New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ruffled some feminist feathers this past week by saying in an interview she’s “worried that the women’s movement is dead…there’s no functional movement where we’re working together and making sure all women are heard on all these issues.”Many feminists were quick to point out the recent gains in fighting back against abortion restrictions, fighting for equal pay, tougher domestic violence laws, and so on. It seems these feminists stopped reading her comments after the part where she’s worried the women’s movement is dead. The truth is, Senator Gillibrand hits the nail on the head. The feminist movement has been plagued by infighting and splinter groups since its inception. Feminism has not been inclusive to beyond rich, white, heterosexual women. As Jessica Valenti writes in Full Frontal Feminism, “unfortunately, when feminism is talked about, it’s still positioned from the experience of a white, middle- to upper-class, hetero gal. It just is. And if that’s the only way we think of feminism, then we’re essentially erasing the existence of any other woman who doesn’t function within those confines.” Audre Lorde said it is not these differences of race, class, and sexual orientation that separate us women, rather it’s our inability to include diversity: “Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.”
Feminism, like most social movements, has been marred by ugly episodes of exclusion in its past. First Wave Feminism, known for its achievement of getting women the right to vote with the Nineteenth Amendment, was known to be racist. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leading voices of the women’s suffrage movement, believed white, educated women such as herself were more deserving of the right to vote than African-American men; she was also very dismissive of the plight of African-American women. Second Wave Feminism, which took place from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, was homophobic in nature. Betty Friedan, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), reportedly referred to lesbian feminists as the “lavender menace.” Heterosexual feminists believed including lesbians would give credibility to the notion that feminists were man-hating lesbians and would cripple their ability to enact lasting political change. NOW also refused to include lesbians in its official platforms. This exclusion of lesbian feminists led to radical splinter groups that focused on removing male influence in society. Today’s feminism has been plagued by episodes of transphobia. Transgender women have been excluded from the conversation on how to advance women’s rights because they are not “women born.” The fact that there is a segment of feminism referred to as “trans-exclusionary” radical feminism (TERF) is abhorrent.
All this to say, Senator Gillibrand is right; feminism doesn’t have a unifying platform. That being said, there are many issues where all feminists can find common ground. Feminists can unify behind ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment because amending the Constitution to guarantee equal rights to women is something all feminists can agree on. Feminists can rally around abortion rights and affirming Roe v. Wade because you cannot be a pro-life feminist. Feminists can work for universal education for young girls and ending child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). While the women’s movement has been successful recently in fighting back against the onslaught of abortion restrictions, attacks on birth control, and lack of action on equal pay, we could take a lesson from the successful gay rights movement by uniting behind common causes to move progress forward.
On Sunday afternoon, nude images of high-profile women began hitting the web after they had been stolen off of their phones thanks to a glitch in iCloud. The revealing images were shared on the forum 4chan and quickly went viral. Close to 100 women, including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Victoria Justice, and Hope Solo, had their private images posted on the Internet. To make matters worse, the images posted of US Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney were taken when she was a minor, making it child pornography. Let’s get one thing straight: These women did absolutely nothing wrong. If someone wants to take photos of themselves to consensually share with s omeone in private then go for it; there is nothing wrong with taking nude pictures to share. The issue here is the fact that these images were stolen and shared without the consent of these women. There are plenty of images online of naked women who consent to their naked images being plastered all over the web. People are seeking out these images because they were posted against the wishes of these women, upping the titillation factor. Viewing these images only furthers the online abuse of these women.
The response to all of this is not to say “Don’t take nude pictures and you won’t have to worry about getting your phone hacked.” That’s the equivalent of telling women not to wear a short skirt or drink too much alcohol and they won’t get raped. Everyone, whether they’re Academy Award winning actresses, sports superstars, or everyday Americans, has the right to privacy. Unfortunately, with so much information available on these celebrities, it’s too easy to hack into their personal information like their cell phones. Sadly, one response that developed in the wake of this theft Sunday was the #IfMyPhoneWasHacked hashtag on Twitter. Users, many of them being women, tweeted mundane pictures currently on their smartphones which continued the body shaming and victim blaming portion of this theft. This crime was not a hack, it was a sexual assault on these women. Sexual assault needs an expanded definition to catch up with technology which furthers the abuse of women beyond the physical attack. When this is done to women who aren’t in the public eye, it is called revenge porn and we are starting to see laws passed against this. Setting the precedent that celebrity women have no expectation of privacy because of their status and are just there for public consumption is incredibly dangerous.
The posting of these photos further showed just how crappy the Internet is for women. Online misogyny runs rampant through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and online message boards like 4chan. To be clear, this was a targeted attack against these famous women to bring them down a notch, because you can’t argue male celebrities don’t also take nude pictures. The responses saying don’t take nude pictures further highlights the backlash women receive for voicing their opinions. Feminist activists, in particular, receive a torrent of online hate everyday. Some respond to these abusers with humor, while others acknowledge the hate makes it difficult to continue using these sites. These online sites should be platforms for everyone to be heard, but how can women be these advocates if they’re constantly worried about violations of privacy and online threats, including threats of death and rape? As we move further into the digital age, we need to answer the questions that are raised surrounding speech and safety on social media. These sites, especially Twitter, have been too slow to confront this online hate and these threats because they value freedom of speech over the safety of their users. We need to be able to talk about our bodies and have the right to celebrate how we look. We deserve to be able to feel good about how we look naked without being shamed and threatened with violence. If you don’t believe this hate speech is used, take a look at what I’ve received merely for having “feminist” in my Twitter bio.
The next time you decide to make threats from behind a computer screen, remember a human being is sitting on the other side of it.