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

“There are very few men and women in the first world who aren’t feminists; they just don’t know what the word is. This isn’t a failure of academic feminism; it’s just that popular culture dropped the ball. We stopped having reference points in pop, in movies — you can jokingly blame it on the Spice Girls, but before that it was grunge, and girls didn’t wear makeup and got on with what they wanted to do. Now Adele is the first woman in 16 years who has an arse and wears sleeves and gets to No. 1,” she says.

Laura Bates, 26, founder of the Everyday Sexism project

Bates set up everydaysexism.org last year and it has since had 30,000 incidents reported by women and children. She co-founded the #FBrape campaign and won an unprecedented vow from Facebook to act over vicious, gender-hate content on its site.

“The Internet allows you to find such strong support,” she says.

Everydaysexism.org has become enormously popular because women get so used to street harassment and sexism that it’s become normalized and you’re seen as uptight if you draw attention to it.

“It has a cathartic effect for women who can relate their experiences of sexism without the usual ‘oh, I think you must have got the wrong end of the stick there’ or the ‘making a lot of fuss about nothing’ type responses, which is so common,” she says.

“It’s really striking how the same themes come up whether you’re a woman working in a burger bar, a woman in the City [London’s financial district], a woman in a wheelchair, even a girl in her school uniform. And having all these experiences in the same place is proving really useful to policymakers. I’ve had [British] MPs working at the info and we’re working on a project with the police, so I’m really proud that women’s real experiences are actually being heard,” she adds.

Laurie Penny, 26, author and columnist

“There is a lot of fighting out there at the moment within feminism over what it is and what it should be, and it’s exhausting, but necessary. It’s part of the process,” she says.

“There are a lot of people who think either populist feminism or the other extreme is nonsensical, who want to demean sex workers or to protect their rights, and what the Internet means is that we can’t ignore each other. It also means people are a lot more educated than they were in the sixties and seventies when consciousness was about finding each other; the Internet makes that faster,” she says.

“Sexism is becoming more apparent to girls at an ever younger age. The sexual violence in schools is astonishing and the Internet is making that more apparent. But feminists have a way of coming together on the big issues,” she says.

Yasmeen Hassan, global director of Equality Now

Equality Now is one of the groups behind the Chime for Change concert in London, a Gucci-led campaign for empowerment of women and girls.

“The conversation in this country and the resurgence of feminism is wonderful,” she says. “It’s so encouraging to see these conversations happening, especially as in America it is still a forbidden, bad word. Too many young women there will say ‘oh, I’m not a feminist’’ when in fact if you talk to them and unpick that, of course they are. The idea of liberation in America is more sexual and here it is much more intellectual, but the Internet is opening up channels between women in different countries, and women who might be isolated in their communities, to understand each others’ lives and support each other, which is the heart of feminism to me. We need equality to make our societies better for both men and women.”

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