The future is (cyber)feminist
Contemporary feminism is increasingly inclusive and expansive. This is due to a major role the internet has played in feminism. The concept of “Cyberfeminism” is the key to the future of feminism in the United States and globally. By removing the barriers of distance and geography, sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have made activism easy, facilitated public dialogue, and created a platform for awareness and change. The internet gives an opportunity for activists to teach and spread feminist ideology and therefore recruit people who do not typically engage in feminist discussions or those who live in more remote locations. It also gives the opportunity for the silenced to have a voice and speak without fear. The internet gives people an option to escape but also embrace, because technology does not see your skin color, age, disabilities, looks, size, economics, or gender, therefore, everyone can be part of the Cyber Feminist movement. With activism and personal stories becoming more accessible, feminism therefore becomes more intersectional and more identities are now recognized.
In 1994 Sadie Plant, director of Cybernetic Culture Research at the University of Warwick in Britain, coined the term “Cyberfeminism” to describe the work of feminists interested in theorizing, critiquing, and exploiting the Internet, cyberspace, and new-media technologies in general. Today 88.5% of Americans use the internet regularly. This percentage has more than doubled since 2000, proving its massive and growing reach. For those who do not have internet access, several feminist organizations and individuals “repackage” online media information into print and radio information, making this even more accessible.
The internet gives women a voice and an opportunity to share lived experiences and opinions in a place that is not a traditional, male-controlled sphere. All throughout the rise of feminism, men were, and still are, restricting women from speaking freely, even within the feminist movement. There were very few outlets for sharing and conversation until the internet. Online, women can also network with other women to build ties, form alliances, and gain understanding and respect. Cyberfeminism allows quick discussion and feedback, which can be both positive and negative. Even if a post sparks debate, it is still valuable that the topic is being discussed, where in the past feminist issues were a taboo. Audre Lorde describes the importance of talking because speech turns into action. Lorde argues that there is no point of remaining silent because silence will not lead to a collective understanding and respect of your story and identity. Sometimes speaking just begins with an online display of activism or personal sharing.
There is criticism that increased internet use, and even Cyberfeminism, will turn people inwards and that individuals will lose sight of issues that do not pertain to them. People fear that this form of activism will block participants off from collaborating, interacting with others, and participating in public events. Gloria Steinem states that, “we must sometimes put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough.” However, this critique fails to recognize that some women do not have the opportunity to take work off to participate in a march or lack the transportation to attend a convention. This has been a legitimate and consistent critique of mainstream feminism throughout time, that it only favors middle to upper-class white women who have the opportunity and resources to participate in public events. That is why the future of feminism and activism beginning online is more inclusive and gives everybody a voice and chance to participate.
Since the internet and social media has become so prominent in our lives, it is almost impossible to ignore its impacts. In 2013, an abortion bill passed in Texas sparked protest and many women gathered at the Texas State Capitol. Those who could not attend took to social media and protested online with the hashtag, #StandWithWendy, supporting representative Wendy Davis through her 13-hour filibuster. Another online movement occurred after a children’s company came out with sexist t-shirts and women flooded the company’s Facebook page with bad press. The bad publicity reached a point to where it could not be ignored and the company pulled the product from their inventory. Feminist social media activism doesn’t just raise awareness, it has generated results too. It raises the voice of one person with a Twitter or Facebook account to a national story, no matter where that person lives or what resources they have.
The history and notion that Feminism comes in “waves” is very limiting and contributes to the whitewashing of the movement. Cyberfeminism is not part of the “wave” because it is “neither a single theory nor a feminist movement with a clearly articulated political agenda.” The only objective is that all voices feel comfortable putting themselves out in a public sphere. Waveless feminism proves that all kinds of feminism have persisted over time, however, there has still been great erasure of women of color in mainstream narratives about feminism. Women of color have been systematically excluded from mainstream participation on the basis of race and gender. As a result, black women have organized political spaces online. Anna Everett, awarded author and professor, discusses the Cyberfeminist example of black women organizing online participation around the Million Woman March in 1997. Everett writes, “The sistahs of the march recognized the value of new technologies to further their own agendas and to promote their brand of activism, which did not require choosing which liberation struggle to fight first, gender or race oppression.” This 1997 example of online activism proves that intersectionality has had an internet presence for some time now, and will hopefully continue to keep expanding in the future.
Mainstream feminism needs to continue to include and expand its horizons to be available and applicable to everyone. The future will inevitably be more and more centered around technology so it is important for social movements to keep up and continue to create platforms and protests on the internet. While it is valuable to not forget about “putting your body where your beliefs are,” pressing “send” or “post” is often times the initial and easiest step necessary to expand the national and global future of feminism.
Bianco, Marcie. “Feminist Activism in the 21st Century Begins with a ‘Post.’” The Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, 13 Feb. 2017.
Chittal, Nisha. “How Social Media Is Changing the Feminist Movement.” MSNBC. NBCUniversal News Group. 6 Apr. 2015.
Daniels, J. "Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment." WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly, vol. 37 no. 1, pp. 101-124. Project MUSE. 2009.
Schulte, S. R. “Surfing feminism's online wave: The internet and the future of feminism.” Feminist Studies, 37(3), 727-744,749. 2011.