In recent years, the Internet and social media have played a prominent role in a range of social and political protests across the globe. Whether used to mobilise citizens to overthrow governments, as witnessed in the Arab Spring, or to facilitate widespread protest about financial greed and capitalism in the Occupy Movement, it is clear that new media technologies have the potential to play a role in creating social change, reforming political systems, and challenging a range of oppressive ideologies.
Feminists have also used digital technologies to raise awareness of, mobilise around, and challenge a range of sexist practices and ideas such as street harassment, sexual assault and ‘rape culture.’ This activism is widespread and at times has attracted mainstream media attention and thousands of digital hits, such as the publicity attained by the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported. Just as often though, digital feminist activism is ‘quiet’, hidden, and only visible to small groups of participants. We focus on both types of activism in this project.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this website presents key results from our research.
Aims and Objectives:
Through this research we discursively map, explore and analyze how girls and women use digital media platforms to document experiences of rape culture, harassment, and misogyny. We also aim to understand the experiences of girls and women who participate in this activism and to document these feminist activist practices and experiences through the creation of a living archive of contemporary digital feminist activism. In order to address these objectives, we ask:
- How is rape culture, sexual harassment, misogyny and everyday sexism taking form through digital technologies and platforms, as well as outside of these spaces?
- How are feminists using digital technologies, platforms and tools to resist and subvert both on and offline misogyny and how is this changing contemporary notions of activism?
- What is the range of participant’s experiences with online activism and how do these experiences differ in relation to various identities (age, class, and ethnicity)?
- To what extent does this online activism disrupt mainstream discourses and develop alternative discourses?
We address these questions through an analysis of the following five case studies:
Hollaback! (anti-street harassment website)
The Everyday Sexism Project (where users post instances of sexism)
The Tumblr site Who Needs Feminism (where users create and post signs)
#BeenRapedNeverReported (a Twitter hashtag response to public allegations of sexual violence by former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi)
School-based teen feminisms (includes teens’ use of Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr to challenge rape culture in and around the institutional space of school)
A diverse Twitter feminist network
In order to capture the experience of doing digital feminist activism, this project combines several methodological approaches, including qualitative content analysis, thematic textual analysis, and ethnographic methods such as in-depth interviews and close-observations of online communities. Across the five case studies listed above, we conducted interviews with over 50 girls and women from nine countries (Canada, India, Ireland, Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, US, UK, and Venezuela), and have analysed over eight hundred pieces of digital content, including blog posts, tweets, and selfies. Unlike other studies, our data was generated from ‘macro’ cases, of high-profile feminist campaigns, and the ‘micro’ and often ‘hidden’ engagement with digital activism which is shared amongst smaller networks of people, often not produced with the intention of attracting mainstream visibility.
The project draws on traditions of “virtual ethnography” (Hine 2000 2015), “netnography” (Kozinets 2010) and “social media ethnography” (Postill and Pink 2012), while simultaneously considering questions of personal experience, power, and difference that anchor feminist research methodologies (Hesse-Biber 2012; Shaw 2013; Taft 2011; van Zoonen 1994).
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene. 2012. Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis, 2nd Ed. London: Sage.
Hine, Christine. 2000. Virtual Ethnography. London: Sage.
Hine, Christine. 2015. Ethnography for the Internet. London: Bloombury.
Postill, John and Sarah Pink. 2012. ‘Social media ethnography: The digital researcher in a messy web.’ Media International Australia 145: 123-134.
Shaw, Frances. 2013. ‘“These wars are personal:” methods and theory in online feminist research’, Qualitative Research Journal, 13(1), 90-101.
Taft, Jessica K. 2011. Rebel Girls: Youth Activism & Social Change Across the Americas. New York: New York University Press.
van Zoonen, Liesbet. 1994. Feminist Media Studies. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage.
End of Award Event
Mediated Feminisms: Activism and Resistance to Gender and Sexual Violence in the Digital Age, UCL Institute of Education, May 6, 2016
This AHRC funded event brought together a range of scholars, activists and practitioners to discuss mediated feminist resistance to rape culture.