Sunday, 11 February 2018

Feminisms and Social Media: An introduction to the Special Issue

Abigail Locke, Rebecca Lawthom & Antonia Lyons

This special issue comes at an important time in herstory (‘history’ for women) when a renewed vitality around women and feminisms is evident in many places around the world. There is a real impetus for change in women’s framings (and their acceptance) of gender based expectations. 

Feminism was the most looked up word in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary in 2017, marking a large increase on previous years. This is likely to be linked to a number of high profile events occurring almost simultaneously across parts of the globe, including widespread reporting of sexual harassment and assault, the #MeToo campaign, and collective responses to current ruling political ideologies (particularly in the US).   

In the UK (where the Special issue idea originated on International Women’s Day 2015), we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women in the UK over 30 the right to vote and paved the way for universal suffrage. Since then the right to be heard has monumentally shifted.  We now live in a time where individual and collective voices ring out in global virtual environments, across a proliferation of diverse social media platforms. This Special Issue arose from discussions around a number of key instances where women speaking out over social media were trolled in attempts to silence them, and led to questions about the broader context of feminisms and social media. We are thrilled that the papers published in this special issue highlight the diversity of feminist engagements that are evident across social media as well as the diversity of the people engaging, and the implications of these activities.

Since the inception of the Special Issue, there has been a groundswell of social media activity around a variety of topics including the #MeToo hashtag. This is a movement with a global audience, where initially celebrities shared stories of abuse using social media, and built a sense of solidarity which was then taken up by many users, celebrity and non-celebrity alike. Whilst both recognising the damage and identifying the problem, the movement has not been without critics. Proponents point to the inclusivity of the movement and the way in which it encourages voices to be heard. For critics, it re-inscribes the work of naming back onto women and queries the validity of unfettered and unchecked naming and shaming of perpetrators (see @MeTooCenter for a sense of the argument). The sheer momentum of this movement, its possibility to engage and the varied responses to it typifies the difficulties and nuances of social media. 

Social media can be a tool for enhancing literacy, a force for change and a platform for violence and trolling. This Special Issue contains examples of all of these competing and contradictory aspects of social media, setting them against a backdrop of feminist scholarship and activism, drawing on articles from different locations around the world. The issue contributes to a wider dialogue of feminisms and social media occurring across many disciplinary spaces that we look forward to watching develop further.

The authors are the editors of the Special Issue of Feminism and Psychology on Feminisms and Social Media available here: