The shape of the feminist movement is changing.
Diminishing are the days where social change lied within hands armed with picket signs, ignited bras and megaphones.
Yet, the opportunities to challenge social injustice still remain at our fingertips.
For the feminist movement, it cannot be argued that the usage of online platforms and social networking sites to campaign and debate have not been properly utilised.
In the recent years, the hashtag has taken the place of the megaphone, giving a voice to those affected by the sexual harassment and assault made prevalent by the #MeToo movement to the #EverydaySexism threads, encouraging women to be vocal about the small seeming, yet relevant examples of misogyny they experience on a daily basis.
The revolutionary launch of Change.org has provided another opportunity to spark national changes and influence movements. The 2007 launch enables users to create their own digital petitions and is a frequently used by online activists to raise awareness to both the public and parliament. Currently petitions featured on Change.org include a push for the UK government to create exclusionary zones outside of abortion clinics. With 226,116 signituares, the petition is striving for the surrounding areas of clinics to come a safer space for women users to reduce the risk of being subject to intimidation and harassment. As a result of this, “buffer areas” have already been put in place within the London borough of Ealing and with continuous efforts, will reduce this risk for women nationwide.
The most wide-reaching feminist petition to obtain publicity on the site has been the #EndTamponTax campaign led by student activist Laura Coryton in 2014. The campaign received 329,089 signatures and in 2016, led to the treasury voting to abolish the “overtly sexist” tax that will remain on sanitary products until 2022.
The successes of online activism have provided in a strive for government reforms and awareness to various necessary causes. However, the question arises: Are the political debates and campaigns in the online sphere disconnected from the real world?
This idea, defined by the United Nations as “Slactivism”, the process of participating in online campaigning which requires minimal effort. While political based campaigns seem to gain increased visibility online, Academics such as Anita Brueur argue that: “Low-effort online activities typically offered by entertainment orientated SNS contribute little to increase political participation.”
“In turn, targeted campaigning by e-advocacy groups has the potential to increase the political engagement of individuals with low levels of political interest and can help to produce the switch from online to offline participation among individuals with high levels of political interest.”.
For feminism, there is the potential for divisions within the movement between older academics and the young online feminist community described within Julia Schuster’s research on the engagement levels and impact of online feminism within New Zealand.
With the older participants, Schuster found that they were unaware of the “political energy young women put into online communities such as blogs and Facebook.“ By failing to examine the impact online activism is having for the movement ignores the exposure that online activists are providing for the strive to equality in a way that is accessible to a wider audience, differing to the academic based work of older feminists.
Take for example, the online petition started by Artist Florence Given calling for the Netflix Original series “Insatiable” to be cancelled. The programme, based on the improved treatment of a high school student after her weight-loss, is argued to encourage body shaming, the objectification of women and work as a potential trigger to those who are affected by eating disorders. Over 236,000 signed the petition and although Netflix are yet to comment on the damage the series could cause, debates received a large amount of media exposure with Given appearing on several news outlets across the US and UK.
Signing a petition is the easy part and it is evident that online activism does not always equate to offline actions, but are academics right to be critical?
Should we be pushing for further physical action and a shift back to the physical rallies and protests seen by the faces of the third wave?
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