to oﬀer
ideologically polarized content to the digital audience.
On the other hand, an ideologically polarized environment increases the demand for
ideologically polarized content. In the age of populism, ideologically polarized individ-
uals are more skeptics towards traditional media (Krämer, 2017). In turn, media skeptics
and political cynics are less likely to actively seek traditional news (Song et al., 2020), and
more likely to trust citizen media news as opposed to traditional media (Carr et al., 2014).
Indeed, more polarized and fragmented audiences are less likely to think professional
news editors perform well in selecting news publication (Steppat et al., 2021), and
while trust in traditional media does not directly predict the creation and sharing of
UGC, trust in citizen and social media news is positively associated with UGC (Ardèvol-
Abreu et al., 2018).
A joint observation of the arguments displayed above makes us believe that ideologi-
cally radical positions will be positively associated to UCG creation. More formally:
H2: Ideological polarization is positively associated with political UGC creation.
The saliency of gender issues
Although we expect a general connection between ideological radicalism and UGC, indi-
viduals’political ideology is composed of diverse preferences on diﬀerent issues, and not
all issues are equally salient across groups (Layman et al., 2006). It is reasonable to expect
that as gender issues become more salient and polarized, they will inﬂuence the gener-
ation and dissemination of online UGC.
Throughout the twentieth century, the world has witnessed a ﬂexibilization of tra-
ditional gender roles, and also a gender equality improvement across ﬁelds such as
health, education, job market and career opportunities, and politics. Although usually
at diﬀerent rates across regions, this trend is linked to changes in cultural attitudes, gen-
erally towards greater support of gender equality (Inglehart et al., 2002; Inglehart & Nor-
ris, 2001). In parallel, post-materialist social movements and parties have brought to a
public political agenda issues related to environmental concerns, human rights, econ-
omic redistribution, minorities civil rights, and also gender equality (Oﬀe, 1985). Main-
stream media has also engaged in certain attempts to improve media coverage and
perspectives of women issues (Minic, 2008), paving the way to policies promoting gender
equality such as aﬃrmative action programs (Beloshitzkaya, 2020).
As a result, diﬀerences between men and women on sexism are relatively constant but
in general moving towards a liberal-egalitarian direction (Bolzendahl & Myers, 2004;
Clark, 2017). Successive waves of feminist movements have rendered other women
more feminist. Feminist women in turn, have resulted increasingly empowered, and
are willing to politically participate both oﬄine and online (Heger & Hoﬀmann, 2021).
In response, traditionalists, perceiving a threat to their values and status, which were
once predominant, have responded negatively to these advancements, in what has been
called a cultural backlash (Norris & Inglehart, 2018). Studies indicate that while general
support for gender equality has increased over past decades, gaps in support of gender
equality are increasing between men and women. For example, men socialized after
the third wave of feminism –when conventional wisdom suggested that gender equality
was on the verge to be achieved –show a higher level of gender resentment (Jennings,
2006). As a result, some studies have found that hostile sexism –deﬁned as negative atti-
tudes towards gender equality –not only predicts increased levels of political partici-
pation in opposition to female candidates (Cassese & Holman, 2019) but also predicts
increased levels of online political expression in opposition to online feminist campaigns
(Benton-Greig et al., 2018; Kunst et al., 2019).
Therefore, the literature agrees the current polarization over gender equality is a pro-
duct of a cultural backlash process under the auspices of populism success and radical
political parties. However, less is known about how this polarization translated into
the online public sphere and UGC creation.
Competing hypotheses for the sexism and UGC relationship
Although feminist movements and cultural backlash trends have cohabited for decades,
they are becoming electorally relevant in recent times (Norris & Inglehart, 2018). If we
focus on the virtual sphere, the accounts collected in the above sections should lead us
to think that those on both extreme poles of sexism might be more active UGC creators.
For example, the landmark judicial case of ‘La Manada’in Spain led to a massive digital
response both from feminist and anti-feminist positions (Idoiaga Mondragon et al.,
2020). Throughout the internet, people aligned with feminist and anti-feminist perspec-
tives, becoming more vocal on issues related to gender. We can easily ﬁnd examples of
digital feminist activism across the board –#MeToo (Ringrose & Lawrence, 2018), as
well as the emergence of the manosphere, a digital anti-feminist activist sphere, that
has grown into the ‘dominant arena for the communication of men’s rights in Western
culture’(Ging, 2019). In short, gender equality is far from being an uncontested issue in
the digital sphere. These recent developments suggest that polarization over speciﬁc
issues, speciﬁcally gender equality, may predict online UGC:
H3: Holding extreme attitudes towards sexism will be positively associated to UGC creation
H3a: Non-sexist views will be positively associated to UCG creation
H3b: Hostile sexist views will be positively associated to UGC creation
However, it is also possible that this is not a story of a balanced relationship. Radical
traditionalist groups and individuals are increasingly taking advantage of the UGC tools
to circulate their ideological precepts (Krämer, 2017; Rensmann, 2017), such as white
supremacy (Adams & Roscigno, 2005) or hostile sexism (García-Favaro & Gill, 2016).
Since most research that identiﬁes and analyzes online traditional-authoritarian UGC
is based on content and text analysis, the extension of traditional content throughout
the internet remains unclear. It could be that nowadays sexist and non-sexist individuals
are both actively creating more UGC than before, or it could be that today sexist individ-
uals are creating more online UGC than non-sexist individuals.
While nostalgia of traditional values and old social structures among certain sectors
of Western societies can be traced back to the seventies (Inglehart, 1990), it is also
true that the cultural backlash has been reinvigorated due to the emergence of radical
right parties and movements (Inglehart, 2018; Norris & Inglehart, 2018). Today,
whenever mainstream, alternative media, or even politicians take up the issue of gen-
der equality, it tends to be framed by radical right supporters as a ‘gender ideology’
(Kováts, 2018). Indeed, radical right members often condemn mainstream media as
well as social media for marginalizing their conservative voices (Knüpfer et al.,
2020; Lawson, 2018).
Previous studies have shown how the cultural backlash and social resentment, have
been able to mobilize individuals through digital networks, fostering diﬀerent forms of
political behavior including protest, party activism and voting (Williamson et al.,
2011). We contend that following the cultural backlash theory, people who feel cultural
and social grievances as a result of a more globalized, liberal and post-materialist public
sphere (Sandel, 2018) will have more incentives to express themselves online, through the
creation of new UGC. To the extent, they perceive their grievances are being silenced by a
biased traditional media they have greater supply and demand incentives to create their
own content online (Rensmann, 2017). As mentioned before, it is particularly in the digi-
tal sphere where their cultural grievances easily resonate in online echo-chambers and
homogenous audience discussions, and they feel heard and understood by their peers.
Extreme forms of this pattern could explain online radical right movements such as
alt-right online communities (Ganesh, 2020), or the infamous incel movement
(Hoﬀman et al., 2020).
However, although there is a strong connection between hostile sexism, old tradition-
alist and radical right supporters, the gender divide is somehow transversal. First, the
gender equality issue is not equally salient for all conservatives, and not all self-identiﬁed
as conservatives hold sexist views. Similarly, people who self-identiﬁed as progressives
can still hold sexist views (Utych, 2021). Second, sexism is a diﬀerent dimension, and
it has its own politically mobilizing capacity regardless of the general ideology of the indi-
viduals. For example, previous studies have shown that hostile sexism has been able to
politically mobilize electors towards particular party options (Valentino et al., 2018)or
policy options (Green & Shorrocks, 2021). So, Finally, certain political parties in the rad-
ical right have raised speeches of pretended gender equality as a strategy to oppose
migration or to attack ethnic minorities (Moﬃt, 2017; Vochocová, 2021). So, stronger
sexist views on gender roles might have an independent eﬀect on content creation,
regardless of the ideological position of the individual.
H4: Hostile sexism is positively associated to political UGC, beyond the eﬀects of ideological
Survey procedure & sample
To address the hypotheses proposed above, the study relies on an original multi-country
cross-sectional data drawn upon Spain, Germany, UK, and USA. This project shared by
diﬀerent research groups at University of Vienna and Massey University, conducted a
massive Digital Inﬂuence World Project survey in diﬀerent countries. The research
team partnered with Nielsen to get the ﬁnal sample in each country, following stratiﬁed
quota sampling techniques according to oﬃcial demographic reported data from the
national census (Callegaro et al., 2014). The administration of the online survey was con-
ducted by the researchers with the support of Qualtrics in September of 2015.
To test whether the polarization hypothesis or the cultural backlash hypothesis was at
work, we focused on countries where the gender issue has become polarized. Thus, the
present study includes information from four countries: US (n= 1161), UK (n= 1064),
Spain (n= 1064) and Germany (n=-1053). These four countries have been experiencing
a cultural backlash in the last years while at the same time present similar levels of quality
of democracy, human development, and gender equality. It is noteworthy that responses
to the survey were collected in 2015, which was prior to massive feminist mobilization in
these countries such as the Women March in the US, and Women Strike in Spain both in
2017, as well as other worldwide online actions denouncing sexual violence against
women such as #MeToo.
Table 1 in the online appendix shows the descriptive data and reliability measures for the
main independent variable and the dependent variable, segmented by country.
User-generated content. We follow previous research on online political content creation
(Bachmann et al., 2012) to construct an index on online political UGC creation. Three
items asked respondents how often they conduct the following activities including (1
=never,7=always): (a) upload my own news and public aﬀair videos; (b) share news
links on sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit; and (c) write comments on others’
blogs or write posts on my own blog. The variable was standardized as it was eschewed
towards non UGC creation.
Hostile sexism. Our measurement on sexism is based on the short version of the Atti-
tudes toward Women Scale (AWS) which includes several items to measure sexism
(Spence et al., 1973). Since certain items might have turned obsolete (McHugh & Frieze,
1997, p. 7), AWS is now used as a measure of blatant and overt sexism as opposed to
other more subtle and covert forms of sexism (Swim & Cohen, 1997). Thus, our variable
measures ‘hostile sexism’with ﬁve items.
Respondents were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statements
(1 = completely disagree,7=completely agree): (a) the husband should be regarded as the
legal representative of the family group in all matters of law; (b) women should be con-
cerned with their duties of childbearing and house-tending, rather than with the desires
for professional and business careers, which are best left to men; (c) Women should have
as much sexual freedom as men’(reversed); (d) swearing and obscenity is more repulsive
in the speech of a woman than a man; and (e) the initiative in courtship, between a man
and a woman, should usually come from the man. As our dependent variable, hostile sex-
ism was also standardized.
We use separate models to test hypothesis 3 and 4. Since our hypothesis 3 expects a U
-shape curvilinear relationship between sexism and UGC creation, to measure the Polar-
ization over hostile sexism we obtain the absolute values of the standardized measure of
sexism. Consequently, those individuals with mean values of hostile sexism would be
assigned a value of 0 and those at –1 standard deviation and +1 standard deviation
would both be assigned a value of 1. For testing hypothesis 4, we just include the stan-
dardized measure of hostile sexism.
Ideological polarization. Following Castles and Mair (1984) ideology is measured on a
scale 0–10 where 0 = strong conservative and 10 = strong liberal. Since we are interested
in ideological polarization we follow Thomsen’s work (2014) and construct this variable
by obtaining the absolute standardized values of ideology.
We include two sets of control variables. The ﬁrst is standard media-related predictors
based on previous studies on online citizen journalism and media use. Previous studies
have shown that media use and media trust in alternative media positively predict online
news creation and in turn news creation positively predicts online and oﬄine political
participation (Ardèvol-Abreu et al., 2018). Second, skepticism of professional journalism
decreases the perception of mainstream journalism credibility but increases the perceived
credibility of citizen-generated news (Carr et al., 2014; Finn & Gil de Zúñiga, 2011).
Media consumption. Building on prior research (Diehl et al., 2019), respondents were
asked how often (1 = never,7=always) they get news from the Traditional oﬄine news
(a) TV, (b) printed newspapers; and (c) radio; and from Virtual News, including: (d)
online news sites (e) social media; and (f) citizen journalism sites (non-professional jour-
nalism, e.g., blogs).
General internet use. According to previous studies on internet skills and inequalities in
creating UGC, we include this control variable as an antecedent of internet skills (Har-
gittai & Shaw, 2015). Following Hargittai (2010) respondents were asked how many
hours per day they stay online.
Trust in media. Following previous research (Ardèvol-Abreu et al., 2018) we separately
ask respondents how much they trust (1 = do not trust at all, 7 = trust completely) (a)
news from mainstream media (e.g., newspapers, TV)and (b) news from alternative
media –For the latter, we construct and index averaging scores of two items: ‘how
much would you trust news from alternative news media (e.g., blogs, citizen journalism)’
and ‘how much would you trust news from social media.
The second set of control variables relate to standard demographics: Gender (54.2%
female), Age (M= 46.7; SD = 15.5), level of educational attainment (High School or
less: 41.5%; Some College: 20.8%, Bachelor’s Degree: 23.5%, Graduate Degree or Higher:
14.2%) and perceived own wealth (M=5.54; SD = 1.91). This last variable measures com-
parative perceptions of economic status (1 = being the people that are the least well oﬀin
society;10=being people who are the most well oﬀin society).
We run diﬀerent OLS regressions, ﬁrst with the four countries pooled together, and then
country by country. To explore link between sexism and online content creation and
sharing, we run OLS regressions estimating both curvilinear and linear eﬀects of sexism
to identify which one explains this relationship. We also performed several robustness
checks. First, we retest our hypothesis including ideology as opposed to ideological polar-
ization. Furthermore, we performed several robustness checks with a randomized sample
of democratic countries.
While the main variables of interest show a similar distribution in the four countries, cer-
tain diﬀerences are nonetheless noteworthy. As depicted in Table 1 of the supplementary
material, both UGC and sexism do not follow a normal distribution. Both are eschewed
towards lower levels of UGC and sexism, respectively. Furthermore, there are important
countries and diﬀerences (tested though Kristal Wallis and Mann Whitney U tests
respectively). Figure 1 shows UGC by country and gender. Individual outliers are labeled
by their values on sexism.
Figure 1 shows that Spanish people are more likely to post and share online content as
compared to Germany, UK or US citizens. Spanish and German women are less likely
than men to create and share online content, however, the opposite is true for UK and
US women. Regarding ‘really creative outliers’we can see a variety of sexist attitudes.
However, these outliers hold in general more sexist views on gender roles. Figure 2
shows levels of sexism by country and gender. In this case, the most sexist outliers are
labelled by their level UGC.
Figure 2 shows that both men and women tend to have egalitarian views on gender
roles in the four countries analyzed here. This is especially true for Spain where both
men and women have the lowest level of sexism when compared to the average of the
other countries. However, there are statistically signiﬁcant diﬀerences between men
and women in their median level of sexism (Mann Whitney Up < 0.001), for all countries
except for the US (marginally, p= 0.053). Again, diﬀerences are especially signiﬁcant in
Spain. Spanish men, although relatively egalitarian when compared to the rest of the
countries, hold signiﬁcantly more sexist views than Spanish women. In general terms,
men hold more sexist views than women. What is interesting here is that when looking
at the ‘sexist outliers’these seem to produce less online content.
To better understand these relationships, we performed several OLS regression
models including media and politically related variables (see Table 1).
Preliminary results when the four countries are taken all together show that once sex-
ism is considered, there are no longer diﬀerences between men and women in relation to
UGC creation against H1. Similarly, there is no consistent signiﬁcant relationship
Figure 1. Box-plots of UGC creation distribution by country and gender.
between ideological polarization and UGC once controlling for sexism (against H2).
However crucially, model 1 suggests that hostile sexism has a signiﬁcant curvilinear
(u-shaped) eﬀect on UGC creation (supporting H3).
Figure 3 shows, however, that the curve is asymmetrical. Those holding radical egali-
tarian views on gender roles are creating less content than those having radical hostile
Figure 2. Box-plots of sexism distribution by country and gender.
Table 1. OLS Regression models for all countries pooled together.
Model 1 Model 2
UGC Curvilinear UGC Linear
All countries All countries
Block 1 Socio-demographics
Gender (Female = 1) −.018 −.004
Age −.074*** −.091***
Education −.027* −.012
Income .002 −.009
ΔR ² (%) 9.89.8
Block 2 –Media use
Traditional oﬄine news −.004 −.011
Virtual news 409*** .429***
General Internet use −.015 −.016
Trust in mainstream media −.078*** −.078***
Trust in alternative media .239*** .233***
ΔR ² (%) 26.326.3
Block 3 –Ideological Polarization
Ideological polarization .021 .036**
ΔR ² (%) 0.10.1
Block 4 –Sexism
Polarization over sexism .114***
Hostile sexism .146***
ΔR ² (%) 1.22.1
N= 3811. Note: *Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.05; **Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.01; ***Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤
sexist views. Indeed, as depicted in Model 2 hostile sexism is positively associated with
UGC creation, even when controlling for ideological polarization (supporting H4).
This asymmetric U-shaped curve is also found when we perform a country-by-
country analysis (Tables 2 and 3). Both tables show how ideological polarization is
Figure 3. Curvilineal relationship between sexism and predicted standardized values of UGC creation
in the four countries.
Table 2. OLS Curvilinear regressions in four countries.
Model 3 Germany U-
Model 4 Spain U-
Model 5 UK U-
Model 6 USA U-
Block 1 Socio-demographics
Gender (Female = 1) −.028 −.027 −.016 .015
Age −.045 −.022 −.128*** −.092**
Education −.014 −.045 −.019 −.035
Income −.003 .008*** .013 .031
ΔR ² (%) 220.127.116.110.3
Block 2 –Media use
Traditional oﬄine news −.036 −013 .028 .014
Virtual news .322*** .417*** .379*** .371***
General Internet use .021 .019 −.020 .022
Trust in mainstream media −.111*** −.047 −.075** −.053
Trust in alternative media .210*** .206*** .306*** .213***
ΔR ² (%) 21.825.625.022.6
Block 3 –Ideological
Ideological polarization .061* .014 −.007 .059*
ΔR ² (%) 0.50.00.00.6
Block 4 –Sexism
Polarization over sexism .133*** .153*** .082*** .117***
ΔR ² (%) 18.104.22.168.2
Germany N= 936; Spain N= 893; UK N= 942; USA N= 1040. Note: *Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.05; **Statistically
signiﬁcant at p≤0.01; ***Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.001.
positively associated with UGC creation only in Germany and the US once sexism is
included in the analysis. Therefore, H2 is only partially supported at the country level.
However as shown in Table 2, polarization over sexism, is still signiﬁcantly and positively
associated with UGC creation in all countries. This ﬁnding suggests there is a u-shaped
relationship between hostile sexism and UGC (supporting H3).
Moreover, as depicted in Table 3 hostile sexism –in its linear form –is still statistically
and positively associated with UGC creation, even when controlled for ideological polar-
ization (supporting H4). Furthermore, Betas and the explained variance are higher in
Table 3 as opposed to Table 2 in all countries but the US.
Everything else held constant, hostile sexism is able to explain around 1% of the
observed variance in online content creation, but interesting country diﬀerences remain.
While hostile sexism explains 4.4% of variation in UGC creation in Spain, it is able to
explain a limited 0.9% of the variance in UGC creation in the US. In fact, as depicted
in Figure 4, the US U-shape curve is a little more pronounced.
Figure 4 shows the unbalance between the non-sexist and the hostile sexist voices in all
countries. It also shows that patterns of UGC creation vis a vis sexism are quite similar in
the UK and the US while in Germany and Spain, not only individuals create in general
terms more UGC, but especially hostile sexist individuals create much more UGC than
hostile sexists in the UK and the US.
As a robustness check for the eﬀects of hostile sexism, we repeat the analysis using pol-
itical ideology (0 = strong conservative; 10 = strong liberal) as opposed to ideological
polarization. In this case, the inﬂuence of conservatism is uneven throughout the
countries: in Spain, UK, and Germany it is not signiﬁcant, while in the US, progressive
people are more likely to create online content (see supplementary material). In all four
cases, H3 and H4 are supported.
Table 3. OLS Linear regressions in four countries.
Model 7 Germany
Model 8 Spain
Model 9 UK
Model 10 USA
Block 1 Socio-demographics
Gender (Female = 1) −.015 .008 .009 .020
Age −.054 −.035 −.147*** −.101***
Education .008 −.024 −.010 −.025
Income −.008 .063 −.003 .028
ΔR ² (%) 22.214.171.1240.3
Block 2 –Media use
Traditional oﬄine news −.041 −.015 .013 −.006
Virtual news .324*** .417*** .399*** .392***
General Internet use .024 .034 −.017 .027
Trust in mainstream media −.103*** −.063* −.070* −.051
Trust in alternative media .195*** .206*** .274*** .211***
ΔR ² (%) 21.825.625.022.6
Block 3 –Ideological
Ideological polarization .078** .017 .016 .076**
ΔR ² (%) 0.50.00.00.6
Block 4 –Sexism
Hostile sexism .166*** .218*** .195*** .097***
ΔR ² (%) 126.96.36.199.9
Germany N= 936; Spain N= 893; UK N= 942; USA N= 1041. Note: *Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.05; **Statistically sig-
niﬁcant at p≤0.01; ***Statistically signiﬁcant at p≤0.001;
Marginally signiﬁcant at p≤0.1
While many scholars have showed a gender gap in UGC creation, most studies have cen-
tered around the role of media and technological skills and socio-psychological traits in
explaining these disparities. Less attention has been paid to political antecedents that
might also aﬀect the gender gap on UGC. This paper investigated how hostile sexism
aﬀects online UGC, in a context of cultural backlash and increased political polarization.
By analyzing the diﬀerent drivers of UCG creation, and considering sexist attitudes in
diﬀerent countries, we uncover a consistent, positive, and statistically signiﬁcant relation-
ship between sexism and UGC creation. Speciﬁcally, individuals with higher levels of
hostile sexism are more likely to create and share their own online political content. Sex-
ism reveals to be a diﬀerent phenomenon from classical conservatism.
These ﬁndings suggest strong support for the cultural backlash hypothesis. At odds
with previous literature, we do not ﬁnd consistent evidence that ideologically polarized
individuals are more likely to create their own online content (only Germany and the
US follows this U-shaped pattern). We do ﬁnd an asymmetric U-shape curvilinear
relationship between sexism and political UGC creation in all countries where hostile
sexists create much more content than non-sexist individuals. Individuals holding sexist
attitudes are statistically signiﬁcantly most vocal at creating online political content. A
possible explanation for this, is that sexist individuals believe their hierarchical views
Figure 4. Curvilinear relationship between sexism and predicted standardized values of UGC in each
of society are marginalized from the ‘oﬃcial discourse of political correctness’(Haller &
Holt, 2018; Kováts, 2018) and therefore, they engage more frequently in online content
creation, as a way of scaping ostracism. Due to asymmetry of the curvilinear eﬀect in our
data, results suggest that feminist and anti-feminist voices are not equally active in the
digital sphere. Sexists prevail.
Second, although we found the same general pattern between hostile sexism and UGC
creation in all four Western countries analyzed here, there are still interesting diﬀerences
between countries, endorsing comparative strategies on these issues to properly assess the
extent to which these results could be generalizable to other Western societies. For
example, the ideological polarization hypothesis works only for Germany and the US,
but not for Spain and the UK. Another interesting diﬀerence is that the curve is more
symmetric in the US than in the other countries. This means that in Spanish, British
and German UGC ecologies, sexist voices are more present than non-sexist opponents
and that in the US non-sexists individuals are relatively more active in the creation of
political UGC as opposed to their counterparts in other countries. Several possible expla-
nations might be behind these diﬀerences such as the distinct levels of society polariz-
ation (both ideological and over gender) in each country, the visibility of women in
politics as candidates and political oﬃce holders, the diverse media structures and its
ideological polarization, and the diﬀerent scope of each national feminist movement.
All these elements can impact the relationship between sexism and UGC creation.
Further research should shed more light on the speciﬁcinﬂuence of these elements on
the relationship between sexism and UGC.
To do so, up-to-date data would be certainly needed. Indeed, one important limitation
in this research is that data was collected in 2015. Readers need to be aware that at the
time, in the US Hillary Clinton was already the front runner candidate for the Demo-
cratic nomination, and she ran speciﬁcally on a gender equality discourse. So, the appar-
ent more moderate relationship between sexism and UGC creation in the US was maybe
inﬂuenced by the casuistry of that election. Another potential caveat we must consider is
that the most recent wave of online and oﬄine feminism has emerged after the data for
this study was collected. It is evident that online actions such as #MeToo in the Anglo-
sphere, #WomensMarch in the US, #8M in Spain or # aufschrei in Germany might have
increased the voices of feminist women throughout the world and the World Wide Web
(Drüeke & Zobl, 2016; Heger & Hoﬀmann, 2021; Mendes et al., 2018). Perhaps, with
some of these visible feminist movements transpiring into society, future studies on
this topic may showcase a more pronounced symmetric curvilinear eﬀect than the one
we have found with 2015 data. Anyhow, we are conﬁdent about the robustness of the
uncovered relationship between sexism and UGC since the basic underlying mechanisms
and motivations inﬂuencing UGC creation have remained stable over the years (Ardèvol-
Abreu et al., 2018).
Furthermore, although time and the existence of feminist movements can re-shape the
relationship between sexism and UGC into a more curvilinear fashion, the fact that we
have found a greater linear relationship across the diﬀerent countries gives interesting
and generalizable information about the original connection between sexism and UGC.
The fact that the survey was conducted in 2015 can give us therefore insight into whether
the polarization over gender in the digital sphere followed the same temporal sequence as
in the oﬄine public sphere –mainstream egalitarian discourse followed by a sexist
backlash –or whether on the internet, sexists were mainstream, whereas egalitarian voices
became the alternative minority. Our ﬁndings suggest the latter tends to be the case.
If new research ﬁnds a more symmetric representation of voices in the digital sphere
this will be good news for egalitarian views on gender roles in general, and it will also
show the inﬂuence of online and oﬄine activism on reducing sexist bias within the digital
sphere. But based on our data, we should take with a grain of salt the oftentimes argu-
ment of the digital sphere serving as a representative arena to diﬀerent political and gen-
These ﬁndings shed important implications for democratic theory, speciﬁcally for the
debates over the digital sphere as a democratic deliberative space. Previous studies found
that UGC creation fosters civic engagement (Kaufhold, et al., 2010; Nah et al., 2014), but
future research should more deeply scrutinize potential asymmetries in digital partici-
pation that seem to reinforce privileged individuals with more hierarchical views of gender
relations. Furthermore, since sexist online UGC has been found to foster exclusionary
practices online (Drakett et al., 2018), and reinforce sexism among its own creators (Fox
et al., 2015), the implications for the world wide web as a participatory, deliberative and
civic sphere that fosters democracy and emancipation should in any event be taken with
prudence, at least with regard to gender equality issues. All in all, the present study clariﬁes
important issues revolving the role of sexism in hindering a more equalitarian development
of digital political spaces, where women tend to be less represented.
The authors are grateful to James Liu and everyone involved in the ‘Digital Inﬂuence World Pro-
ject’who helped collecting these data. This research was supported by Grant FA2386-15-1-0003
from the Asian Oﬃce of Aerospace Research and Development. Responsibility for the information
and views set out in this study lies entirely with the authors’.
1. We test our model in other countries that either have similar levels of gender equality, devel-
opment and democracy (New Zealand, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) or do not pre-
sent similar level of democracy and gender equality however where processes of cultural
backlash have been documented at some point between 2015 and 2020 (Argentina, Brazil
2. Additionally, after randomly applying the model to other countries, H4 is supported in 7 out
of 8: New Zealand, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. However, H3
was only supported in New Zealand, Argentina and Chile.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by Asian Oﬃce of Aerospace Research and Development: [grant number
Notes on contributors
Isabel Inguanzo is a sociologist and holds a Ph.D. in political science. She is an Assistant Professor
at the University of Salamanca. Prior to that she was Assistant Professor at Universidad Loyola
Andalucía (2016–2020) and worked at the UNESCO Regional Oﬃce for the Paciﬁc States in
Samoa (2014–2015). She has also worked as a consultant, for the European Parliament. Her
research is primarily on Comparative Politics, Social Movements and Minorities’studies, with a
particular focus on Gender and Ethnic studies. She has published JCR peer-reviewed journal
articles (i.e., Contemporary Politics) [email: firstname.lastname@example.org].
Bingbing Zhang is a doctoral student in Mass Communications at the Donald P. Bellisario College
of Communications from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States. She obtained a
master’s degree on Mass Communications from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree on
Journalism and Communications from Jinan University in China. Her research interests focus on
political communication and media eﬀects on individuals’political beliefs, attitudes, and
behaviors [email: email@example.com].
Homero Gil de Zúñiga holds a Ph.D. in Politics at Universidad Europea de Madrid and a Ph.D. in
Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin –Madison, serves as Distinguished Research
Professor at the University of Salamanca where he directs the Democracy Research Unit (DRU), as
Professor at Pennsylvania State University, and as Senior Research Fellow at Universidad Diego
Portales, Chile. His research addresses the inﬂuence of new technologies and digital media over
people’s daily lives, as well as the eﬀect of such use on the overall democratic process. He has pub-
lished nearly a dozen books/volumes and over 100 JCR peer-reviewed journal articles (i.e., Journal
of Communication, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Political Communication,
Human Communication Research, New Media & Society, Communication Research, etc)
Isabel Inguanzo http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9784-8408
Bingbing Zhang http://orcid.org/0000-0002-8674-1023
Homero Gil de Zúñiga http://orcid.org/0000-0002-4187-3604
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