Social Media and Third-Wave Feminism

How has social media affected modern feminism? Is it for the better or the worse? To whom?


  1. How does social media affect third-wave feminism?

  2. In the modern age, social media has changed many aspects of American society. But the question arises: how does it affect third-wave feminism? Before we can answer that question, we have to first understand what third-wave feminism is and what it is trying to accomplish.

  3. What is the difference between third-wave feminism and first- and second-wave feminism?

  4. In feminism, there have been three major waves since the mid-19th century. These waves have been named by number order, and have been loosely categorized by their ideals and successes.
  5. In her article, "The Three Waves of Feminism," Martha Rampton (a professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University) talks about how the first wave of feminism officially began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. This wave had a focus on the deconstruction of the domestication of women as well as the right to vote. Many feminists of the time would show their support for the movement through public speaking and demonstrations of protest (such things were considered "un-ladylike"). Some of the more prominent leaders, such as Victoria Woodhull and Susan B. Anthony would go so far as to vote before they had the right to, voluntarily facing the charges given to them.
    The efforts of first-wave feminists eventually led to the passing and ratification of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. This was in 1920, the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. During this decade, vamps and flappers became prominent in the public. These were women who defied the social norm for appearance and often wore a lot of makeup and relatively revealing clothing. The Great Depression marks the end of the first-wave of feminism, as surviving in economic turmoil was more prominent in peoples' minds than gaining gender equality.
  6. Second-wave feminism began with the creation of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 (shown by the timeline of the Women's Liberation Movement put together by Ann Medina). This commission determined that "women in the United States still were discriminated against in virtually every aspect of life" (as discussed by Jennifer Tripp in her article on the National Organization for Women), causing them to form the National Organization for Women (known as NOW). This caused the nation to start up the second wave of feminism.
    This wave of feminism focused mainly on the gender pay gap and the oppressive systems of standard beauty. This movement caused the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, making it illegal to differ pay between workers based on sex. This was a major step towards equality for women. Second-wave feminists also took steps towards eliminating gender inequality by defying current standards of beauty, claiming them to be oppressive. Women would refuse to use, or even destroy, objects of beauty such as makeup, high-heels, and bras. This is because they viewed the objects as oppressive creations of the patriarchy.
    The second wave of feminism hasn't truly ended, but has instead evolved into the third wave of feminism.
  7. In the 1990s, second-wave feminism transformed into third-wave feminism. Third-wave feminism differs from second- and first-wave feminism in that it has a much larger focus on social inequality/oppression over legal inequality/oppression. It also greatly differs from second-wave feminism by flipping the ideals of beauty on its head: what second-wave feminists considered to be oppressive objects of the patriarchy are now objects of personal beauty and self-esteem, as explained by Martha Rampton. Women now wear lipstick, high-heels, and low-cut shirts as forms of expressing personal beauty rather than as forms of pleasing men.
    Third-wave feminism also has another major difference between itself and the previous two waves: mass communication. In first- and second-wave feminism, mass communication of feminist efforts was done through news and by ear. In third-wave feminism, feminists now have access to instant mass communication through the internet and social media. However, whether this has been beneficial or harmful towards the movement remains to be seen.

  8. What is social media?

  9. Merriam-Webster defines social media as "forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)."

    In general, social media is the platform on which instant, widespread communication flourishes. When people post something on a website such as Facebook or Tumblr, it can instantly reach hundreds or thousands or people, then those people can quickly repost the original post, spreading the message to even more people.

    Social media is often used for activism (sometimes referred to derogatorily as "slacktivism," given that all one needs to do to participate is use the internet), especially in the forms of Twitter hashtags. In 2012, there was a hashtag campaign to find and remove power from a violent Ugandan guerrilla leader named Joseph Kony, labeled #Kony2012. This hashtag not only allowed people to join in the conversation easily, but also clearly label their limited messages (Twitter posts being limited to 140 characters).

  10. How does social media affect communities and activism?

  11. In his article for The Guardian, "Does social media really empower local communities?", Mandeep Hothi investigates how social media has affected the structure of communities. Hothi discusses how social media has allowed for quicker communication between activists, but how the participation rates have barely changed. Citing work done for The Young Foundation, social media only has 10% of viewers actually spreading activism, relatively equivalent to other sources of mass communication. This is not a problem with technology: it is how people act. While most, if not every, members of the activist community receive the news, very few will actually spread it further.
  12. While social media is not particularly helpful to activist groups, Hothi argues that social media has been beneficial to small communities. He talks about a case where a girl used social media in an effort to find her lost dog. Ultimately, the dog was not found, but the use of social media got a larger group of people searching for the dog. Social media brought a small community together towards a common goal. Hothi states that social media is not "a shortcut to empowerment, just a really useful tool."
  13. How has third-wave feminism benefited from social media?

  14. Social media has proven beneficial multiple times to third-wave feminism. TIME magazine writer Jessica Bennett wrote an article about the usage of #WhyIStayed, a hashtag created because of a reaction to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his then-girlfriend (now wife). People questioned why she stayed in the relationship, so survivors of abusive relationships posted their reasons why, at the time, it seemed reasonable for them to stay in the relationship. The #WhyIStayed hashtag gave women a platform on which to have their voices heard. It also gave feminists the chance to give an accurate, complex answer to what seems like a simple question: "why didn't she just leave?" The answer, in essence, being that it's not that simple to just leave an abusive relationship.
  15. In her article, Shelley Pringle argues that social media has helped facilitate discussion on equal rights issues. She talks about several hashtag campaigns, such as #LikeAGirl and #HeForShe, all campaigns designed to help empower women. Pringle, however, is not sure that social media has actually helped women's rights, but it has helped open up discussions on the issues.
  16. In essence, social media has helped people open discussions on equal rights issues and allowed feminists to answer and talk about complex questions with the general masses. This is etremely useful for a social movement, as leaving opposition with unanswered questions and ignorance on the subject can only hurt the entire movement.
  17. How has social media damaged third-wave feminism?

  18. One way that social media has negatively affected third-wave feminism is the manner of "elite" feminists. In the article "Feminism's Toxic Twitter Wars," Michelle Goldberg talks about the times that feminists were criticized by fellow feminists for 'not being feminist enough'. For example, actress and activist Martha Plimpton tweeted support for a reproductive rights benefit called "Night of a Thousand Vaginas." She quickly received criticism for using the word 'vagina' to represent females, as there are pre-op trans-men who have vaginas, but identify as male. In reaction to this, Plimpton said "I’m not going to stop using the word ‘vagina’ for anybody [...] I can’t do that and still advocate for reproductive freedom. It’s just not a realistic thing to expect." This is an example of feminists being pit against feminists in a "who is the truest feminist?" standoff.