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1.5: Equity

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    This is a special chapter devoted to a selection of activist causes to improve the lives of women. We look closely at two online movements outside of the US, one in each hemisphere. Both integrate the global and the local; both work to liberate women from systematic violence. Then we look at a few movements in the US.

    But first let’s briefly broaden our lens to online activism in general.

    Women protesing
    Passionate public protests: Many protests for women’s rights use the publics of the web to expose private worlds of violence, enacted behind closed doors and silenced with shame. ​

    In the following chapter, we will discuss five strategies evident in creative online activist movements today, including speed, visuals, performances, inclusiveness, and masked leadership. These five strategies can be found in many gender-focused online movements as well. But from my perspective, what is salient – what stands out – about women’s movements are the ways the internet is used to enable public conversation around topics previously kept private. Social media in particular affords exposure, the affordance of social media to draw matters society guards as private into the public sphere.

    ​People who identify as “men” and people who identify as “women” have lived in the same neighborhoods and households across cultures and time periods. This quality makes gender relationships and activism distinct among activist movements. Issues that arise between groups of different ethnicities, races, and classes are often clearly expressed out in the open; but gender issues are not expressed as openly. Because men and women co-exist so closely in every community, issues between people of different gender identities tend to leak out in whispers and remain more hidden.

    Women as a gender identity: A disclaimer

    In order to look closely at two important online movements for women, I have had to exclude many other movements, moments, and identities from this chapter. The premise of the chapter admittedly works against complex understandings of gender, by presenting “women” as a fixed identity group. My goal in chapters 5 and 6 is to give you a selection of histories, tools, and examples to help you understand online activist movements.

    As the Wikipedia page on gender reflects, a deep understanding of gender and sexuality must also consider where the boundaries between genders come from and what is left unspoken when we rely on binary gender categories. Movements for the rights of transgender women have evolved within, alongside, and sometimes in response to movements by cisgender women, but these histories are often collapsed into a single narrative. I encourage you to explore and analyze these complex histories with the tools we will discuss in chapters 5 and 6.

    Saudi women: Online and driving change

    Saudi Arabian laws and culture enforce a system of male guardianship over women, whereby every woman must get the approval of a male guardian for decisions about her body and life including passport applications, travel, and marriage. Online activism helps women who are resisting the system of male guardianship to connect with fellow activists, read the climate for what they are asking, and connect with specific publics who may support their causes.


    Like campaigns for other identity groups, many social media campaigns for women are branded as leaderless or have masked leadership. A particular feature of social media campaigns for women is the naming of the campaign after a woman who has been persecuted, even though she is not organizing the campaign. Sadly, due to the violence women face that leads to these campaigns, the woman the campaign is named after is often one whose persecution has already ensued.

    One example is the campaign to #savedinaali. Dina Ali fled Saudi Arabia but was detained in the Philippines and returned to her family, whom she said would kill her. It is unknown if Dina Ali is severely injured or even alive, but organizers started the #savedinaali campaign to help her and women in similar situations, and draw attention to the human rights abuses of Saudi women. Raising awareness around the situations of particular imprisoned women may lighten the punishment inflicted on them – though it does not guarantee safety or survival.

    Recognizing the small beginnings of large media campaigns

    Activist movements that become large usually began as small, local efforts for change. This is especially true around women’s rights; whispers about a case or pattern of abuse first spread locally, then grow into regional or global social movements once it’s clear that the abuse is systematic. Take for example the extensive Human Rights Watch campaign (also linked above) to end Male Guardianship in Saudi Arabia. It was many small campaigns like the one to save Dina Ali that led Human Rights Watch to produce a 2016 report entitled Boxed In: Women and Saudi Arabia’s Male Guardianship System. The campaign uses the hashtag #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship along with video and other content.

    Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a large, global organization, but small movements gave them key examples and networks on which to build a larger campaign. HRW’s decision to focus on Twitter as a platform required the organization to monitor smaller movements for evidence that Saudis would use and respond to Twitter hashtags for activism. Those small movements provided the core of the larger networks HRW would use in their campaign.

    One prior online network example for campaigns for Saudi women is the campaign to allow them to drive. Women have been putting themselves on the front lines and driving – and celebrating this civil disobedience online. In 2011-2013 the hashtag #W2drive (women to drive) was used by Saudi activists to gather a public interested in women’s right to drive, as did the account @SaudiWomenSpring on Facebook.

    Social Media and the Right to Vote

    Student Content, Fall 2020

    My Perspective and Experience with Social Media

    I have come a long way with social media. I have encountered the negatives, as well as the positives that come with using social media. In my personal experience, I have always been involved with the use of social media, especially at a very young age. Being exposed at a very young age to so much criticism and opinions all on different platforms in my opinion is a factor of shaping who you are and how your views on certain topics are made. I am positive that with my generation, while growing up in an age where we were the internet generation also known as Generation Z, that we all had experiences with how social media influenced us at a young age.

    Which is why I wanted to touch upon the political side of how the internet allows and influences us in many ways, while also giving everyone a platform to voice our opinions to each other. Many of those times that I have seen result in arguments caused by a disagreement in the comment section of a post. In today’s time, the internet is filled with hateful comments towards one another about having opposite opinions. Today you see grown adults shaming young adults for the decision they made in the comments of the post.

    In my experience during election time, I find that I see lots of advertisements, and political campaigning that takes place, and inevitably consumes a lot of what people see and hear surrounding the election. I found this organization this past year amidst the fact that the year 2020 is the year of the most recent election. I began to see lots of my own peers finding themselves conflicted and even considering not voting in the 2020 election. Quite honestly, I found myself in the same position. This is the first time I am able to vote in a presidential election. I should have been excited to exercise my fifteenth amendment right, but I was not solely because of the hateful opinions on social media. I felt that I was going to be judged by people for who I voted for and ultimately felt discouraged. I later began looking into different organizations whom I supported and saw how patriotic they were about voting and especially because I am Native American our voice, in my opinion, is suppressed. I began to see things in a new light and later made my mind up about actually going out and voting. I then began to advocate for all voices to have a say in how we vote and how our vote counts, the difference it makes when people do vote.

    I find that these types of organizations are truly helpful for those such as myself that really focus on influencing positivity on social media. Social media can be extremely toxic to your mental health and I think overthinking things such as what I did can really affect certain outcomes. If I had not looked into organizations that I like and follow I would not have gotten the courage to really be proud of having the right to vote.

    Also by this author: Rock the Vote!

    One or more interactive elements has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view them online here:

    Graphic of the author

    About the Author

    Trinity is a sophomore majoring in Journalism with an emphasis in Digital Journalism. Minoring in Information Science and Esociety.

    Respond to this case study… This writer argues that her generation (perhaps your generation as well) was influenced from a young age by the ubiquity of the Internet and social media technologies. Drawing on your knowledge from this course, our readings, and your own experiences, describe your own position on this claim.

    Meming of hashtags and more

    The use of any hashtag can expand and complicate the spread of a message across a global audience, particularly if the meme flips to become sarcastic or changes direction.

    Hashtags relating to Saudi women’s rights led to numerous memes, but most just added force to the movement. #TogetherToEndMaleGuardianship was of course translated – you might also say, imitated or memed – into Arabic, and it is that tag which Arabic-speaking social media users began spreading prolifically. #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen is another tag channeling similar publics. Like #HandsUpDontShoot in the Black Lives Matter movement, it is a phrase speaking directly to an oppressing force, telling them to change their behavior.

    However, there is some evidence of the spread of misinformation through hashtags related to Saudi women. For example, a story about Saudi male scientists declaring women “not human” started out on a satirical website, but it spread to other publics – including some who believed it was true, and others who found it useful in spreading fear of Islam. As this example shows, hashtags are easy targets for appropriation – use for a different cultural purpose than originally intended.

    How social media can help women’s causes in particular

    To understand women’s online movements, including those for Saudi women and women in the Americas (in the next section), it is important to consider relationship communication. First, let’s consider who Saudi women can and cannot speak to and when or where those conversations take place. In traditional Saudi society, women have limited face to face contact; they rarely gather or communicate with people beyond their immediate family, and external communications may be under constant surveillance. This limits the communication of women activists with those who are geographically close to them and to moments of low surveillance.

    However, communities devoted to women’s activism can interact online on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media platforms. So the most important affordance of social media for women’s movements is this: movement organizers can orchestrate gatherings and strategies through the use of social media. An example of this is the campaign #women2drive, which Saudi women have been pushing for several years to challenge male guardianship incrementally by focusing on the right to drive.

    logo of women to drive
    women2drive​ is a campaign in Saudi Arabia that counteracts the prohibition of women in public spaces through online, networked publics

    Another affordance of social media for women’s movements is this: social media can extend and deepen communication among activists, transforming short or casual encounters into opportunities for a more profound exchange of ideas. Social media can allow people who will be gathering in person to get a sense before the event of what others are thinking. It also allows people to continue sharing their staircase thoughts after they leave the meeting (think of the old TV series Columbo, where the detective seems to be leaving the suspect alone but then turns around just before going downstairs and says: “Oh, there’s just one more thing…”). Staircase thoughts are sometimes considered simply wit that we thought of too late. But l’esprit de l’escalier or “wit of the staircase” as French philosopher Denis Diderot called it, can deepen communication, especially in activist movements that involve covert communications.

    spiraling staircase in the monument to the Great Fire of London
    Staircase thoughts over mobile phones can deepen communication that was cut short or monitored in person.

    A third affordance: Social media gathers and focuses global publics. The web is chaos! But social objects like hashtags cut across the chaos to connect publics focused on certain topics, at times despite great geographic dispersal and distance. Publics drawn to pay attention to online activism include people who are not necessarily organizers of an activist movement but who are paying attention to activist causes.

    Some of the publics gathered by social media include large organizations with resources to support movements, leading to a fourth affordance in creating a global movement: Social media connects activists with their publics. Saudi women can feel the support of women activists across the globe with the hashtag #suffrage, and I imagine that is important at moments when the national culture seems to be changing too slowly. Connecting with supportive publics can also lead to organizational and financial support.

    The publics gathered through hashtags around Saudi women’s rights and specifically the push to end male guardianship in that country demonstrate how publics can build on and connect to one another, through hashtags among other tools. Saudi women have pushed to end male guardianship in the past, and the gathering of publics by these early movements led to the taking up of the cause by larger organizations.

    Demonstrations online and across the Americas against gender violence

    First march of #NiUnaMenos in Buenos Aires. June 2015
    Ni Una Menos, Vivas Las Queremos

    Ni Una Menos, Vivas Las Queremos

    Beginning in 2016, a new hemispheric movement is underway expressing outrage over violence against women in the Americas. Ni Una Menos began in summer 2014 in Argentina, culminating in an August 2016 demonstration in Lima that was characterized as the largest demonstration ever seen in Peru. It was reactivated in South American cities including Buenos Aires and Rio Di Janeiro in October 2016, in response to the drugging, rape, and murder of a 16-year-old Argentinian girl.

    Hemispheric hashtags coordinating these movements include #niunamenos (not one less or not one fewer) and #vivaslasqueremos (we want them alive) – proactively worded demands that not a single woman or girl be killed by systematic violence. This proactive framing makes every death cause for further protest.

    One striking strategy in this movement is its theatricality. From dressing as death in Mexico to applying makeup to simulate bruised and bloodied faces and crotches in this demonstration in Buenos Aires, Argentina, these movements rely upon visual impact. In the United States, it is common to embody the unjustly dead – in #blacklivesmatter, the #icantbreathe hashtag for Eric Garner and hoodie-posing to say “we are Trayvon Martin” are two of many examples of resurrection through performance. But this practice of embodying a bruised, bloodied woman is distinct from most feminist protests seen in the US.

    Although the US has significant issues with sexual violence, protests do not usually include the graphic performances embodying the abused women that are seen in Latin American protests.

    The performative, graphic strategies in the Latin American #niunamenos demonstrations were not replicated in the massive Women’s March in the US in January 2017, although many women face violence in the US. Perhaps marchers in the US sought to embody the “they go low, we go high” approach – as in Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC following the recording of Trump boasting of using his wealth and stature to grab women “by the pussy.” But the difference may come down to class more than nationality.

    The performative demonstrations in Latin America reflect the grim reality of being unable to “go high” and hide abuse for many of its survivors. Many abused women wear their visible bruises on their faces. The sounds of abuse are more evident on city streets and in smaller apartment buildings than in large houses and suburbs. Abuse of poor women is more visible than abuse of wealthier women – even when poor women don’t live on the streets, lower-class status is generally accompanied by a lack of personally owned or controlled space. As Margaret Rodman has written, “The most powerless people have no place at all.” In these hemispheric demonstrations, the streets become women’s place, with demonstrators of all classes increasingly marching them. By making the marks of women’s abuse and murder public, they drag into the public eye what has long been understood as a feature of women’s private lives in the Americas.

    Update: #metoo

    After this book was released, the #metoo movement ensued, in late 2017. As I write this update, the #metoo movement is sweeping the US and other nations, as charges and evidence of long histories of sexual harassment and abuse circulate in the media and online. The movement has pervaded the academic and political spheres in the US and other nations as well.

    Experiencing targeted hate online

    Student Content, Spring 2021

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    The identity of my profile picture mainly stems from the LGBTQIA+ community. As someone very much a part of the LGBTQ community, it takes up a very big part of my life. I want to make it a big part of my online presence as well, since I want to be who I really am online, even if I am scared to do it in real life.

    As someone who is transgender, transfeminine to be exact, I want to be able to proudly wear it, and stick up for the people it represents. I want to be able to help anyone that needs it and having a show of support on a very public part of my life, helps to show that I am there to help and support as needed. It can be hard to be someone in the LGBTQ community sometimes, as there are a lot of hateful and spiteful people out there. Any little bit of support and help goes a long way to boosting spirits.

    As time has gone by, I have slowly slipped out of my shell, mainly during college. I have left the safety of my private accounts and networked publics(?) and now I want to show my support outwardly, to maybe help give that boost even just one person might need. Even if I get hate for it, I want to help support my brothers and sisters and anyone in between.

    This is shaping how I grow out of my shell, as I now proudly display things I hid not long before. Leaving my shell was terrifying, as I had previously been hurt by sharing my opinion on the open web, as shown in the audio story above. But this time, I had a lot of support and safety. A lot of my friends came out in support of me, which helped ease my worries, and realizing I had a giant space, way more welcoming than I thought helped a lot too.

    Privacy is great. I love to try to keep my things private if I can. But one thing I have learned is too much privacy can also suck. If you try to be too private, then you cannot learn anything new, and you stick in the same bubble. But if you go too public, then everyone knows everything about you. Both sides are bad. There must be an in between, and I think I have found that with where I am. I am public enough to show support and talk with people that might need it, but also private enough to keep to myself, and still be a mystery, if I so desire to be. There is a fine line.

    Granted I do not really use social media as much as a lot of other people. I only really use Reddit, some Instagram, and some Snapchat. This makes me have a lot less experience dealing with everything as a lot of other people do. I am still new to a lot of this stuff, so my profiles might not be set up the best way they could. But I want to become someone who is out there more. I want to be able to meet new people and make new friends. I want to help the people that might need it. I hope I can inspire people to be themselves as long as it’s safe to. I want to teach understanding and hopefully change people’s minds about hate.


    About the author

    Struggling with themselves, the author is a transgender person who likes computers.
    They love gaming and watching videos, and loves anything to do with the internet.
    Currently goes to university for Data Science.

    Respond to this case study…

    The author shared how online activism requires a balance between privacy and exposure, as well as some of the consequences of being visible as a marginalized group online. Drawing from our course discussions, the readings, and your experiences, how might the affordances and culture of a social media platform encourage or discourage activism?

    Critiques of the #metoo movement are also circulating. One example is the response #whataboutus by working-class women that draws attention to the limits of #metoo in telling their stories. Another critique elevates discomfort among feminists with #metoo’s simplistic image of women as victims, and of the collapsing of such a vast range of behaviors into the concept of “harassment.”

    The creative online activism explored in these chapters is remarkable for its inclusiveness and complexity in the face of these critiques. Branding is hard. Oversimplification is a threat faced by any spreading movement; in this phenomenon, complex causes can be reduced to a simplistic phrase or meaning as the movement spreads. Oversimplification of a message seems inevitable for it to gain national or global traction, as critiques of the #metoo movement charge. Yet the Black Lives Matter movement has remained complex, so why not #metoo?

    As of this writing, I do not include the US-based #metoo among the movements I label creative online activism – yet. Although the Hollywood actresses whose accounts received the most attention are very visible, the movement’s strategies are not highly visual, or performative; rather, the movement has gained traction through the voices of people who already have access to significant public attention and national platforms. Imagine if they used their skills at performance and visibility to redirect the attention of their audiences to working-class women and women in nations with oppressive regimes? I hope #metoo advocates where the movement is most visible will turn attention to the women who need help most, rather than celebrating #metoo as a simple success.

    Social and activist movements take time. Decades may pass before the effects of a movement are in full view.

    In the next chapter – as we explore cultural branding – keep activist movements in mind. But also remember that whereas the goal of cultural branding is immediate influence, the goal of social and activist movements is long-term cultural change.

    Core Concepts and Questions

    Core Concepts


    the affordance of social media to draw matters society guards as private into the public sphere

    male guardianship

    the system in Saudi Arabia whereby every woman must get the approval of a male guardian for decisions about her body and life including passport applications, travel, and marriage


    use for a different cultural purpose than originally intended

    staircase thoughts

    the affordance of social media to allow people who will be gathering in person also to get a sense of what others are thinking before they meet face to face, and continue sharing their ideas after they leave the meeting

    Ni Una Menos

    translated from Spanish as “not one less”, this is a hemispheric movement expressing outrage over violence against women in the Americas, this movement began in Argentina and led to an August 2016 demonstration in Lima that was characterized as the largest demonstration ever seen in Peru


    the threat faced by any spreading movement for complex causes to be reduced to a simplistic phrase or meaning as the movement spreads

    Core Questions

    A. Questions for qualitative thought

    1. Start looking at hashtags online used alongside #metoo and also look at stories posted in #metoo over the last several years.
In your groups, choose one or two posts to discuss. What do the stories using like hashtags have in common, and what are some ways that they differ?
    2. What are the some of the smaller impacts you have noticed in the years since #metoo and companion hashtags and practices have come about? In your own experiences or those you know about.
    3. If you were aware of the women’s movements discussed in this chapter before, what had you heard about them? Do these movements influence you to think differently about women’s roles in the cultures from which these movements came? Explain.

    B. Review: Which is the best answer?

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    Related Content

    Consider It: Americans’ Experiences and Beliefs around #metoo

    Worried about sexual harassment – or false allegations? Our team asked Americans about their experiences and beliefs

    From The Conversation

    In a survey, 81% of women and 43% of men said that they had experienced sexual harassment or assault at least once.
    Mihai Surdu/

    Anita Raj, University of California San Diego

    Since the launch of #MeToo, there’s been a lot of attention on problems of sexual harassment and assault in the U.S.

    Unfortunately, this has not amounted to much progress in terms of reductions in sexual harassment and assault or improvements in conviction rates. This is in part due to the social and political dissension regarding the veracity of accusations and what constitutes fairness of due process when cases arise.

    Our new study, published April 30 by nonprofit Stop Street Harassment, in partnership with our team at UC San Diego’s Center on Gender Equity and Health, as well as others, looks closely at the scope of these issues in our country.

    The headline figure is that, as has long been known, sexual harassment affects most women and many men.

    However, our study dug deeper, providing insight into three questions that are central to today’s media coverage of #MeToo.

    1. Have the rates of sexual harassment and assault changed with the #MeToo movement?

    In the nationally representative sample of the approximately 2,000 Americans whom we surveyed in early 2019, 81% of women and 43% of men said that they had experienced sexual harassment or assault at least once in their lives.

    Eighteen percent of women and 16% of men reported recent sexual harassment or assault in the last six months, which is not a significant change from 2018.

    The overall prevalence of sexual harassment or assault throughout one’s lifetime also showed no change.

    These findings suggest that improved awareness of #MeToo and potential backlash against it have not altered the incidence or reported prevalence of these abuses.

    However, while these data indicate no change in survey reports, U.S. crime data indicate that more people are reporting sexual harassment and assault to the police, possibly due to greater comfort engaging the criminal justice system thanks to #MeToo.

    Nonetheless, high rates of sexual harassment and assault, particularly for women, continue to be a norm in the U.S.

    2. How safe from sexual harassment are students and workers?

    Our study suggests that most sexual harassment occurs on the street or in other public venue.

    However, 38% of women and about 15% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and at school.

    Harassment in high school was particularly common, reported by 27% of women and 11% of men. Smaller but significant groups said they had experienced harassment at their middle school and college campuses.

    This suggests that, despite concerns about sexual harassment in U.S. schools and workplaces, long-standing federal policies from the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against these abuses are not effectively preventing perpetrators from acting anyway, typically with impunity.

    3. How safe are boys and men from false allegations of sexual harassment and assault?

    False allegations of sexual harassment and assault against high-profile individuals are a growing public concern. Some have expressed worry that there is great risk for unfair and unfounded accusations against men and boys.

    These fears were raised by some, for example, in national discussions of the allegations against President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

    While our data reveal that most people believe survivors to varying degrees, one in 20 women and one in 12 men felt that most or all of the allegations in recent high-profile cases were “false and that accusers are purposefully lying for attention or money.”

    While one-third of respondents reported ever perpetrating sexual harassment or assault, only 2% of men and 1% of women said they had ever been accused of these abuses. That shows that, while ongoing public perceptions of false accusations as a major risk persist, any accusation, including false accusations, is in fact very rare.

    What does this all mean?

    Sexual harassment and assault is a persistent issue in the U.S. Our study underscores that it’s particularly common for American children, disproportionately girls. Furthermore, many are also enduring this harassment in the workplace.

    When these abuses occur, most bear them in silence, without accusations against those at fault. How do I know this? Well, this is the part where I cannot tell you based on our research, but because I did not tell anyone when I was sexually harassed in school and early in my career: #MeToo.

    We say nothing because it is not worth the burden – of tackling institutional accountability when there is little likelihood of repercussions for those who victimize us; of trying to justify or prove ourselves in environments where people continue to believe that false accusations and confused memories are common; of taking the time to process what happened rather than just focusing on moving forward, and avoiding those trying to harm or impede us.

    I believe that the U.S. does too little to educate the public regarding the nature and scale of problem, or the fact that men are far more likely to be victims of these abuses rather than of false allegations related to their perpetration.

    My team’s hope with this work is to give light to the risk and harms of sexual harassment and assault as a social epidemic in our country. Given how rare it is for those affected to seek help, the U.S. needs to prioritize its prevention for the benefit of all, regardless of gender.The Conversation

    Anita Raj, Professor of Society and Health, Medicine, and Education Studies, and Founding Director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California San Diego

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

    Media Attributions

    This page titled 1.5: Equity is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Daly.

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