Feminism in the digital age: Social media has played a big role in the modern-day feminist movement

Kayla Song
Kayla Song, Maple Grove High School
A screenshot of a post from the “HeForShe” campaign, which expresses the belief that men and boys can help remove social and cultural barriers that limit women. Social media played a major role in the campaign.

Kristine Holmgren has seen feminism evolve throughout the decades.

A veteran feminist, Holmgren says these days, social media is play­ing an integral role in the women’s movement.

“It’s the best thing that’s hap­pened to the women’s movement in this country, is the opportunity for young women to find their voices and use them, especially in social media,” said Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister, a play­wright and the founder of the Dead Feminists Society of Minnesota.

History contains the foundations of feminism, but today, it’s apparent how feminism has changed since its beginnings in the mid-1800s. In the digital age, feminists have taken to social media platforms to give their voices a larger audience.

Kayla Barry, a senior at Maple Grove Senior High School, has tapped into social media outlets to speak out as a feminist herself.

“I’ve used my Tumblr account either to talk about [feminism] or to find more information about it,” Barry said. “... I think that my sole purpose should be to help people understand and to try and work toward gender equality. It’s a good platform for showing your ideas and being able to get feedback from people.”

Feminism has moved from the streets to the Internet as “cyberfeminism” has gained momen­tum. In 2013, 74 percent of women on the Internet used social media outlets, according to the Pew Research Center, giving online femi­nists an audience for their cause.

For example, in September, a UN Women campaign known as “HeForShe,” which expressed the belief that men and boys can also help remove social and cultural barriers that limit women, was backed by actress Emma Watson, who played “Hermione Granger” in the “Harry Potter” film series. To get more participation, Watson used social media such as Twitter and Facebook to spread the message. Using the hashtag “#heforshe” on Twitter, the organization was able to reach people around the world.

Barry said “hashtag feminism,” or using the pound sign—“#”—and a phrase that concerns women’s rights, on social media sites “shows examples of feminism in action and shows why we need feminism.”

“They definitely spread aware­ness,” Barry said about the relevance of the hashtags in feminism. “It really helps illuminate some of the ideas behind feminism and why we really do still need it today.”

Feminism Flashback

Kristine Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister, a playwright and the founder of the Dead Feminists Society of Minnesota, speaks with ThreeSixty journalist Kayla Song during an interview in April in Roseville. (ThreeSixty Journalism staff)

As part of the first group of women at the Princeton Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s, Holmgren was a witness to gender inequality and male domination decades ago. She noticed that the mere diction of people’s conversa­tions was male-oriented.

“I saw so clearly at seminary that the professors would call us ‘men of God’ and said we were charged to ‘build the brotherhood of man,’” Holmgren said. “This just kind of struck me as the heart of the problem.”

Holmgren joined the Women’s Advocates, a shelter for battered women on Grand Avenue, in 1975 after her time in the seminary, and it gave her a chance to discover more about women’s predicaments at the time. The shelter needed women of faith, such as Holmgren, to console and encourage the wounded women of the community, she said.

Through her experiences, Holmgren has had the time and experience to witness the trends in the feminist movement through the years. Feminism has had three waves so far, according to Holmgren.

The first wave began with the fight for women’s suffrage in 1848. The second wave came with more modern ways of expressing women’s power in the community around the 1960s. Television shows started to reflect that change, with women such as Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” and actresses on programs such as “Maude,” “Murphy Brown” and others turning into role models for feminists around the country, Holmgren said.

Today’s feminists have been called the third wave, and they’re “coming to the table with a completely dif­ferent world view on male-female relationships than the second wave,” Holmgren said.

“The second wave is binary,” she said. “We’re very male-female. The third wave sees gender in a com­pletely different way than we were trained and raised to see it.”

On top of making feminists heard, social media has connected different waves of feminists, Holmgren said. The Internet provides a nearly limit­less number of social media sites, including Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, that feminists from any generation can use.

The Internet also is a power­ful outlet and a convenient way of reaching out to feminists across the Twin Cities, according to Holmgren. In March 2009, she developed the Dead Feminist Society of Minnesota - Salon for Uppity Women online. The Dead Feminist Society “exists to honor the vision of American Feminism and to support Minnesota feminists in our commitment to stand for gender equality, dignity and fairness,” according to the site. Within four months, the group received 100 members, and since its beginnings, awareness of the Dead Feminist Society has spread.

“Social media is bridging a gap,” said Holmgren, a second-wave feminist. “I think that my access to more narrative from [the] third wave through the media is very good for me.”

Looking Ahead

The future of feminism seems hopeful to many young women such as Phoebe Ester, a junior at River Falls High School, and Neda Pourhassan, a sophomore at Maple Grove. Ester said she hopes the immediate future of feminism will be about the education of others on what is happening not only in the U.S., but also in other countries around the world.

With social media as a worldwide source for information and more women speaking out, it appears feminism is not fading away anytime soon.

“The media is already an attention grabber and influences future generations,” Pourhassan said. “… People start to understand more about feminist causes.”

The feminist movement has developed new ideas and aspects through the dawn of the social media age, but it’s main concept remains the same, according to Holmgren: “Women are people.”