26 Mar 2017

Digital feminism

From Contemporary Feminism, 4:06 pm on 26 March 2017

In this second of a series of three panel discussions about contemporary feminism, Megan Whelan talks with four women actively involved with the digital world today.

Anna Guenther, the co-founder of Pledge Me; and Leilani Tamu, the poet, historian, and former diplomat. They are joined by Angela Meyer, the writer and co-founder of Ace Ladies Network and Double Denim; and Laura O'Connell Rapira, co-founder of RockEnrol and Director of Campaigns at ActionStation.

The internet often gets a bad rap – often deservedly so. Last year,  A study led by security company Norton, in which 500 women took part, found 72 percent of New Zealand women under 30 experience online harassment.

From death and rape threats to challenging people’s employment and mansplaining, to doxxing and dick pics, the harassment that many women experience offline has carried on - and become even more violent - online.

But for many, it’s also a place to learn, discuss and organise.

“I think it’s really exciting, to think we have this opportunity to almost be stealth feminists,” says Angela Meyer.

Meyer co-founded a Facebook group called the Ace Lady Network, which now has close to 3,000 members. “We’d both come from a situation where we weren’t feeling so great. I’d been sailing round the world, and the thing that I missed most was my female friendships.”

“We call it a mix of outrage and hilarity, and it is a great way to have consciousness-raising groups.”

Leilani Tamu says she doesn’t want to let the trolls win - especially for her kids’ future. “In particular, I don’t want my daughter’s future to be any different because of her gender, because she was born a girl. And that’s something I will fight for until I die.”

Most people now carry the internet with them at all times, says Laura O’Connell-Rapira. “We need to change the way we look at the internet, because the internet is just like any other tool.”

“A hammer you can use to build a house, or you can use it to smash someone’s skull in and it’s what you choose to do with that tool that creates good or bad in the world.”

Periods, parenting and politics: watch the full panel discussion here.

“Feminism is still really required, because the world is still a really terrible place,” says Anna Guenther.

But, says Angela Meyer, lots of feminists are “tired and a little bit over it.”

“We do need to think about how we can help each other out in these situations, tag in when you’re too tired, or when you need to go offline for a couple of weeks.”

“I think we need to be kind to each other. And keep talking and keep being in dialogue.” It can be terrifying to put an opinion on the internet, Meyer says.

That ‘call out culture’ has to be delicately handled. “We should never leave the work of calling someone out to the group that’s being affected. So, for example, as a white woman, if I am seeing women of colour being mistreated on the internet, I should be the one calling that out.”

Laura O’Connell Rapira talks about the silence of the majority, arguing that people don’t like the horrible things they see on the internet, but they’re too scared to jump into a fight.

“So it creates this perpetuating loop that lots of people just think that all the people on the internet are awful, when in fact it’s just because the people are too scared to step in.”

She credits a quote she saw on Twitter “You don’t’ need to be a voice for the voiceless, just pass the microphone.”

 This is the second in a multi-platform RNZ series on Contemporary Women, in association with the Cindy Sherman exhibition at City Gallery Wellington. The series includes a panel discussion 'Feminism - The Morning After', with Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Michele A'Court, Anne Else and Dr Jackie Blue, and Kim Hill hosts Miranda Harcourt and Dr Claire Robinson to discuss 'Ageing and Agency'.