Does new media foster intersectionality in feminism?

“Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.” Audre Lorde

 

The white history of first and second wave feminism

First wave feminism was initially rooted in intersectional concerns, including the abolition of slavery.[1] But feminist struggles in the first and second waves were largely centred around the concerns of white women. The movement began to focus on equality for some, rather than equality for all. It saw black women banned from rallies or forced to stand behind white women.

In the second wave the focus on social equality was again tied to concerns of racism and civil rights. But in its fight for equality in areas such as unequal pay, reproductive freedom and equal education, black women were commonly pushed to the periphery. The issues white women and black women faced were became polarised. While white women were fighting for the right to work, breaking free from the role of housewife, black women were already working and supporting their families.

 

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling Sufragette subscriptions in 1913
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling Sufragette subscriptions in 1913

 

The emergence of intersectional feminism

Intersectional feminism emerged in the third wave of feminism and has continued to be a defining feature of fourth wave feminism. Coined by black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a term defined as ‘The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage’.[2] But some argue against its effectiveness, suggesting it fails in its goal to centre women of colour and other groups facing multifaceted discrimination.

 

So what role has new media played in intersectional feminism?

Social media is ground-breaking in its ability to reach across the world, breaking down cultural and national borders. Ruxandra Looft suggests that it is the tools used which have defined each wave of feminism, with new media defining fourth wave feminism.[3] People have more access to information, art, culture, news and stories than ever before. Social media has the power to bring together the various streams of feminism and amplify voices which have historically not been privileged. But has it achieved this?

 

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter protest. Credit: Heather Mount

 

Let’s look at the weaknesses.

One of the main weaknesses of social media is in its tendency to create echo chambers. Algorithms and personal preferences sculpt individuals’ walls into the shape that confirms their beliefs and values. So while we now have the ability to reach and connect with people, movements and cultures we could never have accessed in the past, we tend to create our own bubbles and stick to them. While it could be the perfect tool to expose people to different ways of thinking, in some cases its networks have fostered even deeper discrimination and hate.

The commercial nature of social media also means ads cater to people’s current belief systems, rarely encouraging people to break out of their comfort zones.

Our detachedness in using social media could also be part of the reason the medium has fallen short when it comes to fostering intersectional feminism. Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to social movements like feminism. While it allows unprecedented access to the ideas and messages of the movement, many people only engage superficially.

 

National Women’s Day in South Africa
National Women’s Day in South Africa. Credit: Ebony Black

 

Lessons on intersectionality and the internet

For my part, studying intersectional feminism has taught me that it is not enough to push for equality of all people, all races, all classes, all religions. For feminism to work it must centre on the most marginalised. As Emi Kane, a national organiser of INCITE! says, ‘the transformative potential of a movement is only as present as the strength or voice of the most marginalized’.[4]

While new media has provided a much-needed channel to amplify those voices, it has not made feminism truly intersectional. For that to happen, all feminists need to commit to intersectionality and introspection with authentic empathy and solidarity.

White feminists need to commit to doing what we can to help tear down the systems of privilege that benefit us. The same systems which have oppressed people of colour and other marginalised groups for far too long. This includes changing our social media habits to listen to and share marginalised voices and to expand, or even dissolve, our bubbles.

 

Links

[1] https://www.vox.com/2018/3/20/16955588/feminism-waves-explained-first-second-third-fourth

[2] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intersectionality

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319405209_girlgaze_photography_fourth_wave_feminism_and_social_media_advocacy

[4] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13552074.2013.802150

4 Comments

  1. Peta

    I definitely love what you’ve written but I think the other area I’ve found in terms of social media and the equality of all is the benefit that groups tend to have. For instance I found perspective and growth within my own knowledge within the babywearing community. This community and its traditions have opened my eyes to social justice and equality but also to learn from the stand point of a white women of privilege that my own words though unintentionally malice could effect a person or people of colour. It was from this group that my own feminist views grew and where not marginalise. It also provided me the ability and need to look outside the bubble you speak of in your blog.

    As always such a well written and articulated article and I’ve found myself more knowledge again through the links you provided.

    Well done!

    • Pippa Haughton

      Such an interesting story Peta, thanks for sharing. It is really great to hear real stories about the power of social media to expand and challenge people’s views. I feel like it has done the same for me, I have been able to expand my bubble. I hope it is a common thing that people are experiencing. And I do also really appreciate social media’s ability to create the communities like the one you joined!

  2. Thanks for this article. It’s taught me a few things for sure, and has made me reflect on the extent to which I am stuck in a mindset of calling out male privilege…and that’s it. I fail as a feminist to actively acknowledge or genuinely consider the truth of my own privilege and how the system of male privilege I want to pull down is the same system that has provided me with opportunities not available to all women. I find new media, rather than stimulating true discourse, is a loudhailer for anonymous reactivity and shutting down debate. I don’t really feel that new media provides me with opportunities to truly engage…beyond my own echo-chamber…so I’m left with the question of how best to engage in a way that doesn’t perpetuate the problem.

    • Pippa Haughton

      Hi Emma,
      Thanks for your comments. Such interesting insights and definitely issues which I am very much grappling with myself. So much so that my next blog post tonight will be on the social media echo chamber! My small changes I make on social media are examining what I share and why. The Christchurch disaster I think is a good example. Although the reponse has been honest and empathetic and loud, as the days go on two heroes are coming out to be more and more prominent – Jacinda Ardern and Egg boy. I appreciate all of the actions of both these people. But they are both white and have somehow both become the protagonists of a story about the suffering of a muslim community. It really made me think. I have also stopped deciding to remove people from my feed who have vastly different opinions from me (unless they are racist, homophobic, xenophobic etc). The discussion and engagement with people on the otherside of the argument is what keeps us honest. Then I am being more conscious about how I act in public, and how I can perpetuate or shut down bad behaviours when I have the chance. Check out this video if you have time too, just out of interest: https://www.ted.com/talks/megan_phelps_roper_i_grew_up_in_the_westboro_baptist_church_here_s_why_i_left?language=en

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