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Feminism in the Cyberspace

Presented at 'Reflexoes no Alvito - Mulheres e Media' (June 7-8. 2013, Lisbon)

Noa Nogradi

on 7 July 2014

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Transcript of Feminism in the Cyberspace

Feminism in the Cyberspace
Actions and Trends
Challenges and Solutions
Noa Nogradi
Who's that?
What is she going to talk about?
Basic definitions and background
Online presence for everyone who wants to spread a message, for private gain or public activity, has become
a must.
Many things I’ll say will be applicable to other types of activism or even advertising.
Everyone's an author in the blogosphere, the social media, the forum and comment era. The private becomes public*, and the personal can finally become political; individual experiences and thoughts have a better chance to meet.
of Online Feminist Activism
But, unsurprisingly, “every social issue that we are familiar with in the real world will now have its counter-part in the virtual one”. (Spender, 1995)
In the 90's (wake of the internet)
A broad movement, exploring the intersection of the cyberspace, technology and diverse kinds of feminisms.
Originally online interaction was mainly on forums. Nicknames were promising: chosen, non-gendered. The hope of a non-gendered (cyber)space emerged.
Feminist activism turned out to be equally necessary in the online world as in the offline one, and with a double purpose, reflecting both real-world- and cyber-sexism.
Lots of self-reflection: constant reflexive evaluation of online content, feminist critique on women's misrepresentation and lack of women’s representation online
Is the name of what we do now.
From the 2000s onwards
Plus, of course, feminist activism concerning the real world
Basic forms
Other forms
+1: Creative ways
As in every aspect of modern life, net and e-mail makes it easier to connect:
with co-activists; with members/supporters; with sponsors; with other NGO-s, partners; with participants of events; etc.
But it also it makes things harder:
non-stop; un-ignorable; the last-minute effect.
e-mails and e-mail lists
e-mail provider groups and forums
bulletins, newsletters
RSS and other alerts
Added ways to interact and refer:
embedded hyperlinks, permalinks, trackbacks, reposts (tumblr), like (facebook), share (facebook, twitter, G+, reddit...) comment (on blog, forum, youtube, facebook add-on...)
Static (like websites)
Dynamic (like social media
or blogs)
Trend: Social, interactive
(even static sites are becoming more and more)
"Alternative" news sites, mostly based on a blog format, that approach topics (actualities and general) from a feminist perspective, and/or concentrate on news not "newsworthy" in mainstream media, but with a news-value to those concerned about feminist or gender-related issues.
Jezebel as a positive example:
Gawker alternative news media was read primarily by women, so they created Jezebel to appeal to the female audience.
Finally, it is not only the beauty and household industry that tries to target women...
Personal and
semi-personal blogs
Reflecting on the female and/or the feminist activist experience
Connecting women not easily identifying themselves as feminists, but experiencing the burden of sexism and patriarchy every day (a real necessity in Hungary, where "feminism" is still a swear-word)
(a widow, mother of three, writing about everyday struggles and things that bother her);
"Így néz ki egy feminista"
("This is what a feminist looks like", a blog by unashamed feminist writing about bothering things);

("Forwomen.hu" by individual activists writing about their activist experiences, demonstrations, updating about concerning issues /not affiliation-based/)
Static informative websites
Official websites of NGOs, Think Thanks, the State, EU, or other government bodies with information on statistics, campaigns, activities, helplines, self-help material, etc.
E.g. Hungarian Women's NGOs have their own websites, but additionally to assist and support women directly, nokjoga.hu (womensrights.hu), abortusz.hu (abortion.hu), megeroszakoltak.blog.hu (Iwasraped.blog.hu)
YouTube channels, videos and weblogs
Facebook pages
Of NGOs (local and global)
Fan pages of other feminist medium (e.g. "Drágám, hol a vacsorám"/"Honey, where's my dinner" radio show; Feminist Frequency)
Of causes (e.g. "End FGM"; sign the petition on...), sometimes turning into NGOs (e.g. "Nők lázadása"/"Women's revolution")
Just for fun (e.g. A girl's guide to taking over the world)
In order to promote articles and web pages (increase web presence and search-engine results)
As a form of campaign (we will get back to hashtagging)
Keeping followers up to date about news, activities and events
Used primarily in the US/UK
Online petitions
On a petition site, or embedded in your own site
+1: Activism by reaction
Activism confronting sexist & antifeminist content online , by:
commenting & debating
initiating official action in response
There is plenty reason and opportunity to do that, but it can become quite tiresome.
Especially amongst those who target the youth!
The locus of activism (as of information) is more and more online, especially after the new movements, from the anti-globalization and the global justice movements through the “Arab Spring”, Occupy, Indignados, Democracia Real Ya, Occupy Gezi, etc.
The web is "democratic". Main feature of the web is
communication; easier to connect.
Everybody is both author and audience
, can generate and reach content. So post-modern, eh?
NB. : Antifeminists do the same to feminist content.
There is a large antifeminist and misogyny trend online, from the general attitude of "go fix me a sandwich" and "why aren't you in the kitchen" to tons of sexist memes, games, and of course, porn.
NB. :
NB. :
Even the sites themselves, the platform of your (active or reactive) activism are applying a sexist double standard.
E.g. recent scandal on facebook-policies (See:
Nudity and pornographic content is banned (supposed to be removed if reported to facebook),
BUT a wide range of pornographic pages, and pages encouraging/ridiculing rape were found
after reporting.
However, photos depicting breast-feeding or the chest of a breast cancer survivor
got removed
upon reporting.

Individuals can hardly pressure

the medium, but they can pressure advertisers by threatening
to boycott their products (again: appealing to women's purchasing power). Also see Rush Limbaugh scandal.
Used on twitter, instagram, even facebook and pinterest sometimes
Unifies reference to the same topic, makes searching, and following a trending topic easier
Feminist examples:
#1reasonwhy (on sexism in the game industry)
#1billionrising (on V-day 2012)
Funny/sarcastic pictures, gifs, eCards, videos, articles, or other internet phenomena trending via sharing on social media
Specifically feminist trend: sharing experiences and motivations
Victoria's Secret highjacked for Consent
the One Billion Rising Global Campaign
And now, the best part...
Campaigning WR in general? Abortion? VAW? DV/PV, rape, harassment? Protesting sexism? Patriarchy? Glass ceiling, unequal pay? Objectifying women’s bodies? Representation? A given law? Concerning local or global issues? etc.
Drawing the borders to our message
Otherwise it can get eclectic and blurry.
How professional? How accessible? Humorous?
Serious? Academic?

Depends on the target and the medium
(e.g. FB group, FB page, website, blog…)
Drawing the tone and language to our message
Using humor or using outrage - both have their place. But recently it's becoming harder and harder to say that feminists don’t have a sense of humor
Content scanning policies and reporting (as in the facebook scandal) can make your life hard
- but it's also a new opportunity to raise awareness
(see the successful counter-campaign on the scandal)
The same content various times from the different media of the same issue makes people unsubscribe/unlike etc.

Have to define which page is for what. It’s good to have your message present on multiple platforms, but just once you defined what they are for.
Otherwise, have 1-2, but well done and all-encompassing platform.
Audience & Participants
Selecting your audience
Political sphere, pressure-making (in the traditional understanding)?
Women? Men? Doesn't matter? The youth? The old? Housewives? etc.
Closely connected to the content-definition issue
no explanations
“insider (feminist or NGO community) jokes”
automatic exclusionary/aggressive-defensive comments to "outsiders'" questions or comments
Beware of the spiral of isolation:
We’re so happy that finally we don’t have to explain every word and found a community where everyone thinks similarly to us, that we start to talk as if we weren’t activists, also responsible to address those not yet involved...
A sense of freedom in a community of comrades can be fun, but we have to decide what’s the aim, and if the popular spreading of the message/campaigning is included, then you have to be understandable and patient with those "new to the cause".
And, the other side of the same issue...
Sometimes we’re wound up debating amongst ourselves instead of storming the ignorant/antifeminist/male-chauvinists/sexists/benevolent sexist pages, forums and users, or just targeting the general cyberpolis.
Much debate between some feminists and transsexual/transgender community on whether we fight for the same cause
Feminists amongst themselves about word-use and the means of promoting issues, instead of starting to promote them
There are so many forums, so many places to interact, react: why not interacting with those who we should target?
And if after everyone's a feminist at least to some extent, we still have energy, let's discuss if we need that comma in the manifesto.
Danger of the web: the so-called
(not only google, but social media sites, etc.).
Search-engines generate one's results according to the type of content they usually click.
And social media is based on the very idea that you select the sources (people) from whom you're interested in content/post/feed/tweets/etc.
The Bubble
This is not always true, there are good exceptions that could be followed.
KONY campaign (set aside the problematic aspects of it), a little known issue has become well-known thanks to trendy tricks and easy identification with the message (hardly anyone would say producing child-soldiers is OK).
One Billion Rising Campaign, reached less involved women by choosing a minimalistic message easy to identify with, invoking implicit sisterhood and basing protest on “dance” (reconciling the message of women owning their bodies with an activity traditionally perceived feminine).
Reaching only people who’re already interested (or are trolls), not the general target-audience.
The information might not get to whom you wanted the info to get to.
Recognition and othering
W’s blogs, although there are many, are still to some degree “othered” in the hierarchy of blogs and pages.
Blogs referred to and talked about in other media,
blogs “worthy of reading” are typically male-oriented,
"filter-blogs" or "knowledge blogs", by (white, right-wing, heterosexual) men - for men (implicit intention).
Women's womanly blogs for women: as a separate cyber-space.
However, as there are more and more blogs, and more kinds of blogs AND as women are also getting into all blogging territories, this is getting better by the minute.
Even without campaigning, Elise Andrew, the author of the extremely popular “I fucking love science” FB page (5.4m likes) or Limor Fried's Adafruit tech DIY products and community did a lot for the feminist cause (of course, when asked, they are openly feminist).
Women in science, technology and DIY (see Pinterest) are present online and become embodiments of cyberfeminism & DIYfeminism (feminism&women+action+participation+newtech)
As we know, web-contents are not available to everyone: there are barriers in
income, access, skills

We also know that where there is social inequality,
women are even more disadvantaged than men
Digital Divide
So are women (or men) in rural/developing areas on the other side of the "digital divide" excluded from the audience and information?
Is online feminism yet another exclusionary, Western, white, middle-class, privileged feminism? What could we do about this?
On a positive note:
It could very well be that access to the internet and skills to use it are key to advancing
development and social action.
On the other hand, internet and its proper use is already enough to make one's voice heard.
This means that the net could be the actual net of the proverbial "fishing instead of giving fishes" in a grassroots NGO/social action context.
Namelessness, facelessness
Weakens credibility
Enables trolling and behavior one would never exhibit in face-to-face encounters
Not nameless-faceless enough to fulfill the original cyberfeminist hopes of a genderless cybersociety
Relatively new trend: FB gaining big role (share-buttons, comments integrated on most pages)
Can be both detrimental and positive.

Negative side:
On FB most people are present with their real persona, i.e. it becomes harder to share content that you don’t want to be identified with amongst those who know you.
Positive side:
In the FB-sharing culture (and the generally increasing popularity of social activism, the “hipster” eco-bio-conscious-aware trend), you can be openly active about things, especially if there are already many people who are, which is validating your own activity. There is a positive spiraling after reaching a critical mass (usually measured in likes/shares).
Same applies to online petitions.
Many likes, shares, spreading popularity can make an issue relevant and referred to in other media (media loves to refer to media to show just how important and influential media is), illustrating the support for a cause.
Active and popular groups online can become real-life NGOs, lobby groups and political parties.
The virtual community and
activity/activism becoming the main locus
- to the loss of real-world community, help, advocacy
“Likes don’t save lives”
(©UNICEF Sweden)
Liking/sharing as if it was an "action", but other than clicking, people wouldn't "raise a finger" for the cause
Risk of any online activism
People want to appear some way
(FB as the biggest "MMORPG")
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game
See again the "awareness-fashion"
(Case of "Nők lázadása"/"Women's revolution" in Hungary; Case of "Egymillióan a sajtószabadságért"/"One million for the freedom of press" in Hungary)
Activism trapped in the cyber-space
Online activism and presence is important and can have real-world effects.
But it's important to stay in the real world too!
Who’s the target?
Faceless internet-user?
Those already involved?
Understandable reaction, but it is to be avoided
Uniting forces with those who we agree in general, but maybe not in the particular, can be useful both for the movement and for the cause.

You MUST give guidelines on your site about how to protect themselves
(how to permanently delete browser history, how to protect their private accounts).
On yourself
On victims of VAW
Even with a little activity, there is a risk of threats, disgusting and sexist comments, virtual violence, cyber-bullying.
If we’re very active in challenging sexist trends, there can be serious “repercussions” - see Anita Sarkeesian.
If the content is likely to interest and be found by victims of VAW and GBV (particularly DV/PV):
the browser's recorded history, with your content in it, can result in direct danger for them.
*At least to the degree that
sitting in front of your computer
can be considered public action :)
Some additional solutions and advice
Try to specify your content and audience
Expand your bubble and audience:
Specify "favorites", refer to content all around the web - your other initiatives and those akin to yours. Cooperate with comrades.

So once someone stumbles upon one page in this network, it serves as a map to other, relevant contents!
Specifying review policies, monitoring activity, deleting inappropriate comments.
But be careful not become a censor, allowing only comments strictly agreeing with the post’s / your original intentions & viewpoints.
Need for good & explicit comment and content policy
And really:
And many more...
Language issue:
English or local language? Both?
Depends on who you want to get to.
Questão da língua:
Inglês ou o idioma local? Ambos?
Depende de quem você quer chegar.
Cuestión de la lengua:
Inglés o el idioma local? ¿Ambos?
Depende de a quién se quiere llegar.
Qüestió de la llengua:
Anglès o l'idioma local? ¿Tots dos?
Depèn de a qui es vol arribar.
Another issue of synchronization:
Your content and the contradictory ads your page provider randomly puts besides your content; or your ads that the page provider randomly puts besides inappropriate content.
Beat up Anita Sarkeesian game:
a bruise with every click of your mouse!
Isn't it just entertaining?
Make sure that the privacy settings of those managing the site/page/blog are secure, and your+their personal e-mail address, personal social media profile, physical address, phone number can't be found on the web!
Thank you for your attention.
I wish you successful activism!
Full transcript