“The women’s movement may have been in hiding through the ‘ladette’ years, but in 2013 it has come back with a vengeance. Introducing the new feminists taking the struggle to the web,” read the Guardian little more than a year ago.
Intersectional, ‘fourth wave’ feminism has indeed been on the rise in viral form. Feminism is louder, more visible and more unchallenged in the mainstream than ever before – so what have they struggled for, and what have they achieved?
The latest (almost) great victory was the apparent crushing of page three. It is typical of the big feminist issues of the decade. There is a hash-tag, a facebook page, a t-shirt to wear (and be photographed in) and a catchy slogan.
Page Three became a flash point in the culture wars, a lone hangover from another era, a remnant of the lecherous 70s. It was met by the very modern culture of hash tag activism – vanities masquerading as philanthropy on the global stage that is the Internet.
Another popular Internet trolling campaign gathering momentum and celebrity endorsement at exactly the same time is Free-The-Nipple. A campaign to end the ‘discriminatory’ banning on female nips on facebook and instagram, because breasts ‘aren’t sex organs.’
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the pages of our largest selling national paper to be a suitable place to gawk at tits, but neither then, are the world’s largest photo sharing websites, frequented by children.
Such petty, contradictory, self-defeating ends are becoming common. One-week feminism was complaining about people ‘violating’ women by taking pictures of them eating on the Tube for a comedy facebook page, and the next, they were snapping photos of men sitting in certain positions on transport.
The ‘man spreading’ campaign became another big issue. Apparently, making men sit a little more delicately while gaining some extra bum space for sisters on the bus is a valiant feminist battle worth fighting today.
There’s been a dumbing down, hasn’t there? Fourth wave feminists are inspired by Beyoncé and tales from Jezebel.com and Everyday Sexism.com – rather than the writing of Catharine Mackinnon, Germaine Geer or Emily Pankhurst. You need a good victim story and lots of likes, not bravery and a social conscience, to be a good fourth wave feminist.
There’s so much momentum but so little direction. It’s largely true, that last century the right won the economic argument and the left won the social one. Feminism succeeded magnificently, was venerated, hero worship, and now a new generation of girls online want the badge. Feminism is in vogue, but the hordes of new activists are just floundering. They’re hungry for a target and anything they can call a victory.
Like the gay and civil rights movements, and other great societal shifts, female emancipation has been a process, a dialectical action and reaction – great things have been achieved, and there is much to fight for. But posting about the horrors of FGM, forced marriage and ‘honor’ violence just doesn’t garner likes quite like hounding scientists about their t-shirt or how some guys chose to sit.
Feminists must be brave again and pick battles on principles, not for one-upmanship or maximising retweets. Their support is unbridled, but so little of substance is being achieved. Online, and maybe on balance, Feminism is begging to look petty, somewhat intolerant as a movement.