Networked feminism is a phenomenon that describes the online mobilization and coordination of feminists in response to sexist acts. Networked feminism is not spearheaded by one singular women's group. Rather, it is the manifestation of feminists' ability to leverage the internet to make traditionally unrepresented voices and viewpoints heard. Networked feminism occurs when social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are used as a catalyst in the promotion of feminist equality and in response to sexism. Users of these social media websites promote the advancement of feminism using tools such as viral Facebook groups and hashtags. These tools are used to push gender equality and call attention to those promoting anything otherwise.
The mass convergence of feminists occurred as a result of a spike in the advancement of Internet usage and social media websites. Networked feminism is a part of the contemporary feminist community whose interests revolve around cyberspace, the Internet, and technology. This feminist community makes up the movement known as cyberfeminism. The creation of websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, reddit, and YouTube have allowed for feminists to take part in social media and other virtual coalitions that combat sexism, making way for networked feminism on a large scale.
These coalitions have resulted in increased vocabulary and awareness about gender in the United States' national media dialogue. According to a Score Media Metrix study in 2008, community-based women’s websites were one of the fastest growing websites that year. Indeed, "the strongest flavor of networked activism today is deeply feminist. There is a tenacious, super-wired coalition of active feminists prepared at a moment’s notice to blow the lid off sexist attacks or regressive health policy." Social media has seemingly helped render the present day as an opportune moment for women's activism and women's involvement in national politics.
Social media and networked feminism
The use of hashtags has become an extremely important factor in the advancement of networked feminism and all social media movements. Hashtags provide a means of grouping such messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contain it. Feminist Internet users who participate in the virtual mass convergence of networked feminism use hashtags to form organized Internet groups that share the same hyperlink hashtag. In the case of feminist movements, groups are used to advance an idea or coalition against sexism. Since the creation of Twitter, the hashtag has spread onto other forms of social media such as Tumblr and Instagram, along with networked feminism.
Social media mega website, Facebook, allows users to interact through friend requests, networks, and groups. A group on Facebook is created to represent anything from a common interest that people share all the way to a coalition that people associate themselves with. In the case of networked feminism, Facebook groups have played an important role in discussing issues and creating bonds against or for a certain topic that revolves around sexism or, on the other hand, the advancement of feminism. Individuals have used these groups, along with other forms of social media and interconnectedness, such as email lists, blogs, YouTube videos, reddit threads, to create forums where feminists can virtually congregate. These forums created an open gateway for the mass virtual convergence that is networked feminism.
Examples of networked feminism
Sandra Fluke, a then 30-year-old law student at Georgetown University spoke in front of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee regarding the new Administration rules on Conscience Clause exceptions in health care. In her speech, Fluke discussed the reasons that her educational institution, a Catholic university, should offer contraceptives without any co-pay. She then went on to say that 40% of Georgetown Law School's female population suffered financial hardship as a result of birth control not being covered by the student health insurance plan.
In response to Flukes' testimony, Limbaugh took it upon himself to make personal statements regarding the law student's opinions. On February 29, 2012, Limbaugh was recorded on his talk show calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" as a result of her speech.
Immediately after Limbaugh's comments went public on his radio show, a huge Internet networked was formed by social media savvy feminists who were angered by these comments. These Internet users created Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags that demanded action be taken against Limbaugh and that he be reprimanded. These Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags directly targeted the barter ads that aired commercials during Limbaugh's radio show. As a result of the massive virtual feminist coalition against Limbaugh, Premiere Networks, the radio group that syndicates the Rush Limbaugh Radio Show, pulled all of its barter ads from the group’s affiliated stations from March 12, 2012 through March 23, 2012. Even further, the Internet network created against Limbaugh was so great that it sparked President Obama to expressed his opinion on Limbaugh's comments, deeming them to be "inappropriate."
After the loss of many of his advertisers, along with the desolation of his reputation via social media, Limbaugh issued an apology to Fluke, stating that he "chose the wrong words" and he "did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.”
The actions taken against Limbaugh by his advertisers we're a direct result of the feminist networked that created a coalition taken against his sexist actions.
Mitt Romney and “binders full of women”
On October 16, 2012, Mitt Romney and President Obama participated in the 2nd Presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. An audience member asked the candidates a question regarding inequalities in the workplace. Romney responded by stating, ‘well, gosh, can't we—can't we find some—some women that are also qualified?’ And—and so we—we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”
Romney's comment went viral instantaneously after they sparked outrage from feminists all over the United States. As a result, social media websites were set ablaze with a wide variety of different reactions from Internet savvy users. A Twitter account was created solely for the purpose of poking fun at Romney and his comments. The Twitter account created the handle "@Romneys_Binder" and eventually reached up to 13,000 followers - with the number still continuing to grow. A Facebook group was created with the title "Binders Full of Women" where Facebook users were able to mock Romney's comments or express their anger and disdain with them. Lastly, the Twitter hashtag "#bindersfullofwomen" became a trending topic on Twitter and the phrase also was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the televised debate. Furthermore, Internet memes were also created expressing the apparent sexism in Romney's comment.
Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood
In February 2012, the public was notified that breast cancer activist organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure had decided to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. As a result of the organizations decision to cut funding, a networked response was sparked that focused on the war on women’s health. In this case, Female Internet users, even those who did not identify themselves as feminists, expressed their outrage, again using social media as their main catalyst. Media outlets described this backlash as one of the most organized feminist Internet coalitions in history and called it extra-organizational with their extremely savvy use of social media. Individual women used a variety of Internet channels to connect with other women and create their own protests. Many angry protesters stated that they were cut their funding to the breast cancer organization and donate straight to Planned Parenthood instead.
As a result of the overwhelming virtual mass convergence of feminists that came together because of the organizations choice to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, Susan G. Komen reversed their decision and began refunding the non-profit organization. This demonstrated how powerful and hyper-organized networked feminist organizations can be.
Rebecca Sive of The Sive Group, Inc in Chicago indicated in a May 2012 article on Reproductive Health Reality Check's website that she believes "new networked feminism is just like the old networked feminism," because both its method and measures of success are the same. Sive states that "in order to achieve institutional change, women have always talked, networked, and connected to get organized," but the medium is just different with new networked feminism. Sive seemingly implies that widespread feminist movements occur when women collectively decide institutional change is necessary, and then use the most appropriate and effective mediums to achieve this change. Thus, mediums do not inspire change, they just help facilitate it.
Additionally, although social media has helped raise awareness about feminism and women’s issues, "there’s still the concern of creating an echo chamber," says Nona Willis Aronowitz, author of Girl Drive: Criss-crossing America, Redefining Feminism. Arnowitz states that there is incredible diversity among women and men about what exactly feminism means, making it harder to classify what does and does not constitute new networked feminism.
Networked feminism's impact is somewhat limited because not everyone has access to the internet. According to Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of Feministing, a popular feminist blog, "we tend to forget the women who aren’t online – there is a digital divide – and I think that part of the feminist movement should be focused on reaching out to people face-to-face doing community work, doing international work. A lot of people are online but not everybody,not by a long shot.”
- Tom Watson (Feb 10, 2013). "Networked Women as a Rising Political Force, Online and Off". Tech President. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
- Staff Writer (Feb 10, 2013). "The 'Online' Estrogen Revolution". Canada.com. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
- Sandra Fluke (Feb 10, 2013). "In Context: Sandra Fluke on contraceptives and women's health". Retrieved March 4, 2012.
- Howard, , "Forbes", 2012
- Bingham (Feb 10, 2013). "Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Slut’ Comment Controversy Proves It Has Staying Power". ABC News. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
- Shaw (Feb 10, 2013). "Obama Slams Rush Limbaugh's Slut Talk, JC Penney Pulls Its Ads". The Wrap. Retrieved March 6, 2012.
- Voskamp (Feb 10, 2013). "Rush Limbaugh Apologizes for 'Slut' Remarks". The Wrap. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
- Stern (Feb 10, 2013). "Romney’s ‘Binders Full of Women’ Comment Sets Internet Ablaze". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- Bassett (Feb 10, 2013). "Susan G. Komen Loses Support After Planned Parenthood Decision". The Huffington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "New Networked Feminism Just Like the Old Networked Feminism: Organize or Die".