#SoMeFem Conference

Social Media and Feminism 2015 conference: intersectionalities and sprawling feminisms

Today we’re sharing a wonderful write up of the Social Media and Feminism event, from attendee Devina Lister. Find Dee on Twitter @MMU_DLister and @FeministsNW. If you’d like to write guest posts for our blog, please do get in touch with us!

Social Media and Feminism 2015 conference: intersectionalities and sprawling feminisms

#SoMeFem Conference
Photo via @jennacondie

It was a joy to attend the Social Media and Feminism #SoMeFem 2015 conference on Friday 6th March, in celebration of International Women’s Day Sunday 8th March. I am here to provide a quick recap on the event, which arguably achieved its aims to:

“bring together academics and those working and campaigning on social media in order to consider a number of poignant issues that are coming to the fore around gender and social media”.

I feel inspired by the creativity of attendees from the conference. The ‘unpaid work’ of attendees on Twitter – to use an idea coined by Reni Eddo Lodge during the final talk – deserves showcasing as many attendees used the Twitter hashtag #SoMeFem to tweet about what was going on and their experiences of the event. To see the brilliant tweets have a look at the Storify of the day by clicking here.

To begin, to the badge making area!

At the start to the day the organisers invited attendees to make #SoMeFem name badges. I mention this because it already set the tone for a great day, which encouraged and inspired attendees to use their creative energies. It seemed only fitting to provide attendees with a choice in how to present oneself as a diverse group of people. Some examples:

Photos via @coen_sharon,  @ebegley2,  @psychcharlieUK,  @gluepotgluepot
Photos via @coen_sharon, @ebegley2, @psychcharlieUK, @gluepotgluepot

‘Celebrity’ feminisms as representing good and bad feminisms? Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs’ keynote

With home-made badges in tow, the conference began with an introduction by Abigail Locke and Rebecca Lawthom.

The first speaker for the day was Kirsty Fairclough-Isaacs (@DrKirstyIsaacs) who discussed Celebrity Feminism and Social Media. This was a fascinating insight into ways in which discussions online about ‘celebrity’ feminists are informed by the discursive context of social media. To watch Kirsty’s talk click here.

Kirsty highlights the pervasive effect simplistic polarising and singular ideas about gender, without considering intersectionalities, can have in developing feminism through online conversations. To elucidate this she drew on the examples from her work on the singer Beyoncé and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson. (Beyoncé initially invited attention after quoting Chimamanda Ngozi in her song ‘Flawless’ (see article on Beyonce’s sample on ‘Flawless’) and has since stayed in the public eye). It made sense to me the argument that perceiving celebrities Beyoncé as bad feminists because they use their bodies to sell their brand, in this case in the music industry is too simple. Similarly though the idea that she presents pseudo-feminist ideas or ‘feminist lite’ (see article in Glamour – Beyonce as ‘feminism lite’) could be weighed up against the accessibility of the singer to younger audiences. As Kirsty described, when Beyoncé revealed the video of herself standing in front of a large brightly-lit sign saying ‘FEMINIST’ this was a significant moment or flashpoint that proliferated interest in feminism amongst younger women via social media.

Kirsty made it clear that Beyoncé’s body is a “site of contestation” and should not be separated from thinking about intersecting race and gender oppression. Similarly, Emma Watson should be considered as a woman that is well-educated and white, which inevitably shapes her politics and feminism. Intersectionality is crucial within all online (and offline) conversations about feminist topics, and celebrity feminism provides a useful way of understanding this.

A short respite and some Oscar winning selfies!

Amidst the sandwiches and interesting conversations during lunch, which followed Kirsty’s talk, @JessicaDrakett had the idea of #SoMeFem attendees taking Oscar selfies in front of the Twitter stream, which was projected onto a wall. This was a great idea that won @JessicaDrakett who came up with the idea a #SoMeFem sought after cup!

#SoMeFem Oscar Selfie
Photos via @JessicaDrakett, @gemma_brett

Meg John Barker: Social media and consent conversations that ‘reclaim Blurred Lines’

Photo via @camisfm

Returning to the talks, the first speaker after lunch was Meg John Barker (@MegBarkerPsych), who drew upon some of their experiences researching sex advice in mainstream literature and romantic fiction and as a sex and relationships therapist (see Meg John’s book and blog called Rewriting the rules if you are interested in learning more). This was a superb talk that was interesting and very entertaining. Some of the tweets sent during this talk speak to me and provide ample quotes from Meg John’s talk about consent conversations. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘Blurred Lines’ came up as two contemporary examples of misogynous products of popular culture.

‘Blurred Lines’ – a a song featuring a video with two male (clothed) singers standing around whilst slim, attractive and bare breasted models strike sexualised poses around them – continues to invite controversy due to the video and its sexist lyrics. The first line of chorus is: “And that’s why I’m gonna take a good girl, you know you want it”. Meg John explained how parody versions can be used to to open up conversations about consent and everyday sexism through the act of “gender flipping”. For example parody videos called Fifty Shades of Pink video featuring Barbie as Christian Grey in a parody of the Fifty Shades film trailer. The Feminist Parody of Blurred Lines and Blurred Lines parody by Mod Carousel video are also parodies of the Blurred Lines video. Very funny but also making an important point.

Humour can be helpful in starting conversations although, as Meg John described, this can also silence people that do not identify within the binary gender man versus woman identities presented in ‘gender flipping’ parodies. This is interesting since the consent conversations are also largely absent within sex advice and mainstream romantic fiction, except within BDSM sex advice where ideas of consent are oversimplified and fail to consider “macro power relationships” as affecting a person’s ability to consent.

There is so much more I could say about this talk (and all the others!) although in particular I will add the idea that resonated with me most of all during #SoMeFem. Rather than making value judgements and focussing on what makes good and bad feminist/sm during our online conversations, would it not be more helpful to think about how to facilitate discussion amongst different people. Asking “what does this open up and what does this shut down?” as a more open alternative to moralising feminist arguments. If these discussions are of interest to you, you also might like to visit Meg John’s presentation Meg Barker: sex and intimacy advice (a critical view).

Beth Bell: Gender, identity and teen girls online

At this point in the day and for the next two talks, I decided to sit in the break-out room as my brain was (quite literally) buzzing with ideas. The video of the event was being live screened to the lecture so it was still possible to have a break without having to fully disengage from the event. A great idea from the organising team – thank you! The next talk was by developmental psychologist @BethBell.

In this talk Beth presented their findings of her research with girls, which provided a fascinating account of how using new technologies allows for constructing a “visual presentation of self to others” through sharing images online.

Beth argued that by sharing photos and interacting online this instantaneous means of social interactions allows for getting feedback. I wished there had been more time for Beth to expand on the intriguing “like’ politics”, which heavily features in the girls’ talk about how ‘likes’ on photos from others made them feel. Whilst the girls kept inviting complicity saying “you know” it was clear that with regards to girls and social media, we don’t know.

Of the many interesting things described by Beth during the talk, I remember my surprise at learning that teenage girls and boys view selfies (taking a photo of yourself with a phone or other device) differently.

Looking back there have long been judgements made of women pulling the ‘duck face’ and ‘pout’ poses in Facebook photos, and there is a pervasive explicit ‘slut shaming’ of celebrity women also in mainstream magazines and other media. Beth found that girls, who are markedly more likely to use social media than boys – were seen in negative ways by boys, perhaps due to incompatibility of the selfie photos with normative ideas about performing masculinities. One of many interesting points made by Beth in what is arguably an under-researched area.

Kristin Aune: Religion, feminism and ‘transversing’ identity politics

The penultimate talk with Kirstin (@DrKristinAune) involved revisiting a topic not often seen within online discussions about feminism, that of religion and feminism. As an established writer (of ‘Reclaiming the F Word’, also by Catherine Redfern) and sociologist it was invaluable to hear Kristin’s presentation about how feminism may be able to draw upon ideas from inter-faith cultures, which like intersectional feminisms is situated between the two polarised subjectivities of faith and atheism. As someone new to this area it was so useful to hear about ‘transversal politics’ as a way of opening up dialogues. Rather than viewing ‘identity politics’ as a means of understanding identity constructions, this interdisciplinary approach

“recognises the rich intersections of other people’s identity”

This was best shown though some of the tweets produced during the talk, which certainly left me with ideas about interdisciplinary work to explore in future.

Reni Eddo Lodge: encouraging ‘sprawling’ feminisms in different spaces

The close of the conference drew near as the final speaker, Reni Eddo Lodge (@renireni), began her speech, which continued the seamless flow of themes that had continuously come up during #SoMeFem, that of intersectionality and the need to extend conversations about feminist issues. Reni’s talk returned us to these issues through her usual compelling and accessible style of address, beginning with her stories about being propelled into the public eye through her online activities five years ago “before feminism became cool” and more feminists were involved with online activism. The stats reveal how feminism has become progressively more of a ‘hot topic’ in recent years, with gendered social media behaviour seeing more women online than men by a significant amount.

I sensed there was some agreement that the way this fourth (or fifth, or sixth? who knows as Reni suggests!) wave of feminism has evolved around social media and that this can attract “resentment from established feminists”. Nonetheless, with so many attendees coming along to #SoMeFem who ranged from experienced activists and academics to younger students involved in campaigning or taking undergraduate degree, I felt hopeful that this type of thinking does not apply across the board. As Reni described:

“Everybody is always learning…and we will never all be in agreement. Conflicts will happen”

I enjoyed how Reni linked with this the idea of feminism “sprawling” across different groups and interdisciplinary circles as a result of social media conversations about feminism. This conveys well the need for inviting people into discussions who do not identify with hard right or left politics and “conservative or liberal” agendas.

“The mainstreaming of feminism will make things bigger, better and more sprawling”

This, as Reni argued, can be a great thing for feminism, taking account of how every individual can has their own “spheres of influence” and opportunities to create social change. In saying this, this also implicitly accepts that no one is an ‘unfinished’ project and so starting conversations online beyond feminist territories ensures change can happen. Reni ended with a call to academics to urgently work to think of ideas to archive the important conversations taking place online about feminism. This seems like an important point to end upon as an open-ended question of how can we capture feminist conversations on social media within out research? Whilst this signified the end to the talks at #SoMeFem, it is nonetheless just the start of conversations online. Will you join the conversation?

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