The web 2.0 has radically changed online behavior and created new opportunities for online users to connect with each other and create online communities. This combined with the increasing popularity of social media such as Twitter, resulted in an increased in cyber activism. However, little importance is given to youth activism and feminist girls tend to be discredited as political agent. Therefore, this paper focuses on teenage feminists and how they use twitter to promote their feminist values and attempt to answer the question of whether their online actions can actually have an impact on the world. To have a better understanding of digital feminism, feminist theories have been combined with digital literacy theory. The sense of community that the microblog enables, encourage teenage feminists to share, curate and create content. By taking the examples of hashtag campaigns such as #CropTopDay and #SafetyTipsForWomen and petitions such as the “We Need Consent” , the paper was able to demonstrate how girls use Twitter to challenge rape culture, inequality and sexism. The paper also explores Twitter’s vernacular to determine the challenges and the opportunities that the platform offer to teenage feminist. This paper argues that Twitter allows teenage girls to build and join virtual feminists communities and this empower them to voice out, allow them to educate others about feminist issues and give them the opportunity to take part in social movements thus, their actions have the potential to solve real life feminist issues that could end sexism and oppression.
Keywords: Web 2.0, Virtual Communities, Feminism, Teenage Girls, Twitter
“Small acts of justice can lead to meaningful change” (Gleason, 2018, pp 282). The web 2.0 provides new opportunities for people to connect. It is characterized by a change in online behaviors that focuses on collaborating, creating and engaging (Gretzel, 2015). Indeed it focuses on participatory culture and virtual communities where individuals come together and share information about a common interest (Porter, 2015). The web 2.0 combined with the rise of social media resulted in an increased in social activism across different social media platform (Li et al, 2020). This paper focuses on teenage girls and feminism, which can be define as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” (Gleason, 2018, pp 281). The web 2.0 contributed to the era of “Girl Power” and the increasing visibility of the fourth wave of feminism (Clark, 2015), which is characterized by the prevalent presence of young activist and yet not much light is shed on teenage feminists whose participations are often overlooked (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). Therefore, this paper seeks to understand how teenage girls use Twitter in particular, to build communities and perform their feminist identity. Thereby, questioning the impact that their online actions can actually have on solving social issues. The sections below will explore the subculture of feminism that teenage feminists have created (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018) and how they use information, education and social movements to promote their feminist values and challenge antifeminist behavior (Gleason, 2018). This paper argues that Twitter allows teenage girls to build and join virtual feminists communities and this empower them to voice out, allow them to educate others about feminist issues and give them the opportunity to take part in social movements thus, their actions have the potential to solve real life feminist issues that could end sexism and oppression.
1. The power of empowering victims.
Firstly, let’s explore how the use of hashtags gives online users the ability to voice out and how this lead to the empowerment of victims. Most teenage feminists use Twitter because of the freedom of expression that the microblogging site enables compared to other social media platform such as Facebook, which they deem to be more “conservative” (Keller, 2019). Here the term “victim” is use in a broader sense, referring to anyone who once face inequality and discrimination due to their gender. Communities on Twitter develop their own distinctive linguistic conventions (Gruzd et al., 2011). This is also true for the feminist communities on Twitter. For instance, they use hashtag that regroup conversation about a specific feminist issue such as #MeToo. This hashtag alone brought millions of people together to spread awareness about abusive online behavior. Furthermore, to learn about the current issues that online feminists are talking about, girls just need to type “#Feminist” in the Twitter’s search bar and they will stay up do date with the latest conversation happening in the community (Lopez et al., 2018). Girls feel empowered to use Twitter to share their stories and their opinions. For instance, a teenage girl started the hashtag #CropTopDay to fight against sexist dress code. Since Twitter enable a sense of community, girls can have the support of people who have similar concerns than them. (Keller, 2019). Similarly, girls who tweeted the hashtag #BeenRapeNeverReported, felt a sense of solidarity and security within the online feminist community. This made it easier for them to report their rapists (Li et al, 2020) and thus, rebel against sexist behavior and oppression that victims often feel.
However, it is important to note that a prevalent aspect of rape culture is victim blaming and it is no different online. The social media environment can be hostile and unwelcoming. Research has showed that 5% of the comments left on a rape survivor’s tweet were victim demeaning. Thus, by tweeting about their experience, teens are potentially exposing themselves to secondary victimization, which can be extremely damaging (Li et al, 2020). However, Keller (2019) is confident that teenage girls have a clear understanding of the digital world. She explains that anti-feminist reactions is part of Twitter’s platform vernacular and that girls are aware that they need to be careful when navigating on Twitter when performing their feminist identity. Moreover, digital platforms give the opportunity to respond to anti feminist behavior in a unique way. Feminist Hilary Bowman-Smart started the hashtag #Safetytipsforladies as a response to being tired of seeing anti rape advice on Twitter which suggested the appropriated dress code for women to protect themselves from rape. Originally, the purpose of the hashtag was to give self-defense tips for women who are in danger. However, other feminists including teens took over the hashtag in a humorous way. For example, one tweeted that in order to avoid rape a woman should “don chain mail or three sweat suits, a ski mask, and sleeping bag”. The use of jokes and exaggerations allows them to ridicule and show how stupid victim blaming is (Rentscler, 2015). This might encourage more sexist response from men who feel like their masculinity has been threaten. Nevertheless, it is still an effective way of bringing attention to social issues (Richmond & Richmond, 2018). By joining in the conversation, girls are coming together as a community and empowering rape survivors who were strong enough to share their stories online. It also gives a chance for rape survivors to become activists, which can be a form of healing. Additionally feminists are not relying on police officers or Twitter’s policy to change and make Twitter a safe space where they can express themselves freely. Instead they took the matter into their own hands and turn the situation around. Therefore, in a way Twitter can have an emancipatory potential (Lopez et al., 2018). This demonstrates that despite the toxic nature of twitter, there is an opportunity for teens to be active feminists and contribute to feminist discourse (Gleason, 2018) and by doing so they are fighting against sexism and oppression.
2. The power of educating others.
This section examines how the conversations that take place on twitter enables teenage girls to raise awareness about important feminist issues thereby, educating other online users. Some scholars consider digital feminism to be a crucial factor that contributed to the rapid growth of the fourth wave of feminism thus, showing a change in how activism is perceive and a need to acknowledge the efforts of the digital feminist (Clark, 2015). This is relevant as the fourth wave of feminism is all about digital technologies and the empowerment of young activist (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). In the research conducted by Li et al (2020), teenagers reported that they used Twitter because they appreciate the idea of educating others about feminism. Information sharing over Twitter can take several forms such as primary sources like books, academic research and their own opinion (Gleason, 2018). As a result, by sharing their knowledge of the subject, they are raising awareness and encouraging responses and they can learn from each other as a community (Li et al, 2020). What is interesting with Twitter as a channel for digital feminism is that the “lack of mutual connection” is not actually a setback. Although it is harder for girls to get collective responses from their peers and family compared to other social media platform like Facebook; Twitter allows the posts to reach a global audience in a click. Therefore, making Twitter a suitable medium of communication for teenage feminist as they are able to reach people outside their own local community (Keller, 2019) including people who would not have participate in feminist conversation (Lopez et al.,) and ultimately have a bigger impact. Indeed due to the nature of the web, online communities are socially and geographically diverse (Porter, 2015). Therefore, as teenage girls become more and more active online, they start getting a deeper understanding of feminism. Indeed, they have the opportunity to learn about global issues and thus they have access to new perspectives (Gleason, 2018). Hence, their knowledge is not limited to their own experience. What is interesting with Twitter is that, individuals with less popular account can also be consider a high center among their own network that is, their followers because of the sense of personal community that they have within the interconnected network (Gruzd et al., 2011). Therefore, even small accounts can be influential and are capable of driving conversation. There are a lot of important feminist conversations taking place on Twitter. Marlo a 19 year old girl, reported that when she came across the hashtag #CropTopDay on the profile of a feminist that she follows, she learned about the movement and decided to show her support by posting a picture of herself wearing a crop top along with the hashtag (Keller, 2019). Therefore, one may argue that, by taking advantage of the influence that they have among their network, girls are able to promote feminist beliefs with the aim of educating others (Gleason, 2018). Moreover, as feminists engage with and support each other online, they are making themselves more visible, they are also educating the public by making them conscious of important issues that feminists face (Clark, 2015). Therefore, by learning about the sexist dress code, Marlo was able to take a stand and challenge the sexism and female oppression that exist.
3. The power of social movements.
Lastly, we can consider how teenage feminists use Twitter to take part in social movements and bring real change to society. Twitter plays an important role in facilitating the spread of social movements by allowing online users to take part in conversation, share their opinion and retweet information to the rest of the world in a short period of time. A social movement can be defined as a “collective interactions based on a group of people who share common identities and views to address political or cultural conflicts” (Li et al, 2020 p 3). The goal of social movements is to contribute to a social change through the use of petitions, protest and campaigns. History of feminism shows that social movements have been able to bring positive changes to numerous social issues (Li et al, 2020). Since they can be seen as a crucial weapon use for feminist activism it is important to see how teenage feminists participate in social movements via Twitter. The web 2.0 allows teenage girls to actively participate online and create their own feminist content that they wish to share. Compare to traditional activism it is a less costly way of generating collective action while at the same time reaching a large number of people (Clark, 2015). Therefore, it makes sense that girls are using Twitter, to drive feminist movement. It is actually quite impressive to see how teenage girls have created an “innovative subculture of feminism”. Thereby, challenging our understanding of feminism in the digital age. It is true that not all online campaigns and petitions will result in actual change (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). However, this does not mean that their actions are worthless. In fact, as mention in the previous sections, teenage girls are still able to engage other people and spread awareness about critical social issues. Thus, demonstrating the potential of teenage feminist on Twitter in promoting equality.
In spite of that, some researchers still fail to realize the significant contribution that the online actions that teenage feminist activists can have. This is because digitalization has change the ways in which social movements are presented. In fact, girls’ engagement with feminism online is characterized by writing, drawings and humor. The latter are perceive as being superficial and insignificant. As a result, teenage girls’ actions are discredited and they are not recognized as actual political agents who can bring social change. However, such belief about cyber-activism is changing due to the impact that Twitter had on social issues such as the Arab Spring (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). Social media activism tends to be centered around connection that is, being part of a community and discussion compared to traditional activism which were protest oriented. This explains why it is hard for some scholars to perceive the conversation those teenage feminists are having on twitter as a social movement. However, the undeniable common factor that “traditional activist” and feminist girls on Twitter have is their driving force that is, their passion for equality and justice for all (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). Girls have proved their power on numerous occasions. For instance, “We Need Consent” is a successful online campaign created by a group of teenage girls on Twitter. The aim was to show the importance of teaching young boys about consent in their sex education classes. By working together as a community, they collected enough signatures worldwide and were able to challenge rape culture and work towards a safer future for girls (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). This success story demonstrates how teenage girls can use twitter to promote their campaign and petitions and bring actual change in their country or at least in this case their school system. Therefore, the social movement that teenage feminist create and promote allow them to reach their feminist goal which is to eliminate sexism and oppression.
Teenage girls have created an innovative and powerful subculture of feminism, which has definitively impacted feminist politics in the contemporary context (Crystal & Ringrose, 2018). This would not have been possible without the web 2.0, which encourages participatory culture and community formation (Gretzel, 2015). The web 2.0 and the increasing popularity of social media led to an increase in digital activism (Li et al, 2020). Twitter allows the young female feminists to join and build online communities and become active feminists. Indeed, they use Twitter to share information, educate others about feminist issues, promote and participate in social movements. Their online actions aim at sharing their feminist values while challenging antifeminist behavior (Gleason, 2018). Overall, proving that teenage feminists are in fact powerful individuals. Indeed through the online conversations that take place on Twitter, those teenagers are contributing immensely to a powerful feminist discussion against issues related inequality (Gleason, 2018). Thus, making teenagers political agents who stand up against sexism and oppression and ultimately working toward creating better future.
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