How Tumblr Taught Us To Be Better Feminists

As the internet continues to grow, it becomes harder and harder to keep it separate from the rest of our lives. It has given us the ability to connect with almost anyone anywhere and to hear whatever thought or opinion they choose to share. One of the good things about the internet is that everyone has the same opportunity to be heard. People who are already celebrities have the advantage of a previously established following and therefore wider reach. However, us laypeople, in theory, have equal chance to become internet famous and grow a following. The problem with this system is that the internet has become this huge conglomerate of people “shouting into the abyss”. A phrase I read somewhere that I haven’t been able to forget. Having access to the abyss gives us access to what feels like everything. Within that ‘everything’ lies a website called Tumblr, which is a kind of mini-abyss. This mini-abyss is where I and most of my friends, along with 420 million other users choose to spend our time.

An advantage to Tumblr is that you have the ability to choose which voices to listen to or “follow”. If you’re like me and my friends that selected group includes a lot of feminists. The access we have to so many other voices has given us the opportunity to learn a lot that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. We are also given the opportunity to hear the opinions of people we do not at all agree with; from people who are innocently misinformed to people who purposefully spread harmful and offensive ideas. Tumblr has taught us both feminist ideals as well as how much misogyny is still out there. That is what I wrangled up some friends to discuss a couple weeks ago.

This group of friends came to be six people, including myself. We are all avid Tumblr users and have seen A LOT of it’s content. We had all heard of feminism and agreed with its ideals before finding Tumblr, some of us even identified as feminists. We came to the conclusion by the end of the discussion that we have learned a lot of our current feminist beliefs from Tumblr. It seems that we had all grown up understanding that feminism meant equality and that equality was good. What we didn’t know was that within our system of inequality there are different levels of oppression and privilege. Tumblr taught us how those levels affect different groups of people, how to think critically of our current society, and what about it needs to change. Tumblr taught us intersectionality, how to deal with everyday misogyny, and how to practice self-love.

The first thing that everyone mentioned when I asked them what they had learned strictly on Tumblr was intersectionality and the role that race plays in gender issues. My friend Alex said that the feminism he knew before Tumblr was essentially “white feminism”. Intersectionality as explained by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at UCLA,  is: “The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” A fact that, we, as middle class white folk never had to consider.

“just so we’re clear there has been more child molesters to win the oscar for best director than there have been women of color to even be nominated” – Tumblr User tarntino

“i hate white men who say they’re ‘playing devil’s advocate’. i’m like: the devil already has lots of advocates, and they all look like you, and this isn’t a fun game.” – Tumblr User angstravaganza

“Here’s a friendly reminder:

-You cannot be sexist toward men. Sexism is based on a system of oppression. You CAN be discriminatory, rude, inconsiderate, and/or prejudiced against men but you CANNOT be sexist toward them.

-You cannot be racist towards white people. Racism is based on a system of oppression. You CAN be discriminatory, rude, inconsiderate, and/or prejudiced against white people but you CANNOT be racist toward them.

This is not difficult.” – Tumblr User caffeinatedfeminist

Without realising it, Tumblr had taught us the fundamental beliefs of second-wave Multiracial feminists and Womanists. Julia T. Wood, a professor at the Univeristy of North Carolina, wrote in her book Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, that “[womanists’] goals are to make others aware of the exclusionary nature of feminism as it has been articulated by middle-class White women and to educate others about the ways in which gender and race oppression intersect in the lives of women of color.” She states later that multiracial feminism “recognizes that women and men are located in a range of systems of domination. […They] work to show how race cuts across other differences, such as those of culture, class, and sexual orientation.”

The most prominent thing we learned from Tumblr has to be those various levels of privilege and oppression. Through an assortment of posts we came to understand that, though white women are oppressed in certain ways, women of color are oppressed in even more ways on top of those. That POC, members of the LGBTQ+ community, members of the lower class, and any number of other predetermined disadvantages affect different people in different ways.

Leen pointed out that an important part of that lesson was learning that even though some problems are less harmful than others they are all still problems that someone has to face. “I saw a really good post once where someone posted about poc women dealing with pride killings and whatnot and was ridiculing white women for complaining about ‘just’ clothing or jobs, but then someone else said ‘being marginalized isn’t a competition; they are all problems, and you shouldn’t stop fighting just because you have it better than someone else. That sounds like an abusive relationship.’ ”  Pascale proceeded to say that something she realized because of Tumblr is that “since all these issues are intertwined with each other, the only way to completely fix one problem is to fix them all.” Which is reminiscent of Radical feminists who believe that the only way to achieve equality is through widespread radical change in all sectors (work environment, home environment, etc.).

Another topic often found on feminist Tumblr is the ridiculousness of Meninism, and Fuckboys (alternatively fuckbois). The main categories of fuckboy content are: how to spot one, how to deal with one, and comic relief. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a Meninist* is usually a white man who believes that Feminism is out to get him. Alex made the acute observation that meninists and fuckboys are self-entitled and truly believe they deserve rewards for just being decent human beings or in many cases simply existing. They say ignorant things like “women just hate on catcalling cause the cat callers are ugly, if he were hot they’d be all over him” or “why are feminists complaining when I’m the one who has to pay for everything, and then get put in the friendzone anyway”.

As Cassandra puts it: “Meninists are dick bags who took something that could have been an actual movement for men’s rights activism but instead turned it into a bunch of whiny piss babies complaining about the friendzone and feminazis”. Feminist.com uses the term to mean a feminist man but I have never heard it used that way anywhere else and definitely not on Tumblr. Unfortunately I can’t seem to get all my angry thoughts about meninism into a coherent dialogue so I will refer you to these articles (they are pretty biased against meninism, so take from them what you will):

Although I haven’t heard from any meninists in a while, I found a comment that fits the profile: “If someone is putting men down because they’re men I will call them a feminazi because it’s similar to what Hitler did – put groups of people down without any good explanation.” –boneforlife although he apologizes for it in his ‘about’ section. (whole post)

Fuckboy** is along the same lines but is usually a stupid kid (young adult), often a straight white boy who perpetrates rape culture, racism, fat shaming, slut shaming, and any behavior that is easily understood as harmful but they refuse to see it, or simply don’t care. “Not all men” is a phrase often used by a fuckboy because they feel attacked by people who critique misogynistic practices. They are very easy to find:

Screenshot (16)
Although this one is a tweet, a lot of content found on Tumblr is brought in from other sites. Posted by: kinkshamer69
ftchcks
This is part of a set that I admire greatly by drunkvanity.

And a blog I suggest you look at : straightwhiteboystexting

Tumblr has also supplied us with a variety of wonderful comebacks to use during encounters with said fuckboys:

Screenshot (14)
From rookiemag.
tumblr1
By kendrawcandraw.

Easily the best part of Tumblr is the self-love/female role models section. Only the nicest Tumblr users take their time to write pick-me-ups, both quaint and emotional, to complete strangers. There are also countless posts about how every woman deserves to feel loved and to love herself as she is. Self-love doesn’t only mean love your body, it means to respect yourself and acknowledge that the only person’s opinion that really matters is your own. Personally my favorite self-love posts are those that validate everyone’s individuality and are usually not specific to gender.

” ‘Your feelings are valid simply because you feel them.’— something lovely my therapist said” –noshameinoursickness

What I particularly like about the self-love posts that speak about body acceptance, is that they are often directed at all types of bodies. My favorite ones often add passages about women who do want to change their bodies. It is an acknowledgment that self-love doesn’t mean forcing yourself to accept everything about you. It really just means loving yourself and if you feel unhappy with your body for whatever reason it is up to you to get to a (healthy) place where you genuinely love yourself.

abab
Find it here. By finally-human

Cassandra mentioned that a lot of the earlier self-love posts she saw were “along the lines of ‘You are great and someone is going to love you/find you beautiful someday’ but eventually I started coming across posts more like ‘You are beautiful/great/etc’ without needing the validation of someone else. That has really made a difference to me. Self worth was often described in relation to others’ validation, and eventually I saw people recognizing the problematic nature of this type of thinking, saying ‘No, fuck that, I know I am beautiful without anyone else’s validation.” She continued with an example of a post that has been circulated multiple times “ ‘Confidence is not having everyone like you, it’s being okay if they don’t’ and it really resonated with me. Obviously it’s nice to have validation from other people, but tumblr has shown me that it really doesn’t matter in the end. Being happy in your own skin, for yourself, is the most important thing, and I never really thought this way until I used tumblr.”

“there’s literally no point in teaching girls to be body positive if you only use men’s opinions for validation like “boys like girls with curves” nah get that the fuck out of here” – zayrn

Another form of empowering posts are those about successful women and what they have achieved. There have been many posts telling the story of famous and previously unknown women and their accomplishments, often because the woman had not received the recognition she deserved in her time. These posts are reminiscent of the revalorist feminists who, according to Julia T. Wood, “seek to revalue women and their contributions to cultural life [and to] ‘re-cover’ women whose contributions to public life have been excluded from histories of America.” They use the term ‘re-covering’ instead of ‘recovering’ “to indicate they want to go beyond the prevailing male perspectives that have created history and views of women. Instead, their goals are to recover the contributions of women and to precipitate cultural acknowledgement of their values and validity.”

I specifically remember a long multimedia post about Frida Kahlo’s life that really affected me as a person. I barely remember it but a part that had really struck me was the section about her love life and how she was bisexual and completely comfortable with herself and her sexuality. This section probably struck me for all the wrong reasons, I most likely had low self-esteem and resented the way I looked, I also didn’t find Frida very attractive. So to read the compilation of quotes from various famous people about how captivating and alluring she was gave me the gross kind of hope a teenage girl gets when she sees another girl dating a boy she considers to be more attractive than his girlfriend. I don’t feel the same way now (thank god) but I often still think about Frida and the impression I have of her because of that post. Frida has become this shining example of a woman who was unapologetically herself. In my mind, she lived the life she wanted; painting and loving whoever and whatever she wanted and accepting no substitute for happiness. I have no idea if my image of her is at all truthful but that image continues to influence a lot of my decisions.

Alex brought up a good point, that in their attempt to be as pro-woman as possible some Tumblr users forget or choose to ignore harmful and problematic things that a woman has done and somewhat idolize her despite her wrongdoings. Thereby acting as though, by virtue of being a woman, she deserves credit for her accomplishments and a free pass for her failures, which is not equality. A great example of this is Tumblr’s treatment of Hillary Clinton as a powerful feminist figure without acknowledging her harmful behavior.

Tumblr has had a large impact on my life and my world view as well as that of my friends. Now whether or not Tumblr is effective as a platform for social change is another story. It is clearly effective to those who seek out other feminist opinions but is not a very reliable way to spread awareness to those who do not believe in the feminist movement. Elizabeth said that “it is a good platform for information. It can facilitate learning but at the same time it lacks the ability to actually create social change.”

Cassandra somewhat reiterates that message in saying that “it spread messages to a variety of people from different backgrounds/socioeconomic statuses/etc. and can have a strong sense of community based on shared values.” She later pointed out that despite that sense of community “some sections of Tumblr can be hostile towards people who don’t share their views or who are just uninformed.” As opposed to welcoming and helpful. “For example, I see people who genuinely don’t know about something being ‘called out’ for not caring, when really they just didn’t know. They need to understand that a whole group of people can’t simultaneously be informed on every single human rights/social justice/feminist issue at the same time.”  The group discussion ended in agreement that Tumblr had helped us in our growth and that, despite it’s limitations, the site can be a very useful and effective tool for social change, feminist or otherwise.

Alex added that “like any social website, Tumblr is a large community. So it’s a great place to get and send information but there is always the risk of that information being offensive/wrong/etc. It is good because all opinions can be shared but, again, not all opinions are good.”

*There are men of color and even some women who identify as meninists but in the content I have seen it is disproportionately white men who use the term to refer to themselves.

**It was brought to my attention that fuckboy is also used as an insult towards any dumb male. When I refer to the term in this article I use it the way I have seen it be used on Tumblr specifically.

Google Docs version.

Here are the Tumblr blogs of the wonderful people who helped me write this: Alex, Cassandra, ElizabethLeen, and Pascale.

And mine.

Additional posts of interest:

And the blogs from which I found some of the posts:

http://lacigreen.tumblr.com/

http://purpl3flurp.tumblr.com/

http://drunkvanity.tumblr.com/

http://tesshollidayofficial.tumblr.com/

http://curvyisalwaysin.tumblr.com/

http://imaluckycharm.tumblr.com/

http://rookiemag.tumblr.com/

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