Doing It Ourselves: The Networked Practices of Feminist Media Activism
ABSTRACT: Feminist organizing in the United States is undergoing a paradigm shift. Whereas 1960s-era feminism unfolded through the in-person activities of formal organizations, today, feminist movements are mediated and networked. Contemporary feminism manifests as hashtags, blogs, print zines, digitally coordinated protests, online communities, and more. Case studies of recent movements suggest that, for feminists, to be networked is to be both politically empowered and politically vulnerable. At the same time that emerging media platforms enable activists to quickly reach wide audiences at little or no expense, networked movements face online harassment, commercial cooptation, and activist burnout. This qualitative study examines how feminists are navigating the double-edged nature of networked activism. In particular, I demonstrate how feminists are drawing on networked media to organize resistance, mobilize protests, and cultivate communities, all while juggling the affordances and limitations of their media tools. Data for this study come from an ethnographic analysis of grassroots feminist media activism in the city of Philadelphia, textual analyses of national and transnational feminist media campaigns, and interviews with and archived reflections from activists. Through this data, I argue that feminists’ negotiations among media platforms, the political context, and their intersectional values produce a particular activist praxis. I call this praxis do-it-ourselves (DIO) feminism, an organizing paradigm that draws on networked media to build feminist movements from the ground up that reflect feminist values and meet the challenges of the current climate. Faced with an electoral system and a history of collective organizing that has failed to address intersecting systems of oppression, DIO feminists do not rely on existing political institutions. Instead, they draw on networked media to create their own communities, discourses, and protests, cutting out the middlemen of political leaders, organizations, parties, and policy-makers and integrating protest into everyday life. Feminists’ turn toward diffuse, decentralized media networks and away from formal organizations raises questions about movement accessibility, sustainability, backlash, impact, and cooptation. But the do-it-ourselves praxis is a distinctly feminist form of networked activism that models new possibilities for what collective action and social transformation can look like in the networked era.