By Nicole Williams
“Feminism is becoming a lot less of an ‘f’ word.”
And Christina Baade, professor of women’s and communication studies at McMaster University says that’s a good thing. The fact that the topic has become so prevalent means people feel less demonized by the topic. And conversation has found a thriving home for discussion: the internet. Online platforms like Jezebel, Feministing and xoJane are just some of the more well-known blogs entirely dedicated to the discussion of women and feminism.
More people are contributing to the discussion than ever before, and that’s changing the way we talk and think about feminism. The online feminist landscape has transformed and accelerated the definition of feminism, and is undoubtedly complex. Here are three major ways in which the online landscape is changing the nature of feminism: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Global Network:
The most obvious comes first. The ease of access the internet affords its audience means more people are getting the message. Feminism is no longer predominantly a North American concern, but a global discussion, which we can safely say is a good thing. With little to no effort, anyone can go online, log into their Facebook or Twitter accounts and be exposed to the discussion.
“You have to look at in a global context,” Baade says, “With faster communication comes greater awareness of feminist issues.” Whether you agree with what you see online or not, the reach of feminism is greater than ever before.
The anonymous voice:
Prior to the internet, if you were a feminist and you wanted to share that with someone, you’d have to say it to their face. Historically, this could have very demonizing consequences. The anonymity of the internet may relieve writers of responsibility for their words, but it also lowers barriers says Baade.
“Online can be a safe place for participation,” says Baade, “but it is not necessarily un-gendered or race-less.”
Anonymity empowers people to participate, but it can sometimes welcome hostile commenters. Controversies like GamerGate, where women fled from their homes because of violent threats from online male gamers are top of mind. Women are being policed, even online, reinforcing offline social ties to the online community, Baade explains.
You get out of the Internet what you put into it: lower case I on into and it.
Feminist theories come greatly layered in the online world. Sarah Herrera, who is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Developmental Psychology at Ryerson University, is an active member of niche feminist communities on Tumblr. “When I first started doing online research about feminism, the most popular discussions came from and were about privileged white women,” says Herrera.
As a queer woman of colour, she found this deeply unsatisfying. It was only with more thorough research that Herrera found feminist theories online that accurately represented the beliefs of marginalized voices and shared Herrera’s philosophies.
While online participation does allow feminists to search out others they can connect with, no matter how particular the beliefs, Baade argues that this can detract from the efforts to spread the feminist dialogue.
“Online platforms allow us to dig into like-minded communities, which does seem like a good thing, but the problem that sometimes happens is that it just reinforces feminist theories that we already know, without educating ourselves on all aspects of feminism,” says Baade. She says women need to actively seek out ideologies that are different from their own, and share all sides of the debate.
So what does all this mean? Is the feminist debate better or worse off because of the internet? Like all great discussions, there are two sides to the story. The internet can certainly be a hostile place that is not so necessarily different from our lives offline. There are issues when confronting those in places of privilege, and giving a voice to those who are marginalized. Race, class and gender bleed into online feminist debates whether we like it or not. However feminism is reaching far greater distances than ever before because of the internet, and empowering those who otherwise are unable to speak on behalf of women.