The fight for gender equality and women liberation chronologically described and identified under time periods otherwise called ‘waves’. The first wave which focused on legal inequalities saw advocates like Susan B. Anthony and other notable female figures spearheading the call for electoral and reforms. The highlight of this wave or period is the suffrage movement which won for women the right to vote. It spanned the 19th and 20th centuries and ended after achieving its objective.
The second wave challenged the sexist power structure. The leading voices of the wave were indignant and correctly so at the restriction of female participation in the cultural and political spheres and saw inequalities in these spheres as inseparable or closely linked. It ran from the 1960s to the 1980s and was sustained as women acquired better education that put them at par with their male counterparts. Like the preceding wave, it questioned the status quo. A prominent feature of this wave was the revelation or existence of different schools of thoughts. It is criticized for failing to address the plight of oppressed women of other races and class issues.
Third wave feminism began in the 1990s to address the failures of the second wave. It was moved from the single narrative of the white female feminist and was more inclusive. It also gave a new perspective on gender and sexuality, bringing to the forefront sexual politics. Fourth wave feminism, otherwise known as contemporary feminism is what we have today and is said to have started around 2008.
Fourth wave feminism is seen as more open, interactive and down to earth. It is largely associated with social media and invites discussion of coalesced issues brought to the forefront by the campaigners of the third wave. Some scholars have however argued against this wave, refusing to acknowledge it as a historical wave but those in support of it point out current realities not envisaged by earlier waves as reason why the fourth wave should be classified or tagged along with the other waves. Whichever position one may take, one cannot deny that there is indeed a renewed discussion on gender liberation in the backdrop of current realities and issues that negatively affect women. The most important feature of this wave is the social media connection which this article attempts to discuss.
Social media as a tool has tremendous influence and hold on today’s young person. The advance of technology and availability of smart devices having changed the world has provided people, especially young people with a wide range of information gathering. Statistics say the average time spent on social networks by a young person in one week is 27 hours, thus making social media a prominent part of the lives of many around the world. Its many benefits include education due to the data available online, increase in political awareness and participation as well as social networking. It has therefore become a veritable medium of social influence. In the Nigerian social media scene, we have seen friendships and relationships forged, businesses contracted and increased political dialogue. We too have caught the social media bug and will be affected by it for as long as the world remains a global village.
In the light of this, it is hardly surprising that the discourse on women liberation has taken a new form as a bride of technology. Feminism of the fourth wave has moved online, taking advantage of virtual platforms to discuss issues that affect women. It has enabled women share their day to day experiences in a patriarchal society and helped others denied justice find a means to address their grievances. It has provided for a reflection of our values, moral or otherwise and has encouraged us to identify loopholes in our cultural, religious, social and political make-up. It is the plane on which the fourth wave of feminism flies and given the nascent move of the movement, it is the enabler of future victories against sexism, misogyny and patriarchy. The marriage between the current wave of feminism and social media has led to the conception, birth and development of twenty first century feminists. More women and in some cases men, are openly identifying with feminism and proudly wear its tag as a result of this.
The presence of feminism on social media has not been without challenges. It has shown that the battle for women liberation is far from over. It has exposed to glaring view the misogyny passed down to the present generation of young men who hold insufficient privileges granted to women as appropriate response to past agitations. A young Nigerian male once expressing his rabid dislike for the fight against gender oppression expressed his befuddlement with the question.
What do women want again?
Such a young man is among the throng of men who collectively emphasizing feminine ideal as the highest virtue of a woman, often deride the new voices of the movement as ‘Twitter Feminists’ as if there is a law restricting feminists from taking advantages of social media for the expression of their views. They extol domesticity as the highest ideal a woman should be concerned with. Their assumptions of female inferiority is obvious and sadly, quite a good number of women happily believe these assumptions and parrot them.
Happily, the fourth wave of feminism is moving like a Tsunami. It will be around for a while and possibly lead to another wave. Millions of impressionable young women are exposed to false ideals on Twitter. They are at the danger of accepting and internalizing the lies that they are inferior to their male counterparts. They are open to the objectification of their bodies which denies them dignity and restricts them to the mundane task of pouting and posing for the visual pleasures of the menfolk. Such women are the ones feminism hopes to reach. As someone who has happily lent her voice to the fight for the liberation of women on all fronts for years, I am hopeful that the movement will achieve more than it has achieved in the previous waves and more women will be partakers in conversations that affect their very lives.