In October 2017, Alyssa Milano asked the women of Twitter to write ‘#MeToo’ if they had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. Within days, tens of thousands of women had responded. Within weeks, one of the most powerful men on the planet was toppled and industries from entertainment to politics were given a shake-up. One lone voice became a shared voice, which became a rally cry. “Time’s up,” called Oprah from her Golden Globes podium and across the world, there was a powerful feeling she could be right.
Last week, Labour’s Stella Creasy and fellow female MPs launched the #PayMeToo campaign in the wake of the astonishing gender pay gaps reported by businesses across the country. Using social media as a springboard, they’ve joined forces to encourage women to hold their employers to account and demand action.
It’s one more example demonstrating how over the last decade we’ve seen social media mature from a university message board, to a repository of cat images, to a borderless global hive-mind with the collective power to change culture with a hashtag. Social has a very special place in my heart, it’s transformed my career at a time when publishing was under threat, and constantly inspires me with new ways of telling creative stories to global audiences.
You only have to look at the rise of female influencers to see this story played out en mass. These are women who aren’t just calling the shots, they’re changing the conversation on social media, and creating new careers on the way. Social media has given more people a voice - and in particular, it’s given women a new and immediate way of communicating and galvanising their agendas. Whether via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram, social media provides ready communities for women who have previously felt marginalised and powerless, helping to them find a tribe and amplify their voice.
Last month, International Women’s Day called for a celebration of the women who have seized this opportunity and used social media to challenge the status quo. These are the women who questioned all the crappy bits of our life we thought were set in stone; things like power imbalances or restrictive career options or what our bodies should look like. “Why does it have to be like this?” we asked and these women shouted back, “It doesn’t!”
Look at Mumsnet. It was inspired by a disastrous first family holiday, when its founder Justine Roberts realised there was potential to tap into a network of people online who could have helped predict an under-fives and jet lag catastrophe. What started as a support group for parents has gone on to help change libel laws, worked closely with retailers to stop the sale of clothing that played upon adult conceptions of young girls’ sexuality; it has pushed miscarriage care much further up the agenda and is now working closely with NHS England on postnatal care.
There’s Digital Mums, whose founders Kathryn Tyler and Nikki Cochrane drew on their own childhood experiences of having working mothers with limited career options to create new opportunities for women returning to work after having children. It’s helping mums find creative and financial fulfilment, training them with social media skills and support to work online from home while balancing childcare. Since 2013, they’ve trained 1,350 women who’ve gone on to set up their own agencies, become influencers, been to the Houses of Parliament and some are currently setting up a mentoring programme.
Or look at #IWeigh. An instagram post of the Kardashians tagged with their weight in KG, inspired Jameela Jamil, to call out reductive bodyshaming and demand women be measured by their achievements. A mini-movement is now playing out across the platform, with hundreds of people a day sharing their stories and its own verified Instagram handle.
As social media grows up, it gives us the cultural influence to ‘be the change’. We owe a huge thank you to the pioneers who’ve led the way. As a result, social media has now superseded the old boy’s club – it’s a modern meritocracy that shows women, and any other community of people who had previously lacked a platform, how strong they are, together. All power to that.