Technology and the Future of Feminism
Recently, I feel like I've been asked quite a bit about the way that technology is influencing the next generation of feminists. I have a basic answer at the ready, a couple bullet points I hit, largely based on the chapter in "A Little F'd Up" on the topic. I usually talk about my experiences here on the FBomb, how while traditional, on-the-ground activism is definitely still necessary, online activism most accurately meets young women where they already are: it is a practical answer to the reality of how we express ourselves, find information, develop our personas and spend our time and optimizes our abilities to benefit this movement. But lately, I've started to think about how technology specifically has shaped not only the so-called "fourth wave's" feminist identity, but how it truly is a form of activism.
The first major aspect of feminist blogging as activism is its ability to allow young women to establish a voice.The act of writing about our beliefs and our experiences is itself a feminist act. There are so few outlets that allow young women to express themselves on an emotional level and even fewer that encourage us to express our intellect. The media encourages us to buy into images and depictions that objectify us and belittle our intelligence. We are rarely given the opportunity to push back – in fact, we’re actively discouraged to. Feminist communities like the FBomb, as well as individually curated blogs, allow young women to become comfortable with not only developing our opinions and ideas, but to publicly publish them – to refuse to buy into a culture that encourages our silence and subservience.
While previous waves of feminism encouraged consciousness-raising meetings or, more recently, zine-creation, neither parallel the visibility and potential reach blogging allows. There is something more public and transparent about blogging – while the goals of all three of these tactics may be similar, the first two are largely private endeavors, or at least endeavors confined to the feminist community where as blogging has the ability to garner support from the blogosphere, and internet, at large. This visibility makes it that much harder for the greater public to ignore our voices, and works to dispel negative stereotypes and myths about feminists and this movement by allowing us to speak for ourselves.
A second essential attribute of feminist blogging is the communityit fosters. Feminist blogging is not just about emitting countless powerful voices into the greater consciousness, which is undeniably activism in its own right. It’s also about feeling heard and building supportive relationships. I’ve witnessed first-hand the ability of the internet to open up young women and feminists to a vast community of like-minded peers from whom we can derive support and with whom we can share knowledge. The power of this cannot be underestimated, especially for young women, like myself, who grew up in environments that were less than hospitable to feminist action.
While establishing our voices and a strong community is one of the great strengths of feminist blogging, critics often imply that this is our only means of activism, and that it is insufficient. The argument seems to be that we’re not organizing on-the-ground, and by failing to do so are sacrificing visibility and failing to achieve real change. We’re told that feminist blogging is a glorified echo chamber.
I would counter that a lack of cohesive physical visibility does not equate to invisibility in a world that increasingly relies on technology and the internet for our information and news. In fact, because we’re not on the ground, we can garner numbers of supporters that would be impossible to organize in person. Tools like social media as well as blogging have allowed us to organize campaigns, most notably to target corporations in order to protest offensive products or ad campaigns in huge numbers. Feministing is known for targeting companies (like Walmart) for such offensive products, bombarding them with angry tweets, emails and even calls and have been successful in making themselves heard, effectively forcing companies to remove offense ads or products. Websites like Change.org are also known for their petition-based activism – like 14-year-old Julia Bluhm’s recent campaign against photoshopping in Seventeen Magazine. Even SlutWalk – one of the feminist movement’s most recent on-the-ground, youth-driven movements, which targeted rape-culture – was largely facilitated, promoted and made a global event through the internet.
The unfortunate reality is that prevailing attitudes in most places in this country as well as abroad make on-the-ground feminist activism incredibly difficult to achieve. Blogging allows young women who may not have come across feminist activism in their daily lives experience a way to participate in and feel as though they are part of the movement. While I personally dream of a day when there are plenty of physical outlets for feminist activism in this country and beyond, that is not the current reality and until it is, feminist blogging serves as an excellent way for feminist-minded women to stay connected and involved. And, as demonstrated by the aforementioned examples, our impact, though virtual, allows for even greater numbers of protestors.
Finally, blogging allows for the democratization of the feminist movement, which is essential to effective activism. Blogging not only benefits the individuals who participate in the practice, but also addresses serious historical shortcomings of the feminist movement and allows for rapid education. For example, feminism has notoriously been lacking in terms of inclusivity. Feminist blogging allows for diversity and accessibility to leadership in a movement that historically has had a problem with just that. Blogging ideally allows for the opportunity for everybody to be heard and to be included in larger feminist discussions – it ideally democratizes what voices are heard and relies on a meritocracy. Of course, the current reality of feminist blogging is that there are still clear leaders who have emerged from the most popular blogs. But even if some blogs are read more than others, readers can still comment on those posts and talk back to those leaders and keep them in check or add to their ideas in an unprecedented way. It’s also true that while the hope of feminist blogging may be to add an essential component of inclusivity to a movement that has historically been exclusionary, we still have a way to go when it comes to truly diversifying this movement, and that includes the feminist bloggers that get the most attention.
However, though I am a huge (and admittedly biased) proponent of feminist blogging, it is essential to remember that feminist blogging in its current form is still relatively new and definitely has room to improve. I do think criticism of online feminist activism as decentralized, as not being a complete substitute for the power of face-to-face organizing, is valid. But I also think that feminist blogging should be considered less as a new tool of the feminist movement – as a new tactic with pros and cons – than it should be considered a reflection of a significantly changed feminist movement. The feminist blogosphere didn’t create an increasingly decentralized feminist movement – it is a response to it. Though critics like to point to feminist blogging as the reason for the diffusion of this movement, I personally believe it is what is currently keeping this movement together. I would argue that without the feminist blogosphere, young women would be even less involved with this movement than they currently are.
Feminist activism for my generation is a living, breathing experience, diffused into the daily aspects of our lives in a way that – from what I understand – it was not for previous generations. This is reflected by -- not created by -- our online activism. My generation is looking for a new type of feminist identity. We agree with the basic tenants and ideologies of feminism but recognize the reality that it is a movement that is largely vilified and misunderstood. Our activism on online is as much about the actual feminist battles we continue to wage based on the legacies of previous generations as it is about changing the face of feminism. The transparency of the blogosphere – the ability of individual feminists to honestly express what are ultimately a wide range of definitions of feminism and methods of feminist activism – ultimately prove that my generation has yet to land on a decisive idea of what we believe feminism is.
This is often portrayed as a disadvantage. I think young feminists feel a constant pressure to decisively define what feminism means for our generation as different from other generations, to create a decisive fourth wave identity. But through feminist blogging, it’s clear that we can’t – and that maybe we shouldn’t. The internet allows feminists – as well as others, most notably activists like those involved in Occupy Wall Street – to redefine what social movements and activism at large look like in the digital age. I personally am excited about the great potential of the blogosphere, but I think only time, in addition to the efforts of young activists, will tell how feminist activism will continue to evolve.
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