Although the rise of Web 2.0 platforms such as social media and blogging sites has allowed feminists to globally communicate, connect and broaden their community, it has not affected any real change for the women who need it. It has helped feminism evolve into a movement that is easily accessible online, yet this ‘Internet age’ of feminism is not as adept at achieving these equalities through action. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blog websites, and other interactive forums like Goodreads, have broken through previous barriers the feminist movement has faced by allowing feminists all across the world to connect and educate one another, creating a world-wide feminist community. Whilst the discussion surrounding current issues of gender inequality is louder than ever, the action put into changing it seems to have slowed right down.
How has the concept of community changed?
A common definition of community can be defined as a “spatially compact set of people with a high frequency of interaction, interconnections, and a sense of solidarity” (Gruzd, Wellman and Takhteyev, 2011), and when applied to those who interact via social media, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are not considered a community. In the Internet age, the concept of community has shifted and changed as the relationships individuals within a certain community have can now transcend location, time and socio-economic status. There are still many people who are ambivalent about online interactions, believing social media sites to be the blame for damaging the solidarity of communities (Cohen, 2015), as opposed to being a beneficial facilitator that actually strengthens and even creates communities.
Despite the negative feedback that social media can often get, the connectedness it provides allowing personal and intimate relationships to emerge and prosper sees these platforms as falling under the umbrella of what defines a community.
A brief history of Feminism:
The Feminist movement is one that spans across centuries, with women being treated as the second class or inferior gender for a long time. In order to understand the timeline of the movement, it has been broken up into different time frames known as waves. First wave feminism spans from 1848 to 1920, and is not the beginning of feminist thought, but is marked by the first ongoing political movement that effected change in the Western world (Grady, 2018). The feminists of this time were known as the suffragettes, and engaged in protest, debate, lectures and any other means that would eventuate in equal rights for women, the main aim being to gain women the right to vote (Grady, 2018). In 1902, Australia granted women the right to vote, being noted as the second country to do so (Heath, 2019), America not granting women this right until 1920 (Grady, 2018).
Second wave feminism began in 1963 up until the 1980s, and can in large part be accredited to the release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which stirred the anger of thousands of women who were tired of being seen as the inferior sex. The fight against gender inequality during this time was expressed predominantly through organised rallies and protests that would ensure these women were heard and that changes were made. What these women were fighting to achieve was the ability to have a credit card in their own name as well as taking out a mortgage, raising awareness about marital rape and domestic violence and abuse, and creating shelters and safe places for abused women to seek refuge (Grady, 2018).
Third wave feminism began roughly around 1991, yet faces a lot of debate about exactly what it is and whether or not it has ended or still continues (Grady, 2018). Despite this, it can most commonly be seen as originally aiming to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and getting more women into positions of power and leadership roles (Grady, 2018). Beginning in the early 90s and continuing through the turn of the century, a lot of third wave feminism was more about image and had no specific goal, and thus does not have any legislation or social change attributed to it as first and second wave does (Grady, 2018). The introduction of the Internet and of new technologies was beginning to emerge, so perhaps the beginnings of ‘digital feminism’ can be seen as crossing over with third wave feminism, having an impact.
How the Web 2.0 and the Internet has connected Feminists
Whilst participating in online feminist communities through Web 2.0 platforms has not directly affected any obvious change for women in Western societies, the communicative reach and connectedness it fosters is unprecedented and unparalleled. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter enable feminists from all over the world to interact with one another and unite in their support of the same cause. Blogs, websites in which the author creates different posts and can be text, audio or video in nature (What is a wiki or blog, n.d.), have become an excellent way for feminists to remain educated and knowledgeable on global issues experienced by women in different countries and of different cultures.
For many women the online feminist community, however they may participate in it, offers a safe place that allows them to both talk about the inequalities they face in their everyday life as well as seek advice, comfort and support from women they have often never met yet who they bond with over their experiences. A study that was conducted at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (Magno and Weber, n.d.) revealed that women who live in countries with high levels of societal gender inequalities are more likely to have a strong presence online (Powell, 2018). The 24/7 nature of the online world and the ease of use of these Web 2.0 platforms enables women to focus on and share many of the smaller ways they battle gender inequalities in their everyday lives (Jackson, 2018).
The Sydney Feminists is a not for profit organisation that is run entirely online by a group of volunteers, and the organisation’s main objective is to raise awareness about the different discriminative issues women face in Australia and around the world (About The Sydney Feminists, 2018). To do this, they run a blog using blog-publishing service Blogger, in order to post a variety or articles written by volunteer writers on issues surrounding gender inequality. What this blog does is allow women from different backgrounds and with different life experiences to collate these articles into one place, so that women can remain educated on the way women experience inequality across the world.
Apart from providing an easily accessible place to share their experiences, Web 2.0 allows women to bond and connect in positive ways that still foster and focus on their feminist beliefs. It is important for people, in particular women, to engage in positive conversation and activities in order to feel close and to bond with someone (Pirie, 2019), and some of the benefits these positive interactions and relationships produce include “social trust, less stress, better health and more social support” (van der Horst and Coffé, 2011). Our Shared Shelf is an online feminist book club that was created and still run by popular actress and ambassador for UN Women, Emma Watson. The book club is set up through the popular reading site Goodreads, and every two months Watson selects a feminist book for participants to read and engage in discussion and thought on the page’s forum. The group currently has 23,0031 registered members, and aims to introduce women to feminist literature written by female authors from a variety of different cultures, ethnicities and lifestyles (Hudson, Ballif-Spanvill, Cline and Fincher, n.d.).
There is no denying that Web 2.0 platforms have provided an easy and highly accessible way for women and feminists to share their ideas and experiences, connect with many women across the world, and deepen their understanding of gender inequality outside their city or country. However, awareness and connection are not the same as action and change, which can be seen as the main contrast between feminism in a digital world, and feminism during a time that predates the Internet.
Compare and contrast: Feminism then and now
The difference between the feminist movement during the first and second wave to the third wave and the present day is predominantly action. As previously stated, Web 2.0 platforms provides no shortage of awareness and education, but it is the actual changing of circumstances for women that seems to be where it falls short. Whilst engaging with women of different backgrounds and from different circumstances is easily possible with the use of the Internet, this was often not the case during first and second wave feminism as women were restricted to their local area (Wallace, 2014). However, this did not stop women from effecting change.
First and second wave feminism was actively engaged in through the organisation of different protests and rallies in different cities or states (Grady, 2018). What this did was apply pressure to Governments and important political figures so that big legal and societal changes would be made. The right for women to vote was the biggest and most important outcome of first wave feminism (Grady, 2018), and the second wave feminist period being most known for allowing women the right to make their own decisions about pregnancy whilst remaining unrestricted by the Government (Turner-Graham, 2009). These two waves of feminism achieved these changes by protesting and fighting with these outcomes as their goals, and continued to harbour for change until they got it.
Feminism in the online world, however, can be seen as more reactionary and expressive of opinions, meaning that when something occurs and is shown in the media, those who consider themselves feminists take to social media. Women are willing to engage in opinion and debate on issues as they occur, yet there is not that specific goal-focused mentality of first and second wave feminism. These platforms allow women to engage with the media and publically share their thoughts on gender inequality issues of the zeitgeist, and whilst this may not be the most effective or coordinated way to start the process of necessary change, it is an easy way to bring attention to an issue. Although attention is not action, it can sometimes be enough to put pressure on those in positions of power and authority, and influence the outcome of certain events. A recent example of this kind of public attention bringing light to inequalities against women is the #MeToo movement.
Although the ‘MeToo’ movement started in 2006, it gained traction in 2017 when American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted her followers, asking them to reply to her tweet saying ‘me too’ if they have ever experienced sexual harassment or assault (Pflum, 2018). This resulted in thousands of replies to the tweet, other celebrities also replying and sharing their stories. The hashtag #MeToo began circulating the Internet on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with many women sharing stories of assault and abuse for the first time, and uniting them, with film producer Harvey Weinstein being accused by dozens of female celebrities of sexual assault, harassment and rape cases being the most controversial result of the #MeToo movement. Without the presence of social media used in such a case, such a trial against Weinstein may have never occurred, and women may not have had the confidence to speak up against him. Although feminists today are not constantly fighting in an organised way to achieve certain equalities, they do have the ability to influence these injustices, as Web 2.0 allows them to publically and globally engage.
Web 2.0 platforms such as social media sites, blogs and other interactive forums have allowed the feminist community to not only broaden globally, but to strengthen as they have the ability to easily and constantly communicate with one another. Whilst this can only be a positive for women, it is different to that of feminism in previous years as it can make feminists complacent and satisfied with engaging with one another and educating one another, and the urgency for action to get results is not often there. It has made the movement easily accessible by a vast majority of women who wish to be a part of the movement, yet overall, Web 2.0 may be seen as something that has increased the conversation around feminism, but brought a halt to the auctioning of the movement.
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