Does social media perpetuate a certain type of Feminism?
Mainstream Feminist discourse has been criticised for failing to be inclusive of all women. Bell Hooks points out that the individual opportunism of wealthy white women, predominantly in the US, undermines the appeal for the collective struggle of women. These women can be characterised as ‘college educated, middle and upper class, married white women-housewives bored with leisure, with the home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life’. Their struggle for emancipation thus ‘ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women’. In other words, wealthy white women fail to recognise the various intersections of identity which determine an individual’s experience of being a woman.
In light of this criticism of Feminism, we have decided to look at how the emergence of social media influences the inclusivity of Feminism, and want to ask whether it perpetuates this narrow focus or serves as a means to ‘democratise’ the feminist movement. We think that social media is an important indicator of the feminist movement because it is a tool of Globalisation, and provides a relatively accessible Global community which is fundamental to Globalisation as the internationalisation of not only markets, goods and services but also of ideas and cultures.
Whilst we accept that there are some restrictions to access to social media globally, it remains more accessible than previous platforms for Feminist discourse, which have required women to be of high social status and to be qualified to voice their opinion. For this reason, studying Feminist presence on social media is a useful tool to understanding how women, from all backgrounds, are able to participate in shaping Feminist discourse.
Zuniga, Jung and Valenzuela’s research shows that social media has positively influenced civic participation – a positive correlation is evident between the social media website, SNS, and individual engagement with governmental matters. Social media promotes different perspectives and unites individuals, and they can exist in a supportive cyber community and feel motivated to vote, where in the past, they may have been ambivalent. We decided to test this same school of thought with regards to feminism.
This particular research is focused within 2000 to present day, with much of our findings occurring as recently as two weeks ago. Our decision to refine our work to the twenty-first century was based heavily on the overhaul that feminism has been subject to. Feminism is contradiction. It is no longer viewed as a controversial topic, while simultaneously sparking uproar, and feminists themselves are not stereotyped as they once were, while also being criticised under microscopes by people across the world. Social media has undeniably influenced how feminism is perceived, and the joys and dangers of this are that such opinions and perceptions can now be promoted and spread to millions of others, through the use of social media. Online activity is impacting offline feminism, and the question that we pose is as follows: does social media perpetuate a particular type of feminism?
Smith argues that ‘feminism is the political theory and practice that struggles to free all women: women of color, working class women, poor women, disabled women, lesbians, old women—as well as white, economically privileged, heterosexual women. Anything less than this vision of total freedom is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement’ (Smith 1990, 25). It appears that we exist in a society where only the second part of this is true. Ethnic minorities, transgender, homosexual and working class women have found themselves underrepresented in the past, but is this changing in the digital age?
We need to include our hypotheses in the introduction, one of mine is –
H1: social media usage increases offline feminist activism
This follows Zuniga, Jung and Valenzuela’s pattern of hypotheses, so it isn’t outlandish to say, but it also relates to our own argument.
I will also add some stats to justify our choice of social media websites ie how many users are on each and how many countries have access to them – I included this in a blog post but just need to copy and paste.
- Jamila Chapter Arguing social media helps to democratise feminism + one opposing paper
Whilst critiques of feminism have often focused on the movement’s inability to be inclusive of all women, Steiner and Eckert, in 2016, published a paper which argues that twitter has the potential to democratise the feminist movement. Whilst intersectional inequalities have dictated that white wealthy women have had a monopoly on feminist discourse, primarily because of the wider range of opportunities open to them which have allowed them to become the most qualified, platforms such as twitter are increasingly accessible and so provide a platform for more marginalised women.
They go on to point out that, of Americans who have access to the internet, 22% of black people use twitter in comparison to 16% of white people. The idea, here, is that Twitter is clearly a platform which is available to historically marginalised voices, thus has great potential to make social movements more inclusive, as well as easily globally distributed.
Although Steiner and Eckert analyse the use of Twitter in the US alone, and demonstrate it provides a voice to those who are marginalised within US society specifically, their findings suggest that access to social media has the potential to give globally marginalised women a platform to express their views, or feel included in debate.
The question, then, is whether mere access to social media empowers women globally to have a profound input in Feminist discourse. Though Steiner and Eckert make a valid point about the accessibility of platforms, they do not explore whether or not access to this platform has any real significance in shaping Feminist debate.
Jones argues that social media, in particular Twitter, offers a problematic portrayal of Feminism because it erases the opportunity for any nuance in argument. Furthermore, mere accessibility of the platform is not sufficient to show that Feminist messages have global reach or offer universal empowerment to all women.
In order to explore whether social media is an opportunity to democratise Feminism, or if it merely perpetuates the dominant voice of wealthy white women, we will now explore some prominent Feminist hashtags, the messages the portray and their global reach. (it doesn’t).
- Anastasia: HeForShe Movement.
Address the global aspect of Feminism.
HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women initiated by the UN. It started in 2014, when the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson attended the campaign event and made a speech that quickly became one of the Internet’s most discussed video. HeForShe became a relatively popular hashtag and drew considerable public attention.
Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically—HeForShe seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as “a struggle for women by women”.
Within the first three days of the campaign, 100 000 men got involved into the programme, including the former US president Barack Obama, the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as some famous actors.
As part of their ambitious plan, HeForShe launched the IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, which aims at engaging the “key decision makers in governments, corporations, and universities around the world to drive change from the top”. The project encourages institutions to implement specific strategies that will promote gender equality and provide for a harmonious society, where women and men are treated equally. The institutions, which adopt the IMPACT framework, sign the Women’s Empowerment Principles and implement suggested empowerment-focused activities. Further, every institution participating in the IMPACT programme has to submit a detailed report on the results achieved, with measured progress on achieving equality.
Further, as students, we decided to collect some information on the campaign’s achievements in the field of education. Here is what the 2016 report said:
“In total, the ten universities have committed to monitoring their progress on 30 commitments. 70% of IMPACT Champions have committed to closing the gender gap in administration; 40% have committed to closing the gender gap in academia; 30% have committed to creating centers of excellence in gender equality; and 40% have committed to ending violence on campus”
The group of 10 IMPACT universities span across eight countries on five continents, including Georgetown University, USA; Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), France; Nagoya University, Japan; the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong; the University of Leicester, UK; University of Oxford, UK; the University of São Paulo, Brazil. However, it is not very clear what exactly has been done to close the gender gap and end violence on campus. Nevertheless, the Oxford University website showed numerous pages as a result of typing HeForShe into the search bar.
In its turn, the ‘news’ tab of HeForShe website appears to be updated not on a regular basis. The latest dated post is from September 2017.
Overall, the campaign has an ambitious plan, but it has also faced a lot of criticism from both women and men. Here are the main points of criticism to consider:
HeForShe is not really trying to engage men in conversation about feminism and equality, but simply asks them to join the movement
Contradictory statements about gender:
The Symbol of
The HeForShe logo unites traditional icons of gender to create a new symbol for our shared humanity. Its dynamic shape and strong contrast remind us what’s possible when unique individuals stand together for the benefit of all.
HeForShe believes gender isn’t binary. How would you like to be counted?
But the logo shows only two genders!
Launched by the UN, HeForShe is a politically involved campaign, which has numerously stated its global significance. In the age of an easy access to information, Internet and international news, such a project seems to be a perfect platform for a truly global movement. However, we decided to check how popular has it got since its foundation in 2014.
How global is it on the social media?
254 796 instagram posts under the hashtag #heforshe
369 k followers on Twitter
229 k followers on Instagram
566 k followers on Facebook
28 m followers on Twitter (Emma Watson)
44.2 m followers on Instagram (Emma Watson)
Problem of inclusivity
EW claims that women will be free when men are free from their own insecurities and that things will change for women as natural consequences => women need men while men do not need women to be free => this creates inequality, not eliminates it.
“If men don’t have to control, women don’t have to be controlled”, “if men don’t have to be aggressive, women don’t have to be submissive” => falling into gender stereotypes, not breaking free from them
The campaign makes too heavy emphasis on women’s dependence on men’s opinion and support; Emma Watson grants men the leading role in the campaign.
Vagueness: there is no clear data or statistics on gender-related problems faced by women
=> men are expected to join the campaign without any relevant and important knowledge => men really have no idea what it is like to be a woman in a modern world => inactive men => inactive campaign
Asks men to speak and act FOR women rather than TOGETHER WITH them => are we expecting men to solve women’s problems? Is that real feminism?
What kind of feminism are they propagating? Passive, men-reliant?
UN could have used its high political status in order to launch a stronger and better thought-through campaign.
- Sandi: Hashtags on Feminism– do these help change our perspective? Who do they include in their message- are they intersectional? How many tweets used the hashtag- how broad was their reach?
Hypothesis- they are intersectional but probably have less of an audience than more mainstream hashtags.
Hashtags are a short and sweet way to express one’s opinion on current affairs, as proven when Twitter and Facebook were flooded by a sea of “#MeToo”s over the past few months. Hashtags are no longer considered irrelevant to serious issues – just look at #Brexit and #VoteLeave in the lead up to the 2016 referendum. We all know how that ended, so perhaps such social media did have a degree of influence in winning over Brexiteers.
But, do supposedly ‘feminist’ hashtags contribute anything to feminist movements? I remember tweeting #StandWithWendy to support the state representative throughout her thirteen-hour-long filibuster, executed so that women would not be subject to repressive, male-run, abortion reforms. I think that many would argue that this is a prime example of slacktivism, however, the hashtag was a great way to unite people who shared the same stance on a crucial issue, and I argue that hashtags can assist in forming online communities which have the power to further a movement.
Of course, hashtagging is all good and well, but is it influential in perpetuating a feminism that is wholly inclusive? The short answer is: sort of. Mock created #GirlsLikeUs to raise awareness to the adversity that transgender women are faced with, particularly as they are often underrepresented by traditional mainstream feminism, catering to the white, middle class woman. It is now a quick way for people to search for more information and establish an online community, with 385 873 posts on Instagram using the hashtag. Another example is #BlackGirlMagic, started by Thompson, to celebrate the power and resilience that black women have demonstrated. This particular hashtag has been used almost 8 million times on Instagram, promoting an intersectional feminism, doing so in a more personal way than could be allowed by other media, such as newspapers or television. #NotYourAsianSidekick, to represent Asian American women who often find themselves the objects of prejudice, has only been used 1073 times. The use of hashtagging to promote intersectional feminism seems unpredictable – there are a multitude of things that contribute to a hashtag’s success. Algorithms of social media websites mean that hashtagged posts simply aren’t shown to users unless they have a certain amount of engagement (likes and comments) within the first ten minutes of posting. This has the power to kill a hashtag movement before it can begin. The wording of a hashtag can invoke anger at being aimed at a certain social group, with some people believing that this divides rather than unites. This is counterintuitive given that minorities are underrepresented by mainstream feminism, and puts forward the notion that we cannot advance intersectional feminism until we have addressed these concerns.
Scholarly understandings of hashtag feminism are always evolving. Khoja-Moolji of Columbia notes the power of #BringBackOurGirls in rallying support, but realises that it could be more effective when combined with real, offline activism. This raises and interesting concept: individuals have a tendency to be more outspoken and brave on social media, where they would be highly unlikely to do so in a real-life situation. Loza, however, points out that social media could be the means by which feminism is revolutionised: ‘social media has made it possible for women of colour to speak to each other across borders and boundaries’. The internet is a wonderful thing, where, if one has access to it, they have equal ability to make social media accounts – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are not the sole property of one particular race. This means that everyone has equal ability to have their voices heard, and thus, equal opportunity to give feminism the intersectional qualities that it has been lacking.
However, what about locations where there is limited access to social media (such as North Korea)? These women are still faced with the same issues, but how can they be liberated?
Perpetuating a non-inclusive feminism – Emma Watson as representation, excludes the working class by going to universities, excludes transgender
- Federica: Hollywood`s TimesUp movement:
– While Ana has provided an example for the exclusion of women from the feminist discourse, we shall now turn our attention to the other side of the spectrum and consider a case study where men are being ignored by the discussion
– The TimesUp movement was founded on January 1 by 300 of Hollywood`s leading women who published an open letter in the New York Times and Spanish newspaper La Opinion in order to address and fight sexual harassment, rape and gender inequality in the workplace, regardless of the victims` class, culture, race, or religion.
– However, judging form the statement`s choice of words it appears to exclusively address female victims and ignore the many cases in which men fell victims to sexual harassment as Kevin Spacey`s example proves where he assaulted a younger man.
– this hypocritical attitude is damaging the movement`s success meaning, that it reinforces the idea of positioning the sexes against each other, as opposed to uniting them in order to work on a solution together
– The result of this cycle eventually has a negative impact on the campaign`s efficacy, success and authenticity which can further be demonstrated on the example of the Oscars.
– The 90th Academy Awards took place on the 4th of March this year and – in theory – provided an ideal platform to promote TimesUp and attract global attention seeing that millions were following the ceremony online or from their homes on TV. In fact, according to Twitter, the hashtag #TimesUp was retweeted over 500,000 times from more than 100 countires within the first hour of the ceremony, which suggests international interest and participation in the movement`s cause.
– In practice, reality looked different:
– For example did the Academy still promote and award several men accused of sexual misconduct. Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey might have been banned from the event, but they still awarded Kobe Bryant, winner for Dar Basketball who was charged with sexual assault in 2003
– Or Gary Oldman who accepted his trophy for The Darkest Hour despite having been accused of sexual assault in 2001.
– This year`s Oscars also saw the fewest female participants nominees and participants since 2012
– And the statistics revealed for 2017 and 2018`s prospective figures show that women are still extremely underrepresented across the film industry:
8% of directors
10% of writers
2% of cinematographers
24% of producers
14% of editors
– Now, what can we learn from this? Well, it shows that movements such as TimesUp and HeForShe appear to be successful online but keep failing offline
– Why? For starters because of the superficiality of online feminism: to keep it simple: it is easy to support feminism on social media, use hashtags, tweet and retweet, and then forget about it in real life.
– Secondly because of the exclusivity mentioned earlier: feminism is not a gendered issue but concerns the whole of society. Its promotion therefore requires the attention and participation of everyone, men and women.
– Overall, we therefore came to the conclusion that social media, including hashtags, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts seem to have become a convenient substitution for real life actions by perpetuating a non-inlcusive, superficial, commercialised type of feminism
Commercial Feminism- International Women’s Day 2018. Jamila
Disney has a Twitter following of 5.88 million, McDonalds of 3.57 million and coca cola an Instagram following of 2.4 million. These are 3 examples of countless multinational brands who showed their support of International Women’s Day.
Similarly to criticisms of the TimesUp movement, these brands seem to perpetuate a superficial, performative brand of feminism which allows them to give the message to consumers that they are in support of the Feminist movement, potentially without any meaningful action beyond these posts.
All 3 brands can be criticised for this online performativity, because their profiles as multinational companies have been associated with the exploitation of workers and consumers globally. McDonald’s gesture has been dubbed a cheap PR stunt, with one Twitter user responding ‘incredible, now give your workers a living wage’. Similarly, though Disney’s message seemingly supports women, the brand still utilises sweatshops which outsource exploit workers globally in order to manufacture their products. Coca cola, in its many years as an established brand, has been criticised of multiple exploitative practices, which have a disproportionate effect on non-Western nations.
The exact details of this exploitation are not relevant, but the notion of commercial or superficial activism which is prevalent on social media. Though this does not seem to be an overwhelmingly gendered issue, these brands do seem to fall to Bell Hooks’ criticism of Western feminism. They appeal to their white, Western, middle class consumer with no regard for the people, including women, who they exploit in the process of manufacturing. Therefore, performative Feminism by brands online seems to be a means to present a superficially progressive message without taking any action to remedy the working conditions of the women who work for them.
- Conclusion– yes social media does perpetuate a certain kind of feminism. Why should we care? Statistics?
Overall, Steiner and Eckert do make a point that the accessibility of social media platforms offers the opportunity to drastically democratise feminism, giving the most marginalised women a platform to voice their opinions and concerns.
However, contrary to this, our research in social media trends about Feminism, particularly on Twitter, suggests that this goal has not been met. Though there are some trends which offer an intersectional approach to feminism, such as #BlackGirlMagic, #GirlsLikeUs and #EffYourBeautyStandards, they are comparatively less popular than trends such as HeForShe and TimesUp. Whilst HeForShe has been criticised for failing to be inclusive to all women, TimesUp seems to perpetuate a performative feminism which allows individuals to superficially support the movement without any profound action beyond social media.
Similarly, multinational corporations’ online support of the feminist movement is not indicative of any change in their functioning to actually support women. Their outsourcing and exploitation of workers shows that their feminist messages are catered only for their western, wealthy consumers.
Therefore, it seems that social media does perpetuate a certain type of feminism. Not only does this mean that it overwhelmingly caters for a very narrow demographic of women, but that the ability to superficially support the movement on platforms such as Twitter does little to progress the feminist movement.
Overall, though social media is an accessible tool of globalisation, it is insufficient in providing a means for all women to participate, and be equally heard, in the feminist movement.
- Overwhelmingly caters for white/ wealthy/ middle class women- even though there is space for other demographics, their voices are less heard- need a more significant platform.
- Gives people a way to be performative/ superficially support the movement.
- (This is just a draft if any of you disagree/ think it’s missing something then let me know!)
Bell Hooks, ‘Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory’, in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (New York: Routledge, 2015).
Linda Steiner and Stine Eckert, ‘The Democratic Potential of Feminist Twitter’, in Race and Gender in Electronic Media: Content, Context, Culture, ed. by Rebecca Ann Lind (New York: Routledge, 2016).
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The Problems with UN’s new campaign He for She: The UN’s campaign may reinforce the very inequality it is trying to erase, https://medium.com/legendary-women/the-problems-with-uns-new-campaign-he-for-she-the-uns-campaign-may-reinforce-the-very-inequality-e5c4ebe83432 [Last accessed: 28.3.2018]
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Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Nakwon Jung, Sebastián Valenzuela: Social Media Use for News and Individuals’ Social Capital, Civic Engagement and Political Participation <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2012.01574.>
Shenila Khoja-Moolji : Becoming an “Intimate Publics”: Exploring the Affective Intensities of Hashtag Feminism <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14680777.2015.1008747?needAccess=true>