With the recent women’s march being declared a resounding success by feminist activists across the globe, we can draw at least one big conclusions: digital feminist activism, when done well, can be translated into offline, boots-on-the-ground style campaigns. But with the knowledge that we can make a difference in both online and offline settings, we also need to ask that all-important question: what’s next? In the face of a rise in online alt-right thought, and trolling and online harassment, how can feminists leverage digital activism to create positive and long-lasting change? In short, there are two answers here: the inward looking, self-reflective one, and the more outward looking, change-based one.
The first answer – the inward looking one – requires us, as feminists, to critically reflect how we enforce and value intersectionality online. Are we using it to educate, or to chastise?
Intersectionality is a term that’s constantly thrown around at events, in publications, or across mission statements. But a thousand mission statements amount to nothing if the organisation, publication or activist network in question doesn’t seek out and consider the voices of trans women, women of colour, women with disabilities, and women of all sexualities outside of ‘straight’.
This is one of the most important elements of digital feminism: it has an ability to bring to the fore the experiences of women from all backgrounds. We can use online spaces to listen and learn, before we step in to say what we think. Some of the most powerful conversations I’ve seen online have been those that I haven’t participated in – I’ve simply listened, and learned. It’s not always my space or place to stand up and be heard: sometimes, it’s time to shut up and listen. When we go about doing digital activism online, we need to ensure that we’re listening as much as we are speaking. If you have access to the internet, you also have access to women’s stories, voices, and experiences, and from this you can educate yourself, and seek out voices you may not otherwise have come across.
This brings me to my second point: the spaces and platforms we’re using to make change happen. Five years after Women, Action and the Media launched their open letter to Facebook, trolling and harassment in online spaces are still a daily problem for feminists online. Facebook will happily wish us an International Women’s Day, but it will just as cheerfully play host to countless pages where men share nude photos, contact details, and stories of assault of women. And in case this isn’t enough to convince you of Facebook’s seemingly blasé attitude towards women, there’s also the company’s “no nipple” policy, and last year’s banning of a photo of the famous plus-size model Tess Holliday for being too fat. As much as these platforms play lip service to women across the globe, their policies and moderators are complacent in the very real harassment of feminist online.
To highlight the words of the inimitable Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. In the same way, the creations of white, cisgendered men may never be enough to meet the demands of an ever-growing feminist cohort. Zuckerberg wasn’t considering the needs of feminists when he designed Facebook: he was thinking of college frat boys who wanted to get their rocks off. And the rules haven’t changed; as feminists we’re still operating in a relatively hostile environment, where the community guidelines are applied haphazardly, and without the safety of women and other marginalised groups being a priority.
To sit alongside platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, we need sites that are run for feminists, by feminists. The cyber-safety resources toolkits shared by Hackblossom and Feminist Frequency, the beginners-guide over at Finally Feminism, the advanced feminist collectives of Shakesville and Guerrilla Feminism, and the work of Take Back The Tech: each of these spaces is specifically designed for feminists of various creeds and beliefs. There are different rules and requirements for each community, but you can expect a lack of trolling and harassment by outsiders for your efforts. These spaces assist in dismantling patriarchal platforms from the outside: their tools, advice, and hacks can help make your time in more hostile online spaces easier and safer.
So, when we ask the question of what’s next, the answer should be more feminist-friendly spaces, and further acts of intersectionality. We have the most information we have ever had access to at our fingertips – we should use this for education and positive change in spaces that welcome and prioritise our needs.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we’ll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, email email@example.com
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