By Sharifah Nursyafiqah
Bustle, a new online site curating content directed towards women, markets itself as a “news, entertainment, lifestyle, and fashion site driven by a diverse and energetic collection of contributors,” that seek to “redefine what “women’s interest” looks like.” According to CEO Bryan Goldberg, “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips?”
If that remark raised any eyebrows, or ire, it should.
Source: Huffington Post
Goldberg’s comments on the “neglected and underserved” state of the women’s publishing business were not well received, to say the least, by the throngs of female writers and editors of online sites that have long been putting forth contemporary social and real-world issues alongside tips on wearing the latest print of the season. Reactions to his comment ranged from outraged tweets and posts to a hilarious satirical piece by Amanda Hess on how “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever.” By implying the inexistence of wholly smart and successful sites that curate a variety of content for women, Goldberg is essentially ignoring the growing phenomena of female empowerment in the digital world.
Women are taking feminist discourse online, and it rocks. New media has allowed for the emergence of opinions by a myriad of female voices, where before this discourse was dominated by few prominent writers and activists, or underground Riot Grrrl movements. Contemporary feminists have leveraged upon the vast openness and accessibility of the virtual world to get messages of equality and female empowerment across to wider audiences. Shelby Knox terms this the “Forth” Wave of Feminism – where previous three waves of feminism were characterized by overcoming structural inequalities (such as gaining suffrage), legal / de facto inequalities and achieving women’s liberation, this new age of feminism strives for a more inclusive conversation due to a lowering barrier of access to feminist conversation, and encourages “collective activism”; “You can get on your computer, speak out, and be part of the conversation.”
Digital feminism has also made the issues discussed incredibly accessible, and relevant. Some of my favourite pieces on feminism are features on pop culture issues – from Beyoncé to the image of females in media (seen in Rookie magazine’s EIC Tavi Gevinson’s TED talk), and breaking down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. These are not articles that necessarily push for significant policy change, but rather for a more nuanced perspective and seek to get people to view allegedly contrived issues and influential societal forces we face in a more informed manner.
The Internet has also allowed for different forms of feminism to emerge. The viral Twitter hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen saw the coming together of women of colour in addressing what was seen to be the championing of a generally white-centric notion of feminism. This is not inherently subversive – feminism is not perfect – but with new media and the contributions of different voices of different women, the movement and discourse improves, evolves and becomes increasingly diverse and heterogeneous. Contributing to this discourse is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian novelist who gave a fantastic TEDxTalk on making feminism part of humanity’s culture.
Online activism may ostensibly make little real-world impact. Yet, when so many of us are plugged into the digital world daily, and are continually influenced by the plethora of news, images and perspectives we are exposed to online, the very idea of the Internet as a outlet for strong female voices is a powerful one that can impact our decision-making and the way we pass judgment on today’s issues. With sites that target teen girls and youths such as Rookie, Jezebel, Hello Giggles or Girls Get Busy – sites curated by females, for females – views of equality and empowerment of the fairer sex permeates the minds of digital-savvy girls who may very well one day run the world. Even @FeministTaylorSwift (parody Twitter account) takes a spin at subverting patriarchy via amusing rewrites of the country crooner’s lyrics.
Feminist discourse is slowly but surely infiltrating many corners of the Internet. In June 2013, The Guardian released a great list of everyday women creating a remarkable impact in the online feminism scene, and making an active difference. We may not be creating armies of Virginia Woolfs and Frida Kahlos, but with the Internet, we could very well be getting there.