Comparing social media to the clitorus kinda freaks me out. But its common language for some feminist social media activists and educators right now. The metophor is about feminist digital activism. It describes what we see on facebook, twitter, and my space as being a “tiny part of a deep root system”. Jacqulin Friedman, a social media activist and educator uses this metaphor to deconstruct massive organized twitter campaigns. Pointing to how feminist activism is sometimes described as a ‘push of the button’ when really these large scale campaigns are rooted in deep social networks, way below the surface of the finished product you might happen to read on your twitter feed. She argues the events leading up to mass digital activism campaigns are just as important as the actual campaign.
For example, we must look at how activists post blogs and facebook messages leading up to large scale protest through social media if we want an accurate picture of activism culture. This is offering a more holistic view of the processes which influence social movements, and reflects one way of rejecting a technologically determinant explanation of social media use. What is crucial for Friedman is that we set up the atmosphere first, which then might spark the entire network of feminist activism causing it to ignight into the finished product of a twitter feed.
Can we identify stages of feminist online activism? If so, how can we tell its feminist activism? Can it be read similar to other social movements that use social media in order to campaign?
The iconic “sailor kissing a nurse” photo.
The photo was circulating around my social media world. I didn’t think much of it, but then I realized other feminist bloggers were writing about it. Feminist blog (feministing.com) for example explains what is deemed as a depiction of romance is actually documentation of a sexual assault. This is social media activism because it shows the desire to challenge mainstream ways of documenting stories. It is not large scale as some twitter campaigns but maybe it will get there as more activists blog about it.
How do contemporary technologies tell our stories? In this case, the technology of the camera created a new possibility to document. Yet the power dynamics that existed in real life easily remained hidden. This is a result of both the technologies limitations and the way popular culture reinforced inaccurate and stereotypical accounts. Similarly, social media creates new possibilities to document our lives in creative ways. Social networking is not a receipe leading up to gender equality, however, it does open up possibilities for documenting the journey towards it. For example addressing violence and harrassement in social media. Technology can be harnessed in this sense as a means to show our goals in creative ways. For example, this photo sparked conversation about street harassment and how violence against women is extremely normalized. Feminist began using social media to document this in creative ways. Hollaback being one example, where victims of street harassment post recordings of the event. As a form of activism, this movement shows one way of addressing the power dynamics in our culture through social media. In the same way that exposing the story about the kissing sailor reveals the power dynamics that allow normalized violence on women’s bodies to continue. This transcends to other social movements online. Where we see citizen journalists reporting on events within their communities. They engage with their communities and in that process participate in a form of activism through social media (article on disability activism). I see social media similar to the photo. Both as a technology with the potential to liberate. It depends how the stories produced within them are told. Both can act as evidence. For example,we can use them to document real life. However, popular culture continues to act as a barrier affecting the way we interpret. Similar to massive organized twitter campaigns you have to look beyond the flashy parts, or the “trendy things without content” if you want to challenge the stereotypes in ways that will address a community beyond the more visible participants.