Everyday Feminism in the Digital Era: Gender, the Fourth Wave, and Social Media Affordances

The last decade has seen a pronounced increase in feminist activism and sentiment in the public sphere, which scholars, activists, and journalists have dubbed the “fourth wave” of feminism. A key feature of the fourth wave is the use of digital technologies and the internet for feminist activism and discussion. This dissertation aims to broadly understand what is “new” about fourth wave feminism and specifically to understand how social media intersect with everyday feminist practices in the digital era. This project is made up of three case studies –Bumble the “feminist” dating app, private Facebook groups for women professionals, and the #MeToo movement on Twitter— and uses an affordance theory lens, examining the possibilities for (and constraints of) use embedded in the materiality of each digital platform. Through in-depth interviews and focus groups with users, alongside a structural discourse analysis of each platform, the findings show how social media are used strategically as tools for feminist purposes during mundane online activities such as dating and connecting with colleagues. Overall, this research highlights the feminist potential of everyday social media use, while considering the limits of digital technologies for everyday feminism. This work also reasserts the continued need for feminist activism in the fourth wave, by showing that the material realities of gender inequality persist, often obscured by an illusion of empowerment.

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