Feminism on the Digital Frontier

Originally published on http://digitalcommunitas.org/

A little anecdote:  Originally, when I published this post, I had the notion that a Third-Wave was actually active and occurring.  As I have been researching the topic, I have found little information regarding a Third-Wave of feminism.  I tend to attribute this to the medium I am using, the internet.  Cyberfeminism was a movement that began in the 90s and it was considered the horizons of the Third-Wave.  However, recent anti-feminist and post-feminist movements seem to proliferate on the net, effectively taking over feminist ventures.  In this post, which I have modified a bit, I explore the connection between Third-Wave feminism and the internet.  I tend to think that the internet is a potentially excellent space to begin new conversations in feminism and to explore how the discipline is changing and evolving – if it is.  If it is, is there potential on the net?  What is feminism nowadays? 

femThe Third-Wave of feminism should pay great homage to the internet.  The web has allowed feminism to evolve from its former ties to women’s movements from the Second Wave of the 1960s and 70s into a new, contemporary identity that recognizes a new host of issues.  The web, as mentioned in previous posts, is a space where many voices can speak and, thus, contemporary feminism has incorporated different identities that associate with the movement (i.e. transsexual men; queer voices; ethnic and new immigrant feminism).  Feminists throughout the world can cohabitate on the net and share in the mutual cause for women – since, as it appears on the internet, women’s causes have never been more precedent.  A key goal of Third-Wave feminism is to break down socially and culturally-constructed categories that otherwise separate feminists into sub-groups.  The lack of communication endangers feminism altogether.  Feminism, as I have joked with friends, becomes the “F-word.” No one likes to be referred to by this word.

Why? Because it opens a person up to being the target of a host of negative stereotypes, for instance: man-hater (hating %50 of the population? How is that possible?  And, besides, who said women are all that great?), a bitch, sexually-repressed, or perhaps some who just uses feminism to whine and complain.  Since feminists don’t adhere to certain ideals of femininity, they may even be relegated false identities.  Many straight feminists, for instance, have been grouped in with lesbian feminists.  And to convolute this issue even further, many lesbians have been misrepresented as man-haters or simply just women who ‘can’t get a guy.’  With this simple logic it makes sense, right?  As if life can be summed up in simple logic.

Humans are quick to judge sometimes.  Slow to think, but quick to judge.

Part of me doesn’t know where to issue blame (perhaps “blame” is the wrong word? Judgement, perhaps? Bias?) in regards to how feminism seems like such a taboo topic in and amongst social and intellectual circles.  Sometimes, actually oftentimes, I pass judgement on females.  Is it insecurity?  Apathy?  Just being too busy to care (right now, that is)?  Maybe it is the fear of being targeted or bullied for their thoughts on the issue?   Lack of knowledge?    Worse still, those who tend to pass the harshest judgement on feminism have yet to really explore any significant works by feminists and they will openly acknowledge that they shouldn’t have to.  Everyone has a right to an opinion and to pass judgement, but make sure you back it up. Most people with a basic knowledge of feminism understand it is far removed from the bra-burning image of the 1960s (which, was itself a false stereotype picked up by popular culture as a form of parody).

While searching for secondary sources for this post, I found Amber E. Kinser’s article, entitled “Negotiating Spaces For/Through Third-Wave Feminism,” which chronicles Kinser’s identification with Third Wave feminism and the Third Wave’s shifting place within modern society.  Kinser spends a majority of the article responding to “post-feminism,” or the belief that feminism has run its course and that it no longer can apply its politics to modern society.  Kinser acknowledges that post-feminism has seen a rise parallel to the beginnings of the Third-Wave in the 1980s (Kinser 135) and that the two are inextricably connected; both being argued for, for the majority, by female academics and cultural critics.  The common female (i.e. working-to-middle class, educated, and socially-secure) has little to say on the issues, except to expect that they have all cleared up (for them, who relish in the commodity culture that appeals to their materialistic desires, perhaps they have).  The female identity seems to be connected to her post-modern surroundings, inextricable from the media and its portrayal of the female in her various New Woman identities.  Many representations of women have either incorporated or compensated for the Second-Wave successes and, hence, do not feel the need to justify them anymore.  Indeed, the tension that this has caused plays out in everyday culture and re-asserts the legitimacy of post-feminism.  Here, I include a passage from Kinser’s article:

Feminist identity for today’s young woman must be understood not only as a third-wave phenomenon and a second-wave consequence, but also as part of a post-feminism outcome.  That is, young women and girls are attempting to paint a place for themselves in the feminist landscape even as that landscape is colored and textured by the postfeminist ideology, which asserts that there is no longer any need to “be a feminist,” and which assert derisive monolithic images of feminism as proof that it is undesirable and outmoded.  Furthermore, postfeminism is composed of “backlash” arguments asserting, among other falsehoods, that any further feminist activity will in fact move us backward.  Third-wave rhetoric is in part, as I maintain, in large part women’s attempts to manage the competitive tension between these claims and those about gender equity (Kinser 134).

Memes, like the one above, often use sarcasm to hit out at post-feminism and feminism in general.  You judge whether this is supportive of feminism or not.  The internet allows  for such ambiguity.

Memes, like the one above, often use sarcasm to hit out at post-feminism and feminism in general. You judge whether this is supportive of feminism or not. The internet allows for such ambiguity.

Feminism becomes equivalent to profanity and profane symbolism because it is seen to denounce nature.  Women are still naturally seen as caregivers and mothers.  Post-feminism attempts to legitimate itself by disregarding the past injustices to women, especially to those who do not adhere to ‘natural’ social roles.  Its motto is that discrimination is apart of the unfortunate past. However, what most post-feminists are not aware of is the naturalizing system that is hegemony. Feminism is supported, however, when a female can use it to charge herself with sexuality (Note: Can one argue that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a feminist text?)‘Unsexy’ issues, such a workplace equality, rights for working class and lower class women, immigrant women, and women’s healthcare, are often overlooked or slotted a certain amount of importance.  Feminism has successfully become a trend, one of which a woman can wear in her attitude and clothing, but not as part of an intellectual and social identity with a marginalized majority.  The tyranny of Girlpower and Sisterhood obscure the real issues, ones of which are inherently human issues, separate from politics. Third-wave feminism is global feminism.  This is not a radical statement.  Kinser’s article searches for what and where the new spaces of feminism will be and she does mention briefly the most obvious, and then perhaps the most oblivious, space: the internet.

Digital culture is indeed a good space to start, since digital culture has a global reach.  I am not going to dilute this post with optimism – a habit I tend to revert to when I am losing an argument – but instead resort to the pro-offensive.  The internet provides women with the resources to actively research feminism as a serious study.  Women can attain the knowledge that empowers them with the ability to debate on a higher level.  This knowledge also enables them to assert their own interpretations of feminist theory and feminist issues.  Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the internet is that places the individual user on equal terms with other users.  It is often viewed as a ‘free’ space (although this view is euphemistic and obscures the many controls and legal constraints the internet has).  The internet is free in the sense that it allows users to interact across many demographics, which effectively deconstructs socially-constructed categories.  Women from the Third-Wave can converse with women of previous movements via forums and on social networks.  Conversation allows for debate and debate is the foundation of actual change.  Hence, the internet provides young feminists with knowledge and the voice: an imperative combination of powerful political tools.  Previous to the Third Wave, women met in certain places (whether at marches, in universities, or in live debate) in order to talk about women’s issues.  The Second Wave likely saw so much controversy due to the sheer amount of pressure that women felt they had to place on institutions and governments in order to even be faintly heard and understood.  The danger of an active, live revolution is something that deters even the most dedicated in a movement.  The internet allows for rational discussion, planning, and the amalgamation of different sub-groups.



Kinser focuses on a crucial aspect of the Third Wave: ethnic women (this is the last time I am going to use the word ethnic, as it obscures from the very fact that these women are women and part of a sexual category.  Besides, ethnic is a politically-charged misrepresentation of any women who is not white. This is a complete misrepresentation of womanhood in general).  Women coming to the West from different cultures and countries find themselves within an on-going political revolution that has been ebbing and flowing through a landscape that is dominated by media (that is both in support and in opposition of feminism).  The West is a relatively young group of nations, many of which, including Canada and America, still hold the biased view that their ‘modern’ cultures and lifestyles equate a more free, and therefore better, lifestyle for women.  However, in the West many women still face an incredulous amount of bias based solely on their sex and, to keep on par with the Third Wave, their gender.  Inclusive to New Feminism is the spectrum of genders that should be recognized.  Alongside women from different cultures and countries, sexual and gender others must be considered.  Post-feminism curtails all of these Othered groups by assuming that they are already accepted.  Yet, the majority of non-West LGBTQ women find themselves distanced from feminism in general.  They face bias based on their non-Western cultural status, as well as their sexual and/or gender identity.

Furthermore, the majority of popular culture is pre-Stonewall.  It does not recognize the advants in LGBTQ rights that these sub-groups use to exist and live well in their everyday lives.  Without this recognition, it is easy to understand why othered sexual and gender minorities find it difficult to compete with existing, heteronormative hegemonic structures.

Essentially, the Third-wave must seek to incorporate difference under the umberella of feminism.  Digital culture can help this occur, due to the ability to incorporate many voices on one platform.

About dontpanictrent

DON'T PANIC: A Trent Graduate Student Blog

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