The post-modern feminist debate, also known as new wave feminism is awash with thousands of opinions weighing in on what the point of “feminism” really is. In light of the recent “main-streaming” (Mia Freedman, 2016) of feminist terminology amongst popular media outlets, the gender discussion has spread beyond the previously exclusive group of scholars and academics to include celebrities, CEO’s and us laywomen too. The best place to observe the expansion of the debate is on Twitter, a social media platform who’s whole purpose is to give people the opportunity to express their opinions, albeit it be within 100 characters. The platform is popularly utilised by users to keep up to date with, and respond to global news sources, celebrities and other high profile personalities. Hence it acts as the perfect data source on which to base an investigation into the cross over between the traditionally academic oeuvre of feminist theory and pop culture.
Twitter allows users to send and receive short messages called Tweets, to which they can attach articles, images, videos and other content. They also have the opportunity to respond to others tweets by ‘retweeting’. A large amount of ‘retweets’ indicates that the contents of the original tweet has become widespread, and is of interest to a large number of individuals. I therefore looked into and utilised this feature of Twitter in order to organise my data when completing the process of data scraping.
In order to conduct my data scraping of Twitter, I utilised both Twitter Archiver and Data Pipeline functions. My initial searches were extremely specific, as I wanted to avoid having an overly large amount of tweets to sift through. My search terms included the phrases: ‘male feminists’, ‘feminist men’, ‘celebrity feminists’, ‘famous feminists’, which reflect my interest in men’s role in Feminism, and its recent ‘renaissance’ within the media. These terms were too specific, and limited my data to under 10 tweets- with only a few from reputable sources. (Search 1, 2, 3).
I consequently broadened my search to include terms such as ‘feminism’ and ‘#heforshe which references the UN WOMEN campaign initiative led by actress Emma Watson which calls for men to support womens rights. The campaign utilises celebrity endorsement in order to successfully spread its message- which is best examined on twitter. The most retweeted tweets in this search were of celebrities endorsing the #heforshe campaigns. This included support from Harry Styles, Steve Carrell, James from the band The Vamps, Logan Lerman, Camilla Cabello. The top retweets also included tweets by political figures such as Michelle Obama and Forest Whitaker (Artist & @UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace & Reconciliation as mentioned in his twitter bio).
Although these findings are to be expected in light of the strong celebrity culture within Western civilisations, the intersection of political figures with entertainers clearly illustrates how Feminist ideals have permeated the opinions of those outside of the traditionally political movement. The role of Twitter in driving this transition is referenced in a Washington post article which states that “This New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms, concerned less with targeting narrowly defined enemies than with broadening feminism’s reach through inclusiveness, and held together not by a handful of national organisations and charismatic leaders but by the invisible bonds of the Internet and social media.”. (Sheinin, Thompson, McDonald, Clement, 2016). Twitter as a medium allows for an inclusive debate where anyone with an account can make a contribution. It therefore contributes and supports a contemporary definition of the movement which idealises equality and inclusion.
The above finding were found through organising my spreadsheet according to the number of retweets. I later changed the organisation of my findings to orient around the number of followers the accounts had, in order to look for more reputable or academic sources. Beyond the #heforshe UN WOMEN account, only a few appeared dominant in my search. Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Greens in the UK stood out as one of the most prominent individual figures tweeting. She tweeted the following (image 3), in which she paraphrases Deputy Leader Amelia Womack who tells her audience that a women’s place is on a podium, not a photoshoot. This tweet seems appropriate in response to recent political movement in the UK which has resulted in the appointment of a new female prime-minister. This tweet interestingly counters my findings above- suggesting that the Feminist movement still has strong ties to politics, particularly when it comes to the Gender Pay Gap.
The Womens World News @WomenWorldNews account did stand out across my spreadsheet, with over 18000 followers. They retweet news stories, both political and pop culture driven which discuss women’s rights. Their content is sourced from world-wide media sources and cover stories across the US, UK, Asia and Australia. Accounts such as this indicate a newly generated hunger amongst women to keep up to date with Feminist rights, reflecting their heightened awareness of it. Similar accounts include @MAKERS, an account set up by the makers website telling the stories of trailblazing women, and the @runawaygirlnetwork which details the gender debate within the aviation industry.
This awareness is also reflected in the amount of social commentary through parody or comedic accounts which trivialise popular sentiment or particular groups. An example of this is the video circulated by @6oodfella. Regardless on the sentiment, positive or negative these kind of critiques reflect a broader awareness of the topic at hand. This video in particular playing into the stigma of Feminist advocates as badgering and aggressive. Although there is a wider acceptance of this stigma as untrue, its existence indicates the representation of all views towards the Feminist movement on social media.
To summarise my findings:
- The feminist debate and discussion about gender equality is more often being framed through pop culture outlets and popular media. The most prominent way in which this was shown through my data was the retweeting of celebrity support of the #heforshe campaign.
- The above finding suggests the transition of the Feminist movement away from pure political objective and towards an inclusive social justice agenda.
- Tweet by the First Lady and the UK Greens party suggest that despite efforts to move away from politics, gender equality initiatives still move through the political arena.
- Feminist blogs and news accounts, in particular websites such as MAKERS indicates the increasing hunger of the general population to consume content discussing women’s rights initiatives.
- Parody and social commentary accounts of twitter and abroad (through memes etc) indicate a greater awareness of the issues, regardless of sentiment.
Huffpost Lifestyle, 2016, Makers, Viewed 5th September 2016, <http://www.makers.com/>
Sheinin, D. Thompson, K. McDonald, S. Clement, S. 2016, Betty Friedan to Beyoncé: Today’s generation embraces feminism on its own terms, viewed 5th September 2016, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/feminism/betty-friedan-to-beyonce-todays-generation-embraces-feminism-on-its-own-terms/2016/01/27/ab480e74-8e19-11e5-ae1f-af46b7df8483_story.html>