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The feminist fight for equality through the use of the media

By Nisha Chittal A new wave of feminism is here, and its most powerful weapon is the hashtag. As recently as a decade ago, those seeking to fight sexism had few avenues to easily do so in a public way. Social media democratized feminist activism, opening up participation to anyone with a Twitter account and a desire to fight the patriarchy. Stop asking women questions about what they wear to cover the containers they carry their brains around in.

Wendy Davis through her 13-hour filibuster. YesAllWomen trended for weeks after Elliot Rodger, who had written about his anger towards women, went on a shooting spree in Santa Barbara, California.

  • Released in September, movie Pink is creating a sensation as India's first truly feminist film;
  • It now attracts an average of 40,000 unique monthly users;
  • Young men in surveys reveal their views on their right to control and punish women are troubling, as is their support for gender inequality.

Thousands of women used the hashtag to share their stories of how everyday sexism and violence against women had affected them. In the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, when some pundits asked why Janay Rice had stayed with her husband, thousands of women took to Twitter sharing their own personal stories of domestic violence with the hashtag WhyIStayed.

The hashtag changetheratio has been used over the years to protest tech events whose speaker lineup features far more men than women. And BringBackOurGirls trended worldwide as people around the world raised awareness of the 200-plus Nigerian schoolgirls that had been kidnapped by Boko Haram. I stayed because my pastor told me that God hates divorce.

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Organizations have changed course as a result of social media backlash created by everyday people armed with tweet ammo. In 2013, the organization Women, Action, and the Media WAM launched a campaign targeted at Facebook, pressuring the tech company to change their policies about allowing images that depict violence against women. Supporters bombarded companies that advertise on Facebook with the hashtag FBrape, inundating hundreds of advertisers.

Facebook responded shortly thereafter and said that they would be amending their community guidelines to ban gender-based hate speech, and they partnered with WAM on this effort. Planned Parenthood supporters used StandWithPP on Twitter to voice their support of the organization and pressure Komen to reverse their decision.

Within days, Komen responded to the backlash and reversed their decision. The president of the organization stepped down later that year.

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Now, many institutions diligently monitor social media conversations about themselves. And most take it very seriously when the social media chatter about their organization turns negative, treating it as a full-on PR crisis. In recent weeks, several potential 2016 presidential candidates have learned this the hard way. And there is some truth to that. For all the awareness that BringBackOurGirls created, the hashtag did not convince Boko Haram to release the 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped — almost a year later, the girls are still missing.

Since then, Boko Haram has only abducted more young women. But it has potential to be a powerful force for women trying to fight back against sexism. It elevates the voice of one person with a Twitter account to a national story, no matter where that person is located, what group they are affiliated with or what resources they have.