Thu, Jun 06, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Online feminist activists of the digital age

Celebrities are championing female empowerment, ‘Spare Rib’ is to relaunch and Facebook has had to respond to pressure to tackle misogyny: The F-word seems to be making a timely comeback

By Tracy McVeigh  /  The Observer, LONDON

Illustration: Mountain People

It was a remarkable victory when social networking giant Facebook caved in to pressure last week and promised to “do better” to tackle anti-women hate pages on its site. A campaign by three women had succeeded where many previous efforts failed, forcing Facebook to take action over content celebrating rape and domestic violence.

It took just a week for the campaigners to rouse hundreds of thousands of supporters, thanks to a growing digital network of women who are part of the “great feminist revival.” Spare Rib magazine is soon to relaunch, women’s groups are enjoying a growth in interest and online feminism is flourishing in blogs and tweets. Beyonce and Madonna were in London for Saturday’s the Chime for Change concert, promoting global empowerment for women and girls.

The F-word is back, with digital-savvy young women joining forces online. Here are some of the best voices in activism:

Kat Banyard, 30, author and co-founder of UK Feminista

The campaign group is especially concerned with the commercial sex industry and work to close down lap-dancing clubs.

“The scale on which women are now sexually objectified means feminists today are in uncharted territory,” Banyard says. “In the seventies and eighties they didn’t have what we have now, developments in technology and a concerted PR campaign that has enabled sexual exploitation to become a global industry. The result is misogynistic, violent, online pornography, lap-dancing clubs in the high street, lads’ mags on display in supermarkets. It’s deeply ingraining a cultural message that it’s acceptable to dehumanize women, to treat women like sex objects. What we are now seeing is a resurgence of grassroots feminist activism, with people of all ages mobilizing online and on the streets because they want an end to the sexism that is still rampant in our society.”

Lucy-Anne Holmes, 36, novelist and actor

Holmes has become a feminist heroine after starting an online petition at Change.org calling on the London-based Sun editor Dominic Mohan to stop using topless models on page three. It has attracted more than 100,000 signatures and the support of the Girl Guides.

“We are asking very nicely: Stop showing topless pictures of young women... stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects,” she says. “I felt strongly that when the largest female image in the most widely read newspaper in the country is a young woman in her knickers, there for men to look at, it doesn’t send out a respectful message about a woman’s place in society. It says: ‘What society values about you first and foremost is how sexy men find you in your pants when you’re about 20.’”

Caitlin Moran, 38, newspaper columnist, TV critic and prolific tweeter

Moran has built up a huge following for witty writing that articulates and attacks everyday discrimination, from Disney’s sexualization of its princesses to nudity in pop videos. She has also stirred up controversy among some feminists, who find her too flippant.

“When women say: ‘I’m not a feminist,’ well, you have to be, you are,” she said in an interview. “Unless you’ve gone and handed back your vote to parliament or wherever, all women in the first world are feminist by default. You’re seen as a free agent, your paycheck goes into your bank. Unless you’ve gone and undone those feminist opportunities, you just are. We’re post-wave.”

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