Tweeting for justice: Why social media is the new face of feminism

“Feminist ethicist Beverly Harrison once wrote, “God is in the connection.” In the “spectacular social media defeat” of Rush Limbaugh, … Continued

“Feminist ethicist Beverly Harrison once wrote, “God is in the connection.” In the “spectacular social media defeat” of Rush Limbaugh, are we seeing how God and justice can be connected in a wired world? In a way, yes. The new face of spiritual feminism and its justice-making ethos can be glimpsed in social media in action.

It is also becoming clearer that this kind of social media activism is an emerging force in American politics, and it is demonstrating that through social media activism, progressive values can have an enormous impact on reframing issues.

Here’s how we know it’s a new day in politics and values: political and religious conservatives believed, in an election year, that with the economy improving they could turn once again to their “culture wars” issues and win. An Obama administration regulation on health care coverage on women’s health, including birth control, became controversial for religious institutions. Despite a fair compromise worked out by the administration, conservatives quickly framed this issue as a “war on religious freedom” being waged by President Obama.

It didn’t work. The picture of Rep. Issa’s all male “birth control” panel went viral. The “war on religious freedom” seemingly overnight became a “war on women.”

Rush Limbaugh entered the fray and it was all over except for the Tweeting.

Ron Edmonds

AP

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2009 file photo, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh talks with guests in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Yet, this is not the first time Limbaugh has verbally attacked women on his radio program; Maureen Dowd wrote in her New York Times column “Have you no shame, Rush?,” “As a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun.”

But this time, it’s also Limbaugh who is not having any fun at all as his advertisers run for the exits.

Why? What has happened is that many women are finding each other through social media and they are able to give powerful voice to their outrage at the injustices done against them? At latest count, the social media firestorm against Rush Limbaugh has caused 35 advertisers to drop advertising on his show.

The outrage has been there for a long time, simmering. But the connection to new media has changed how women understand themselves. They are realizing they don’t have to be voiceless and powerless any more. Women, especially younger women, connecting through new media are finding a new sense of self-empowerment. And they are using that power through social media.

This social media activism is changing American religion and politics, as I noted in my book “Dreaming of Eden: American Religion and Politics in a Wired World .”

I believe social media is inherently progressive, even, as I note in the title of this post, feminist. Here’s why: it is decentralized and non-authoritarian. No one tells you to “share.” You, as a person who cares about an issue, can take action, but it is a lateral action—you go sideways to your friends, your Twitter followers, your connections. Those people in turn have the option to act or not act. It’s up to them. The metaphor of some web-driven data going “viral” comes from the way in which the spread of social media activism is like the way people catch a virus. It goes from person to person through connection. Conservative political philosophy, by contrast, favors centralized, authoritarian and top down forms of power. It isn’t social.

In the early years of the Internet, information on line was one directional; there were websites with information you could read, and emails that could be written and forwarded over and over again to feed conspiracies about, for example, the president’s birth or his faith.

But social media is connective, dialogical, and it facilitates person-to-person communication. “Women” are not “essentially” more inclined to connect laterally. Women differ greatly from each other by race, class, sexual orientation and so forth, so vast generalizations that ‘all women’ are essentially “connectors” don’t make much sense. But society has assigned women this role, generally speaking: women are the connectors in society. Here’s a simple example—between a husband and wife, who is the one who ‘keeps up with’ the extended family? The wife, of course. Women are supposed to be the connectors.

And now that important life-skill has found a wired world. Women are taking their gender assigned role as the connectors out for a drive on the information highway and they like what they find.

This is just beginning to change how values engage politics.

Mitt Romney, emerging a damaged front-runner from “Super Tuesday,” had only added to the perception of him as weak on leadership by literally walking away when asked about Limbaugh’s diatribe against Sandra Fluke, and then giving the brush off statement that Rush’s words were “not the language I would of used.”

I believe Romney’s failure of leadership on this issue will come back to haunt him in the campaign, as social media plays those clips over and over and over.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • WmarkW

    The bilateral nature of web publishing is making it more difficult for opinion leaders to be opinion controllers. Many dictatorial regimes understand this and limit internet connectivity.

    But it isn’t just left-of-center groups like feminists. You see it under the comments of crime stories that people are tired of every white-on-black crime being a race incident while the reverse never is. Or that the Bernard Madoff scandal focused the fact that news organizations think there are only two positions on Jewish issues — sucking up and Joseph Goebbels.

    A lot of us regular Joes are tired of being told how privileged we are, while opinion makers discriminate against our interests.

  • suegbic1

    Fluke was a left-wing aparatchik run by Anita Dunn, the Obama operative who two years ago declared that her favorite philosopher was Mao-Tse-Tung. Birds of a feather get together.

  • quiensabe

    Susan, what is a fair compromise? Does compelling an insurance company to pay for contraceptives mask Obama’a assault on the Constitution? Oh, and any business, especially an insurance company, will give away goods and services for free. They’d do anything for Obama, wouldn’t they?

    What Maher has said about Palin and her daughter doesn’t excuse Limbaugh. But Maher is a comedian, so the modern hip feminist is sophisticated so she can laugh along with the joke. Or, she can give the middle finger to the kids watching the Superbowl during the all American annual family event. But conservatives especially conservatives who trust in Jesus get your ire.

    You get a lot of press time from Sally and I admire you for it. But you claim to be a Christian and she is not and I’m sure you walk a tight wire pleasing her and holding on to your convictions. I have to admit, though, your introduction of the concept of spiritual feminism is an enigma. Just what does it mean? We’ve got you, Sally, Fluke, and Obama tromping on the Constitution so just wondering out loud if “spiritual feminism” in newspeak for following a higher law than the Constitution?

  • amelia45

    Well done. I am still amazed at how swiftly the retribution came to Limbaugh and how quickly we all knew the pathetic response of Romney, Santorum and other Republicans. We have all these “leaders” on the Republican side who, evidently, think it is of no consequence – and we know it, we can go back to listen to it or reread it. I go on line each night just to see who is advertising on Limbaugh – and if is’t a public service ad, I contact them. Them I let a few other people know.

    It was this connectiveness that let women quickly organize demonstrations in state capitals recently when Republican majority legislative bodies passed more and more rules that intrude in and into women’s bodies on both abortion and contraception. It happened in Idaho and Alabama. When conservative states like those start getting spontaneous demonstrations of mostly middle aged and older women – that is phenomenol.

    Yes – it is making a difference.

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