THE BLOG

Social Media Bolsters Feminism, Not Derails It

25/09/2013 11:07 | Updated 24 November 2013

Everyday Sexism, The Women's Room, End Misogyny Online, No More Page 3... The plethora of women's groups on Twitter and other social media sites is extraordinary. And the success of these campaigns, in such a short time, has been profound:

• After a campaign led by Caroline Criado -Perez, co-founder of The Women's Room, Jane Austen was confirmed as the face on the next £10 note by the Bank of England.
• The Editor of The Sun newspaper, David Dinsmore, can't seem to do a single interview without being asked about Page 3 (and rumours abound that a taskforce has been set up by the paper to look at alternatives). The No More Page 3 campaign now has over 120,000 signatures on its petition to have the feature dropped by the paper.
• In the face of a storm of protest online, known as the FBrape campaign, Facebook was forced to take tougher action against posts which degrade women. The strategy of this campaign cleverly focused on advertisers such as Dove, Sky and American Express, highlighting how their advertisements on Facebook were sharing pages with topics such as "Why Indian girls get raped." The pressure on Facebook from these lucrative advertisers, who were threatened with boycotts by these women's groups, led to action.

Unfortunately what followed the success was the hate. Waves of abuse were sent to these accounts - rape threats, misogynist abuse and even bomb threats. Such was the volume of this abuse that there were suspicions that these were coordinated attacks from unidentified sources. And even though the police were called in and Twitter added a 'Report Abuse' functionality, the problems facing these women and groups continued.

After the bomb and rape threats came the second wave of criticism - that the women on the receiving end of this abuse were responding hysterically, that rather than report these threats of violence, they should just take it all on the chin. Oh the irony of supposedly liberal men telling women how to react to the abuse they give them...

Indeed it was the viciousness of this second wave, rather than the threats in the first wave, that led to Caroline Criado-Perez, the banknote campaigner, to delete her Twitter account. The backlash has at times been criminal but it has undeniably proved the point - that the need for women to come together remains paramount.

Prior to the era of social media, the women's movement had kind of lost its way. Many celebrities and those in the public eye were ashamed to call themselves feminists. Too often the phrase "I'm not a feminist but..." was seen and heard in interviews. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, I'm looking at you here, ladies. (And there are plenty more).

Feminism had almost melted away, lacking focus and seemingly issues too, except for the lone acknowledgement that perhaps the beauty and fashion industries weren't great for female self-esteem. Misogyny in the UK, it was thought, was dead.

The explosion of these women's groups on social media - and the vicious backlash against them - has proved otherwise. Misogyny is sadly still alive and kicking. A quick flick through the tweets to these social media groups online will reveal dozens and dozens of experiences from everyday women of abuse in the street, sexual harassment and discrimination. It seems now that women were always subject to such harassment and issues, but the media hadn't realised they still existed.

And the issues keep coming. As I write, the women's groups online are creating a whirl of activity against eBay and Amazon for stocking T-shirts bearing the slogan "I'm feeling rapey" and "No sometimes means Yes."

And though the terrain may seem treacherous, more and more women's groups are appearing and flourishing online. New movements such as What I See and Bare Reality are taking strength from the success of others and using the ready access to women from many backgrounds and experiences to facilitate discussion and sharing of issues.

The What I See project invites women to share their responses to the question "what do you see in when you look in the mirror?" They have already had more than 500 contributions from over 350 women in 11 countries since they launched in February this year. Bare Reality is an arts project about women, their breasts and how they feel about them, and the extent to which that emotional connection has been shaped by social pressures.

Prior to the era of social media, not only did the forums not exist for these ideas to be fully identified and discussed, but instead women were dictated to about what their issues were, often from the pages of beauty magazines, arguably one of the least appropriate places for a feminist revival.

Now with social media, women as a whole aren't responding to articles in the media, they are creating the news themselves by shining a light on the breadth of the issues that they face. That women are getting the abuse they are for speaking out is a crime. That they have found a forum to come together to address this is a massive step forwards.

Social media may seem therefore to be a bit of a double-edged sword - there's always the risk of abuse towards women who speak out. But social media has brought life to feminism and I hope women continue to embrace it. It's the way forward, in spite of its challenges.