First we tweeted to #bringbackourgirls, then we said #yesallwomen, now we’re reclaiming #likeagirl to be a positive statement. If there’s to be one hallmark of fourth wave feminism, it’ll be the hashtag statement- no campaign is complete without it.
As South Asians there is certainly any number of issues to get behind, and I often find myself gasping to keep up with each new campaign. From rape to forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), the stories keep coming. For all the criticism that the likes of Facebook receive, the one thing the social networks have done well is to socially and politically engage us. What is more, (ok two things then) they have given us a voice.
Growing up in a male dominated household, my opinions on social issues were rarely listened to. At best they were seen as ‘nice’ but they were never really taken seriously.
Fast forward twenty or so years and I have written about some difficult topics including child sex abuse and rape. The internet has allowed me the opportunity to carve out a credible space for my voice and opinions.
And whilst some might disagree I believe fourth wave feminism does have a place for diversity: I believe that Asian women like me can harness this wave of feminism to speak out against the injustices specific to our culture. We can be heard and gather together others who feel the same.
But here’s the thing. The Suffragettes of the early 20th century chained themselves to railings; women of the 60’s took to the streets and burnt their bras, while we…. what, stay at home and silently tap away on our keyboards? Is that what our generation will be known for? All the while, how much is really changing?
Recently the Fox News panel were criticised for mocking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign by saying:
“Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say, ‘Uh oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behaviour’?”
I hate to agree with them, but they have a point. Perhaps hashtag activisim simply makes us feel like we are doing something about social injustice. It’s like armchair activism. And what about the so-called smaller issues that don’t make the news or gain hashtag attention- but oppress us and destroy our souls nonetheless?
For the many challenges that face desi women today, change has to come from within the community. It has to happen right here in our homes and not just be tweeted about. We are the generation that have to stop endorsing various oppressive cultural practices before they can die out. But in our male dominated Asian culture this feels like a huge challenge. As I experienced as a teenager, our menfolk often just don’t take us seriously. How do we make change happen?
Instead of feeling frustrated that all I can do is sit here and type, I remind myself of this: twenty years ago I didn’t know it was ok to have these views and opinions, let alone have a space to voice them. Where once no one listened to me or women like me, we now have a platform and that’s vital. What is more, I can spread the word, and get others to engage. And for those victims who aren’t able to speak up, perhaps some of this will help empower them in knowing that someone else is speaking on their behalf.
So perhaps the hashtag is our friend after all.