Networked feminism is a loosely-bounded grouping of all the feminist movements that use today’s most effective means of communication to speak out against sexist acts.
There are no specific groups or organizations that would describe themselves as networked feminist; it is more of a category used to represent the opposite – women who have no formal affiliations with feminists groups but that are still very much active in feminist ways. Specifically when it involves the online mobilization or coordination of feminist activity as responses to sexist acts.
Networked feminism is inherently tied to the use of social networks (such as Facebook and Twitter) to spread messages regarding planned protests over acts that affect females as a gender. The online movements that have been borne out of the desire to protect the young Nigerian girls abducted by ruthless terrorist faction Boko Haram – or to punish the murders of the young woman brutally penetrated by an object in Delhi – are good examples of networked feminism.
Like almost everybody, feminists witnessed the rising influence of the Internet and social networking and decided to capitalize on it. As Internet use spiked globally, feminists realized that they could also transmit their messages through this brilliant new tool, and that it would extend the reach of their ideas by several orders of magnitude.
In fact, community-based women’s websites are amongst the fastest-growing forms of networked activism. Their power is not to be under-estimated, as several public figures found out to their detriment.
2 years ago, Sandra Fluke – a law student at Georgetown University in the US – spoke out about several of the problems women were facing regarding their health coverage plans and the lack of contraceptives at her school and several other issues.
Talk show host Rush Limbaugh decided to get involved and made the colossal error of being caught calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute”. Cue the outrage and the titanic fall from grace.
Thousands of feminists decided to create groups and hashtags designed to punish Limbaugh for his idiocy. They demanded that he be reprimanded for his words, and when that failed to happen, they began to launch a strategic offence on the companies advertising on his show. The show’s sponsors were pretty displeased with this negative publicity and withdrew their support for Limbaugh. Very quickly, his show was on the brink of disappearance and even the American President was quoted as calling his comments “inappropriate”. The issue had reached the highest level of governance!
Limbaugh had to issue a reluctantly grovelling apology and feminist once again proved just how strong they can be when they’re linked by social media.
That same year, a noted breast cancer activism organization announced that it would cut funding to its Planned Parenthood program. Once again, women rose as one to challenge their decision.
One of the Internet’s most organized feminist coalitions ever grouped thousands of women (even those who didn’t consider themselves feminists) and began to push for the decision to be reversed. Donors and patrons of the organization were compelled to threaten to withdraw their support for the organization under severe feminist pressure. Eventually, the organization admitted defeated and continued funding the programme.
Despite its famous victories though, networked feminism has come under some criticism, as is absolutely normal for any phenomenon.
It has been said by several women that networked feminism isn’t really anything new or special; it is just women doing what they’ve always done but on a smartphone.
Others correctly cite the digital divide that is created by networked feminism – if you don’t have access to the Internet, you’re not relevant to it. This is the biggest weakness that networked feminist activity has as opposed to traditional feminist activity. Women who are unfortunately too poor to be online will not only struggle to take part in networked feminist activity, but can also not benefit from it. Since they’re unable to broadcast their ideas on an online platform, their voices will never be heard and they will continue to suffer.
Networked feminism as an idea or a category has also come under some lexical scrutiny; some people claim it is a non-existent concept.
Several people argue that most of the networked feminist movements so far haven’t been explicitly “feminist”, and that the very word is becoming pretty much ambiguous when used in that context. Utterances like Rush Limbaugh’s are unacceptable anyway, and would have come under inspection whether or not a “feminist” group had attacked them. It must be noted that many men were involved in the push to admonish Limbaugh and that very few of them would have considered themselves to be practising “feminist” activity. Hence, this phenomenon we’re calling “networked feminism” may not be a phenomenon at all. In the eyes of the critics, it may have just been the natural response to a bit of celebrity buffoonery.
Either way, the fact of the matter is that a lot of feminist activity is currently being coordinated online and that it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The Internet has brought several different schools of feminism together and they can jointly seek solutions to their problems without having to constantly clash. Networked feminism may just be the final thrust that pushes feminists philosophies to the fore of global politics.