By Elisa Abbott
Social media started to have an impact on the feminist movement in the past years. It has helped women grow and evolve, giving them the courage to speak openly and reveal sexual offenders, unfair treatment at work or in the society, and sexist work environment. Social media has become the refuge for many women who can now directly address the misogynist ideology and make their voices heard. Women started to change the history by “calling out” the politicians and leaders and revealing their behaviors. This is how it became a valuable tool in the gender equality “battle” and promises to take this quest even further.
Even though the society has evolved a lot, women are still not given their place in the traditional media. According to a study developed by Women’s Media Center, men dominate the U.S. media, receiving 62% of bylines in TV, print, internet, and wire news. The biggest news channels still have more men presenting the news than women. Having in mind this reality together with other discrepancies in the work field, social media is the key to close this gap.
A #Hashtag can be a powerful weapon.
Those who wanted to fight against sexism a decade ago couldn’t use so many tools to make their thoughts public. Before Twitter and Facebook became so popular, the discussions about feminist were nearly invisible. Celebrities like Katy Perry or Shailene Woodley didn’t even accept the word “feminist”. Furthermore, apart from misconceptions, people had to overcome distance barriers and it was difficult to have people participating in rallies.
Since Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and all the other social media platforms exploded in popularity, feminist activists were given a powerful tool to fight for their rights. Now, they don’t have any more geographic and distance barriers to overcome. Social media has helped activists to openly communicate with people from other countries and share their thoughts.
Hashtags have become an incredibly powerful tool for women to change ideas and concepts, and make their voices heard. 2015 was the year when a hashtag campaign became so viral that it couldn’t be ignored anymore. Women showed their disagreement on the questions female actors were being asked on the red carpet in comparison to men. They shared their thoughts about the situation using the hashtag #askhermore. The trending hashtag was not ignored by the Academy and the press. Robin Roberts, from ABC, selected some of the questions published on Twitter under this hashtag and asked the actresses the most relevant ones.
#Metoo is the hashtag campaign and social movement with the biggest reach so far. The movement was originally started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago, but it was the revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that kicked the movement into high gear over the past couple of years. Thousands of women as well as some prominent men have been using the hashtag to share their assault stories and raise awareness on sexual assault in society. #Metoo gave women the courage to talk about how they dealt with sexual harassment, considered so far a taboo subject. Celebrities and politicians joined everyday women in sharing their stories and thoughts on the matter, making the subject even more popular. This hashtag has been used 1.7 million times so far and it doesn’t show any signs to slow down soon.
Social media does not only raise awareness about feminism, but it also has brought tangible results too. Companies and organizations were obliged to change their course because of the social media intensity. For instance, Victoria Secret had to change their “perfect body” slogan after a feminist social media campaign highlighted the shaming aspect of their message. Women all around the world showed their disagreement on what a “perfect body” really means, and they also launched a petition on change.org. Social media activism had a direct and tangible effect on Victoria Secret’s advertising campaign, forcing them to stop promoting the perfect body as being that of an ultra-thin, white model.
#BringBackOurGirls was another campaign launched against the abducted schoolgirls from Nigeria. The social media campaign raised awareness on the difficulties women in Nigeria face every day. The good news about this situation was that some of the girls were released after a number of years. While this cannot be attributed entirely to the #hashtag, it played a key role in putting pressure on the authorities to find solutions and create a safer environment for the women living in West Africa.
From social media campaigns to the streets
The #NiUnaMenos campaign brought thousands of women from more than 15 countries to speak one language and get out on the streets to support their ideas. This hashtag helped them find each other and organize impressive campaigns in their countries. The idea of stopping violence against women unified women from 17 countries to get out on the streets and speak up. There were massive demonstrations in Buenos Aires and Peru with almost half a million participants. The campaign also reached out to Venezuela, Panama, Guatemala, Columbia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and many other countries from Latin America.
An impressive social media movement took place also in Poland in 2016. Gals4Gals campaign came as a response to the proposed total abortion ban. Poland already has a very strict abortion law and this new proposal was only making things worse. Six months after the campaign was started, the dedicated Facebook group has over 100k members ready to organize a women’s strike in the biggest cities of the country.
Will social media really change the world?
There are many skeptics who don’t believe in the power of social media and consider that the hashtag campaigns won’t create a real change in the world. No one can deny the impact social media has on raising awareness on different matters. But, there is still a lot to do if we want social media to really change the world.
However, when it comes to feminism, social media has the potential to become a force in making women more confident in their abilities and fight against sexism. Social media cannot replace live demonstrations and rallies. But, it can help people communicate, organize bigger protests and give a voice to those who are not ready to show up yet. It gives people the opportunity to share their opinions on a national matter, irrespective of their location and background.
Even though it cannot be attributed entirely to social media, United Nations also shows positive results in the fight against gender inequality. Therefore, we can now find more women holding leadership positions and a growing percentage of women involved in politics.
On the other hand, the freedom offered by social media has also some downsides. Social media is still used to stop women from expressing their ideas through online abuse. Women journalists or politicians are the main targets and abusers use different methods to attack and intimidate them.
Aside from the threats which is an ongoing issue, social media is here to stay, and it will continue to help women become stronger and move their feminism activities forward. It gives women the power to unite and fight back against all this misogyny and hate. In the end, it all depends on how responsible we are when using it and how we plan the future steps.
Elisa Abbott is a freelancer whose passion lies in creative writing. She completed a degree in Computer Science and writes about ways to apply machine learning to deal with complex issues. Insights on education, helpful tools and valuable university experiences – she has got you covered;) When she’s not engaged in assessing translation services for PickWriters you’ll usually find her sipping cappuccino with a book.