Feminism and Social Media: Posting, Posing, Sharing, and Shouting

By Amanda Cartigiano

There has been some questioning as to whether or not we are in the midst of  fourth wave feminism. Regardless, a significant part of this wave centers around feminism and activism through the internet and social media. The purpose of fourth wave is to expand, reclaim, and advocate for what already exists, such as women’s rights, recognition of sexual assault, equal pay, and now more than ever, intersectionality. The fourth wave’s main modality for re-introducing and sustaining the women’s movement through collective solidarity among the feminist population is online mobilization.

Defined by technology, and feminist ideologies and topics, information and  community can simply be accessed on all platforms of social media. Take Slutmouth, for example, an online publication featuring political, social, and literary prose to inform and educate people on matters of importance. Social media utilizes a hashtag to form and control networks of people and organizations. Feminism has even made its way to the literary movement when in 2014, Rupi Kaur released her feminist collection of poetry, Milk and Honey. Many people refer to this as “internet poetry”, but the contents of her work brought millions of women together, and whether it was her work as a poet, feminist, or both, it reassured and created a safe haven.

Alison Dahl Crossley, Associate Director of Stanford’s Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, conducted research on movement organization based on feminism and social media. Online mobilization and organization is now part of media culture, an accessible space to create and share personal  interests that others can connect to. Those same interests make it feasible to motivate participants, begin social movements, or to simply enjoy visual media, such as Feminist’s Instagram profile.

Crossley says, “the internet is the new engine for contemporary feminism.” The feminist campaign, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as A Woman depicts a woman silently walking around Manhattan for ten hours in jeans and a t-shirt. In those ten hours, multiple men commented on her physique, outfit, body, and emotions, with one guy commenting, “you should smile more.” Concerns about whether or not the woman was being rude by not responding are among the comments in response to the video, but a woman is not obligated to reply with gratitude. We’ve been socialized to be polite and say thank you when we receive a compliment, which I am completely on-board with, but in no way are these interactions complimentary when they are coming from strangers. Aside from the harmless hello’s and how are you’s, the man walking beside the woman for five minutes exemplifies concern for that woman’s safety. By creating and sharing this video with other networks and organizations through social media, others can create and utilize change to end street harassment.

In the 1990s we had zines and  self-published feminist media, but sites like Instagram and Twitter have surpassed both not only in content, but also in community engagement. People are not just connecting with other people, but with other organizations as well. This ability of social networking has made media activism an effective form of social change.

Social media activism helped me to understand my own experiences with feminism, especially body positivity. I’ve struggled with physical appearance all my life, and before I ever knew about feminism, I started to accept that fat was and will always be a bad thing. While I’m not shutting down the significance of health and wellness, the representation of women in the media has made me and millions of other women feel that there is only one way to look. Campaigns and posters of body positivity have been marketed to major retailers, such as Aerie, to share personal narratives with other women, and those narratives are part of the change in the way women show their bodies. I took my first picture in front of the mirror in high rise jeans and a bra because I was beginning to learn that body perfection is a social construct, an obscured reality,  and that we have the ability to overcome such a challenge.

There is a developing and successful fourth wave, and it’s the wave of reclamation through photography and video. Technology has become successful in this wave because it acts as a  platform for current and potential movements, and because of mass networks, the fourth wave now recognizes political, social, and cultural difference in a way that previous ways did not.