The traditional image of the feminist activist is one with a sign picketing outside large buildings or taking over the streets and sidewalks. The common protest usually goes like this: There's a group of demonstrators in one physical space and one leader has a megaphone to amplify the message of the group. Although this protest method was certainly impactful in the past and still is today, what if there was a way that a demonstration could take place in many geographical areas simultaneously, where every member could have their own megaphone? Wouldn't that ground-breaking?
Well, thanks to a powerful invention called the internet, it's happening. Like, right now.
Above: A picture I snapped of brilliant activist Sarah Shanks holding a pro-choice sign at Roe v Wade's anniversary at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
At an event last night at Barnard College, co-founder of Feministing Vanessa Valenti and Courtney Martin introduced their new report entitled #FemFuture: Online Revolution. With the help of 21 others feminist contributors, they explained that because we live a world where most of our lives are lived online, digital spaces have become indispensable tools for feminist activism.
Like many other women, my experience illustrates the potential of feminist online organizing.
As a Change.org campaigner, I observed social change take place before my screen. Sitting in my PJs in my flat in London, I took notice of the International Boxing Federation's (AIBA) decision to force female boxers to wear skirts at the Olympics. In an attempt to preserve women’s "elegance" and guarantee they be easily "distinguishable" from their male counterparts, the AIBA claimed it was necessary for them to sport micro-minis. I resisted the initial impulse to pull out my hair, lip-sync to a tinny version of “What’s Going On” by 4 Non Blondes and start shovelling crappy seashell-shaped truffles down my throat to anesthetize my anger.
So I did what any committed and dedicated activist of the 21st century does: I Tweeted it. One angry Tweet led to the creation of an online petition, which led to a community of almost 50,000 supporters, and to the head of the AIBA overturning his decision.
As I watched the female boxers compete at the 2012 Olympics (wearing shorts, thank you very much) I couldn't help but feel a sense of community with the people who had signed and shared my campaign online. We all made this happen together, even thought most of us had never met.
I started out alone, but social media became my megaphone. It allowed me to amplify my voice and reach thousands of other voices that were dying to be heard too. As Zerlina Maxwell puts it in the report, "Twitter shrinks the world and makes everyone accessible."
Above: A picture I took of bad-ass feminist Tyler Donohue at our counter protest during the the March For Life in 2011 in Washington, D.C.
The myth that it's lazy to use your computer to mobilize is crazy. The myth that online activism is slow moving is laughable. Using our laptops to connect and converse is not slacktivism; it is eager-ism. We are all impatient to affect social change, and we're too impassioned to wait around until everybody agrees that it's a valid form of protest.
Do you call UltraViolet collecting 50,000 signatures in only two hours to pressure Reebok to drop Rick Ross after his rape-promoting lyrics sluggish? Do you call the Komen Foundation being forced to revoke their decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood after a huge feminist uproar on social media a slow process?
According to a Pew Internet Report cited in #FemFuture, females aged 18-29 are now the "power users" of social media. Women are dominating digital spaces and using them for good. In Turkey, a country where women still face numerous social injustices, women make up a whopping 72% of social network users and many of them are already making strides on the web.
Online feminism is not a distraction from the broader movement, it’s the greatest mutation of it yet. The digital revolution is here, and I don't know about you, but I'm pretty freakin' excited about it. What will you do to change the world today?
Let me know what you think on Twitter at @feministabulous, and don't forget to use the #femfuture hashtag.