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Tumbl’n up feminism

Armchair activists should not be discounted, writes Sarah Armstrong.

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After ‘Girl Power’ fell out of popular usage following the Spice Girls’ hiatus in 2000, numerous articles labelled the twenty-first century ‘post-feminist’ and heralded the end of feminism, due to its perceived irrelevance and unpopularity. Unsurprisingly, continuing coverage of instances of oppression and gendered violence across the Western world has proved these statements erroneous. Social media has offered twenty-first century women unique opportunities for feminist discussion, especially among young women.

The nature of different social media websites prompts differing levels of engagement across the various platforms. Given many users maintain accounts across multiple platforms, they are exposed to a variety of feminist ideologies and modes of interaction in accessible, social formats. Founded in 2007, microblogging site Tumblr has proven to be one of the most successful social media platforms in prompting a huge outcrop of feminist thought and solidarity. Over fifty per cent of its users are under 25. This young user-base provides fertile ground for the proliferation of multifaceted feminist ideas.

Tumblr offers its users a laid-back community. The layout of the site and fast-rolling homepage means the site has an inbuilt focus on sharing snippets of information. The way commenting works makes the environment quite prone to the tendency of ‘piling on’ those with opposing views. While at some point aggressive, users’ comments facilitate the rapid development of feminist ideology. Users can break into feminist discussion by reblogging pithy quotes and voice frustration at everyday experiences of harassment, and sharing feminist artwork.

It’s easy to see why this form of accessible feminism is appealing to a mass audience of young women; it echoes with their experiences, whilst remaining accessible and uncomplicated. This level of engagement has been criticised for lacking critical analysis and simply ‘repackaging’ patriarchal standards. This criticism is not necessarily too far off the mark, but in a world where multiple women deny identifying as feminists explicitly because they aren’t ‘man haters,’ it’s important not to deride mediums which raise feminist consciousness among young women.

Over time, users may gravitate towards more academic and in-depth discourse, and diversify their views, as they head into their 20s, with the medium becoming more important in solidifying existing ideology, rather than prompting new understandings.

Unlike Tumblr, feminist engagement on Facebook has less assumed knowledge of an activist lexicon, and is generally more focused on interaction with other, geographically proximate feminist women, be for rallies and sharing experiences. In addition to this, the focus on sharing articles differentiates this medium. Following the success of groups such as the now-defunct ‘Everyday Sexism Project,’ multiple feminist Facebook groups have sprung up, facilitating discussion and organisation of events. These groups are generally populated by an older demographic of women. Given the relative lack of anonymity, users can be concerned about posting politicised content that may receive negative attention from peers or family members. Facebook is where celebrity feminist declarations have really taken off, in part due to the general PR friendly, palatable sentiments, and an easy ‘like’ spreads content broadly. They might do little in themselves to challenge oppressive systems, but definitely alter social attitudes towards feminism as a whole.

Despite being criticised as creating a generation of angry ‘armchair activists,’ it’s clear that social media use by young women and girls is incredibly compatible with the proliferation of feminist thought. Just because they sit in comfortable armchairs doesn’t mean their contributions should be discounted.