The Fourth Wave, a podcast on Cyberfeminism in relation to digital publishing via online platforms such as social media and blogs like this one and YouTube, is available at PodOmatic: http://cyberfeminism.podomatic.com/entry/2014-10-03T02_06_01-07_00
References and Further Reading:
Helft, M 2013, ‘How YouTube changes everything’, Fortune, vol. 168, no. 3, p. 1-10, viewed 05/08/2014.
Hess, A 2014, ‘Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet’, Pacific Standard, 29/09/2014, http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/women-arent-welcome-internet-72170/.
Hinsely, V, ‘On Our Terms: The Undergraduate Journal of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College’, Vol. 1, Iss. 1 (2013), Pp. 25 – 32.
Markman, KM & Sawyer, CE 2014, ‘Why pod? Further explorations of the motivations for independent podcasting’, Journal of Radio and Audio Media, vol. 21, no. 1, p. 1-17, viewed 29/07/2014.
Mirk, S 2014, Popaganda: The Evolution of Wonder Woman, Podcast, Bitch Magazine Media, 17/08/2014, http://www.feministfrequency.com/.
Munro, E, ‘Feminism: A fourth wave?’, Political Studies Association, UK, 1/10/2014, http://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/feminism-fourth-wave.
Sarkeesian, A 2014, Tropes Vs Women: Women as background Decoration, Vlog, Feminist Frequency, 4/08/2014, http://bitchmagazine.org/blogs/feminist-podcast.
PEW’s 2014 social media fact sheet can be accessed at http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/.
FemFuture’s The Future of Online Feminism Infographic can be found at http://bcrw.barnard.edu/wp-content/nfs/reports/NFS8-The-Future-of-Online-Feminism-Infographic.pdf for more of their work you can also visit http://www.onlinefeminism.com. Introduction music by Sahara Surfers accessed at http://www.last.fm/music/Sahara+Surfers/_/Intro.
Today I will be discussing the impact of digital publishing as a channel for feminism. Anyone on the internet will have noticed the increasing number of feminist movements such as the Everyday Sexism Project and Social Media movement’s #WhyIStayed, #YesAllWomen and #FemFuture, for which hash tags play a crucial role.
So, what makes the internet a valuable tool for delivering feminist messages? Pew Internet’s Project reveals that, as of January 2014, 74% of online adults use social media, with the most active users, at 89%, being 18 to 29 years old. Simply put, the internet is an unrivalled tool for reaching young people- where the difference to gender equality is to be made. This is easily seen when one considers the popular “Hey Girl,’ Ryan Gosling Memes” that use the actor to deliver feminist messages.
Online women can easily reach out and share their stories through hash tag focussed feminist movements. For example, the #YesAllWomen and Everyday Sexism projects. As these tags are trending the whole virtual world bears witness to the harassment women face on a daily basis. The responses to those who share their experiences vary. Some asked what they could do to make women feel safer, something that was met with a positive response from female commenters. Some were angered, wanting it reinforced that its #NotAllMen, which gave birth to the hash tag #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen. Not all men harass women in the street but, yes, all women have experienced street harassment. This movement illustrates just how commonplace it is for a woman to be raped, abused, threatened, stalked or sexually assaulted.
I shared one of my own stories at the Everyday Sexism webpage, a website where women may anonymously share the acts of sexism they experience daily.
When I was nineteen, I caught a train to a friend’s house to visit her for the day. On the train I noticed a man looking at me. I felt uncomfortable and adjusted my handbag to cover my chest. I desperately wanted to stand up and walk down the other end of the carriage but I could tell by the expression on his face, the way he clearly knew I felt uncomfortable but wouldn’t look away, that if I did something as obvious as stand up and walk away he would say something or possibly even follow me.
I was too afraid to move.
As the train pulled to a stop he spoke, saying hello and asking for my name. I didn’t reply and stepped from the carriage as the doors opened. He followed me off the train and, grabbing hold of my arm and pulling me towards him, he demanded, “Give me your number.” I said no and pulled away from him. As I walked away he shouted abuse at me, calling me names that I won’t repeat here.
I left the station in a hurry without reporting it.
The #YesAllWomen project reveals that one cannot trust the statistics of crimes such as these based on what is reported. Women are harassed and assaulted every day and it goes unreported and unpunished. Projects such as these reveal much of what would otherwise not be spoken of. It opens up the space for discussion and for change.
As The Political Studies Association concludes in ‘Feminism: A fourth Wave?’, “it is clear that women’s understanding of their position in the world and their political struggles is changing. With more and more young feminists turning to the internet. What is certain is that the internet has created a ‘call-out’ culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be ‘called out’ and challenged…Several large corporations have fallen foul of the speed with which feminist campaigns can garner support on the internet. Earlier this year, Facebook was forced to confront the issue of gender-based hate speech on its webpages after initially suggesting that images of women being abused did not violate their terms of service. ”
Similar to the #YesAllWomen project is the #WhatIWore hash tag, where victims of sexual assault directly challenge rape culture, the belief that a victim is somehow responsible for the offense against them. Age, location, sobriety and appearance have no impact on whether you’re assaulted or not- as demonstrated through the heartbreaking tweets shared by many women revealing they were assaulted by a family member in the safety of their own home as a child. Or the tweets shared by middle aged women indicating they were wearing a sweater and jeans. Or the tweets sharing articles about elderly women being violated in nursing homes. The sheer numbers of tweets indicate that the common problem is not clothing, it’s not location, and it’s not whether or not you’ve had a few drinks. The problem, it would seem, is simply being a woman.
The open-access nature of the internet and its unmediated spaces are what makes cyber feminism both effective and risky. Every feminist blog or video-post and tweet has the potential to result in thoughtful and positive discussion, or draw vicious hate-speech.
For example, earlier this semester I wrote an essay, ‘Vlogs Versus Podcasts: A comparative essay from a consumer perspective’, comparing podcasts and video-logs in relation to discussing sexism in pop culture. One of my observations was that, whilst video-logs were more effective in engaging and maintaining audience interest, they were also the bigger risk, seeming to entice both feminists and anti-feminists. I wrote then
As the vlog and podcast being discussed are both feminist in view, topic and analysis, another benefit to the podcast form deserves mention; podcasts can be completely anonymous in the absence of any required visual element. This is a relevant merit for podcasts on feminist topics in particular as commenters can be brutal and threatening to female speakers on such sensitive topics. The ability for the audience to interact with the speaker can be regarded as a double edged sword. It can drive the product forward, though it can also have an impact on the speaker’s life if comments veer toward the personal.
True to this observation, the speaker for the vlog I was discussing, Feminist Frequency’s Tropes Vs Women: Women as Background Decoration, received hate mail and death threats.
The emotional impact of such forms of digital publishing reinforce the feminist message but that same emotional impact is also responsible for inciting impassioned, vicious responses such as death threats. This was seen more recently with viral video of Emma Watson discussing the need for gender equality saw commenters stating they would leak nude photographs of her for speaking out.
In ‘Why Women Aren’t Welcome’ Amanda Hess reports that “Feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7” With the virtual world becoming more prominent as an extension of our real world; one can see how sexism has expanded. Women are harassed online in the exact same way they are on the street.
Hess goes on to say “All of these online offenses are enough to make a woman want to click away from Twitter, shut her laptop, and power down her smartphone. Pew found that from 2000 to 2005, the percentage of internet users who participate in online chats and discussion groups dropped to 17% entirely because of women’s fall off in participation.”
The more we do use this medium to reach out, however, the more that issues women face will be revealed. The greater the sexist response to such digital publications, the more obvious the need for feminist change is both on and offline. Hess wraps it up nicely by writing “I’ve been threatened online, but I have also been harassed on the street. Even if I sign off Twitter, a threat could still be waiting on my stoop.”
Although there is a growing need for threats made online to be taken seriously, at least through digital platforms women have a way of continuing to share their experiences and turn a spotlight onto them at a national and global level. On a digital platform, without that immediate physical threat, I would be unafraid to speak up and share as I was on that station platform in the story I shared earlier. Now when a woman receives messages in which she is harassed, she can take a screen shot and call her harasser out. As an increasing number of people turn their judgement toward perpetrators of violence and harassment against women, this behaviour will become less common. The more women share, the more it will be made unacceptable.
Cyberfeminism will continue to grow, gain new followers and fearlessly spread awareness.