Dismantling the patriarchy with every keystroke
If you log onto Facebook nowadays, you’re more than likely to be bombarded with links, articles, BuzzFeed quizzes and more. One of the main topics more and more viral sites like BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog, Upworthy and Bustle are writing about is feminism.
Modern feminism has taken to the internet as one of its main forms of spreading the message of dismantling the patriarchy. A quick Google search of “feminism” results in more than 37,000,000 hits — everything from memes to “craftivism” to quizzes to GIFs to photo projects exists with a feminist bent. Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN released in the fall of 2014 spread across Facebook like wildfire. FCKH8, an organization in support of equality and LGBTQ+ rights, released a video of “Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism,” which exploded across the internet in late October 2014. BuzzFeed asked its users in February to submit responses to the question, “Tell us what sparked your feminist awakening.”
Despite the increase in awareness, some experts express concern that the feminist internet buzz undermines the seriousness of the movement. A 2013 Huff Post/YouGov poll found that only 23 percent of women and 16 percent of men considered themselves feminists, but the internet may be changing that number.
The internet has provided a space for feminists to connect and bond across nations. Wikipedia has pages dedicated to both “cyberfeminism” and “networked feminism.” With the explosion of social media in the past few years, feminists and other social justice movements have seized the opportunity to share their message with the world.
Vanessa Valenti, co-founder of the site Feministing.com, said the term “viral feminism” takes on many different names.
“I’ve heard of many variations — ‘online feminism,’ ‘Twitter feminism,’ et cetera,” Valenti said. “I define online feminism as a feminist innovation that harnesses the power of online media platforms to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice.”
In today’s feminist movement, sometimes referred to as “fourth-wave feminism” in historical and academic circles, the internet is a key player in spreading information. According to feminist activist Jennifer Baumgardner, in her book F’em: Goo Goo, Gaga and Some Thoughts on Balls, the “fourth wave” really began in approximately 2008, coinciding with the 2008 primary elections.
“A critical mass of younger feminists began expressing themselves. They were tech-savvy and gender-sophisticated,” Baumgardner wrote.
Feminists moved on from zines and punk shows to blogs, Twitter, Facebook and their own websites.
“Social media is basically the town square of the feminist movement,” Dana Edell, executive director of SPARK, which stands for Sexualization Protest, Action, Resistance, Knowledge, said. SPARK is a “intergenerational feminist activist space” where girls and women of all ages, nationalities and ethnicities can collaborate to take action on issues that impact women’s lives by organizing trainings, lectures, and, films, as well as facilitating discussions and other action projects.
“We could [not] exist without technology and the internet,” Edell said of her organization. “We communicate daily in a private Facebook group — girls from eight countries and throughout the United States — and also we have two online chats every month, and we try to do various video conference calls as well.”
The benefits of the internet and its use in all types of social justice activities are huge, Valenti said.
“The internet allows us to create a bigger and rapid kind of activism; never in the history of activism have we been able to mobilize thousands of people in a matter of minutes,” she said. “The internet also allows us to reshape and reclaim a lot of sexist, racist, transphobic content we see in the media, by allowing us to create new creative media that subverts that.”
But spreading the movement online does have some drawbacks, as some feminist experts have noted.
“Social media also has its issues — trolling and online harassment is rampant and specifically targets women,” Edell said.
These are problems that continue to exist in the present day, especially because it is so easy to disguise your identity on the web, Valenti said.
“Online harassment and online misogyny is pretty prevalent, especially because the internet allows for anonymity,” she said.
One of the most aggressive turns feminism has taken, especially in the Tumblr-verse, is a casual attitude toward misandry. Selfies of women drinking out of “male tears” mugs consistently get many likes, comments and reblogs. The popularity of cross-stitched patterns declaring support for “misandry” surrounded by flowers concern some members of the movement who think extreme ‘jokes’ encourage and reinforce the stereotype of “man-hating feminazis,” or feminists who want to eliminate the men completely.
Valenti said most feminists use misandrist terms in jest.
“I know a lot of feminists, and I have never met one who is an actual misandrist,” she said. “When talking about misandry, it’s usually in a humorous way to mock the men’s rights activists and other haters who like to think that we’re intent on the destruction of men, which is ridiculous.”
Samantha Guter is a junior journalism major who spends her spare time Googling feminist gifs. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.