Feminism in a Digital Age

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In 1897, Millicent Fawcett led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in a campaign that issued leaflets and organised petitions to raise awareness and gain support for women’s suffrage. She believed in constitutional campaigning and organised meetings to discuss issues but her methods weren’t working.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded a new organisation, The Women’s Social and Political Union. She saw that the leaflet campaign wasn’t working and called for more drastic action. It was this drastic action that caught the attention of the media who gave the suffragettes the visibility the leaflet campaign never did.

The first wave feminists did what they could with the media of their day. Just imagine what Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst could have done with Twitter.

Now that we are in what is arguably the fourth wave of feminism (depending on where you count from and what you count), social media has brought us a new way to communicate ideas and share our common experiences. The aims of the fourth wave are ‘defined by technology: tools that are allowing women to build a strong, popular, reactive movement online.

In 2012, Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project to provide a platform for people to send their experiences of sexism ‘even if it isn’t big or outrageous or shocking’. She asks that people, ‘please share your story so we can prove how widespread the problem really is.’ By the end of its first year, the Everyday Sexism Project had attracted 25,000 entries and spread to 15 countries.

Four years on and the Everyday Sexism Project is still relevant. With Andrea Leadsom stepping down and clearing the way for Theresa May to become the next PM, women are still tweeting the project to point out the blatant sexism in some media reporting.

But, while it might be the longest running, Everyday Sexism Project is not the only feminist Twitter campaign. In 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered 6 people in Isla Vista, as an act of revenge against women in general for rejecting him. In the days after the attack, the hashtag #NotAllMen started trending, pointing out that not all men are sexist and suggesting that the women who were protesting and denouncing the attack were over-reacting.

In response, Twitter users started to use the hashtag #YesAllWomen

This campaign was never official, it was a spontaneous and original way for women to communicate with each other. Similar to @EverydaySexism, the hashtag created a space on social media dedicated to the issue and to draw attention. As Jessica Valenti wrote in her column, ‘#YesAllWomen tried to illustrate the ubiquity of sexism in women’s lives.’ It highlighted the idea that any woman could be targeted for the very same reasons Elliot Rodger gave.

Later that year, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson launched the HeForShe campaign. In her speech she notes that this is the first campaign of its kind. The campaign uses the hashtag #HeForShe but it also goes a step further. It uses these tweets to galvanise a following of men in particular in order to help the UN to take real and tangible action against misogyny.

HeForShe might be a feminist movement, but by refocusing the issue toward men, it demonstrates that feminism is predominantly about achieving equality between the sexes. Feminism is not just a women’s issue.

This week, a new hashtag has appeared: #WhatIReallyReallyWant. The hashtag is only a part of the movement that has used the Spice Girls song to show the rights and liberties that feminists are still fighting for. These include quality education for all girls, equal pay for equal work and an end to misogynistic violence.

The Spice Girls themselves have shown their support for the remake of their songs and the tweets are continuing to raise awareness of the issues Global Goals are trying to achieve.

Social media has allowed feminism to be instantly responsive to issues and to quickly provide a space in which to raise awareness. These campaigns have all gone viral with people all over the world weighing with their own thoughts on the subject. And long may the conversation continue.


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About Hannah Field

Hannah is a passionate fan of modernist literature and can usually be found curled up with a cat and a book, a steaming mug of tea within reach. Though she tolerates living on land, Hannah feels most at home underwater SCUBA diving, hoping to see turtles.

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