In case you haven’t heard, the interwebs is alight with controversy, yet again. Well, more accurately, when is it not alight with controversy, right? There are myriad controversies that abound within the spaces of social media and the corners of the internet. Most relevant to us on this blog and ACRL-WGSS is Women Against Feminism (WAF) on Tumblr and Facebook, which has been catching fire recently. As soon as famous celebrities start getting into the action, it’s safe to assume that the phenomenon has more than just momentum.
Of course, this has less to do with older ways of conceptualizing knowledge, information, or data than it does with the attention economy of the internet. In the attention economy approach, the Web is the platform or soapbox, attention is both the product being sold and bought, but also the currency with which we trade. One way to read the internet is as a platform for performance. Among the things we share on the internet–besides pictures of our beautifully assembled meals and videos we have taken of our pets and/or babies–are ways we demonstrate who we are, ways we perform parts of our identities, be it our political affiliations or points-of-view regarding particular social issues. We demonstrate these online in myriad combinations. Attention is significant in these performance endeavors since it is essentially how images and videos go viral. Catching the attention of others is how our identity performances online expand beyond our individual spheres to those of others. This ability to spread ideas quickly, along with the ability to amplify them, is among the most significant aspects of the Web as platform. If an image or a video resonates enough, it will be shared and re-shared and even more attention will be paid, traded, and trained on the image or video.
Which brings me back to perspectives delivered through Women Against Feminism’s social media channels. I must admit that I am confused by the perspectives shared on the WAF Tumblr and Facebook pages. I find the comments left on the stories about WAF baffling as well. Of course, it is very easy to just dismiss these occurrences as oddities and of being of little consequence. However, I do think that there’s something worthy of deeper examination in this latest iteration of anti-feminism on the Web.
Perhaps I ought to qualify my confusion by stating that I have had only very positive experiences with feminism. I am also baffled with the assertions of feminism as an organization or a singular movement. As if we completely agree on everything. I accept that there are many forms of feminism, as there are many types of feminists. Sure, the principles of gender equality, social justice, and empowerment are what ties us all together. But some of us emphasize some aspects of lived experience more than others. We also have differing views and outlooks, which often get translated into various corners under the vast umbrella of the feminist movement. I have heard stories of women who have been shamed or ejected from feminist organizations because they got married or expressed desires to have a domestic life with men. This is the type of feminism with which I have no experience at all.
As I intimated earlier, I don’t quite know what to think of WAF. To me, its demonstrations on Facebook and Tumblr show a fundamental failure. Perhaps feminists need to develop a more unified message that communicates the value of feminist ideals, one that strongly resonates with more people, especially those who are younger and those who don’t identify as women. And one that gets pushed out through different channels, more than once in a long while. Or maybe more educational opportunities need to happen. Some WAF posters don’t seem to get that feminism is all about equality. I don’t understand how feminism got equated with female supremacy over men, but it’s there.
I expressed my befuddlement among people who actively engage in issues of social justice. To make sense of WAF, I offered to them an idea that I had. The adamant rejection of feminism, and by extension the label “feminist,” I posited, seems to be the inverse of having the power to name, the power to write and speak the official word of history and experience. While the power to name is among the highest of privileges and is therefore associated with those who have such things, I am uncertain what the inverse, the refusal to name (in this case to claim the label “feminist”), entails. Is it akin to colorblind racism? There’s probably a scholarly grain in this train of thought, somewhere. And yes, the racial composition of the majority of participants in WAF has not escaped my notice.
A friend pointed out that, ultimately, this recent example of rejection of feminism derails us from more substantial critiques of feminist ideology, such as those made by women of color, indigenous women, and women among the working poor. In short, this fight takes attention away from considerations marginalized women are asking mainstream feminists to make. I agree with my friend. However, are there some substantial critiques among the images posted on WAF, just waiting to be retrieved through astute analysis? Just for instance: How is feminism truly for gender equality if boys are growing up feeling like they are persecuted because they will become men? How are we addressing the issues boys are faced with? These are just some of the questions that I found moving among the images shared in WAF. The abstractions we often speak of (i.e., patriarchy, privilege, oppression, colonialism, imperialism, etc.), though quite concrete to many, are, at the same time, very nebulous to others. Feminism needs to continuously translate its theories, concepts, positions and ideals in ways that are accessible and resonant to a variety of people. That’s a tall order, but a worthwhile one.
As always, dear readers, I offer very little answers or solutions. I do invite you to read through the links provided in this post. I also invite you to write your thoughts in the comments. May these internet discussions of social issues prove fruitful in your teachings of Women’s & Gender Studies.
~Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, ACRL-WGSS blog co-editor, 2013-2016