How Social Media Has Changed And Amplified The Modern Feminist Message

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By Katie McBeth

Since the original movement took form in the mid nineteenth century, feminism has gone through some huge changes. What first started as a right for women to vote has now become a mass movement of people – at many differing intersections of life – demanding equality and a voice for anyone that isn’t already at the height of privilege. Modern day feminism combines issues of race, culture, social class, disability, sexual preference, and gender identity. This new feminism relies on the voices of women to share their frustrations, dreams, identity, and history.

Early pioneers of the movement had only word of mouth or print as a mode of spreading their ideas, and often they didn’t extend very far from larger cities. Now, thanks to the advances of technology, feminist ideologies have spanned the globe. Women are able to discuss ideas, share stories, and grow a network of support. More people than ever are proud to call themselves feminist or feminist allies, and those numbers are growing at an exponential rate every year. How has this movement grown so rapidly in the past decade? The answer is social media.

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Opinions about social media are often times negative, with users given the label of apathetic, self-absorbed, or lacking “real” friends. Yet, the truth behind social media users is quite the opposite. Studies have shown that people who engage in online media are more tolerant “for lifestyles and values not their own,” and are experiencing “a new form of empathy” known as “virtual empathy.” When it comes to the internet and online channels, the whole world is truly at our fingertips. Sure we use it to look at cute photos of cats or tasty cooking videos, but inadvertently – by interacting with others around the globe on a daily basis – our worldview slowly begins to change.

Social media can mean even more for those on the periphery. Despite a Facebook “like” not giving the same emotional effect as a hug, online communities can be the largest support system for people who lack one in the real world. One particular study on computer communication from 2007 stated: “social media could facilitate empathy through the easy and frequent access to other people in similar situations.” And another study found that sharing personal stories is shown to lower stress, especially for women, which means speaking out on social media is better for our health.

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Twitter is an especially effective social media outlet when it comes to sharing stories. The real power behind Twitter is in the hashtag (#). Originally invented to gather related stories about particular events, the hashtag has been used as a tool for feminists to share their stories and build up momentum to make change in the outside world. Just browsing through the #feminism tag can be an enlightening – albeit a little overwhelming – experience.

Some very powerful movements have gotten their start on Twitter. When Boko Haram attacked a school in Nigeria and kidnapped over 250 schoolgirls in 2014, activists took to Twitter to ensure it wouldn’t be another forgotten story from Africa that was shoved into the sidebar of the national news. The #BringBackOurGirls tag started on Twitter and exploded across social media. The campaign brought awareness to the serious issue of terrorism from Boko Haram in Nigeria and the crisis of child abductions globally. The impact of the movement is still being felt today, two years after it happened.

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This is where the true power of social media lies: in sharing our stories. Often times the silencing of women and other minority groups is an attempt to strip them of their autonomy. Through speaking out on social media, women can attempt to gain back some of the control that was taken from them, or to seek control of a situation that might otherwise seem hopeless; as was the case with #BringBackOurGirls.

Social Media gives women a voice. Women that might have been silenced by their peers in their direct community, but could share their views and express themselves safely in an online community. Imagine a trans girl whose transition has been rejected by her family, but discovers the world of Tumblr – full of positive, comforting messages and similar stories. Or imagine an individual that suffers from a debilitating condition that limits their mobility, and they find their voice is heard when they share their story on Facebook.

Something as simple as social media to me (an able-bodied, cis-gender, white girl with a comfy job and home), could mean the world to someone else. By banding together, movements like #YesAllWomen and #GirlsLikeUs have brought women and feminist issues straight into the spotlight by saying “We are here, and we will be heard.”

 

 

 

katie-mcbeth

Katie McBeth is a Freelance writer and former bookseller based out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, attending indie concerts in small bars, and long walks on the beach. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.

 

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  1. Pingback: Too Supportive: Fostering Allied Behaviour on Social Media, A Source List – Historical DeWitticisms: Environmental History and Random Musings by J.M. DeWitt

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