Online feminism turns into real life policy

It is not enough to simply click “like” on Facebook, as more tangible goals are needed.

by Camille Galles

There’s never been a better time to be a feminist. Last month, Beyoncé danced for millions of people in front of a giant light-up display of the word. This past spring, women all over the world used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to share their experiences with misogyny. The Internet has exploded as a forum for feminists to debate, discuss and retweet their thoughts.

Once reserved for a few extremists, feminism is now a part of everyday culture. More people than ever are talking about it — but is the movement really advancing? In order to create actual change, feminism needs to harness its popular online presence to identify specific goals and take policy-related action.

When I first learned about feminism, I went eagerly to the Internet to contribute. But in most cases, I closed my computer, feeling massively overwhelmed. In one day, I can follow a Twitter conversation about breaking the glass ceiling, read an article on Facebook about reproductive rights and scroll through a Tumblr photo series promoting positive body image.

No single issue is the most important, and this onslaught of information makes it very difficult to choose which cause to contribute to first. It’s hard to determine what the feminist movement stands for when it has no unified platform.

Of course, I’m guilty of sharing links on Facebook, and I have retweeted feminist tweets that I thought were especially insightful. But what does one retweet actually accomplish?

Social scientists agree that simply providing more information to people doesn’t automatically change their behavior. That doesn’t devalue the cycle of acceptance that Facebook likes, retweets and blogging can generate, but if these are all that online feminism is, then it really isn’t much.

In order to initiate real change, feminists should create a goal-oriented rhetoric that moves conversations off social media and into the Legislature. In 2012, a massive online protest against the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood attracted the attention of lawmakers and convinced the foundation to reverse its decision.

This initiative was directed and organized. Moreover, it involved elected officials who could make real-world changes. The Internet can organize events like this, but only if feminists use it to their advantage.

Federal protection for equal pay is a strong candidate for feminist attention, especially because the United States Senate recently blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act. Money is power, and equal wages are a tangible way to empower women. If online writers could prioritize this issue, an action campaign similar to that of the Planned Parenthood situation could have equally positive results. 

Feminism has gained multitudes of young, passionate and internet-savvy advocates.  The next challenge is to motivate them to do more than click the “share” button.