Earlier this year, a 20-year-old student in Turkey was stabbed to death by a bus driver after she resisted his attempts to rape her. She had been the last person on the bus, and the driver diverted his route and drove her out of the way to attack her. Shortly after the media broke this story, thousands of women in Turkey rose up to protest violence against women and rallied around a web campaign that used the hashtag “sendeanlat,” or “you tell it too,” to share their stories of gender discrimination.
More recently, women across Argentina protested in response to the murders of two women by their romantic partners. They marched to the beat of #NiUnaMenos (#NotOneLess) and brought attention to the fact that a woman dies every 31 hours as a result of domestic violence in Argentina.
In Egypt, HarassMap allows women to report and map sexual harassment through SMS texts. In Saudi Arabia, Women2Drive speaks out against the Saudi government’s ban on issuing female drivers licenses. Because these are largely online enterprises, oppressive forces in government have not been able to silence them, and both have been in operation since 2011. More broadly, advertising companies and activist groups alike are waging a war to empower strong females with hashtags like #banbossy, #likeagirl, #ChangeTheRatio, and #girlrising, to name just a few.
With social media, we have the power at any moment to rewrite the culture that creates us. Women across the globe are speaking up, using social media to amplify their voices and reach audiences far beyond the scope of individual rallies. Their success illustrates an evolutionary event that is happening as you read these very words. Humans are in the midst of reorganizing themselves not according to geography but according to interest. Communities can pop up in a matter of hours that connect people all over the world. Our daily lives are colored by a perpetual, rich, global conversation occurring everywhere all the time.
There’s a deep difference, however, between the righteous anger galvanizing women’s hashtag activism internationally and the conversation about women’s equality in America. In the goldfish memory of social media, our attempts to rally about gender bias haven’t quite made the headlines.
Make no mistake, American women are still second class citizens: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women with bachelor’s degrees working full time in 2014 made, on average, only 75% of what a male with a bachelor’s made. Among Fortune 500 companies, only 17% of the board members are women and 5% of the CEOs are women. Women fare slightly better in academia and government: 26% of college presidents and 19% of Congress sport the double X chromosome.
Remarkably, many of us don’t see these statistics as a problem. It’s actually an effort to get people to even admit that these gaps exist. A full 41% of male college graduates believe that it’s no more difficult for a woman to attain top executive positions than for a man. What’s more, 24% of female grads agree with them. That’s 3.5 grads out of every 10 who are blind to the systemic bias poisoning our potential as a country.
Where does this blindness come from? Are 35% of highly educated Americans prone to ignoring obvious truths? I don’t think so. (Ok, maybe some of them.) I think we live in a culture where everyone has been trained to see themselves as an individual rather than as part of a group. Young men and women coming out of college are expected to write their success story first and figure out how to fit into a community second. Even if we’ve heard the numbers and seen the graphs, we like to see it to believe it. And we’re usually too busy filing reports or catching up on emails to see the subtle, quiet, cunning ways gender bias operates in our workplaces.
Then you have the people who are actually trying to acknowledge gender disparity. Some of these people are effective. Many are not. There are outspoken feminists that lose audiences because they are pointing and blaming and shoving liberal guilt wherever they can. Conversations about feminism itself will often devolve into embroiled arguments about what counts as feminism, who’s allowed to call themselves feminist, etc. There’s a lot of wasted energy dragging down the tattered feminist banner.
Of course I think everyone should carry that banner, but partly because of how embattled the feminist label has become and partly because you shouldn’t need to declare your belief in equality before you can act on it, I don’t think recruiting more and more feminists is the quickest way to making inroads on the harshest statistics. (25 out of the top 500 CEOs? Really???)
Because of our latest step in evolution, the most important requirement for progress has already been met: we are all forever talking to each other. We can tweet our troubles, Instagram our inspirations, and Snapchat our skills all day every day. Eventually we won’t need violent events to spark our voices into action. Sure, if everyone every day posted some statistic about women’s inequality on Facebook, we could make that leap to a truly free society a lot quicker. I don’t think it’s quite going to happen like that, but I’d love if it did.
I think there is a much greater possibility that the more we talk, the more open we will be. Last month a group of over 50 female executives and founders of tech companies took up the idea behind “you tell it too” and posted an open letter about the rampant male bias in the tech industry. They started polling their peers and found that 67% of them had a memorable experience of discrimination. The post itself is entirely hopeful: “Were we to yield to stats or all the negative signaling, no one would ever start a company. But as a startup community, our most universal bias is toward possibility,” writes Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of JOYUS.
This kind of startup mentality takes feminism far beyond its initial goal of toppling a patriarchal power regime. What we are beginning to understand as an internet society is that our efforts are better spent growing something than tearing something down. There is a time and a place to assign blame for female oppression, but a much greater potential lies in acknowledgement without judgement. Feminist theory, after all, contends that our bodies and our lives are constructed by the male-dominated culture into which we are born. Many of the people perpetuating gender bias are products of that same system.
Today, our culture lives and breathes through social media, and we finally have the chance to drive and develop that culture for ourselves. We need the outspoken feminists, but we need to invite the quieter voices to the conversation. We need people celebrating positivity and progress. We need acknowledgement of discriminatory experiences that don’t focus on shaming. We need to invite men to talk about the women in their lives. We have an entire infrastructure to create a safe, inclusive space for everyone to talk about women’s equality, and it’s time we used it.
Christina Patsiokas grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, FL but was drawn to the mountains and moved to Colorado shortly after getting a BA in English from Duke University in 2008. She's lived in Denver and Durango for the past 7 years and enjoys snowboarding, camping, mountain biking, hiking, and river sports. She completed an MA in Literary Studies in 2012 at DU. Her studies focused on American Literature, Media Studies, and Posthumanism. She currently lives in Denver.