Most of the world seems unaware of the true definition of feminism. There are countless Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, YouTube pages, and Reddit threads that are solely dedicated to sparking feminist conversations and spreading feminist education. Yet, sometimes the message is still obstructed by the ignorance of what feminism sincerely hopes to accomplish.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “feminism” is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. There it is, sweet and simple.
The movement takes its mission to the 21st Century stage of social media, and aims to incite change with persuasive hashtags. Though the information about female advocacy is overall more accessible, there are still doubts on whether this modern platform facilitates justice in the real world.
One may wonder: Can these discussions really leave the Internet sphere and provoke action in the world? Or will they remain impeded by the spitfire backlash of feminist misunderstanding?
Take for instance the account that emerged on Instagram last year called @Feminist_Tinder. The account brings to light the reactions of misogynistic men to women who identify as feminist on the dating app Tinder.
Laura Nowak, the creator of @Feminist_Tinder, told Buzzfeed that she started the project to experiment if the app could be a place where respect and casual sex co-exist.
She hoped people could learn that being on an app associated with promiscuity doesn’t give men the right to degrade women.
In other words, casual sex should not be confined to a male audience; women should have a right to live that kind of lifestyle along with the zero shame or judgment men enjoy.
The account got shutdown twice by Instagram, but eventually was allowed back after a powerful hashtag campaigned for its resurgence.
Many dedicated followers posted open letters to Instagram asking, “Why do you keep deleting @Feminist_Tinder while allowing hateful and abusive accounts? Are you afraid of powerful women advocating for equality?” with the hashtag, #WeWillNotBeSilenced.
Instagram has since revived the account after the collective social media support. However, for those attempting to ignite healthy dialogues on the internet about these ideals, it is a constant battle against ongoing threats.
Melissa Fabello knows the risks all too well; She is a Ph.D. student in Human Sexuality, and a managing editor at one of the largest feminist media sites on the Internet, Everyday Feminism. Fabello sat down with BTR to discuss the constant backlash and threats she receives for her pro-feminist articles.
“I think it would be hard to find a feminist online who hasn’t gotten a serious threat,” Fabello admits. “Or not even just serious threats, but also just straight up mean ones.”
She explains that most of the time she will get men trying to discredit her academic professionalism. Though sometimes those responses can be fueling, it does end up taking a toll.
“I frequently will get people like, ‘what kind of school would want to give you a degree? What a waste of money,’” details Fabello. “A Ph.D. is supposed to mean that you’re an expert, that’s the whole point; then there’s those people who dismiss it and that can be really frustrating.”
Regardless, Fabello finds strength in contributing to the growing online feminist community. A community that is attracting a much younger audience as children continue to inherit technology earlier in life. These tech-savvy kids now have the ability to educate themselves simply by entering “feminism” into Google—a crucial instrument in the widespread education of feminism unseen in any other generation.
“Young people especially are identifying as feminist now,” Fabello states. “When a generation ago, or even just half a generation ago, that wasn’t true.”
Amy Shackelford is the founder of Modern Rebel & Co., an alternative event planning company with a social impact focus, and the former director of marketing and communications for Feminist Apparel, an online feminist clothing company with a social media audience of over 60,000.
Shackelford believes that the unity these online feminist communities create is vital to the progress of women’s rights.
“You’re seeing young girls, 12 and 13, on Tumblr or on Twitter, hearing another girl say, ‘this is happening to me,’” Shackelford tells BTR. “And the moment that another young girl says, ‘oh that’s happening to me too, and that’s messed up,’ that shared feeling—it’s incredibly effective.”
These two passionate advocates, Shackelford and Fabello, did not embrace the movement until their mid-to late-twenties. Both agree that if social media had been available to them when they were younger, they would have professed themselves feminist much sooner.
With any social movement comes opposition though, and those against feminist are also utilizing the tools of social media. Search any feminist video on YouTube to see a flood of comments attacking the necessity of feminist ideals and degrading women identifying as such.
Though these might just be the common Internet troll, their comments can still have detrimental effects the online feminist movement. Impressionable young girls can see these comments and take them as truth.
There are also solidified groups that solely work to combat feminism. An example of this is the “Women Against Feminism” community page on Facebook with over 30,000 likes. This page consists of women holding up notes explaining why they don’t support feminism. There is also the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism that has a lot of tread, along with its very own website where women can contribute photos holding notes on why they feel feminism is actually harmful for women.
Though the Internet is a place for anyone to express themselves with no censorship, sites like “Women Against Feminism” seem to blunder the cause.
This site pulls many women in to convince them that feminism is not only unnecessary, but also a downgrade for women. It works on persuading women everywhere to not associate themselves as feminists.
That doesn’t mean that men can’t be feminist, there are tons of men fighting hand-in-hand for equality. Male celebrities like Aziz Ansari, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ryan Gosling proudly identify as feminist.
Even historical figures such as Fredrick Douglass said in his 1888 speech, “Woman knows and feels her wrongs as man cannot know and feel them, and she also knows as well as he can know, what measures are needed to redress them. I grant all the claims at this point. She is her own best representative.”
Douglass was one of the few men to attend the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention that supported women, a meeting that has now become the annual National Women’s Rights Convention.
Shackelford says she believes men are a vital strength to feminism, but that perhaps these abusive men online are having a power struggle.
“There’s men who have been in power for a longtime and for the first moment in their life feel like, ‘whoa, I don’t know what it feels like to have power taken away from me,’” she claims. “They’re really responding harshly.”
Even in the face of anti-feminist groups, “meninist” groups, and anti-women groups scrounging the Internet, it’s clear that online feminism has formed a strong presence that ripples out into reality.
“I think that anybody who says that online feminism is not doing it’s job or is doing a bad job are probably people who aren’t involved,” Fabello concludes. “So therefore, don’t know how amazing it can be.”
Feminism is a robust force and the Internet is an exceedingly powerful tool for the cause. With that knowledge, we can at least say for certain that combining the two creates a capacity to withstand vicious anti-feminist attacks while igniting viral feminist action.