• Dennis Toh

[ACADEMIC ESSAY] Rise of Feminism in Social Networks

The widespread use of social media has brought substantial changes to feminism. Today, social media has become a free place for women to discuss feminism, and its collaborative nature has also promoted the rapid development of the feminist movement. The most obvious change is that the form and strategy of feminism have changed from a small-scale movement to a large-scale global movement. In this article, I will discuss how feminists use social media to promote feminism from three aspects. The first aspect is Waves of feminism, which mainly discusses the three fluctuations of feminism in history. The second aspect is Digital Feminism, which explores how social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube have become the main communication and organization channels for feminists. The third aspect is the digital feminism in dictatorial countries. This article will take the feminist movement in Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia as cases, discuss the collision between patriarchal society and feminism, and discuss the major changes surrounding women's rights in the region. In general, this article will focus on the above three aspects to analyze how social media and online communities promote the development of feminism.

Firstly, feminism is a movement aimed at fighting for gender equality and women's rights. With time, the launch of the feminist movement has spanned many centuries, and its development history can also be divided into three waves (Newman, 2011). The first wave of feminism occurred from 1848 to 1920. The main battlefield was mainly developed countries in Europe to fight for women's right to vote. During this time, the communication medium used by feminists was mainly public speeches or live demonstrations. However, at that time, the feminist communication circle was very class-conscious and restricted to some middle-class whites, wealthy women, and intellectual women (Newman, 2011). Although the number of participants was small and the region was restricted, the movement successfully won the voting rights granted to women in Australia in 1902 and the voting rights granted to women in the United States in 1920 (Newman, 2011). The second wave of feminism occurred from 1963 to the 1980s. This feminist movement wave still takes the Western world as the main battlefield and mainly opposes sexual harassment, domestic violence, and gender discrimination in the workplace. At that time, feminists had begun to use television, news, books, and other media as a means of resistance (Newman, 2011). For example, in 1963, the well-known author Betty Friedan promoted the idea of feminism in the book "The Feminine Mystique," stating that women who gain recognition through childbearing and caring for their families will lose themselves (Susan Levine, 2015). The influence of the book greatly ignited the contemporary women's movement. The third wave is a diffuse movement without a central goal (Newman, 2011). It is only known that it happened in the 1990s. With the advent of social media, the battlefield of feminism has gradually shifted to the Internet. Therefore, academic circles define feminism on social media as Digital Feminism (Weigel, 2019), and some people regard Digital Feminism as being related to the third wave of feminism intersects and has an impact. Some people think that digital feminism belongs to the fourth wave because most communication and strategies occur on social media.

Secondly, the development of feminism has benefited from the accessibility of the Internet and extensive communication technologies. Take the social platform Twitter as an example. Twitter is essentially a microblogging and social networking service, and users can interact by posting "tweets" (Alamán, 2020). Tweets are mainly text-oriented. Users can edit short texts ranging from 140 to 280 characters to share their thoughts or moods. Although the word count limits tweets, to a certain extent, short texts are more conducive to readers to understand things more quickly and to speed up the spread. Due to Twitter's accessibility and tagging function, users can add hashtags while editing tweets for more people to access and view the contents (Alamán, 2020). Furthermore, compared with Facebook, Twitter has more freedom because Twitter allows users to remain anonymous and does not require users to fill in their real-life relationships with other users (Alamán, 2020). In terms of these designs, Twitter virtually provides feminists with a safe and free forum for discussion and makes information dissemination faster and more effective. In 2017, the #Metoo movement, which attracted great attention worldwide, was also launched on Twitter. At that time, the #MeToo movement was a campaign against American gold medal producer Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulting multiple actresses (Schneider & Carpenter, 2019). Actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet: "If you have been sexually harassed or assaulted, please reply——Me too, and attach a tag to your social media post (Schneider & Carpenter, 2019). The purpose of the campaign is to call on women who have been sexually assaulted and harassed to come forward and speak out to arouse social attention. The tweet has triggered nearly 600,000 related tweets within a day, and it instantly became a hot topic (Schneider & Carpenter, 2019). As a result, this successfully proved that social media is the best platform to promote any political movement. Because if there is no social platform, then the trial against Weinstein may never appear, and the victimized women may not have the confidence to stand up. Overall, social platforms have become important communication venues for feminists and the main tools for information distribution and dissemination. Due to social platforms' open and global nature, people can change unfair situations and strive for goals.

Although the functions of social media are quite similar, the usage of users is different. Such as Instagram. Instagram was officially launched on the market in 2010 and attracted more than 1 billion active users worldwide (Mainardi, 2018). Among them, there are more female users than male users. People mainly use it to post photos or videos (Mainardi, 2018). Compared with other social platforms, Instagram is more like a platform that combines photo editing and content sharing. On Instagram, girls' pictures often appear passionate, colorful, and sexy to express women's beauty (Mainardi, 2018). More importantly, their social media image is very different from the stereotyped women, and this way of expression has become a trend on Instagram, so more and more women's online performance is bolder and ego. Based on this, feminist activists also enjoy using Instagram to convey a different female state and promote feminism. For example, female photographer Coco Capitán posts photos of handwritten text on Instagram frequently, including sentences such as "We just wanted to be loved" and "Let us live alive & not dead" (Coco, 2020). These emotional words and remarks represent women's release, aroused many women's resonance, and made her accumulate many fans. Another case is about Arvida Bystrom. She is one of the representative figures of new wave feminist artists on Instagram. She uses pink, love, gems, flowers, and other very girlish styles to create and often use female underwear as the element to express female desires and feminist propositions (Arvida, 2020). As we can see, women on Instagram express their pursuit of freedom in their favorite forms and show that they hope to eliminate stereotypes and truly achieve a certain degree of freedom and equality.

Furthermore, online video-sharing platform YouTube is also playing an important role in promoting feminism. On the one hand, YouTube is a video platform with more than one billion users worldwide and a wide audience (White, 2018). The feminist movement can spread to different regions in the vivid form of video. On the other hand, YouTube is not only a video platform but also a social platform. It provides interactive functions such as likes, comments, sharing, and subscriptions so that the audience can also participate in the movement (White, 2018). Besides, YouTube gives video authors a high degree of creative freedom, such as discuss sensitive topics related to politics. On YouTube, videos related to feminism have always been popular. YouTube also produced a "YouTube ads leaderboard: International Women's Day edition" to cater to the trend of feminism. In the YouTube ads leaderboard, the most popular videos include Dove's ad "Beauty on your own terms #MyBeautyMySay," Nike's ad "Unlimited You," and Momondo's ad "The DNA Journey," etc. In these videos, women's role is no longer the traditional female images of mothers, sisters, and secretaries. Instead, they look at women from a new perspective, giving women an independent image and describing women's power. According to Google (2016), these feminist-related ads' skip rate is lower than other ads by 30%, and women aged 18 to 34 are the main audience for such videos. Nearly 80% of viewers will like, comment, and subscribe to the YouTube channels after watching the video (Google, 2016). In general, we can see that YouTube is different from other social platforms because it is video-oriented. The amount of information described in a few minutes of video may be the content that an article of several thousand words can carry, so for the audience, they can obtain the richest information through sight and hearing, and this is the point that graphics and text cannot compete with it. The video is also a vivid scene mode, and it may produce with a story or a piece of music, so the audience's emotion may be stronger. Therefore, benefiting from the platform characteristics of YouTube, the topic of feminism is becoming more and more popular worldwide.

In some dictatorial countries, although the process of the feminist movement is relatively backward, under the influence of social media, policies surrounding women's rights have still achieved some changes. Take Saudi Arabia as an example. In 1957, Saudi Arabia issued a ban on women driving because the clergy stated that women driving would damage the ovaries and affect fertility (Van Geel, 2016). Although this statement has no basis, women can only choose to obey a society where women are of low status. Until the beginning of the 1990s, feminism permeated the world, and some Saudi women began to realize the issue of equality and finally decided to fight to resist this ban. Unfortunately, in that time, the activists who marched and demonstrated were imprisoned, and an organization whose name was to protect and defend women's rights was not recognized by the government and prohibited such activities. Since that, women's status in Saudi Arabia has remained low, and the right to speak in society is still in men's hands (Van Geel, 2016). After entering the social media era, things changed a lot because contemporary women began to use social media to carry out digital feminist movements. In 2008, Saudi feminist activists posted videos of driving on the video social platform YouTube, encouraging local women to fight the ban. In 2011, Saudi feminists used social media to launch the Women2Drive campaign, calling for women with international driver's licenses across the country to drive to the streets on June 17 and continue (Lacroix, 2011). On social media Twitter, the hashtags "I am my own guardian" and "Saudi Women Can Drive" quickly received many responses and caused a global sensation. Finally, the ban was officially lifted on June 24, 2018. Some scholars believe that the Saudi Arabia government is forced to compromise based on the general trend and integration with the world. Anyways, we can see that women are using social media to gather people with the same goals and use women's power to change some unfair

phenomenon (Boyd, 2006).

In conclusion, this conference Paper mainly from three aspects to discuss how social media can promote the feminist movement. Firstly, this paper talked about the development process of feminism and evolution in different periods, and then, this paper discusses how social platforms Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube create opportunities for feminists to use technology to conduct various communications. Moreover, this paper analyzed how women in dictatorial countries use social media to change policies and their lives. Through these meaningful discussions, this paper thinks that social media provides an important space for feminists to communicate and execute discourse and allow women to express ideas in the form they like. It is precise because of social media's promotion that the feminist movement is in full swing, and the world also realizes the importance of women. Nowadays, social platforms are the best channel to promote any movement, and women can be excellent communicators and social connectors in social


This paper was submitted by Xiao Wenjing from Curtin Singapore. There’s no attempt to edit the paper for this publication.


Alamán, A. P. (2020). HASHTAG POLITICS IN TWITTER. Vivat Academia, 23(152), 49-68. http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.15178/va.2020.152.49-68

Arvida, B. [@arvidabystrom]. (2020, November 26). a butt of a star @namasenda [Photograph]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/arvidabystrom/?hl=en

Boyd, D. (2006, December 4). View of friends, Friendsters, and top 8: Writing community into being on social network sites | First Monday. https://firstmonday.org/article/view/1418/1336

Coco, C. [@Coco Capitán]. (2020, June 28). Happy & proud to celebrate love in all its forms [Photograph]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/cococapitan/

Donath, J. S. (1996). Identity and deception in the virtual community. https://smg.media.mit.edu/people/Judith/Identity/IdentityDeception.html

Google. (2016). YouTube ads leader board: International Women's Day edition Share. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/marketing-strategies/video/youtube-ads- leaderboard-international-womens-day-edition/

Lacroix, S. (2011). Is Saudi Arabia immune? Journal of Democracy, 22(4), 48-59. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2011.0055

Mainardi, A. (2018). 'The pictures I really dislike are those where the girls are naked!' Postfeminist norms of female sexual embodiment in contemporary Italian digital culture. Modern Italy : Journal of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy, 23(2), 187-200. http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1017/mit.2018.6

Newman, L. M. (2011). Talking about a revolution: New approaches to writing the history of second-wave feminism. Journal of Women's History, 23(2), 219-228. https://doi.org/10.1353/jowh.2011.0014

Susan Levine. (2015). The feminine Mystique at fifty. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 36(2), 41. https://doi.org/10.5250/fronjwomestud.36.2.0041

Schneider, K. T., & Carpenter, N. J. (2019). Sharing #MeToo on Twitter: Incidents, coping responses, and social reactions. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 39(1), 87-100. https://doi.org/10.1108/edi-09-2018-0161

Van Geel, A. (2016). Separate or together? women-only public spaces and participation of Saudi women in the public domain in Saudi Arabia. Contemporary Islam, 10(3), 357-378. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-015-0350-2

Van Valkenburgh, S. P. (2019). “She thinks of him as a machine”: On the entanglements of neoliberal ideology and misogynist cybercrime. Social Media + Society, 5(3), 205630511987295. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119872953

Weigel, M. (2019). Book review: Feminism, labour and digital media: The digital housewife by Kylie Jarrett. Feminist Review, 123(1), 135-136. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141778919878924

White, M. (2018). Beauty as an "act of political warfare": Feminist Makeup Tutorials and Masquerades on YouTube. Women's Studies Quarterly, 46(1), 139-156. https://link.library.curtin.edu.au/gw?url=https://www-proquest-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/scholarly-journals/beauty-as-act-political-warfare-feminist-makeup/docview/2026328259/se-2?accountid=10382

18 views0 comments