Online Feminism: Long Range Weapon


Feminism's media boom makes the message against sexism echo further and stronger

by Sofia Soter cover image Leah Reena Goren translated by José Osmar

As an editor for a teen feminist magazine, I give interviews quite frequently. In every one of them one question pops up: “what do you think about this new feminism trend?”. There are variations, ‘pop feminism’, ‘new feminism’, ‘fun feminism’, different from that old boring one we already know”. Not a surprise at all, considering the spotlight the term has received in media last couple of years. It was magazine theme, frequent topic in almost every interview with women, and object of a lot of discussions on the internet.

Though, comparing a historically fundamental, sociopolitical and ideological movement to a shallow trend is at least insensible.

This approach is also one short on creativity: it is not the first time – and probably not the last – that feminism goes under a media boom. Because it claims for equality, and is aimed at women, it gets visibility when topics regarding it get visibility. It is a reaction movement, so it is just natural that it gets the spotlight in media when the problems it faces also have the spotlight.

Riot Grrrls, Ms. Magazine, and the cycle of media

In 1971, New York magazine ran an openly feminist periodic called Ms. It was edited by Gloria Steinem and Pitman Hughes, two second wave feminist activists. It quickly became a full magazine, published monthly from 1972 to 1987, and its media weight was heavy enough to encourage a much needed debate regarding abortion legalization.


In the 1990’s, feminism – just as today – was a recurrent topic in media: the book Backlash, Susan Faludi’s investigation about negative representation of feminism in media, was in New York Times bestselling list for 35 weeks; a study about rape in the US was the main theme in the news all over the country; riot grrrl movement, organized by feminist teens expressing their activism through music, lifestyle and zines, was featured in magazine interviews and frequently in the entertainment media (even if eventually the reason was the personal involvement of Kathleen Hanna, one of the heads of the movement, with Kurt Cobain).

Today, pop singers declare themselves as feminists – from media Giants as Taylor Swift to the funkeira Valeska Popozuda, and Tumblr’s golden girl Halsey. Once more, the matter is considered relevant news by media. It is a cycle that repeats and renews itself, and brings to light the movement demands that are considered pertinent at the time. Fortunately this cycle also allows each new high point to be built on top of the old ones, developing and evolving the positive repercussion of the matter.

Negahamburguer, brazilian artist engaged in the feminist cause, whose work became famous in social media.
Negahamburguer, brazilian artist engaged in the feminist cause, whose work became famous in social media.

Boom – the weight of the internet

The main difference between feminism’s present media impact from the previous peaks is – yes, exactly – the internet. Democratization of the access and production of content opens room to the voices of the underdog, the ones that are not recognized by traditional media, which in time is running on a rhythm it cannot control anymore. Discussions on feminism decentralize because they become plural, and also because on the digital environment it is much more difficult to ignore, or even to shut up our voices (even though a lot of people still try).

The organization of feminists throughout the internet created huge and widespread awareness movements, as seen in the ones encouraged by hashtags. #AskHerMore urges the media to ask women more interesting and complex questions instead of the usual “how do you lose weight?”, or “what’s the secret to this shiny hair?”; #WhyIStayed opens ground for women to talk openly about domestic violence. Recently, brazilian women heavily joined #MeuPrimeiroAssédio, driven by Enem’s 2015 essay theme: “the persistence of violence against women in brazilian society”. Feminist vlogger sensation Jout Jout recorded a video to make this cause more visible:

This growing attention can be an indicator of a potential ending to the media cycle. In a research about the words that should be banished in 2015, Time magazine pointed out “feminism”, giving the impression the “fun” of this topic was outdated, and that they couldn’t stand hearing about it anymore. The more room feminism has in media, bigger is the negative reaction too – from the very media that talks about it. The public’s attention span is short, and loyalty is temporary.

As long as feminism is read as an ephemeral trend, as a media hot topic, as long as it is not taken seriously by the general public, it is possible that the cycle repeats.

A cycle of reactions that, quoting Helen Lewis, prove the necessity of feminism. But we can face it with an optimistic point of view: feminists independent media and social network visibility makes it harder to traditional media change sides. Everytime a celebrity declares themselves not a feminist, several feminists insist in the importance of the movement. When Time included “feminism” as a to-be-banished word, negative public reaction made the magazine do “kind of” an apology.

Laura Liedo
Laura Liedo

“ The negative reaction to feminism was not motivated by women achieving total equality, but by the growing possibility that women could reach it. It is a preemptive attack that stops women way before the finish line.” — Susan Faludi

We hope that this time the preemptive attack fails: we will cross the finish line.

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