Social media rallies support for feminism

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      When all of your female friends seem to be sharing articles about gender issues on Facebook, it’s hard to ignore.

      Terms like slut shaming are going mainstream, feminist websites such as Jezebel are producing widely shared content, and people who may never have considered themselves activists are showing their support—or lack thereof—with a “like” here, a retweet there. These are insignificant actions individually, but en masse they amplify gender-equality conversations to a point where they’re within earshot of many people who might not have heard them had they happened a decade ago.

      “I think a lot more girls are in tune with technology than ever before,” Angela Robert, CEO of Vancouver-based tech company Conquer Mobile, told the Georgia Straight over the phone.

      A member of various women-in-business organizations, including the Women’s Executive Network and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, Robert observes that the relationships users are able to foster through social media are a key draw for women. High-profile women such as Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote a controversial book about how more women can move into leadership positions, are “smart about making bite-sized pictures and videos that are really, really easy to share,” she said.

      Despite social media’s power to rally support for gender equality, these platforms also have a dark side, according to Kasari Govender, the executive director of West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund, a women’s rights group in Vancouver.

      “There’s an incredible amount of misogyny online,” Govender told the Straight by phone.

      Govender cited the widely publicized cases of Amanda Todd in B.C. and Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia, each of whom committed suicide following online bullying that had strongly sexist overtones. “The online format allows for anonymity in a way that can protect the identity of the person who’s posting the hateful messages,” she said.

      Although it poses challenges, Govender believes that social media is also having a dramatically positive effect on gender equality. For one thing, online social networks allow for increased access to information about gender issues.

      “You have access to so many more writers and activists, and you can find out what’s going on in the community, in B.C., and around the world,” she said.

      Through its law-reform initiatives, West Coast LEAF is contributing to the public debate on how to regulate cyber-misogyny—online hate against women and girls. Govender often finds herself engaged in Twitter conversations with law students who want to promote gender equality.

      “They learn about what feminism is and the potential of it,” she said.

      Social media is certainly informing people about gender issues, but it’s doing so in a much different way from before, according to Lucas Crawford, the Ruth Wynn Woodward lecturer in Simon Fraser University’s department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies.

      Crawford is currently teaching a course that examines how gender, sexuality, and desire are represented in popular culture. He argues that discussing feminism and gender equality via social media has its limitations.

      “Sometimes the debate on gender issues gets turned into a kind of infotainment,” he told the Straight over the phone. “Whereas people grab a book or newspaper because they want to learn something or think about something, when you read online or participate in social media, there’s also an expectation that we’re going to be very entertained.”

      Crawford sees social media as acting like a filter. Although the medium has ushered new ideas about feminism and gender into the public consciousness, its nature constrains which and whose stories get told. When being heard on social media depends on being meme-worthy, it’s usually the ironic, “quippy”, and very short messages that win the day, Crawford said.

      He’s found that his students come to class well briefed on the latest developments in feminism and gender issues in popular culture.

      “In my very first day of teaching this popular-culture course, I kicked the course off with a big question about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke on the VMAs,” Crawford said, referring to the MTV Video Music Awards in August. “And every single student had watched the video of the performance.”

      For Crawford, communicating the big ideas is where social media hits a bottleneck. There just aren’t enough words in a social-media post to give a complicated story or concept the context it deserves.

      One example Crawford mentioned is a meme featuring well-known feminist theorist Judith Butler. It distills her complex ideas into a one-liner superimposed on her picture, LOLcat-style.

      Such a meme can make a good jumping-off point for discussion, but it often dramatically oversimplifies the original idea and distorts it in the process, Crawford noted. According to him, social media should be seen as just one of many ways to learn about and discuss gender issues.

      “My challenge is pushing them beyond what they’ve heard on the Internet,” Crawford said of his students.




      Nov 5, 2013 at 7:17pm

      While it's hard to gainsay the terrible misogyny online the anonymity of on-line posting has allowed for a rise in both misogyny and misandry. Take for example the term "mansplaining." This term has become ubiquitous among feminists. It means something like "the way men explain things." It is used, so far as I can tell, whenever a feminist doesn't like something a man said. Men who dare to question any feminist assumption, however outrageous, are promptly said to be "mansplaining" and regarded as backward troglodytes.

      It is a wonderful term for stopping discussion between men and women and preventing the sexes from engaging in the kind of productive dialogue that actually advances women's rights.

      Miranda Nelson

      Nov 5, 2013 at 7:27pm

      Manplaining refers to "the tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her—correctly or not- things that she already knows."

      This can be on any topic, but most often feminist and women-related issues.


      Nov 5, 2013 at 7:30pm

      The internet community has a low tolerance for BullS**T, hence why feminists are rarely welcome.

      They come into male created spaces, that they did nothing but insult (prior to nerd becoming "cool" ) then demand the spaces change to accommodate them.

      Then you have feminists like Anita Sarkeesian who outright scam the community to the tune of $160K

      So, why should we welcome feminists again?

      Miranda Nelson

      Nov 5, 2013 at 7:36pm

      "why should we welcome feminists again?"

      Because, and I hope you're sitting down for this shocking piece of information, women are human beings, deserving of respect and access to online communities, just as much as any man is.


      Nov 5, 2013 at 8:02pm

      @Miranda Nelson

      Thank you for educating all the ignorant men about the true meaning of "mansplaining." Men are SO misguided in their beliefs. You are a shining example of a good feminist!

      Miranda Nelson

      Nov 5, 2013 at 8:13pm

      Hazlit, you know that feeling you got when you read my comment overexplaining something as basic as "mansplaining"? That feeling where you feel super condescended to? That's a woman's reality. That's what we experience every day.

      I get you reacting with sarcasm; I fully understand it and I react in the same way a lot of the time. However, I would sincerely appreciate it if you would rustle up the tiniest bit of empathy for a woman's experience. I understand how difficult it must be to be a man these days; your gender is constantly bombarded with shit like "all men are rapists!" and "men are the problem with society!". It must feel beyond shitty when a woman crosses a dark street at night to avoid you. "I'm not a predator!" I hear you saying. That sucks for you, and I am truly sorry.

      But please, stop blaming the "feminists". Seriously. Please. We are all human beings deserving of respect. I am doing my damnedest to offer that to the men I meet; I know it doesn't always show because this is the Internet and we are all usually as inflammatory as possible. But I do try... and I would really appreciate the same in return.

      Perhaps if we could elevate the dialogue past our hurt feelings and assumptions, we could make some progress towards making society better, safer, more respectful, and more conscientious of everybody. But society <em>includes</em> women.


      Nov 5, 2013 at 9:09pm

      Dear Miranda,

      I agree; <i>both</i> genders need to get beyond "hurt feelings and assumptions." Both genders <i>includes</i> women since women are indeed a part of society. Men, (and I mean this in all seriousness) have a lot to learn about not condescending to women. At the same time, dialogue means that women also listen to criticism from men. Isn't that the definition of "dialogue"? Or am I just not using the word the right way?


      Nov 6, 2013 at 2:10am

      I'm all for feminism, but complete equality. I mean women who claim to want it, still think they can push/slap/hit a man when they're mad and not get hit back. I mean just in the news weeks ago, a fight broke out at a NFL Jets v.s Patriots game. The women attacked the man and he punched her. Then on every single news station/sports presentation they said how shocked they were and what a monster he was. When she attacked him first and he just defended himself. I fully support feminism but don't think that women really want it.

      I don't know if equality between women and men will ever happen but I support it. Just need to make sure it's supported fully and not just the parts women want.

      Alan Layton

      Nov 6, 2013 at 8:52am

      Miranda - only a woman would nag about the way men think and need to create an insulting term for it. Here's a little secret - men automatically assume they know more than other men too. Quit taking yourself so bloody seriously. Get away from the mirror from time to time, it'll be good for you.

      Jannier Hanfield

      Nov 9, 2013 at 1:14am

      Feminists who like to insult the male gender are trying to stop people from criticizing them.

      It won't happen. Look at the amount of anti feminist sentiments on any feminist article.

      It is from young men and women who continuously keep pointing out the double standards of modern western feminsim.

      Why suddenly so much hate to feminists? well simple: feminists have gone too far. Now the openly support hate on men and labels all men as rapist and retarded.

      Feminism is becoming one of the most hated movement of this century. Just right now they are trying everything to censor people from criticizing them.

      Why are they trying to prevent people from criticizing them if they truly stand on the side of the truth and good? Because they know more and more people are discovering their double standards and want to point it out.

      You censor the opinion of the public when you have something to hide. Exactly what feminists are doing. But their tricks won't work. They will eventually fall very low, because all I see is powerful voices raising against their misandry fueled movement.