News Analysis: The Evolution of Online Feminism

On April 27, author and scholar Dr. Lisa Levenstein from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro conducted a lecture at Glendale College on feminism in the 1990s and how it has affected the social movement today. The event was part of the Humanities/Social Science Lecture Series, and organized by Women’s Studies professor Michelle Stonis. Flyer for the event, "The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties"

During the 90-minute presentation, Levenstein talked about how the birth of the internet helped form what we know today as “online activism.”  With the revival of feminism occurring online, the movement was more accepting of women of color, queer women, and trans women, groups that were less recognized in the 1960s and 1970s. The online sphere made it much easier for women to meet like-minded women from the comfort of their own homes.  Levenstein spoke on how in 1995, 15% of regular internet users were women. That number rose to 50% by 2000.

Feminist magazines known as “Zines” that were originally printed migrated over to the digital format.  The ability to upload content and create websites made the Internet an important tool in the progression of feminism. Communities that were more marginalized, such as communities of color, the queer community, and the trans community could find sanctuary in their anonymity. They used this to their advantage to garner more support across a broader audience. Public forums such as bulletin boards, were used to interact with others through text.  Groups for queer, trans, and disabled women garnered a large amount of support. Many made strong connections with one another by being open and vulnerable without worrying about their identity being revealed.

One of the most prominent examples seen of online feminist activism was seen after the 2016 election. Multiple Facebook groups were created in order to hold protests across the United States, the biggest of which was held in Washington D.C. After the inauguration of former president Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of people marched on Washington to protest not only the decision of the election but also topics that had long been overlooked. People marched to advocate for reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights, to do more to progress racial equality and economic justice, to reform the rights provided to immigrants, and to call for an end to violence against women, police brutality, and racial profiling.

Similar things occur today through platforms like Twitter. Though recently the website has been under some scrutiny since its acquisition by Elon Musk, it was a powerful tool for women across the globe. In seconds, users can reply to one another and share thoughts and ideas. Though organizing events on the public forum can be more difficult, it is an easily accessible resource to gain information and connect with like-minded individuals you might not otherwise meet.  While under threat currently because of new ownership, after the fall of Tumblr, Twitter has one of the largest communities of queer transgender women on the internet.

Dr. Lisa Levenstein reminds us that while feminism is as prominent in the online space as ever, to remember where it all began. The movement has grown and evolved to be more inclusive of groups. Without the steps that women took in the 1990s with the internet, feminism may not be as prevalent as it is today.

Maya-Claire Glenn can be reached at [email protected].