April 14, 2010

Social Media & Feminism in the classroom & beyond

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 6:52 pm

In my recent interview with Ronak Ghorbani (part of a project exploring feminism and social media), she asked me about twitter as a tool of activism and the community of feminists I am connected with by my tweets. Can twitter help facilitate real change? Can it foster authentic relationships?

Yes and yes.

I’m teaching a new course in Women’s Studies this semester, WS 30: Women and Pop Culture, that explores the representation of women and feminists in pop culture while simultaneously examining the relationship between feminism and pop culture. But I didn’t think teaching a course on women and pop culture that merely examined these issues through text and lecture would be complete considering my experiences via social media and everything that is happening as a result of social media.

So, what have I done? I created a class blog that was built by the fabulous Anita Sarkeesian (click on the link, view her portfolio and you’ll see my class masthead in the center), allowing the class to learn hands-on blogging skills using Word Press, create a resource base and an opportunity to share their responses to assigned prompts in addition to optional posts that encourages them to share their observations, insights and experiences. This new class format has exceeded my expectations and the students are engaged and excited.  What’s not to like?

But, that’s not all. I have brought in a range of guest speakers at work creating new media, remixing videos and utilizing social media as a tool of activism.

Who has visited?

Kamala Lopez and Tobie Loomis, directors of ERA Today. Lopez presented at WAM! Los Angeles which I organized with help of my fellow blogger, Lani, and she has forged strong alliances with several students that are now actively working on the campaign with her. I blogged on Tobie Loomis and her work with Lopez as well as her work with Women in Film. Loomis will be presenting at WAM! Los Angeles in 2011.

Anita Sarkeesian, the incredible feminist remixer and pop culture critic, at Feminist Frequency. Anita holds critical conversations about pop culture on her video blog. I happened to meet Anita through twitter over a year ago. It turns out she’s friends with my long-time friend and fellow tweeter, Erin Huggins, located in Los Angeles (it was Erin Huggins and Cynthia Lou that schooled me on social media and changed my life in immeasurable ways). Anita had since moved to Canada but we were able to share information, create my class blog and collaborate on WAM! Los Angeles where she presented a fierce array of feminist remix videos. She’ll be returning for a remix workshop within a few months and as a returning presenter at WAM! Los Angeles in 2011.

The legendary and fearless Zoe Nicholson, lifetime activist and feminist, visited a few weeks ago and knocked the socks off my class, leaving them inspired and energized. I met Nicholson through Lopez but, guess what, she’s all over the internet, utilizing social media for all the issues dear to her huge heart. Yeah, she tweets. She’ll be presenting at the Social Justice Summit this Saturday and many of the students she reached in my class will be joining her.

WAM! Los Angeles 2010 presenter, Carla Ohrendorff,  is scheduled for a workshop in two weeks. I’ll keep her visit under wraps now but will post after she brings new skills to my eager class, broadening their understanding of the media, pop culture and social media as tools of activism. Check out her photo booth of change video here.

To top it off, the students will produce original media content for their final projects, many of which will be in collaboration with organizations outside the classroom that will utilize their product. Hey, feminism is a praxis. It’s not just about women, it’s for women (and, yes, men). As a student of media literacy for 15 years (and an educator for 8 years), I felt teaching a class about women and popular culture required more than a class grade. Lets do this!

To assist them, I also provided a twitter tutorial. Many people misunderstand twitter and its potential. They think it’s a stripped down version of facebook with endless gratuitous personal status updates. For some, maybe. For activists, educators and agents of change, absolutely not. This is the medium that allows communities to expand, relationships to build and information to be shared in a speedy manner. Twitter is like Studio 54 in the’70s (without all the illegal drugs). In addition to many of the women already identified in this post, I have met, befriended and discussed collaborative efforts and/or exchanged ideas and information with @jennpozner, @socwomen, @FeministBreeder, @JessieNYC, @Abeeliever, @clairemysko, @AntoniaZ, @RevoltRealWomen, @illusionists, @JulesyParker (to name only a few).

Gender Across Borders just posted an article on twitter and feminism today. There’s good stuff in there including a partial list of tweeting feminists (be sure to read the comments as there are additional tweeters identified). It’s important that we acknowledge this forum and pass the handles of these rabblerousers on to others interested in expanding their communities and connecting to people committed to social change. We all know that these people are not always available in our immediate social environment.

Still confused on how twitter works? What the heck are all those RTs and how do you “talk” to people? This article will give you some pointers. Still confused? I’ll be presenting a panel on social media (including twitter) as tools of activism, including a tutorial, at WAM! Los Angeles in 2011.

So, back to the questions:

Can twitter help facilitate real change? Can it foster authentic relationships?

Yes, twitter is one efficient and vital tool allowing feminists to connect and commune. And in creating that community, we extend our reach and meet comrades and allies.

Edited April 22, 2010: Read Russell Simmons’ Huffington Post article, Social Media is the New Hip Hop, for more on social media, community and activism.


  1. You might find it interesting to know that the LGBT people in Uganda use it to alert one another that there is violence in the neighborhood. In fact, some use it to contact people here in the US, knowing that they can get into out to a wider circle and guarantee some media interest. I actually had a post on my newsfeed that said a man had been shot and it was time to turn out house lights until dawn.

    Let me also share that living alone, which I do, friends know that I am up, I am well, once they see I have posted. Social Media is like a two year old – we have no idea the full potential and is naughty from time to time – but we love them!

    Comment by Zoe Nicholson — April 14, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  2. I’ve seen first hand how the social media sphere has started to affect real policy change. The system is sitting up and taking notice of the bloggers/twitterers/activists spreading messages of uprising like wildfire through the web. At the NIH VBAC conference last month, the conference was kicked off with a slide showing all the most popular cesarean awareness blogs on the internet, proving that even the government researchers are tapped into the voice of the people. Twitter makes it possible for us all to connect, and disseminate information at lighting speed. This can be both a good and bad thing because it relies on us to vet our sources and make sure we’re tweeting good information, but thankfully most of us take our sources pretty seriously. I believe some of the largest change we’ve seen in women’s health as come from the real connection we all have to each other now. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore – and “They” are getting hip to that.

    Comment by TheFeministBreeder — April 15, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  3. Yes, it is incredible. We all know twitter was instrumental during the protests in Iran last year. I’m so glad you two added your thoughts to this piece. I’ll be reworking this for another source, expanding/modifying, and will use your quotes and will probably contact you for more information. This is exciting.

    Comment by Melanie — April 15, 2010 @ 8:26 am

  4. Our collective power is truly immeasurable with tools such as twitter and the other available forms of social media. The more we work to harness and utilize it, the more connections are established. Self-empowerment is here and ready to be had, for all women.

    One way that I am currently utilizing Twitter is by holding a Mental Health and Social Media #mhsm chat (http://mhsmchat.wordpress.com) on Tuesday evenings 7pm Western/10pm Eastern. We discuss opportunities for change and how our activist’s hearts can be best utilized to rid the world of stigma. Support resources are offered for all, from professionals to those suffering themselves. We have participants from the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK. I never could have imagined that I would be able to connect globally with activists and advocates to promote the causes I hold so dear to my heart. It is truly a gift.

    It is invaluable that you share your voice with others. Keep up your amazing work. I know that I can learn a lot from you! Thank you so much for the mention!

    Comment by Amy Kiel — April 15, 2010 @ 10:10 am

  5. That is fabulous @Amy. I’d love to take part on Tuesdays. Are you on the west coast?

    Comment by Melanie — April 15, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  6. Great resources via @JessieNYC:

    Twitter n Class: 10 resources http://janeknight.typepad.com/socialmedia/2009/08/twitter-in-the-classroom-10-useful-resources.html

    How Twitter in the Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement http://mashable.com/2010/03/01/twitter-classroom/ about 16 hours ago via web

    100 Ways to Teach with Twitter: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2010/02/100-ways-to-teach-with-twitter/ about 16 hours ago via web

    6 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2009/06/6-examples-of-using-twitter-in-the-classroom/ about 16 hours ago via web

    Comment by Melanie — April 15, 2010 @ 10:46 am

  7. I’m a babyboomer ex-digi dino morphing into digi-diva thanks to two wonderful ‘reverse mentors’- young smart social media gurus whose bootcamp I attended (http://www.babyboomerbootcamp.wordpress.com) a year ago. But, it was just recently when a friend sent our a cry for help to save her daughter that it all came together. These two then backed me up as together we built a website and social media campaign to raise money for the legal fees needed by my friend. (http://www.bit.ly/xsos) Now I’ve got my own blog going and having a great time with it, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Check it out on http://www.flashnomad.com

    Comment by Bibi Jordan — April 21, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

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