These days, most people with even occasional access to a computer have participated on social media sites. Social media have infiltrated all aspects of our personal and professional lives, creating a world that is markedly different from the one we inhabited even a decade ago. Women have certainly been affected; including these ways social media has changed what it means to be a woman today.
- 1. Social media have given women more of a voice (and a potential income stream). Social media has provided a platform to celebrate ordinary things in unprecedented ways. No longer does one have to be a celebrity to have a public presence. The Internet changed the playing field, and social media arguably took the change several steps further. Social media sites have provided new forums for everyday women to express themselves and share their experiences with the world. Naturally this has resulted in – and has been fueled by – a significant amount of commercial exploitation, with opportunistic marketers taking advantage of women’s desire to be heard. Apart from exploitation by big brands, however, more and more “real” women are finding a voice. Some even generate income opportunities via social media – on the popular social media sites, including YouTube, but also through blogging.
- 2. Social media has helped many women feel less isolated. The first big wave of feminism in the United States gave women the vote, but then the “cause of women” was buried in a few decades of Depression, war, and a new prosperity. Beneath that prosperity were rumbles of dissatisfaction, and about a half-century after the suffragists’ triumph, the “second wave” gifted a generation of women with new awareness. A new notion of solidarity among women emerged and grew, but didn’t really start blossoming until the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s. Suddenly there were dozens, then hundreds, then many thousands of web sites and discussion forums allowing women of all ages and backgrounds to find others who understood exactly what they were going through. This digital sisterhood has begun flowering with the rise of social media, which allows instant communication, efficient organization, and effective mobilization.
- 3. Social media helps build advocacy and activist communities for women. It is easier than ever for a woman or group of women to create a community advocating for important causes. Social media has made the process of communication and organization more streamlined than ever before. Facebook, for example, recently responded positively to an initiative to eliminate hate speech against women. In addition to evaluating and updating its policies on hate speech, the proactive company has agreed to improve training and increase accountability for those using hate speech on the site.
- 4. Social media can influence politics and legislation that affect women. Women who are interested in political causes, and in tracking or even influencing legislation that affects their everyday lives, have found social media to be a powerful tool.
- 5. Social media can help make life better for women all over the world. Never has it been so easy to “think globally” – and even to act globally. Social media have made it much easier for women to spread awareness of women’s rights abuses all over the globe – thereby inspiring donations and action to help stop these abuses. YouTube, for example, hosts informative and inspirational videos like this first-hand tale shared by a Kenyan rape victim. Documentaries such as this serve to enlighten viewers worldwide, alerting them to causes not reported elsewhere.
The other side of the equation
There is, of course, a flip side to social media. By its very nature, social media is open to everybody with Internet access, providing a tool that is also utilized by anti-feminist factions and parties who continue to perpetuate unrealistic images and sexist stereotypes. And while it is encouraging to see social media spreading messages of enlightenment and change, a glance at what else is available can be discouraging.
Reactionary, regressive political pages and hate-group feeds abound, and on a marginally more benign level, social media is used to spread urban legends and misinformation.
Still, there’s no doubt that social media has made a significant impact on all facets of society. The big takeaway here is that women who wish to effect change have a powerful tool in social media: a tool that, despite its potential for obfuscation and harm, also possesses nearly limitless potential for good.
This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from Freepeoplesearch.org, a people finder site. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @ gmail.com.
Photo Credit: theEword