Nonfiction

The Feminine Critique: #Sl/Activism

25 February 2016

From #bringbackourgirls to #droptheplus and #freethenipple, 2015 was a year packed with feminist hashtags that came and went. As a form of online protest, Hashtag Activism allows social issues to trend on social media and although Hashtag Activism has proven highly popular to spearhead online campaigns, it has often been criticised.

Slacktivism is a term defining a new generation of lazy activists that participate in Hashtag Activism for the sake of trending without serious consideration of social issues. It also suggests that a traditional protest, like a march or a rally, are a more reliable and authentic protest.

The Slacktivism versus Activism debate has directed me to SlutWalk and question if social media protests can actually empower the public, or simply create a temporary online trend.

The term Slacktivism was coined by The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell to define a new generation of lazy activists who use social media to support online petitions. Gladwell’s term suggests that a traditional protest, like a march or a rally, are more reliable and authentic compared to protesting online.

This is because traditional protests represent the public’s support more accurately when they occupy a physical space compared to a trending hashtag produced by anonymous users. SlutWalk is an annual protest that combines a traditional march with online activism. Jess Gleeson, a SlutWalk organiser, considers both traditional and new­age forms of activism as a necessary means to support participants of SlutWalk.

“Activism is really important…social media is really empowering for someone who can participate online.”

Jess credits both online and offline supporters of Slutwalk as anything other than disengaged. SlutWalk began in 2011 in response to the Toronto Police’s statement that “…women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. This was soon followed by global protests against victim blaming and slut-shaming carried out in the form of an annual march.

According to Jess, the growing support and engagement of the protest is credited to the online activity of SlutWalk as well as offline activities such as fundraising and the physical protest.

“There is equal participation between our online and offline participants…some people just show up…and some people hashtag on the day.”

The combination of online and offline participants challenge the concept of Slacktivism based on the pretence that Hashtag Activism is any less effective to encourage participation from the public compared to a physical rally.

As Jess explained, “Critiques view Hashtag Activism as an ‘easier’ way of doing activism, or protesting, rather than marching down a street or attending a rally.”

Jess noticed that SlutWalk’s combination of live protests and online mediums encourage participation from a young audience.

“We have noticed in the last two years a haul of contingent supporters at SlutWalk Melbourne … it shows our ability to get new ideas constantly…and gain more diversity and inclusivity.”

Jess essentially rejects the term Slacktivism in any sense by crediting social media as one of the most valuable tools to enhance engagement amongst their organisation. She explains that “…Hashtag Activism is a modern day equivalent of ‘consciousness raising’”.

This is a form of traditional activism used during Second Wave Feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, whereby a feminist collective informed the wider public of issues of gender inequality. Criticising online protests and Hashtag Activism, as Jess would explain, is virtually outdated.

“The ‘demonisation’ of social media and the internet promotes the concept that things were better in the good old days. This is the 21st Century… ­ a lot of the time it’s not about activism but it’s about connecting to other people in remote communities so they are not disconnected.”

Jess’ comments are a nod towards feminist protests that have occurred on social media. Hashtags in 2015 such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen and #heforshe have the ability to challenge mainstream ‘white, liberal and western’ feminist campaigns and encourage participation and collaboration from alternate feminist groups. These include black feminism, ecofeminism and radical feminism on a global scale. Social media, as Jess points out, helps encourage feminist participation in all forms.

“The platforms that we use hashtags with (Twitter and Facebook) are necessary and the hashtags are a means for people to track what we’re doing.”

The old­new dynamic of SlutWalk suggests that one of the most valued aspects of social media activism is to allow those that could not participate in a protest previously, whether that be physically, emotionally or systemically, to contribute ideas and access resources online in order to recognise intersectional feminism and encourage feminist diversity.

It’s fair to predict that the Slacktivism vs. Activism debate will continue to exist in 2016 where, like 2015, a number of feminist protests will gain awareness on social media. Some hashtags will consider important issues of gender equality in our society and some hashtags won’t be in our newsfeeds forever.

For now, social media does not simply offer you the opportunity to hit the like button, it can empower people online and offline amongst different generations, genders and locations to engage with their communities and explore feminism in all its forms.

Jessamy Gleeson is currently studying her PhD on social media’s influence on feminism in Australia. She is currently moving into her third year as an organiser at SlutWalk Melbourne.

SlutWalk Melbourne will next be held in September, 2016. For more information on their protests, or if you would like to get involved, visit their website or their Facebook page ‘SlutWalk Melbourne’.


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