Kim Kardashian may have tried to break the Internet this year, but it was female social media users who really crushed it in 2014. Despite being disproportionately at risk for abuse and harassment online, women proved the real power of social media this year, utilizing it for thoughtful conversations about inequality and social change. If we needed a sign feminism is reaching a turning point online, the runaway success of hashtags like #YesAllWomen is it.
Working with Tara L. Conley from Hashtag Feminism, Mic has ranked the year's biggest feminist hashtag based on five not-so-scientific criteria: its trending power, either nationally or globally; its national online and/or independent news media attention; its sustainability; its impact on social, political and cultural issues offline; and its influence with notable Twitter users and thought leaders in social media and feminist spaces.
Here are the results:
#RenishaMcBride and #RememberRenisha
On Nov. 2, 2013, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was fatally shot in the face on the porch of Detroit homeowner Theodore Wafer. By the summer of 2014, #RenishaMcBride had transformed into #RememberRenisha, a tag spread widely by racial justice advocacy organization Color of Change. The transformation of this particular hashtag mirrors the evolution of the story, as advocates across the country moved away from simply naming the victim to claiming the young woman as part of their own communities. It also highlighted the way the lives of black women and girls are often downplayed, exploited or altogether ignored in mainstream media and other public discourses.
#YouOKSis first appeared on Twitter on June 7, 2014, as part of a conversation about street harassment and women of color between writers and activists @BlackGirlDanger and @FeministaJones. NewsOne produced a video featuring the creator of #YouOKSis, Feminista Jones, along with other black women talking about their experiences confronting street harassment in their communities. Although NewsOne's video hasn't received as much views and media attention as the viral Hollaback video, #YouOKSis has remained in the national spotlight because the stories located around the hashtag address the way women of color experience street harassment at the intersection of gender, sexuality, disability, culture and race, which some felt was missing in Hollaback's video.
After a man with a "smirky, grimace-y smile" murdered six people in Santa Barbara, Americans across the country attempted to comprehend what could motivate such hatred. That confusion turned to outrage, however, after police uncovered a 150-page manifesto exposing the perpetrator's twisted misogynistic logic. #YesAllWomen, a direct response to the popular #NotAllMen meme used to derail conversations about gender discrimination, was started by Twitter user @Gildedspine reached over 1 million tweets and continues to be a platform for important conversations about women and feminism.
Although many men read, retweeted and supported the women airing their grievances on #YesAllWomen, gender inequality can't be solved if only half the population is involved. Case in point, gendered violence and sexual assault are often talked about as "women's issues," when, in fact, the perpetrators of these crimes are far too often male. This article's author created the hashtag #AllMenCan as a way for men to make their voices heard among those of so-called men's rights activists, who were loudly defending the misogynistic mind-frame behind the Santa Barbara shooting. The result was an empowering collection of messages that proved all men can have respect for women without becoming less of a man.
#BringBackOurGirls is one of the most widely recognized hashtags of the year. The origin story of this tag is also controversial. Although major news outlets initially reported that the hashtag was created in May of 2014 by Ramaa Mosley, an American soccer mom from southern California, the outlets largely ignored the Nigerian activists who were engaged in bringing about awareness both on and off Twitter. In fact, the hashtag first appeared on Twitter on April 23, 2014, when Ibrahim M. Abdullahi tweeted that Obiageli Ezekwesili had declared "Bring back our girls!" during an event in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt. Ezekwesili tweeted the hashtag later that day.
This controversy started an important conversation about Western sentimentality and reminded the Internet that it's important to interrogate the origins of these types of global campaigns, especially when some organizations end up using them to try to raise money. But there is another fascinating aspect of this hashtag's origin story: how verbal declarations offline can be documented and popularized on Twitter by way of a hashtag. This is culture at work.
Remember when George Will dared suggest that rape victims are privileged? That kind of misogynistic click-bait was no match for Wagatwe Wanjuki, a fierce advocate and rape survivor who created the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag to "channel my anger and shock at the column and express myself in a productive way. I never thought that it would catch on or that it would resonate with so many people," she told Mic. Designed to give women a space to repudiate what Wanjuki calls "one of the most odious rape myths," the hashtag was a space where survivors and allies could speak out in solidarity.
As Danielle Paradis wrote for Mic, "There's nothing like calling a group of women hysterical to undermine their argument." After a tone-deaf article written by Caroline Kitchens likened women exposing and fighting against rape culture to "censorship and hysteria," Zerlina Maxwell couldn't handle the blatant disregard for victims. As a rape survivor herself, she knew all too well just how pervasive rape culture is.
"I look at many of the feminist-driven hashtags as a space for healing and consciousness-raising," Maxwell told Mic. #RapeCultureIsWhen created a space for survivors to share their own stories about experiencing victim blaming, slut shaming and cyber-bullying, that are all markers of the American epidemic of rape culture. For Maxwell, the popularity of the hashtag became cathartic and showed the power of online mobilization. "Twitter is a tool." she said. It's the megaphone that everyday people can use to change the attitudes and behaviors that we deem so harmful and that are the hardest to change."
The biggest Supreme Court decision of the year was viewed by many as a major blow to women. After five male conservative justices ruled that corporations can have a religious personhood and that mandating companies to cover birth control as part of their insurance packages would be a violation of their religious freedom, many were gobsmacked. Birth control was singled out, unlike any other medication or benefit, and threatened for moral reasons in 2014.
People on both sides of the debate used the hashtag to have a conversation about what this meant for the future of the country. Some tweets were funny, some were more solemn and others simply tried to make light of a very damaging verdict. Although Ruth Bader Ginsberg never used Twitter to let us know what she thought, judging by her scathing dissent going viral, we could imagine what was on her mind.
When the NFL gave a measly two-game suspension to Baltimore Raven's running back Ray Rice, for a violent domestic violence incidence caught on tape inside an elevator, it shocked even the league's most loyal fans. NFL chairman Roger Goddell gave the player an indefinite suspension (which was later appealed), but that didn't stop many from criticizing the league for its mishandling of violent behavior against women. Members of the media and general public weren't just scrutinizing the NFL, however, some blamed Ray Rice's fiancee at the time, Janay Palmer, for staying with him after he knocked her unconscious.
Survivors of abuse used Twitter to point out women who are abused are rarely in a position to leave. Beverly Gooden, the creator of the hashtag, told Mic back in September that the accusations left her with a deep sense of embarrassment — because this had happened to her, too. "When I saw those tweets, my first reaction was shame. The same shame that I felt back when I was in a violent marriage. It's a sort of guilt that would make me crawl into a shell and remain silent. But today, for a reason I can't explain, I'd had enough. I knew I had an answer to everyone's question of why victims of violence stay. I can't speak for Janay Rice, I can only speak for me."
Although social media has played a prominent role in the recent protests following the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, this certainly isn't the first time we've ever seen this type of organizing via social media. The #NMOS14 (national moment of silence) was a tag and movement created during the summer of 2014 by writer and activist Feminista Jones. In the wake of the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Jones and others used social and digital media to organize silent vigils to honor victims of police brutality around the country.
#NMOS14 isn't the first and only mass movement organized online. There are many others. Even before Twitter, women were organizing online around post-Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts using Yahoo! listservs, and young college students in 2007 organized on MySpace and Facebook during the Jena Six case. #NMOS14 proved to be one of the most successful online-to-offline organizing campaigns to date.
Perhaps one of the most brilliantly executed hashtags of the year, combining social commentary and humor, was #DudesGreetingDudes. The tag, created by Elon James White of This Week in Blackness, used satire to prove that catcalling isn't simply a pleasant greeting from "dudes" but rather, and often a violation of personal space and form of sexual harassment. The tag essentially asks what happens when heterosexual cisgender men use commonly offensive catcalls toward other heterosexual cisgender men. The result is a hilarious yet pointed commentary on masculinity, gender expectations, norms and public space.
#HowMediaWritesWOC is a relatively new hashtag created by @Chitaskforce in late November as a way to spark discussion around how media reports and frames violence against girls and women of color. The tag features notable educators, activists and feminists talking about the ways media fail to responsibly represent women of color overtime. How media frames women of color in the context of violent imagery is nothing new. If you've ever turned on a television, you'll know that these sort of representations have perpetuated for decades. #HowMediaWritesWOC succeeds not only as an archive of commentary but also as a literacy tool for educators and students alike to elicit and engage in critical conversations.