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Catalysts for a Fourth Wave of Feminism
Cyberactivism and Social Networks

Image from the campaign "I'm spotting, so what?"
Image from the campaign "I'm spotting, so what?" | © Lola Vendetta

If you're looking for information about feminist issues, there's plenty of guidance to be found online. Women's rights are a trending topic in social networks, and new narrative formats are being created.

By Laura Cruz

All over the world, feminist messages are being spread via social networks. You can find niche media like Pikara Magazine on the internet, along with online games like Astrochat Mujeres Espaciales. The game introduces female scientists who are not widely recognised, yet become known to a broader audience with every click on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. If you enter a search term like endometriosis in Google, the only results will be medical descriptions of this chronic uterus condition. The same search on Twitter, however, relatively quickly leads to campaigns raising awareness for endometriosis, as well as brief testimonies from sufferers.

How feminist activists use the internet

Mobile apps enable us to connect to our online profiles all day, every day. Knowledge that used to be tucked away in encyclopaedias and books is now accessible within seconds. So for anyone wanting to know more about feminism, the virtual world provides useful guidance.

A good example is feminist podcast Sangre Fucsia. "We wanted to do something unique, a program that discusses culture, politics and current events as if the feminist revolution had already won," the founders of the platform explain. "Rather than lecturing people, we wanted to do something different that was fast-paced and had a lot of good vibes and feminist humour." In 2016, five years after the podcast's launch, they developed a feminist board game à la Trivial Pursuit. Word first spread on social media, and the game was only available in bookstores later. The initial crowdfunding exceeded all expectations and over 5,500 games have been sold to date.

Spontaneous protests arising online

Facebook events are fast and direct, allowing activists to reach more people than through brochures or posters. The Tren de la Libertad (Train of Freedom) initiative, for example, used this to their advantage. In 2014, a group of women went from Gijón to Madrid by train, demanding that the government retain the current abortion laws with a time limit for abortions, rather than a planned return to the 1980 model, which only permitted abortion under specific circumstances (risk for the pregnant woman, foetal abnormalities or rape). Spreading the word on the internet led to a broad, large-scale, feminist mobilisation. The train stopped in multiple cities so activists could get on and join the demonstration. Eventually, they managed to stop the planned legislation – a milestone for the Spanish feminist movement.

Spontaneous protests also happen on social media. In once instance, word spread on Twitter that more than 95 percent of participants at a columnist convention were men, prompting feminist activists to organise their own convention with female columnists in Pontevedra. "It's really important to participate in social media, because until now, feminism has mainly evolved in books. But in the current economic crisis, there is a lot less investment in the cultural sector," explains journalist Ana Bernal-Triviño (@anaisbernal), a lecturer in Communication Studies at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) who spoke at the conference. "Historically, women had less time to join forces because of their childcare responsibilities. In addition, social media resonate more strongly with young women who used to think of feminism as a bit old-fashioned," she explains.
Illustrators Lola Vendetta (@lola_vendetta), Moderna de Pueblo (Village Hipster) (@ModernaDePueblo) and Agustina Guerrero (@lavolatil) are publishing their works online. Their humorous cartoons tackle feminist and social issues like menstruation, the emotional aspects of relationships or the essential importance of looking good in everyday life. Moderna de Pueblo's most recent book Idiotizadas (The Stultified) criticises the depiction of romantic love in films and fairy tales.

Machismo in social media and other places

Some feminists are big fans of virtual media, but they also have reservations: "Occasionally in social networks, there are attempts to silence diverse and critical feminist positions through explicit threats of violence. Social media aren't an end in themselves, they are merely a medium to reach other goals," as writer and Islamic feminist activist Brigitte Vasallo @La_Vasallo explains. Open insults and threats have led some feminists to reject social media altogether.

For many people, online articles by Barbijaputa (@Barbijaputa), who made a name for herself on Twitter, are their introduction to feminism. However, her success goes hand in hand with keeping her identity secret. "I started out with a blog, and by now I'm earning a living through writing. Sometimes I think about giving up my anonymity. I would love to participate in panel discussions and events, which I can't do at the moment," she explains. "But one day, I will probably take the step out of anonymity."

Carmen González Magdaleno (@MagdalenaProust) is a journalist and communications adviser at the Lugo city administration and has over 11,000 followers on Twitter. She stresses the importance of social networks, in which she is present as a feminist activist on a daily basis. She even calls this type of direct activism the fourth wave of feminism. Free, user-friendly and – for most people – easily accessible instruments have revolutionised feminism. "In our social network profiles, blogs and new digital media, we can talk about our experiences. They go beyond the male point of view that is usually considered universal, for example in history books," González says. "Social networks have given us a voice, and the voices kept getting louder, so in the end there was no choice but to listen to us."

Female philosophers, astronauts, scientists, painters or women whose ideas were stolen and later awarded a Nobel Prize are the everyday protagonists of many Twitter accounts. One of them is the group Herstóricas who organises Madrid walking tours, workshops and excursions that focus on gender perspectives and on women forgotten by history.