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Postfeminism in Social Media: Are these young women feminists or feminazis?

Identity in Virtual Community

Virtual communication, social media, and other social networking sites have functioned as full time channels of communication that have access to society and hold a significant role in self presentation and liberation (Mascheroni, Vincent, Jimenez, 2015). Photo based social media such as Instagram or Snapchat are examples of complex new media, in which the feature of sharing pictures, videos, and added texts are all inclusive making them ‘complete’ platforms to connect online. For teens and preteens, social media has become an essential part in “managing one’s identity and social relations” (boyd, 2007, 2014; Livingstone, 2008, 2009; Peter, Valkenburg, & Fluckiger, 2009; Valkenburg, et al, 2005, as cited in Mascheroni, et al, 2015). Research on the use of social networking sites focused attention on the power of peer norms on practices and criterions of online identity-creating (boyd, 2007, 2014; Livingstone, 2008; as cited in 2015). The use of virtual environment has also supported adolescents “to construct and perform young feminist identities” (Keller 2015; as cited in Retallack, Ringrose, Lawrence, 2016). Unavoidably, despite the emancipation within the social media, tensions between genders emerge contradictory pressures concerning what is deemed proper and what is inappropriate to post (2015) making it complicated for adolescents, especially young women, to share about postfeminist ideas and let themselves free bodily and emotionally in the virtual world. Young women are using social media as a means of self-expression with subtle messages defining their identity as a postfeminist. Those young feminists who share photos and contents on social media with an intention of delivering feminist messages also builds connection within the postfeminist virtual community.

In general discussion, the term postfeminism is applied to indicate that gender equality has been reached (Henderson & Taylor, 2020), therefore a new and more complex goal is set to be accomplished, including the rights of LGBTQ+ community. It started after and as a criticism of the 2nd wave feminism of the 1970s. In cultural studies and feminist media, postfeminism has proven to be useful in understanding popular culture (2010). As women have achieved their goals to obtain equality, postfeminism not only focuses on women but also takes gender-related progression to the next stage. Postfeminism works side by side with neoliberalism, as self improvement and success around impressions and “desirability to men continues to represent one of the most important aspects of femininity in contemporary popular make-over culture” (Ringrose & Walkerdine 2008, as cited in Retallack, Ringrose, Lawrence, 2016). 

Sporadically, when the term postfeminism is discussed, it is described as a bifurcated term with numerous different branches (Genz, 2006).  Being divided into two distinctive strands, it can be defined as a mainstream adverse reaction against feminism or a completely new way for women to engage in feminist theory and activism (“Postfeminism”, 2013). Even though postfeminism is a thoroughly debatable signifier, within feminist media, it has become known as a key idea to apprehend the digressive production of present-day women’s subjectivity through popular culture (Modleski, Lotz, Whelehan, Gill, Tasker & Negra, Genz, McRobbie as cited in Handerson & Taylor, 2010). In popular culture of the 21st century, the question of gender: “who are we, and to what extent do biological divisions of male and female continue to inform our sense of identity?” continues to be a primary question (Radner & Stringer, 2011, p. 1), explaining the postfeminism is not only focusing on one gender which is female, but also considering other genders when it comes to identity.

According to Marwick, online identity is a term that indicates a differentiation between how people perform themselves in the virtual world and how they do it in the real space or offline (2012). As a result, people’s personality in the online world can be contrary to what they really are in reality, supported by the internet and its function as a platform for people to be free to project their desired persona. Vaast proposed that people in the online environments can create ‘new selves’ and that online identity could make adopting personas possible and easy to embrace (2007). More extreme theoreticians hypothesized that the online world would set people free from their biological bodies, blur the distinction between human and technology, and potentially transform people into a higher sort of awareness, turning into “post-human” (Stone, 1996). Notwithstanding the fact that it is doable for people creating or even completely faking their online identity, Bullingham and Vancocelos argued that people are not creating a whole new persona online, because in most cases they are only performing the chosen aspects of their ‘real world’ personality as the highlight (2013).  This concept is also explained by Baym, that a multiple self elucidates why people perform various identities based on context: “multiplicity is an inherent property of identity rather than somehow dishonest or false” (as cited in Marwick, 2012). 

Most scholars that discuss online identity are focusing on self-presentation, which is used to describe how individuals present themselves to others and also indicated through the interaction in social situations, whether in cyberspace or in real life (Wynn and Katz 1997; Papacharissi 2002; Baym 2010; boyd 2010, as cited in Marwick, 2012). Erving Goffman (1959), a sociologist in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, concludes that people present themselves based on who they are with or the audience, and where they are or context. During the interaction, those who participate are considered as actors (1959). Consequently, identity is a social construct constructed alongside and through the people surrounding us (2012), which means what other people see in us and ‘what kind of people’ around us matter. When it comes to the virtual world, especially in social media, people around us are mainly our followers or close friends, although they could be as widely distributed as strangers from beyond the horizon. Therefore, there is a possibility that what we perform and post online can be disseminated world wide, which could make the messages delivered within the post can reach out to more of an audience than in real life situation.

Derived from the Latin word com which means together and unus which means a singularity or the number one, community is a generally used term in scholarly discussion, yet it is also complex (Delanty, 2018). Regardless of its contestation, the thought of community is linked to the pursuit of belonging (2018). While virtual and non virtual communities may be thick on the ground, there has not been a single explanation defining the term “virtual community” that is embraced by all (Porter, 2015). A virtual community is conceived as a collection or gathering of individuals who communicate about the same shared interest, where the interaction is partly maintained by the help of technology and directed by some conventions (Porter 2004, as cited in Porter, 2015). This explanation is also in line with Cantoni & Tardini’s interpretation that “virtual communities require members to share common interests (the defining characteristic of so-called paradigmatic communities) as well as interact amongst each other as they actively refine the domain of their shared interests (the defining characteristic of so-called syntagmatic communities)” (2006, as cited in Porter, 2015, p. 162). To sum up, community is a space in both virtual and non-virtual environment that requires members who have the same common interests, a sense of belonging, and interact within the community.  

Since nowadays the internet consists of many different social media platforms, a more exact statement of virtual community continues to be unachievable (2015). As a matter of fact, differing virtual community types are elucidated by a variation of contextual aspects that includes the strength and/or type of member connections, subject matter of communication within the interactions in the midst of members, conditions under which one person becomes a member of the community or the circumstances under which a community was originated (Greenacre et al. 2013; Lee et al. 2003; Preece 2000, as cited in Porter, 2015). Porter’s definition of virtual community encompasses the characteristics, making it sustainable and comprehensive, including; 1) members of community could be organizations or individuals who can communicate and connect in both virtual and non virtual space, 2) interaction between members could be brought about by any kind of technology, and the key of the definition remains applicable in which it includes the latest types of gadgets and recently developed social media platforms (e.g. Instagram, Twitter) become all over the place (2015).

The sense of belonging in the virtual community can be completely different than in the real space community. The members do not have to know the others in person, making the interaction not too intimate. In fact, the members do not have to be ‘registered’ to join the community and the community itself is not always solid.  The virtual postfeminist community is more of a collective of feminists in this era who continuously share about postfeminist messages in their personal social networks. It is more of a gathering of people who perform the identity of being postfeminists online. Within the content that is created online and distributed through social media, societal politics and social movements are being progressively recognizable as essential component of communication (Dahlgren 2009; Papacharissi 2014; as cited in Retallack, Ringrose, Lawrence, 2016), helping the movement of women’s rights get easily acknowledged online. However, postfeminists do not always state or identify themselves as postfeminists online, it is their posts with postfeminist messages that shows their identity. The blurred recognition of being postfeminist from the perspective of the audience makes the messages that are supposed to deliver postfeminist subjects can become ambiguous.

On photo based social media platform such as Instagram, even though it is also supported by text and hashtag feature, at most times people only use the photo feature as platform to communicate feminist message. Within the picture itself, audience can find and interpret aspects of postfeminism, such as viewing and posting about body positivism. In many cases, these posts about body positivism lead to antifeminist or even misogynist comments such as slut shaming, due to the absence of identifying self as feminist. On the other hand, people who show most of their skin on their posts with the help of some hashtags such as #bodypositivism, #feminist, or #womenempowerment could also be judged as feminazi. Even though there has not been a definite explanation of what feminazi is, it is a combination of the word feminist and nazi which is an offensive name used to address radical or extreme feminism. It is also used when people see or interpret some feminist ideas as false feminism. This debatable feminazi perceptions are common in the social media, especially when the audience recognize the unsure newly arrived feminists who happen to be girls in their young adulthood, “questioning which forms of feminism these teens are claiming as part of their lives and how they make use of them” (Retallack, Ringrose, Lawrence, 2016). At present, young women tend to adopt the postfeminist representation of feminine allure—“one which wants them sexually attractive and active—and are at the same time more subject to peers’ moral judgment than boys, who are pushed to conform to an idealized masculinity centred on toughness and emotional disconnection” (Lemish 2015; as cited in Mascheroni, Vincent, Jimenez, 2015, p.3). Scholars also argue that adult central beliefs of how the feminist campaigns and activism should look and how it should be, frequently refuse young girls’ feminist activism and think of it as generational revolt instead of solemn political engagement (Harris 2008; Taft 2011; as cited in Retallack, Ringrose, Lawrence, 2016).

On the one hand, postfeminism introduces a recently developed “form of self-policing and sexism to women’s lives; one that becomes hard to critique and dismantle as sexual self objectification is continually presented as a matter of individual choice and desire” (McRobbie 2004; Gill 2007, as cited in 2016, p. 86). As postfeminism is closely associated with neoliberalism, research on young girls indicating the postfeminist effects on body hatred are not obsolete with girls confronting continuous day-to-day pain at being exposed to neoliberal marketing of their “learning bodies” (2016). Feminist academics highlighted the irrevocable natural world of neoliberal aesthetic representations of femininity which young girls decide to obey since their self-assurance is based on their beauty and looks (Gill 2003; Stuart & Donaghue 2012; as cited in Mascheroni, Vincent, Jimenez, 2015). The mission of neoliberalism to become someone gives out what is expressed as the delusional aspect of self controlling, individuality and self-governing notions of subjectivity (2016). Yet, with social media, it helps connecting and giving the means for a number of teenage girls to begin reforming the relationships with each other and most importantly, their bodies (2016). For instance, Snapchat is a remedying platform to empower and emancipate young women from the autocracy of aesthetics and beauty and allows them play a role in playful interaction by sharing photos in which their look is neither flawless nor sexually appealing (2015).

In concluding, young women with their young feminist identities and their postfeminist online contents are often misrecognized. Even though the identities or self images that are constructed by young women who claim themselves as feminists are relevant to how they represent selves through media and virtual community related, the determination of their claim as feminists is still quite early and banal due to its thin line difference between feminist and feminazi, which can be a misleading interpretation of the true spirit of feminism. Their developing self presentation and non stop self expression as postfeminists sometimes are not always approved by adults, making their slactivism or online activism seen as something that would not change or do anything in real space. This way of thinking arises due to the discrepancy of generations and the technologies used. The “non solid” postfeminist virtual community and the freedom to claim oneself as a postfeminist also contribute to the negative side of thinking, since it would make audience questioning one’s identity as real feminist or not. Although it is rather difficult to acknowledge one’s intention on posting contents that are related to body positivity, self love, and other feminist messages, we can conclude that the online identity that someone has desirably performed is powerful enough a medium to connect with fellow like-minded people, in this case; young feminists in the postfeminist virtual community. In addition, despite the blurred virtual community of postfeminism and the unregistered members online, young postfeminists still can observe the sense of online postfeminist community by exploring the hashtags, give comments on other feminists’ posts, and empowering each others. And if those young feminists continue to do what they do in the virtual postfeminist community, it could have impacts on changing society’s perception towards the issue itself.

References

Bullingham, L. & Vasconcelos, A.C. (2013). The presentation of self in the online world: Goffman and the study of online identities, Journal of Information Science, 39(1), 101-112. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0165551512470051

Genz, S. (2006). Third Way/ve: The politics of feminism, Feminist Theory, 333-353, London, UK: SAGE Publications.

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Henderson, M. & Taylor, A. (2020). Postfeminism in context, Feminism and Female Sexuality, NY: Routledge.

Marwick, A. E. (2012). Online identity. In J. Hartley, J. Burgess, & A. Bruns (Eds.), A companion to new media dynamics (pp. 355–364). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1002/9781118321607.ch23

Mascheroni, G., Vincent, J., & Jimenez, E. (2015). “Girls are addicted to likes so they post semi-naked selfies”: Peer mediation, normativity and the construction of identity online. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 9(1), Article 5. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2015- 1-5

Porter, C. E. (2015). Virtual communities and social networks, Communication and Technology, 161-179. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=1759936&ppg=31

Postfeminism. (2013). Retrieved from https://canlitguides.ca/canlit-guides-editorial-team/postfeminism-and-conservative-feminism/postfeminism/

Radner, H. & Stringer, R. (2011). Feminism at the movies: Understanding gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema, New York, NY: Routledge.

Retallack, H., Ringrose, J., & Lawrence, E. (2016). “Fuck your body image”: Teen girls’ twitter and instagram feminism in and around school, Learning Bodies, (2), 85-103. doi:10.1007/978-981-10-0306-6

Stone, A.R. (1996) The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vaast, E. Playing with Masks: fragmentation and continuity in the presentation of self in an occupational online forum. Information Technology & People 2007; 20 334-351. 


13 replies on “Postfeminism in Social Media: Are these young women feminists or feminazis?”

Hi Diandra

Firstly, thanks for an engaging paper. As an avid user of Instagram, I can see some of the scenarios and concepts here played out in my own feed, and your paper will be interesting to ponder next time I’m scrolling.

Do you think that feminazi accusations and adults passing off displays of feminism as “generational revolt” lead young women who may have once been interested in feminism to veer away from it?

I’d love your opinion on my paper if you’re interested. It also touches on authenticity/dramaturgy and Goffman’s work. You can find it here: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/15/authentic-selves-how-facebooks-push-for-real-names-causes-users-wishing-to-explore-their-identity-to-invest-in-alternative-platforms/

Hi India! Thanks for taking your time reading my paper. In my opinion, the feminazi and generational revolt accusations may lead young women to veer away from feminism in a way that feminism can be really broad and there are so many types of feminists that could be confusing for some young women out there. Whether they’d be confused on which type of feminism they should learn and “follow” or it might be too risky for them to become young feminists that can lead to the issue; feminazi. Yet, regardless of all the negative accusations made by older generations or overall by our society, I think if these young women are interested in feminism and want to learn it, they need to know this side of feminism too. Just like pretty much every aspect in life, let’s say in some religions, there must be some extremists. Feminazi can be defined as a radical-feminist, but I bet those feminazis don’t identify themselves as ones, yet they think what they do is the right thing to do. Acknowledging this side of feminism would also help the young future feminist to observe critically about the phenomenon within the feminist community.

Hi Diandra

As a male I find it difficult to have an opinion on the feminist movement as the word “feminist” can represent a large range of vastly different opinions and ideas. Post-feminism is concept I wasn’t aware of and found discussion of it extremely enlightening and it is something I will do more research into. I enjoyed your discussion about online identity and I was wondering if feminists are impacted by the online toxic and benign disinhibition effect? I define this effect in my paper as “Benign online disinhibition is when someone over the internet is more likely to open up about personal and emotional matters and seek help and / or show kindness and selflessness to others that they wouldn’t usually have the confidence to do in real life (Untoro & Monjexi, 2016). ” toxic disinhibition is the opposite of this.

Hi Lochlan! Thanks for your comment. The fact that you stated that you are not too aware of feminism yet still taking your time on reading my paper is just… wow I really appreciate it. You know what? I think you are better than me before knowing feminism. I identify myself now as a feminist, or postfeminist in particular. But before that, I was a complete opposite who had no idea of what feminism is AND was probably an antifeminist, because everything I did was just not right and far from being respectful towards women, towards myself. So that was my hideous background. While I found some “enlightenment” too, the benign online disinhibition within the feminisnt community (online and offline actually) is the one that enlighten me. There I found that people or even strangers can be really nice in the virtual world, yet some can be really toxic too. And yes, I think feminists are impacted by the toxic and benign online disinhibition. Those toxic ones are victim-blamers, misogynists, antifeminists, or overall people who hold strong patriarchy value. And we feminists are impacted in a “triggering” way, yet we still fight for our rights, even we “share” this kind of toxic content to raise awareness that this is not right. Those cases are found a lot on internet with a warning sign “this post/story can be triggering for some parties” or can be read as “fellow feminists let’s educate these people and fight this patriarchy”. Yet, in term of the feminism itself, it is a discourse that is circulated by media, so it is going to always be impacted. We can’t really separate the feminism itself and how the notion is perceived by society.

Hi Diandra

I really enjoyed reading your paper. I agree when you say that when posting feminist content online, people face the risk of receiving antifeminist and misogynist comments. In fact, the internet can be a very toxic place. Do you think that this discourages people to perform their feminist/ post feminist identity online or is it a risk that they are prepared to face?



I also wrote on feminism and I would love to have your insight on my paper. If you’re interested here’s the link: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/can-teenage-feminism-on-twitter-change-the-world/

Hi Alice, thank you for taking your time to read my paper!
can I just say, I know right… internet can be a terrible place for women, well for everyone, but I just never really heard of patriarchy movement as we live in patriarchal world. Regarding your question, I personally feel that way sometimes. I don’t consider myself as an active social media user, one of the reasons why is because I’m afraid of getting into internet drama. I’d rather talk about feminism with other feminists through direct message or offline, just because I know if some antifeminist who would “join the conversation” let’s say on twitter, is just going to bother me in a way that I don’t care what they say, why should I be hearing their misogynist thoughts? I mean in the place where I am from (my country with antifeminist culture), it’s already triggering me in many ways and in real life. I find that it’s way too offensive and I’d rather not be open about my identity as a feminist both in virtual and non-virtual world. I did talk a lot about feminism in my online diary (blog), just to express my feelings being a feminist in an antifeminist world. But I always support my fellow feminists on the internet though, sometimes I repost their stories that I find really helpful and informative without offending any parties, then again just to avoid the internet drama.

I’ve read your paper and I thank you for the helpful feminist infos and issues that’s happening on Twitter!

Hi Diandra

I personally feel that feminism is a term which most people understand in the wrong way and I think that you have done a fabulous job in writing up a paper which would strike a chord with people who have no clue what feminism is and definitely to people who have taken this movement in a wrong way. There are huge positivities and negativities which revolve around the concept of feminism in social media. People who preach feminism in the right way and educating the world in the right way and people who do it the wrong way. Sadly I feel that the negative part of feminism is highlighted when you take social media or any kind of online platform into account, or do you think that’s not the case? I am open for answers.
I have written a piece on a topic which plays as a medium for your topic and would love to have your thoughts on it. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/23/instagram-marketing-has-revolutionized-social-commerce-the-consumer-trust-and-the-role-of-influencers/

Thanks and regards
Jashwanth

Hi Jash! Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, sometimes people highlighted the negative ones, like they only focus on the negative ones and forget or choose to ignore the positive sides. I don’t rule out the possibility, yes there must be some feminist thoughts that are biased out there, but there must be a reason behind everything. Just what I stated in the other reply above, I don’t think feminazis realize what they do or even think of what they do is the right thing to do. But yes, social media can be a really judgy space that even though we have the freedom of speech, people are going to judge anyway without know the contexts or one’s intentions.

Hi Diandra,

I just finished reading your paper, and I find it an exciting topic. I wrote on this similar topic in another class as well. I find it interesting how you compare the identity of people feminism before social media was introduced, and after it presents. It is interesting how social media can shape our personal identity.

My key point in my previous paper discusses how the female adolescence feels pressure from how social media portray body image. The media have pressured a girl to target their body goals for slenderness. Most women who are dissatisfied with their body image are mostly the one who is categorized as overweight and obese. This woman with body dissatisfaction can lead to the risk of an eating disorder, causing them to skip meals and feeling guilty when they eat. Female gender adolescents can easily be influenced or manipulated by the media to be dissatisfied with their body image, which can lead them to engage in mental health issues.

I think young adolescence should be influence by adults (e.g., parents or teachers) to diminish the risk of social media. Where adults should teach adolescents to help enhance adolescents’ knowledge and understanding of the use of the social network. More or less, it is an interesting argument you make relating to adolescence in this generation. I hope my perspective can help you in any way. I hope that my comment is not offensive. Thank you, and good luck.

If you have time on checking my paper on how online employment-oriented service networking websites (e.g., LinkedIn) are frequently applied in the employment procedure because the profiles contain useful information such as accomplish education and working experience. here is the link https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/11/online-communities-network-in-employment-oriented-service/

Christopher Benson

Hi Benson! Thanks for your comment! And no I don’t find that offensive at all, I totally agree with you, while some adolescents find that social media is a place where they can be free (without parents) (including me when I was growing up), they need to know the consequences that are caused by social media, and adults participation is pretty necessary. Yet, logically if we’re talking about parent-old adults, I don’t think they would help much as the technology is so different and parents did not grow up with social media. But yes adults’ influence somehow would help youngsters to behave on social media (also personal experience). I love the topic that you’ve discussed in your previous paper! I would love to read it. Yes, it’s saddening how society could make a woman feels that terrible about her body that she would do anything to change it even though it would definitely harm herself. But I think the world is being progressive with sooo many models with different body types, skin colour, skin condition, hair, etc. I hope that we keep on being progressive.

Hi Benson! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! no, I don’t find it offensive at all. I love the topic on your previous paper, would love to read it. It is truly saddening how society would make a woman feels so terrible about their own body, and how the society and social media can shape a biased mono beauty standard. Yet I think the world is being progressive with many supermodels with different body types, skin colour, skin condition, hair, etc. I hope that we keep on being progressive. I totally agree with you, even though social media can be an escape for those adolescent to be free without their parents knowing what they do and share on there, these teenagers need to seek some guidance from adults. Well, I don’t thing parent-old adult is the perfect example since those parents in this generation, they did not grow up with social media. So it wouldn’t be effective, even kids these days teach their parents on how to use social media. But yes, a guidance from some older, more mature grown-ups is pretty necessary (from my personal experience). They somehow help these youngsters to behave on social media, and of course, to also control how to express and perform their online identity.

Hey Syakira,
I truly enjoyed reading your essay, and yes i agree with the rest of the comments that the term ‘Feminism’ is a very controversial term and it could have different meanings depending on the perspectives. In a world where the internet ranks supreme, online communities would be filled with people of all beliefs and personality. Hence it is common for people to easily mis-interpret a post that is about empowering woman to be rather about Feminazi.

To my understanding, i believe that young woman whom find interest in the woman empowerment should first seek guidance from an older more experienced individual. This is so the younger ones can be exposed to testimonials to prepare themselves by gaining better knowledge about the community and understanding the possibility of hate comments and how to deal with it.

I know my essay might not really be related to yours. But i do hope you would check it out and tell me how you feel about it!
https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/18/cyber-racism-and-misrepresentations-of-asians-on-the-internet/

Hi Nick! Thank you for taking your time reading my paper! Indeed, feminism is really broad yet it’s always going to be political. I honestly agree on your thought about how youngsters should “look up to” older, mature figure just like what I stated in the reply to Benson above. Acknowledging the negativity of the internet beforehand is really necessary in my opinion, especially for those youngsters who tend to behave vulgarly online without knowing the consequences.

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