Cyberfeminism: Activism or Slacktivism?

By Emily Butler
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Whether you’re reading this from your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, on a Wi-Fi network or 4G network, we all use the internet to connect to the world around us. While the bulk of feminist history has been made offline, in the last decade the juncture between the internet and feminism has become unavoidable. This has inevitably prompted the question of whether the internet is helping or hurting the feminist cause.

Slacktivism has become an increasingly popular buzz word, even earning recognition in the Oxford Dictionary. Defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement,” this hardly sounds revolutionary. I can agree that all the Facebook “likes” in the world on a Feminist Ryan Gosling meme won’t end rape culture or stop pro-life legislation, but there are plenty of ways young feminists can use the internet to change the world. Here are three influential media sites and their involvement in the feminist movement.

1)      Let’s start with the most obvious social media: Facebook. While getting a million “likes” can’t do much offline, with users logging on multiple times a day, Facebook can be a great way to keep in touch with local feminists. In fact, while the feminist collective at my university sent out regular emails to keep our members up to date, nothing sparked debate and interest in issues and events like our Facebook Group. Sometimes convenience can lead to effectiveness.

2)      If Facebook is the king of social media, then Twitter is next in line for the throne. In addition to being a great tool for local organizing, assuming that as many of your feminist friends tweet nonstop as mine do, Twitter has also proved to be a soapbox for shared outrage that can manifest as social change. Remember the Susan G. Komen debacle nearly a year ago when they pulled funding for Planned Parenthood? Well thanks to the roar of the internet, specifically 1.3 million tweets in objection, Komen issued a public apology and restored their funding, proving that #cyberfeminismworks!

3)      While your parents have probably heard of Facebook and Twitter (and if you’re as unfortunate as me, also use them), Tumblr, defined as a ‘micro-blog,’ attracts a younger demographic of users who can filter their “dashboard” to their particular passions. Certainly, some Tumblr users dedicate their blogs to fan-culture, but Tumblr also attracts the passions of young feminists internationally. I have found micro-blogging an integral part of my growth as a feminist; it familiarized me with sections of bell hooks theory while simultaneously keeping me aware of the personal struggles and goals of other blogging feminists. Operating on a “re-blogging” system, it encourages intersectionality among its activist users. For instance, Tumblr allows for incorporating discussions concerning race, trans* rights, queer activism, the fat positive movement, and classism as part of a broader feminist discourse.

But wait! The internet doesn’t stop there, or at all. There are always new avenues for feminist voices to take action online. For one thing, blogging never stops – not at FMF or countless individual feminist-minded blogs. Then there are crowdfunding sites such as kickstarter.com that allow start-up projects to receive funds from like-minded enthusiasts. There are countless user-driven sites, such as Reddit or Pinterest, that acquire vast audiences simply waiting for feminist users to claim their portion of the site! No matter where you surf on the web, you can find feminist spaces and promote change.

So I say, slacktivist schmacktivist! If I’ve learned one thing in my journey as a young feminist so far, it’s that feminism is full of passionate individuals and the internet is only another tool we can use to smash the patriarchy. Feminists may “like” and tweet and tumble, but we also protest and rally and organize grassroots movements to change the world.

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