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Assistant Professor Katie Blevins Searching for Fourth Wave of Feminism

CLASS researcher finds social media is shifting activism and feminism movements.

Social media is a dominant part of life today — especially when it comes to activism and social movements.

University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Media Assistant Professor Katie Blevins is researching how social media has helped usher in a fourth-wave of feminism and a new culture of social activism that mirrors past feminist movements.

“In the past, women would casually get together, mostly at each other’s house and talk about issues of sexism and oppression, but it was informal,” Blevins said. “We have those same functions happening online in a public space.”

Her theory is featured in the book “Mediating Misogyny: Technology, Gender and Harassment,” in the chapter “Consciousness Raising – Bell Hooks, Social Media and an Argument for the Fourth Wave,” which was published by Palgrave Macmillan, Cham in 2018.

Beginning in the 2000s, the idea of a fourth-wave of feminism centers around challenges to misogyny and furthering gender equality. Different from earlier feminist movements, fourth-wave feminism it is considered more inclusive of men and is largely defined by its use of technology.

“The fourth wave tends to be younger men and women who are mostly on the internet wanting to differentiate themselves from previous generations of feminists,” she said. “There’s a very strong aspect of call-out culture, where if you see trolling or bullying or harassment happening online, you call it out and confront it.”

While men were often seen as part of the problem in previous feminist movements during the 1960s and ’80s, today’s movement includes all genders in its advocacy.

“With the fourth wave, there’s a greater inclusivity. Men aren’t just allies, they are actively part of the feminist agenda,” Blevins said.

Blevins’ research discusses the reemergence of consciousness-raising groups – a casual form of activism where women would gather in private places and discuss sexism, which originated with author and activist Gloria Jean Watkins, known by her penname bell hooks. In 2000, hooks argued that consciousness-raising groups faded in the late 1990s and were no longer prevalent except in academia.

“Most 20-year-olds will take one women’s studies class and that’s it,” Blevins said.

Hooks predicted that consciousness-raising groups would return. Thanks to social media, hooks was right, said Blevins.

“On social media, these groups are finding each other and coming together. It is an iteration of consciousness-raising groups,” she said.

Blevins believes social media has fueled the resurgence of these consciousness-raising groups between younger women and men who self-identify as the fourth wave of feminism, as well as helping create a new way of being an activist.

Blevins is using recent events as case studies to prove her theory further. Her research was funded by a University of Idaho Seed Grant in 2017. She’s also tying these case studies into social movement theory and how social media can be used to build resources in social movements.

The Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, is one of these examples. Marches supporting women’s and human rights were held on all seven continents and organized mostly online.

Over 4 million people participated in 2017. One and a half million to 2.5 million participated in marches Jan. 20, 2018, marking the one-year anniversary of the first march.

“The scope of it is immense and the fact that it was all done using grass-roots social media activism is really interesting,” she said. “It’s an astronomical amount of networking and planning.”

Blevins is in the process of gathering data through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“I’m looking at what kind of conversations were happening. It will be a mix of quantitative and qualitative,” she said. “I’ll go through and code and quantitatively assess what the data is on a minute level. I’ll also talk about the discourse, the discussion on the posts and that will be qualitative.”

Young millennials and following generations have never experienced a large-scale social movement, with the exception of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Blevins said.

“The idea that young people are interested enough to want to have these political discussions on Facebook and social media is really valuable,” she said. 

For that interest to translate into the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, and have that protest surround women’s issues, is significant to Blevins. 

“I don’t know that you can say it’s not important. When there’s 7.5 million tweets in a two-and-a-half month period, that’s a lot of discussion,” she said. “You’re never going to get that kind of discussion over a CNN article. It’s huge and we have to acknowledge that.” 

Article by Tess Fox, University Communications & Marketing
Published in February 2018

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