Internet Feminism Turning Theoretical Debate into Living Room Conversation
The issues addressed in present-day Internet feminism are the same as in 1970s Women’s Lib, though the form of the debate has changed significantly. For the better?
The Internet has changed feminism in recent years, as could be observed from early 2013 on, when women and men began tweeting stories of everyday sexual harassment and discrimination in Germany under the hashtag #aufschrei (“outcry”). They described a whole panoply of ordeals, for example slights and slurs in the workplace or outright insults in the street at night.
Increased exchange onlineFeminism on the Internet offers new possibilities and a wider public. Those who have something to say can simply post it to the world at large: on Twitter, Facebook or their own blog. This represents a tremendous stride forwards from the 1970s and ’80s, when the only German feminist to reach a wider public on a steady basis was Alice Schwarzer calling for gender equality.
Even back then, there were widely different brands of feminism, explains Antje Schrupp, a political scientist and journalist born in 1964: “Feminism is now and has always been quite varied: Some women demanded total equality to men. Others, like myself, called for ‘difference feminism’: that is, defining women’s role independently from men. But there’s also queer feminism, career feminism, matriarchal feminism – there are endless variations.”
The Internet facilitates exchange in the ongoing debate, giving you food for thought and introducing you to women with other principles. “In the ’70s women organized into different centres: women from various feminist currents hardly knew one another,” recounts Schrupp. “Nowadays there are no barriers at all. Anyone who wants to get informed just clicks her way from one website to the next.”
No excuses anymore for all-male panelsThe blog Netzfeminismus.org was started up in 2011 to promote this online exchange. One of its founders was journalist Katrin Rönicke (b. 1982): “At the re:publica 2009, we noticed it was always the same men sitting on the panels talking about Internet issues, but hardly any women in sight.” The organizers claimed they simply couldn’t find any women. “We didn’t want to accept this excuse anymore, that’s why we put together a list of women speakers. Any woman could sign up there, and a whole lot did”, recalls Rönicke. At the start there were 25 women on the list, in the end over a hundred.
Now there is even a professional database called Speakerinnen.org. And yet despite all these efforts, the number of women on discussion panels is still distressingly small. On her blog 50prozent.noblogs.org, net activist Anne Roth documents women’s participation in conferences, talk shows and other public events. At the Global Conferences during the computer expo Cebit in March 2014, for example, 91 per cent of the speakers billed for the event were men, and there wasn’t a single woman on the stage at the 2nd German Politik und Wirtschaftstag, a conference on politics and economics held by the Quadriga University of Applied Sciences in Berlin.
And yet the women signed up on Speakerinnen.org cover a wide range of topics, for they include experts on social media, journalism and European politics, gender issues and women’s rights. Net activist Anke Domscheit-Berg is on the list, as is Anne Wizorek, a digital media and online communication consultant and initiator of #aufschrei. “If you start looking into Internet feminism, you are liable to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of viewpoints – as with every other subject on the Internet”, says Wizorek.
Discussion finally getting down to earthEarly last year Anne Wizorek started up a blog called Kleinerdrei.org. The name (“kleiner drei” means “less than three”) is webspeak for the heart symbol “<3” – hence the blog’s subtitle as well: “Was uns am Herzen liegt”, i.e. “What’s near and dear to us”. It’s a feminist community blog covering socio-political issues, everyday observations, recommended reading and TV broadcasts as well as media critiques, as enumerated in the very first post on 14 January 2013. When asked what Internet feminism means to her, Wizorek replies:“We network online, find kindred spirits and get projects off the ground together. And yet without offline initiatives too, Internet feminism wouldn’t be viable.” One case in point is the above-mentioned #aufschrei campaign that Wizorek launched on Twitter. The discussion was broadcast into German living rooms over the web and mainstream media. “Feminism finally became tangible for many people”, recounts Wizorek, “and all of a sudden it became a topic of dinner-table and alehouse conversation.”
Yet there are other, important issues that have yet to make the quantum leap from the web to the public at large, points out Wizorek: “For instance the discussion of the costs of professional liability insurance for midwives, or the ‘Care Revolution’ that’s demanding greater recognition for the caring professions.” Everyday racism likewise receives wider exposure on the web as in mainstream media: in September 2013, under the hashtag #schauhin (“take a good look”), blogger Kübra Gümüşay began describing her experiences, for example the uncalled-for remarks she had to put up with on account of her faith or her headscarf.
When asked whether feminism has changed on the Internet, Katrin Rönicke promptly replies: “In the old days we worked with mailinglists, today we’ve got databases. The issues are the same, only the technology is different.” And yet she does observe some acrimonious exchanges, too, between women with conflicting principles: “The feminist activist Ti-Grace Atkinson once said about feminism in the 1970s and ’80s: ‘Sisterhood is powerful. It kills mostly sisters.’ I think you can see that happening again today.”
Anne Wizorek, on the other hand,does not see any big problems with the discussion culture nowadays: “Of course there are differences of opinion when many people take part in a discussion. But there have always been conflicts in feminism, that is not a new phenomenon,”she says, adding: “If you ask me, I say the more, the merrier!”