Every single day, 172 million people visit Facebook, 40 million visit Twitter, and 71 million Tumblr posts are created. Contrary to media depictions of online activity as largely narcissistic and/or “slactivism,” young women across the country—and all over the world, in fact—are discovering new ways to leverage the Internet to make fundamental progress in the unfinished revolution of feminism.
Forty-one percent of young people have participated in what the McArthur Foundation dubs, “participatory politics”—meaning online action for a cause, and of those who do, 90 percent also either vote or are engaged in institutional politics, or both. According to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, young adult women ages 18-29 are the “power users” of social networking— and hundreds of thousands of them are harnessing the power of online media platforms to discuss, uplift, and activate gender equality and social justice.
Young feminists have used online tools to successfully pressure Facebook to create policy against pro-rape pages, to get Seventeen Magazine to stop photoshopping girls’ bodies in their pages, and to reverse the Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s decision to remove funding from Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Beyond these more measurable impacts, countless young people, many of them feeling isolated and/or misunderstood in their own towns, discover feminism online and are transformed by it; conversations on blogs and tumblrs are often called “consciousness raising for the 21st century.” Online feminism is arguably the largest and most effective innovation in feminism in the last 50 years.
But for all the progress that online feminism has made, it is unquestionably hindered by being largely unsupported and uncoordinated. This is unhealthy for individual feminists who are overworked, often uninsured, and burned out, but it’s also dangerously unhealthy for the movement as a whole. Online feminism has mostly been exercised in ad-hoc and reactive ways. The longer it remains unsupported, the more it will become a province of the already privileged, who can afford to donate unpaid labor to their favorite cause, and the more that anti-feminist forces will use the tools we’ve invented to push progress back.
But there is hope. We believe that forging partnerships between feminists—online and off, young and older, organizing at the grassroots and strategizing at the treetops—will have far-reaching consequences.
It will foster the formation of new connections between grassroots advocacy and service organizations, educational institutions, coalitions, unions, convenings, conferences, legacy media, policy makers, politicians, entrepreneurs, etc. Online feminism has the capacity to be like the nervous system of this modern day feminist body politic.
The Jacqueline & Gregory Zehner Foundation
The Harnisch Foundation
The George Family Foundation
The Woodcock Foundation
Abigail E. Disney
Ann W. Lovell