“#Feminism: Toward an Understanding of Social Media in Fourth Wave Feminism” by Colleen Licudine

Posted: July 3, 2015 in Vol. 7: Spring Essays 2015

Like most great things, this project was inspired by Beyonce. After I listened to her song “Flawless” and its unabashed message of feminism, I started to think about how feminism is represented in our modern time. It has changed how the world views information. Because social media has become an integral part of our society, it was inevitable that feminism would follow suit.  In order to better understand feminism’s current state, this project will first explore the general history of the feminist movement in order to provide a greater understanding of the challenges women have faced and the ways they overcame them. Next, I will examine current understandings of this Fourth Wave of feminism and how social media has helped feminists share their stories, define current issues that concern them, and raise awareness to enact change. Finally, I will explore some problems and complications that I agree need to be addressed within this wave and/or rolled over into the next. Overall, this project will argue that the current Fourth Wave of feminism builds on the vision, issues, and goals of the waves that preceded it and enacts intersectional feminism with the aid of Web 2.0 and social media.

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Part One: Historical Overview of the Waves of Feminism

Feminism is a movement and ideology that has grown to adapt to the needs and culture of its time. These movements are usually categorized into waves because the changes brought forward by the previous wave help in influencing and expanding the ideas of the next. The First Wave of feminism focused on changing the laws regarding women, specifically a woman’s right to vote. The Second Wave of feminism focused on the rights of women and looked into the psychology and mindset of what it’s like to be a woman. The Third Wave was influenced by post-colonialism and developed a global type of feminism that allowed women to define feminism for themselves. These three recognized waves of feminism all have causes unique to their own wave, but they are also connected and influenced by the actions of the wave before them.

The First Wave of feminism spanned from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Influenced by the environment of urban industrialism and liberal politics, First Wave feminism sought to provide more opportunities for women and focused specifically on suffrage, or the right for women to vote (Rampton). The Seneca Falls convention of 1848 is largely regarded as the official beginning of the First Wave as 300 men and women gathered to fight for the rights of women and addressed how women did not have any rights expressed through the government and laws of that time. Prominent suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are considered some of the earliest examples of feminists as they fought for the rights of women.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped to establish the Seneca Falls Convention as well as write down the grievances and inequalities of women that were brought up during the convention in the Declaration of Sentiments (Rampton). Susan B. Anthony was passionate about women’s suffrage and helped to spread the message of women’s suffrage, and with Stanton helped establish the American Equal Rights Association which fought for the same rights to be granted to all regardless of race or sex (“Susan B. Anthony”).

The First Wave of feminism set the tone for future feminist movements and helped to pass a prominent amendment that was a huge victory for women’s rights.  This wave helped to inspire women for years to come on the importance of representation in the government and helped work toward political presence and equality for women. Many rights and privileges enjoyed by women today were fought for in this First Wave and resulted in not only affording women the right to vote, but allowing them to run for office; this wave also worked to reform higher education and the workplace. However, despite the many strides made for women during this First Wave, a lot of the acts and laws only applied to white and wealthy, educated women, and the wave as a whole was mainly led by those same women. The issues raised in the Second Wave would seek to address how a wider range of women were viewed not only in government but in society as well.

The Second Wave of feminism started in the 1960s and existed until the 1990s (Rampton). Focused on a broader understanding of women’s sexuality, reproductive rights, and the societal restrictions they faced, the Second Wave of feminism sought to expand on the government representation gained from the First Wave as well as come to a greater understanding of the problems women face. Second Wave feminism unfolded due to anti-Vietnam war sentiments and civil rights movements which helped a variety of minority groups develop a voice for the issues they faced (Rampton). This wave centered around phrases such as “the personal is political” which stemmed from psychoanalytic theory’s critiques of patriarchy, capitalism, normative sexuality, and a woman’s role. These theories also helped to differentiate between sex and gender, sex being biological and gender a social construct influenced by culture (Rampton). The increasing visibility of the injustices women faced coupled with the cultural upheaval of the 1960s helped to develop a radical feminism that used extreme methods to drive its points across. For example, this “new feminism” started with protests against the Miss America pageants which feminists referred to as a “cattle parade” that “reduced women to objects of beauty dominated by patriarchy” (Rampton).  Other methods used by radical feminists included bra burning and boycotting “oppressive” feminine items such as high heels, makeup, girdles, and false lashes (Krolokke and Sorensen). Second wave feminism, influenced and maintained by many other movements standing up for minority groups, released publications such as “Sisterhood is Powerful” and “The BITCH Manifesto” to help spread the message of feminism to the masses. The written word was especially effective for inspiring the Second Wave, and authors such as Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan produced works that were especially important to the movement.

Simone de Beauvoir’s book, The Second Sex, and Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, are regarded as two important feminist texts as they helped spark the Second Wave of feminism by analyzing and deconstructing how women were treated in society. Simone de Beauvoir’s book analyzed several aspects of women from their history to their biology and highlighted the many ways women have been unfavorably compared to men. She famously broke down how scientific facts regarding a woman’s biology were largely patriarchal and argued that religion influenced how women were viewed. Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman” which became a widely popular quote that inspired women to reclaim their identities and reject their places in society (283). Friedan’s text The Feminine Mystique focused on the housewife, and on a larger scale, how women were expected to be anything and everything all at once; however, they were simultaneously never given the freedom to choose for themselves what that should be. She analyzed the discontent felt by many middle-class women and argued that it was due to a lack of political influence and social power (Krolokke and Sorensen). Friedan wrote, “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own,” which sums up the message of the book that women should be allowed the space to define what is best for them (344). These texts, as well as several aspects of Second Wave feminism, are still relevant today.

Second Wave feminism also brought about several laws that helped expand the rights of women. This wave was responsible for passing the Women’s Educational Equity Act which banned the discrimination of women in education and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which prohibited discrimination against pregnant women. The Second Wave of feminism also fought for a woman’s reproductive rights, or a woman’s right to make her own decisions regarding her own body, which is still an issue we face today. Many of the theoretical discoveries of this time regarding gender and sexuality encouraged a greater understanding of women and the human condition and influenced the study of women, gender, and feminist studies (Krolokke and Sorensen). While the Second Wave of feminism helped to give women their fighting voice and more thoughtful equality in our society and culture, it was divisive and strict in how feminism should be represented and, by extension, how feminists should present themselves.  Therefore the Third Wave of feminism sought to be more inclusive of all types of women regardless of their interests and outward appearances.

The Third Wave of feminism began in the mid-1990s and was influenced by postmodern thinking which encouraged women to define their own feminism (Rampton).  In an attempt to reject past waves’ visions of a “proper feminist woman,” this wave sought to be more inclusive of women from different races and backgrounds and fought for a cultural and social change regarding how society viewed women. Third Wave feminists promoted the idea of women as strong, capable, and assertive social agents and chose to reappropriate the “oppressive” conventional standards of beauty (Krolokke and Sorensen). Low cut tops, lipstick, and high heels were used as symbols of how women were redefining feminism for themselves as subjects and not as objects of a sexist patriarchy (Rampton). Third Wave also reappropriated derogatory terms like “slut” or “bitch” to take away its power to oppress and insult women (Ramption). The influence of punk bands in the 1990s such as Bikini Kill and Brat Mobile gave rise to the “riot-grrrl” movement that encouraged its female listener to value the importance of self-reliance and empowerment, eventually leading to the spread of “fanzines” and web-based “e-zines” (Krolokke and Sorensen). The concept of intersectional feminism, or a feminism that includes women of all races and walks of life and honors their contexts, was developed during this wave due to the prominence of black feminists and their calls for a more global understanding of women. This idea of “girlie” feminism also challenged the media portrayal of women and sought to reject the simplification of identity, gender, and sexuality, thus moving towards a more transversal politic (Krolokke and Sorensen). Third Wave feminism sought to expand on the rights and theories given to them by the Second Wave to develop a greater understanding of what it meant to be a woman and how one’s identity as a woman is one that should be self-determined.

Books such as bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody helped to drive the idea of a more inclusive feminist mindset. Feminism is for Everybody was a slim collection of essays that detailed the need for feminism and the importance of an inclusive feminism.  hooks’ essays summarized the key points of feminism and phrased them simply so people of all backgrounds would be able to read and understand it.  hooks began the book by stating, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.. by naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem” (1). One of the main points hooks argued about feminism was that the theoretical movement wasn’t against men but rather against the system made by men that places them over women. Feminism is for Everybody addressed the importance of inclusion and argued that women of all races and sexualities must work together in not only fighting against our patriarchal society but also in understanding how other factors that diversify women can be used to define and judge them. hooks’ essays are one of the most prominent texts to emerge from Third Wave feminism, and it represented ideas that are still relevant to this day.

Third Wave feminism encouraged women to realize the importance of their own minds and bodies and recognize that they are ultimately in control of how they want to be viewed. Third wave feminism was the first to heavily rely on technologies recognizable to our world today. Feminist e-zines and the first to use terms such as “cybergrrls” and “netgrrls” to identify how women used the internet as a safe space to share their thoughts (Rampton). Third Wave feminism’s use of the internet and technology to voice their opinions inspired the next generation of more diverse feminists to do the same. Despite its attempt to be inclusive of all women, Third Wave feminism was still led predominantly by educated, white, middle-class women. However, the ideas of intersectional feminism, that started in Third Wave are being fleshed out and discussed in society today.

Part Two: Fourth Wave Feminism and Social Media

In America there have been three recognized and recorded waves of feminism, leaving one to wonder about the current state of feminism. What helped to define the waves of feminism was how they were reflections of their culture and historical contexts. With our current culture today being continuously defined and rewired through our rapid technology, one can say that we are in the midst of a Fourth Wave that is defined through the internet and use of social media. Jennifer Baumgardner explains, “Because of media advances and globalization, waves of mass change are coming faster and faster. The waves are all part of the same body politic known as feminism, and combine to become a powerful and distinct force” (“Is There a Fourth Wave?”). Despite all of the waves having such distinct issues and cultures, they all fight for the same cause, and they all tend to not only influence the next wave but also strive to improve upon it.

Fourth wave feminism is and will be defined by the technology brought about by Web 2.0, technology that gives users the power to shape their own content. Web 2.0 is a collection of web-based applications that promote interactivity such as social networking, wikis, and blogs to allow people to share and revise content at will (Potter). Social media was born in this shift: before users were firmly on the other side of the screen and passively absorbing information; now the internet relies largely on user created content. Social media is a defining trait of our current culture and is a big contributing factor for why we’re considered to be living in the “digital age.” It is an ever-growing beast that we’re still working on understanding; it has fundamentally shifted the way information is spread and consumed. Before Web 2.0, information on the latest news and current issues was filtered through company-run websites or limited to the points of view from appointed reporters and journalists. Voices for movements such as feminism were limited to people who published books or were deemed educated enough to earn a spotlight on the internet. The rise of Web 2.0 gave that power to the masses because the internet and social media act as equalizers.

I argue that we are currently in the Fourth Wave of feminism as social media and its Web 2.0 capabilities have allowed for the actual enactment of Third Wave theories regarding intersectional feminism. Web 2.0 has given women a platform to share their stories, allowed more voices to define feminism thus allowing women the space to highlight issues that concern them, and ultimately raised awareness to enact a social and cultural change in how women are viewed.

Sharing their Stories   

This Fourth Wave social media has given a voice to a wider array of women.  Web 2.0 has shaped the internet into a place where one can not only share her story and experiences but also thrive in a community of others doing the same; the hashtag has become a popular and powerful social media tool used to spread these stories.  For example, on YouTube the hashtag #DearMe is a tag where women shoot a video on what advice they would give to their younger selves. It was a campaign recently launched by YouTube in honor of International Women’s Day and sought to help younger girls by giving them advice on how to deal with the problems they’ll face while growing up and empower those currently struggling with issues of body image and self-esteem (Spangler). YouTube enlisted several of its popular stars to make a video using the hashtag, and it grew into a tag that all women could participate in. For example, popular YouTuber Lily Singh focused her #DearMe video on talking about how different she felt growing up. Whether this was because she was a tomboy or because she was Indian, she relayed to her viewers the importance of not letting others define how you think of yourself. This hashtag has helped to give women everywhere a chance to tell their own stories and a chance to spread awareness to the many difficulties and pressures that girls face as they grow up, thus affording women the agency to select, critique, and bring attention to their own feminist exigencies (Vatz). #DearMe has helped to promote intersectional feminism by bringing attention to the variety of issues women face, thus giving participants the power to be in charge of the impact and message their stories spread.

The use of the hashtag has the ability to cross many social media platforms, ensuring that these stories aren’t limited only to users on certain social media sites. On sites like Twitter and Tumblr, the hashtag #questionsformen highlights the sexism women face every day in the workforce and everyday life. One tweet reads, “#questionsformen In a job interview have you ever been asked how you will juggle work and home?” This hashtag was created to highlight the sexism women face and show the hypocrisy of the double standard based on gender. It sounds ridiculous and unnecessary to address these to men; however, most find it perfectly fine when such questions are addressed to women.

Another use of the hashtag that’s been able to cross social media platforms has been #YesAllWomen and #AllMenCan. The #YesAllWomen hashtag was created in the wake of the Elliot Rodger shooting where he planned to kill women based on his own misogynistic thoughts (Pachal). The hashtag allows women to share stories of male entitlement and ranges from stories of work harassment to reports of rape. It has spread worldwide not only in the US and UK but also Pakistan, Indonesia, and Qatar (Pachal).  One tweet reads, “The cops who asked me “Well, what were you wearing?” when I reported an attack and attempted rape. #YesAllWomen”  The hashtag #AllMenCan was created in support of the #YesAllWomen hashtag and is used by men who are in support of women and want to send a message of how men should carry themselves.  One tweet reads, “#AllMenCan be masculine without misogyny, chivalrous without (being) demeaning, and feminists without fear.  Equality benefits us all.” The use of the hashtag has given women and men a voice to share their concerns on issues that affect them and as a way to combat sexism. These hashtags help to promote intersectional feminism by allowing women the space to share their personal stories of sexism, and its worldwide reach encompasses women and men of different cultures and circumstances, providing a more rounded view of gender inequality.

Another use of the hashtag on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr has been #WhyIStayed where women would explain why they stayed with in an abusive relationship and the difficulties of trying to leave it. This hashtag stemmed from the Ray Rice story and criticizes those who questioned why Janay Rice didn’t leave the relationship if she was being abused. One tweet reads, “I stayed because I was sure he would stop if he only understood how he was hurting me. #WhyIStayed”  This hashtag was created to show the blame that gets placed on women who stay in abusive relationships and gives a face to those sharing their stories of abuse. The stories shared through the hashtag #WhyIStayed helped to bring awareness to the problem of victim blaming and shed more light on the complicated reasons why women choose not to leave abusive relationships. This hashtag has helped to foster intersectional feminism as women from around the world were able to share their stories and experiences unique to their culture or society, bringing a whole new cultural awareness to Fourth Wave feminism.

Defining Feminism

Secondly, Fourth Wave feminism has helped to give all women the space to define feminism through popular websites such as Buzzfeed that recognize and highlight feminist topics as major trending topics. Buzzfeed is primarily a news source similar to more recognizable names such as CNN or MSNBC, but what separates this site from those other websites is that it is fully online and integrated within online culture and social media. The site is known for compiling lists and turning them into articles that in turn can be shared through any form of social media. Much like the Everyday Sexism Project, Buzzfeed integrates stories that users send through Facebook, Twitter, or even in their own comments section and uses these stories in list-type articles as a way to give users the agency to define the problems women face every day.  Some of these lists include “22 Powerful Stories About Feminist Awakenings,” or making videos for their popular YouTube channels such as “Things Women are Tired of Hearing about their Bodies.”  By integrating the experiences and stories of its viewers and audience, Buzzfeed has given women the platform to define problems they face today and what issues Fourth Wave feminism should address.

Websites such as everydayfeminism.com and jezebel.com, much like Buzzfeed, also help in giving a space for its users to define the issues that relate to Fourth Wave feminism. However, unlike Buzzfeed these websites primarily deal with current feminist issues and seek to analyze and delve into the root of problems involving sexism and feminism. Everydayfeminism wrote on the importance of intersectional feminism in an article based on the incident of Annie Lennox declaring Beyonce wasn’t a feminist because she liked to “twerk” (Uwujaren and Utt). The article took a popular news piece to address and inform the public on the importance of intersectional feminism as it recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that are essential to our experiences (Uwujaren and Utt). The article recognizes and uses social media platforms to help spread the message on the importance of an inclusive feminism which in turn will help to shape this current wave of feminism as one that specifically promotes intersectionality.

The use of humor coupled with the power of social media have spawned creative ways of critiquing society’s views on women in a way that not only guarantees views, but also identifies, defines, and spreads an important message. The use of humor in addressing serious problems on inequality isn’t exactly a new concept, but its partnership with the influential forces of social media have given it a much bigger audience and a chance to land with a much greater impact. For example, there are several parody videos available on YouTube, many of them dealing with feminist issues and issues regarding sexism in popular media. For example, a parody video, titled “Defined Lines – Feminist Parody of Blurred Lines,” changes up the original song to include lyrics like “Girls don’t deserve it.  And that’s why we quit.  We ain’t good girls.  We are scholastic, smart and sarcastic” to empower women and pinpoints how the lyrics and content of the song view women as objects as opposed to people.  At the time, most of the news regarding the song and video centered on how it had a catchy beat and seemed risqué. Through the use of social media, women were able to turn the conversation to highlight the problematic way women are talked about in the song as well as treated in its music video. These examples show the ways women were given the agency to define and popularize an issue that affected them, giving them a voice in the definition and shape of the Fourth Wave feminism movement.

Another parody video by Youtuber Megan MacKay addresses the Ray Rice controversy and the idiocy of those who blamed the victim, Janay Rice, for not leaving her husband after this abusive episode. She shoots her video in the form of a makeup tutorial with each makeup step being a critique on certain aspects of the controversy such as the NFL covering it up, the importance of intersectional feminism, and how people were blaming the victim, Janay Rice, for putting herself in that situation.  MacKay’s parody tutorial ends with a serious message on domestic violence and overall sends a message that is both entertaining to watch and spreads awareness on a serious issue women face every day. This video helped to define Fourth Wave feminism through its use of popular social media constructs such as a makeup tutorial to show the problematic way women in abusive relationships are viewed and how such views intersect with feminist ways of thinking.

Real-Life Changes

Third, Fourth Wave feminism not only uses social media to spread awareness on issues that women face every day but to also enact a social and cultural change in the practices that concern them. A few weeks before the Oscars, the hashtag #askhermore was created by the Representation Project in an effort to encourage reporters to ask female celebrities less about what they’re wearing or how long it took to get ready and more about what they were at the Oscars for: being recognized for their talent in film.  Several actresses nominated in 2015, such as Reese Witherspoon, supported the efforts, and the hashtag became a huge trending topic in news pieces leading up to the event. This year, the news surrounding the Oscars was less on the women and more on the events surrounding and happening during the Oscars. The “mani cam”, a tactic used by E! News to show the manicures of women, was not present at the Oscars and Patricia Arquette’s speech on equal rights for women was by far the most talked about piece to come out of the Oscars this year. This movement, which started in social media, enacted actual change at the Oscars and rallied its viewers into demanding a better and more equal representation of women. By changing the way famous women are addressed at such high-profile events like the Oscars, Fourth Wave feminism has helped to enact a social and cultural change in practices regarding women.

The Everyday Sexism Project is a website that similarly allows users to post and share their stories of sexism in order to enact change. It acts as a catalogue for documenting issues faced around the world regarding sexism. The site was started by an English woman named Laura Bates and has now been spread to about 15 countries with publications from India to the US (Bates). The project was never meant to be noticed on such a huge scale, but the website gained popularity as women, and even men, of all ages and backgrounds from around the world added their experiences (Bates). This website has spawned Twitter and Tumblr pages which women are also using to share their stories under a common hashtag such as #Everydaysexism to help further catalogue their stories and experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project has also influenced another project in London called Project Guardian. The goal of the project is to improve levels of reporting sexual offenses and to create a safer environment on public transportation. About 2,000 officers have been trained to deal with these types of cases, and it has resulted in a 20% increase in the reporting of sexual offenses. The Everyday Sexism Project enacted real change on the streets of London and helped to create a safer public transport environment for women.

Finally, five women from China were arrested two days before International Women’s Day after planning a campaign against sexual harassment on public transport (Flanagan). These women were dubbed the “Feminist Five” across various social media and their cause and imprisonment garnered international attention (Flanagan). The hashtags #FreeTheFive and #FreeBeijing20Five started in support of their release and helped to spread the challenges these women faced. Several powerful people such as Samantha Power, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry voiced their support for the activists and denounced their detention; Clinton even used the hashtag in a tweet. After about a month in jail, the five women were released on bail. While the exact cause of their release isn’t known, it came as a surprise to many as Chinese prosecutors decided not to immediately press criminal charges despite the urging from police (Wong). The international support and outcry over the “Feminist Five” had a real world effect on the Chinese authorities and enacted a real change in getting these women released from jail.

Fourth Wave feminism is defined by the way it uses social media and its web 2.0 capabilities to allow women around the world a chance to contribute to the feminist movement.  Through Fourth Wave feminism, women have been given a platform to share their stories, a space to define feminism through issues that concern them, and a means to enact a social and cultural change in how women are viewed.

Part Three: Addressing Problems and What’s Next for Fifth Wave Feminism

Like all movements, feminism cannot fully address every issue that pertains to it as the purpose of each wave was to focus on specific issues relating to what was needed at the time. First wave feminism sought to establish laws in a world seriously lacking any female representation in politics. Second Wave feminism sought to establish more laws protecting women while also challenging the stereotypical roles women were expected to embrace. Third Wave feminism sought to reclaim feminism through postcolonial and postmodern thought by addressing the social issues concerning how women were viewed. This current Fourth Wave of feminism addresses how women are viewed and how social media is helping to give women a greater chance for their voice to be heard. The concept of the waves is that the issues of each wave of feminism rolls into, or influences the next wave. Topics such as intersectional feminism that were brought up in the Third Wave are fully realized and addressed in this Fourth Wave. However, there are issues arising from this Fourth Wave that will either be resolved throughout the course of Fourth Wave feminism or be fully realized in the Fifth Wave. The issues of censorship in social media, the role of socioeconomic status in one’s access to social media, the current lack of leadership and literature and the need to include issues facing men, women, and transgender people are all problems that remain unresolved.

Despite social media being a very user-oriented platform, it is still very much a business that has the right to censor and remove what owners feel is harmful to their company. While their policies state that they only remove explicit posts, social media sites like Instagram have censored and removed images that started conversations on what is deemed acceptable for a woman to post and share. For example, Instagram caused some controversy after removing a photo that showed menstrual blood and has since been criticized for many of its censorship tactics. The photo was part of a series that explored societal taboos regarding periods, and when it was taken down the author wasn’t given any concrete reasons as to why or how it violated Instagram’s terms and conditions (Warren and Warzel). Other Instagram photos that have been removed for “violating terms and conditions” include a selfie of a plus-size woman in her bra and underwear and a photo of a mother breastfeeding her child (Warren and Warzel). Typically, the user is given no explanation as to why her photo was taken down; this calls into question who decides what is appropriate for women to share and celebrate and complicates the democratic potential of social media. These examples beg the question, is social media truly a free place for users to voice their opinions or are we limited to what the company as a whole deems fit for its business?

Although Fourth Wave feminism has incorporated the ideas of intersectional feminism and social media, it has yet to address how its reach stops at first and second world countries. The rise of social media gives us access into many parts of the world, but only those parts of the world that have access to an internet-enabled computer.  For example, countries such as North Korea and China have restrictions on social media and most people in these countries are not financially capable of affording the technologies needed to participate in social media. Voices and stories from women in third world countries present in social media are ultimately filtered through the lens of people who do have access to internet and social media. The intentions of these typically first world storytellers may come from a good place; however in the end the words and messages of these second and third world women are interpreted and filtered through the person(s) that are telling their stories. One goal of Fourth Wave feminism has been to give many women a less censored voice, but what becomes of the women who don’t have the means to share their voice with this digital and internet dependent movement?

Another problem Fourth Wave feminism faces is the potential of its current lack of leadership and figureheads; this could lead to a disjointed movement. As Radhika Sanghani argues, “There hasn’t really been any Fourth Wave literature and it’s been a while since we’ve had a great feminist book.” Social media has given a voice to so many people which begs the question if it’s done more harm than good. Fourth wave feminism is lacking the literature and prominent voices of past waves to help rally women towards a common cause. If everyone has a voice in the movement, then do their words truly make an impact? Celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Beyonce have been heralded as strong voices for this current wave of feminism as they are popular celebrities using their influence to raise the issue of gender inequality, but there are also prominent actresses who practice a lot of feminist ideals but refuse to be labeled as such. For example, Shailene Woodley said in an interview that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist because she doesn’t agree with the idea to “raise women to power, take the men away from the power” and thinks that feminism won’t give a balance between the sexes (Dockterman). Despite not being quite as cohesive and organized as past waves, the beauty of Fourth Wave feminism lies in its insistence on intersectional feminism and giving all women a voice and agency in the movement. Leaders and figureheads of past waves spoke for the women they represented and were educated scholars who were open to the idea of a universal representation of women, but couldn’t possibly be the source of that representation. No one person can be the source of a movement that belongs to all women. While it’s much more difficult to have a central voice in our social media world, there are specific problems that social media has given women the platform to critique, discuss, and made into a real issue. While our figureheads might not be people, the central voice of Fourth Wave feminism has been and will be the social media platforms that have given us the space to organize and rally from all over the world. Does Fourth Wave feminism need a formal voice to be recognized as a legitimate movement or is the voice of everyday women enough?

Finally, moving forward to Fifth Wave feminism, I see a shift in not only addressing problems of women as a sex but also of women as part of gender that exists on a much larger and more nuanced spectrum.  While Fourth Wave touches upon gender equality and encourages men to embrace feminism, it has not addressed how similar issues that women face also extend and harm men who don’t fit into society’s versions of masculinity. For example, the documentary The Mask You Live In was shown during this past Sundance Film Festival and centers on the dangers of society’s version of masculinity and how it affects young men. The Fifth Wave of feminism will hopefully give a voice to men who are just as affected by the sexism in our society and shed some light on how the issues of masculinity not only affect men but affect women as well. Furthermore, I believe that Fourth Wave feminism still struggles to fully address those who are transgender and face a whole array of issues separate, yet similar to those addressed through feminism. For example, the recent speculation surrounding Bruce Jenner and his gender transition have made him a popular target for jokes and criticism as his choice has now become a common punchline online and in popular media.  The Fifth Wave of feminism needs to adopt the thinking and ideas of gender studies and apply it to how these issues affect all people. Can the next wave of feminism address issues of masculinity as well as those faced by transgender people?

No movement is perfect and feminism isn’t able to properly address every issue that comes its way. While this current Fourth Wave of feminism has given a voice to many women, it has not been able to touch upon many other concerns that still exist.  Issues such as social media censorship, universal access to the internet, lack of leadership, and the inclusion of all genders will either be resolved within the Fourth Wave or roll over into the Fifth.

Feminism has come a long way. From the tireless efforts of the suffragettes in the First Wave, to the radical bra-burners of the Second Wave, to the inclusiveness of the Third Wave and now to the social media warriors of the Fourth Wave. All waves played a huge part in how this current wave of feminism operates and will play a huge part in shaping the next wave of feminism. Social media encouraged a Fourth Wave that gave women a platform to share their stories, allowed the voices of the public to define feminism, highlighted issues that concern them, and ultimately raised awareness to enact real world social and cultural change. Moving forward, issues such as censorship in social media, the role of socioeconomic status in one’s access to social media, the current lack of leadership and literature, and the inclusion of all genders need to be considered when looking toward the future of feminism.

Works Cited

Bates, Laura. “The Everyday Sexism Project: A Year of Shouting Back.” The Guardian. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane martinson/2013/apr/16/everyday-sexism-project-shouting-back>

Baumgardner, Jennifer. “IS THERE A FOURTH WAVE? DOES IT MATTER? BY JENNIFER BAUMGARDNER.” Feminist.com. Web. <http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/baumgardner2011.html&gt;

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Diamond, Diana. “The Fourth Wave Of Feminism: Psychoanalytic Perspectives.” Studies In Gender & Sexuality 10.4 (2009): 213-223.Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

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Written for Dr. Natalie Szymanski’s ENG 491: Senior Project.

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  1. […] Photo credit: https://papaeleele.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/feminism-toward-an-understanding-of-social-media-in-four… […]

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