Young Feminists to Older Feminists: If You Can’t Find Us, It’s Because We’re Online
It's really irritating to read yet another article insisting that you don't exist. For young feminists, that happens all too often. The latest in the young-feminists-don't-care-or-exist series of articles was published in April, when NARAL Executive Director Nancy Keenan, in an interview with Newsweek, said NARAL and her own personal experience revealed today’s young women don’t care about abortion rights or feminist issues in general. Young women criticized the article in the blogosphere for days, but when the controversy died down, we went back to work. We continued to pursue gender equality. We do what we do anyway, regardless of whether the big national feminist organizations approve, and we usually do it online.
I say "we" because the online feminist community is something I feel very much a part of. After hearing news of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller’s brutal murder in his own church in May 2009, I founded IAmDrTiller.com, a website that celebrates Tiller’s legacy by collecting and sharing stories of abortion providers. That project led to a Twitter account, @IAmDrTiller, that I use as an advocacy campaign to dismantle myths about abortion and reproductive health, rights, and justice. The support, respect, and compassion I received (and still receive!) from the young women over Twitter and email meant more than any of the monotonous news pieces on Dr. Tiller’s death.
In the aftermath of the Keenan debacle, I founded a blog called the Abortion Gang specifically for young people in the reproductive justice movement. With over 25 active bloggers, the Abortion Gang is just one example of young people’s dedication to feminist activism, and a testament of the power the Internet as an organizing tool.
Whether we tweet feminism or blog about it, young feminists use the Internet to expand and explore what it means to be involved in the feminist movement. We usually do it in addition to other feminist work, using the Internet to launch campaigns, reach new audiences with our message, and create a sense of feminist community.
Young women often use their nuanced understanding of social media to strengthen the Internet presence of established feminist organizations. Dena Robinson, 19, is an intern this summer with the Feminist Majority Foundation. Her focus while at FMF is on campus issues and social media. She is working to help students learn how to work effectively with their administrators to change their campuses’ sexual assault policies to be more survivor-friendly. She’s blogging for the Feminist Majority Foundation and for the Abortion Gang blog, using both venues as a way to publicize and delve into the complexities of her activist work.
Erin Matson, 30, is the Action Vice President of the National Organization for Women. She is active on Twitter (@erintothemax) but also does the majority of her work in grassroots organizing. “I think the era of top-down women’s movementism faded long ago," Matson says. "It’s still clinging on, but so much of the reason why I chose to take on my current responsibility is because I believe we must bring the heart of feminism back to the community (I use that to include campuses) level. We’ve got to, got to, got to rely on conversations and not talking points.”
Young feminists are having these conversations online and offline, often working to dismantle the myth that feminism isn’t necessary or that “feminist” is a bad word. Sara Myles, 21, works to counteract apathy on campus at Bowling Green State University, where many think that feminism is irrelevant or that women have full equal rights. She sees the Internet as a prime way to fight these myths, saying, “With blogs, like Feministing.com and websites it makes it easier and more accessible for younger women to provide their input and ideas into the movement.”
Online activism often goes hand-in-hand with campus activism. After all, young people are by far the most online generation. According to Pew Foundation research, three-quarters of people under 30 have created a profile on a social networking site and one in five has posted a video of him- or herself online. One such online activist is Carmen Rios, 19, who founded an educational campaign through her campus women's group called (Con)sensual, which works to shape a dialogue about sexual consent through posters and a blog. She called the Internet the home of all her activism, saying, “Projects I am involved with, like Hollaback! and THE LINE Campaign, take on new media and use it to create real, impactful change; by blogging, utilizing mobile technology, and exercising social networking online, both projects are raising visibility of serious women's issues and shaping powerful movements.”
Another activist, Mollie DeMeio, 18, is involved in progressive online activism through Twitter; she brings that passion to her community. In high school, she facilitated a workshop about queer feminism and plans to establish a feminist organization at her commuter college. “The online feminist world has primarily helped me form my definition of feminism,” she explains, adding that networking through Twitter and Facebook has made it easier for her to connect to other like-minded people, especially when feminist conferences, a more traditional way of feminist networking, are expensive and far away.
Alysha Bayes, 25, thinks that the Internet is especially important for young women, as it enables us to connect to a support system of feminists who care passionately about feminist our issues. “The Internet has really turned me from a passive pro-choicer to one who is actively involved and actively seeking ways to get involved,” she explains, dispelling the myth that Internet activism does not inform on-the-streets activism. Her online activism has not only strengthened her identification with feminist issues, but her every day life. “I call out street harassers, I take time to educate my friends about the issues and I'm not as uncomfortable with the term [feminist] as I once was,” she states.
The online world also allows feminist “celebrities” to be more accessible. April Looney, 25, explains that her feminist idols are “no longer these unattainable figures on pedestals—which is kind of how I view people like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, [and] Cherrie Moraga. … I could type a reply to Jessica Valenti or Courtney Martin, and there's a decent chance they could/would reply back.”
Communication over Twitter and Facebook allows for a transparency in the conversation, that is, people with all different levels of involvement in the feminist movement get a chance to have a say in its future. This also means that feminist activists in more isolated locations, where it’s not so popular to be pro-choice or outwardly feminist, can use the Internet as a way to find a support network and welcoming community.
For those of us who don’t have the privilege of being on a college campus or working directly for a feminist organization, feminism can still be a lifestyle. 25-year-old Shayna, who asked to be referred to by her first name, works in finance and wants to make sure that all women have access to the career of their choice. “I refuse to accept less compensation or respect because of my gender,” she explains, “and I hope that by being a successful professional in my field, just as many other young women are, will make it a more attractive field for women to join, and climb to leadership positions in.“
And women come to feminism through increasingly diverse paths. After quitting an eight-year stint in the restaurant industry, Amy Edler, 23, speaks out about the sexual harassment and discrimination she faced as a waitress. “As a feminist, I began to stand up for myself and address customers that were out of line; I also encouraged others to do this” she explains, adding that it is up to young women “to change our society and stand up to patriarchal notions of how we are supposed to act, look and think.”
Young women aren’t absent from today's feminist movement. The activism of young feminists speaks for itself. We’re out on the streets, we’re starting our own online communities, and we’re pioneering a feminist revolution on our own terms. And maybe if Nancy Keenan wants to look for young feminists, she should get online.