We are in the midst of the fourth wave of feminism, and the movement is growing. Defined by technology, this wave is focusing on the everyday sexism women experience, the more subtle prejudice and inequality that is pervasive in modern society. These women were brought up to think that the world was post-feminist, but have found from their lived experience that this is not the case.
This year, feminism and feminist protests are more prominent than they have been before in this new wave. With the election of Donald Trump came the Women’s March that united people across the USA as well as all over the world, and the March organisers are continuing to campaign. From the receptionist arguing against forced high heels to Emma Watson’s photo shoot with Vanity Fair, discussions about what feminism is and what it is about are growing louder.
Today, Wednesday 8th of March, there are two international events aiming to raise awareness of women’s issues, contributions to society and campaign for gender equality: International Women’s Day and A Day Without A Woman.
International Women’s Day
Though International Women’s Day has its roots in a 1908 march through New York City, the UN celebrated the day for the first time in 1975 and proclaimed the year to be a Women’s Year.
Since, International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world, usually on March 8th and this year, the day is going to be even more noticeable and widespread than ever before. There are already thousands of events planned across the UK and you can see the full list of planned activities in Manchester on the Manchester.gov website.
While singing together or gathering to talk about women’s issues on a particular day might seem trivial, the more events and the more attendees there are, the wider the message can be spread. You could be forgiven for thinking that a group of women who meet for cake won’t make a difference, but this is exactly how the Suffragette movement gained traction. Cake is more radical than you might think!
International Women’s Day 1975 certainly struck a chord with Icelandic women. A committee was set up to arrange events leading to the Red Stockings, a group of radical feminists, suggesting that women went on strike for a day to demonstrate their value to society in their absence. On October 24th 1975, 90% of Icelandic women went on strike for a day, resulting in many industries shutting down for the day and fathers taking their children to work with them.
Though the strike worked well in showing the value of women in society and a female prime minister was subsequently elected, the women of Iceland have still not achieved true gender equality. They now commemorate the day every ten years by leaving work early in proportion to their earnings compared to men but have recently increased the frequency of their strikes. In 2010 they left work at 2:25 and in 2016 left at 2:38.
International Women’s Day gives women – and men, of course – the opportunity to gather and organise. This year, the campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange. With this hashtag, International Women’s Day is asking businesses and individuals to take real action in closing the gender pay gap and improving working conditions for women. Though there has been some improvement over the years, at the current rate, the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. This means that if we want to move faster and achieve equality for ourselves as well as our great, great grandchildren, we need to be bold in our actions.
There are lots of ways to be bold and one of the easiest ways to show your support for International Women’s Day is to share #BeBoldForChange on your social media. Hashtags are a great way to open conversations online and trending topics bring the conversation to more and more people. Using social media this way is a definitive aspect of this wave of feminism. Imagine what Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst could have done with Twitter.
The Women’s March, A Day Without A Woman
In the days before the Women’s March on January 21st, there were plenty of people saying that the event would make no difference. This commentary was either an attempt to put women off attending the march or, more likely, an apathetic response to the passionate determination of the organisers. Either way, women weren’t put off and marches took place all over the world, including a march in Antarctica! 1 million people gathered in Washington, D.C. and a further 5 million marched in cities across all the continents.
— linda zunas (@lindazunas) January 21, 2017
In true modern style, the Women’s March began as a frustrated post on Facebook. Teresa Shook suggested a pro-women march was needed on Pantsuit Nation, a pro-Hillary page and when no-one else took the lead, created a Facebook group to start organising. Overnight, the few friends who had RSVP’d had multiplied into 10,000 interested people.
Shook handed her Facebook event, inviting ‘EVERYONE who supports women’s rights’ over to veteran activists and organisers but remained involved with the event planning. The event became a ‘counterinaguration’ against ‘the rhetoric of the past election cycle [which] has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us–women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.’ [sic].
This online event invitation meant that women could meet remotely and organise amongst themselves – including the main organising party who managed most of their communication via email and phone. The organisers’ awareness of each other sprang from their individual online activities, from selling t-shirts to raise money to running media platforms to experience as activists. Working like this also allowed the movement to grow horizontally – rather than a tiered organisational system, each of the members brought in others on an equal footing. With this method, a diverse team was assembled to organise the march and ensure the representation of as many people as possible.
Soon, local Women’s March organisers created events near them and the online numbers translated into marches that far exceeded anything anyone had anticipated. Having gained so much traction online, the Women’s March organisers are continuing to take action, taking on a different issue every 10 days.
Today, A Day Without A Woman is replicating the Iceland strike, asking women to demonstrate their socio-economic value by:
- Taking the day off from paid and unpaid labour
- Avoiding shopping for the day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
- Wearing red in solidarity
This event is in solidarity with another, the International Women’s Strike which claims: ‘March 8th will be the beginning of a new international feminist movement’.
The purpose of both International Women’s Day and the Women’s March and their ongoing activities is to bring women’s issues and gender equality to the forefront of conversation. The best way to do this is to make the issue visible whether that is through marches or online – and online is one of the best ways to reach the largest audience across the world.
Sharing memes, hashtags, photos of events, liking and sharing… all of these online activities serve to magnify and maximise the effect of current events and topics. The official @womensmarch Instagram account received 357,545,095 impressions from just 52,625 posts organically on the day of the Women’s March. The hashtags in use had similarly amazing results: #womensmarch received 2,610,179,200 impressions and #womensmarch2017 270,707,200 impressions. Added together, this totals 889,270,215 impressions on Instagram alone.
The popularity of such a visual form of social media shows that when the crowds have gone home, they are continuing to interact with the event online. It is a way for those who can’t join the physical march to add their name using online platforms and to metaphorically stand together. Posting and sharing pictures like this allows a multitude of perspectives to be presented and returned to. Just as the protesters stand for different things, social media allows for all these views to be preserved, where traditional media might struggle to be fully representative.
For International Women’s Day, there are #BeBoldForChange selfie cards that can be printed and held for a picture to be posted on social media. To encourage sharing, the cards can be edited and businesses are allowed to add their own logo. The aim is simple: to fill social media with these bold statements using a cohesive brand while allowing for co-branding opportunities.
Wednesday 8th March
Fourth wave feminism is now in full swing and the internet is providing a brand new platform to spread the message, rally campaigns and get organised. Hashtags are the social media equivalent of a pin button showing your allegiance to, or at least an interest in, a cause. They are a way of joining a conversation as well as starting a conversation. For feminists, hashtags are a rallying call and the interest is swelling with the crowds who are willing to gather physically as well as online.
The translation of an online campaign to a real campaign made by people on the streets shows how the organisation of protests has changed but the gathering of a group in a single space is still the way we choose to show our convictions. The aftermath of protests is also changing: social media, email newsletters, trending topics, online event invites and shares all keep us updated and included in the plans for further action. Where a march might have made the news and been forgotten and disbanded by the following week, now the internet helps people to remain in contact, even when they are located remotely from each other. The internet is an aid to the tenacity and persistence of the cause.
The ability for women to coordinate their efforts across the world made the Women’s March the biggest in history and International Women’s Day has the same ambition in mind. With global cooperation, we can start to make real changes to positively affect the lives of women.
It all starts today.