Undergraduate Research

Ari Henry '23

OUR Featured Researcher: Ari Henry '23

Photo credit: Jacob Strauss
Photo credit: Jacob Strauss

Ari Henry (he/she/they) is a History major conducting mentored research under Professor Meredith Gadsby. Her project is titled “ Unhand Me: Misogynoir in the Digital Sphere". 

Please describe your project: 

I will be observing and analyzing antiblack misogyny in digital spaces, specifically on the platforms 4chan, 8chan, TikTok, and Twitter.The purpose of studying platforms which are so drastically different from one another is to illustrate the fact that, across the digital sphere, misogynoir is unflinching in its prevalence. The platform is irrelevant; the only differing factor is the appearance of misogynoir, based on what the users find acceptable for each one. Using Black feminist theory for a proper lens, alongside a historiographical approach, I will be interrogating the matter of how we’ve arrived at this particular moment of digital misogynoir.

A brief summary of your research: 

I will be analyzing memes/trends on social media which are rooted in and thrive on antiblack misogyny.

Why is your research important? 

My research is important because it concerns the digital sphere, specifically social media, which is an aspect of life which is impossible to ignore. That misogynoir is so prevalent on every platform means that harmful ideas and stereotypes are circulating, largely unchecked, and with no interrogation as to how or why it is happening. My work seeks to illuminate misogynoir as a core aspect of the digital sphere and, hopefully, serve as a check to it.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

Because the core of my work is archiving digital media, I usually find a quiet space to work while I go to one of my target platforms and look for harmful content. When I’m not archiving, however, I’m reading and analyzing Black feminist theory, and synthesizing it with the contents of my archives.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field? What are your findings so far?

One of the most notable observations I’ve made is that the sweeping majority of digital misogynoir is completely unprovoked and fueled by an obsessive vitriol. Just about everything in my archive comes from individuals speaking about Black women as a group, rather than specifically speaking directly to or about one Black woman.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

Over the summer, I did a presentation at the Oberlin Summer Research Institute research symposium.

How did you get involved in research? 

I told one of my professors, who has since left, that I wanted to be a professor, and she urged me to apply for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. I spoke to a member of the Africana Studies Department, Dr. Alexis, and she affirmed that the project I was conceptualizing would be important work. From there, I was secure in the fact that I wanted to pursue this research, and that is exactly what happened.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My research generally doesn’t make me feel any positive emotions, for the most part; however—there is often a moment, when I’m reading theory, where a Black feminist perfectly articulates something that I have been feeling or thinking. That is very literally the only enjoyable part of my work. 

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?  

Professor Gadsby is easily one of the most astute people I’ve ever encountered in my life. Her input on my work and what she believes I should do has given me immense clarity for what I want my project to be. Her guidance has been absolutely invaluable.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?   

This research, because there is not a lot of scholarship concerning it, has forced me to significantly improve my synthesis skills, as I have to provide theory and historical context for my digital observations. In line with this, I have also improved my visual and auditory analyses and my observational skills in general.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

The work which you are engaging in is bigger than you. That does not make it more important than you.