Social Media and Generational Shift In The War on Women

Posted on April 23, 2012

Forbes, April 23, 2012 by Liza Donnelly

The battle for the female vote in the presidential campaign has suddenly become fierce. The latest? Mitt Romney hired Richard Grenell to be his national security and foreign policy advisor. So what, you ask? Should Mitt have hired a woman? That would have been nice, but no, that’s not it. What is of importance in Mr. Romney’s choice is that as talented as Mr. Grenell may be, he apparently has been writing and tweeting sexist tweets.He has since apologized (and deleted them) and said he meant them to be funny.  The Romney campaign should have more closely considered the seriousness of this sort of behavior from a professional advisor. Is this symbolic of the choices the Romney Campaign will make?  Mr. Grenell may be able to delete his tweets, but can he delete the attitude?

The term “war on women” has been coined as of late, and much debate swirls around its meaning and its use. I believe it is a very appropriate phrase to use, and to keep using. The war on women continues in small ways (such as tweets, comments, behavior) , as well as big (such as violence, health care, equal rights and equal pay). We need to focus on legislation such as the Equal Pay Act, the Violence Against Women Act,  Roe v. Wade– make them and keep them a reality. State legislation that is attempting to roll back women’s rights needs to be brought out into the light of day.  But the “small” stuff is important, too. It has been around for quite a while.

As a young person in the late 1970′s, I was very aware of the women’s movement, and in theory I was thankful to the women who worked so hard to give me the feeling that I was free to do and be as I wanted. I remember thanking my lucky stars that I did not have to wear girdles or wear a beehive hairdo. But I thought that at least for me, everything was fine. As far as I was concerned, women were equal to men. Little did I know that nothing could have been further from the truth–it took me a few years of experiencing the small stuff before I understood. Yes, things were better in the 1970s than in previous decades for women in many ways, but we still had a long way to go.

Each new generation of men and women grow up and get the impression that for them, things have changed. It’s a new day, they think, not their parents’ world. In may ways this is true; but in many, it is not. Stereotypes perpetuate insidiously. Parents pass on their beliefs to their children in subtle ways, and the society maintains inequality and bias in hidden, economically dependent structures.

We may be seeing a positive shift among young people, perhaps an understanding that feminism is not your mother’s cause. Some trends are indicating change in attitude. “Girls,” is a new television show that is getting a lot of attention,  while a demographically narrow and white representation, may become a show that reflects a new understanding.  So far, Girls is distinctly different than Sex in The City, and the lead characters may embody a new form of feminism.  A recent forum at the Brooklyn Museum with editor Courtney Martin, showcased a group of diverse, young activists. They discussed when they had their “click” moment, i.e. when they first came to feminism. The discussion reveals an encouraging, deep understanding on the part of these young women.

We have seen social media be a player on the world stage, helping to move revolutions, giving voice to women in far reaches of the globe. If we use it to keep addressing the issues as they arise, keep shining light on the inequities, the hate, the bias–maybe we can achieve some change. Use social media to promote good causes, not to promote hateful humor. Twitter is a powerful tool– I follow many groups and individuals who self-identify as feminists, working to change the world. Many now see women’s rights as human rights, and that it is a global concern. They also understand it is a daily concern for each individual, and that speaking up to even the small things–like sexists tweets– is crucial.

When I was a young person, I did not fight for change, I did not protest for women’s rights. I wish I had. But I see young people now taking up the cause, partly due to the connectivity of Twitter and Facebook. It’s a good sign. Maybe we can overcome the cyclical, generational block in the wheel of change.


Posted in: Fighting back