(Image courtesy of UltraViolet)
It’s obvious news: For, oh, decades, pop culture has portrayed women in sexist, and often even dangerous, ways. Luckily, millennials are proving they’re passionate about combatting it. The old “f” word—feminism—no longer seems like something dirty.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen, from where I sit at a feminist organization, we’ve never seen a lack of interest,” said Andi Zeisler, Bitch Media’s co-founder and editorial and creative director. “Just over the past dozen or so years, whenever I’ve seen articles or individuals bemoaning the lack of young women’s interest in feminism, I just don’t see it.”
“We are definitely seeing a rise in the passion and activist energy among girls,” said Dana Edell, the executive director of SPARK. “I feel like girls are reaching a point now where they’re saying enough is enough.”
(Image credit: Sara Bures/SPARK)
In addition to SPARK, organizations like the Guerrilla Girls and Femen have long been fighting harmful portrayals of women in pop culture. The Guerrilla Girls call themselves “feminist masked avengers” and wear gorilla masks when protesting art, films, or other pop culture exhibits.
(Image credit: Guerrilla Girls)
“Our audience is worldwide, all genders, 8 to 80, but the vast majority are college students,” Kathe Kollwitz, a member of the Guerrilla Girls, said in an email.
It’s no surprise young women are getting interested — pop-culture portrayals of their generation have been slow to change.
In 2011, researchers from the University of Buffalo found that 11 percent of men and 44 percent of women who graced the covers of Rolling Stone in the 1960s were sexualized. But by the 2000s, 17 percent of Rolling Stone’s male cover models and a whopping 83 percent of female cover models were sexualized.
"What we conclude from this is that popular media outlets such as Rolling Stone are not depicting women as sexy musicians or actors; they are depicting women musicians and actors as ready and available for sex,” researcher Erin Hatton said in a study titled The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone”.
Things aren’t much better in the art world, the Guerrilla Girls’ particular area of concern. Kollwitz wrote that women account for least 60 percent of students at most art schools and university art departments, but contemporary art museums feature less than 20 percent of women in their collections.
“That’s a lousy way to preserve our culture. The world of artists is great, but the art world sucks,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication recently analyzed a total of 5,799 speaking or named characters who appeared in movies between Jan. 1, 2010 and May 1, 2013.
Of those, 31 percent were women and 69 percent were male. Or, more depressingly, there were 2.24 males for every one female. And only 23 percent of the films had a girl or women as the lead or co-lead.
So yeah, feminist millennials have a reason to be frustrated— and they’re turning up for the cause.
UltraViolet is an organization of about 550,000 men and women that advocates for greater equality for men and women. The vast majority of the group’s membership is under the age of 44, with about 35 to 40 percent under the age of 35, according to UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary.
It was UltraViolet whose members protested against Reebok when the sneaker brand partnered with rapper Rick Ross after he rapped about raping women. The organization has also been very outspoken in the wake of the NFL’s domestic violence scandal.
(Image credit: UltraViolet)
“When [millennials] hear about things like Reebok and Rick Ross or the NFL, they very much want to be engaged,” Chaudhary said.
But that engagement takes a much different form than the protests of feminists of yore.
Bitch Media’s Zeisler acknowledges that social media “takes a lot of heat” for being a passive kind of activism, or “slacktivism if you will.”She isn’t buying criticism that says it’s ineffective. “Honestly, in the realm of feminism, social media has been responsible for really shocking and unbelievably great real-world change,” she says.
“When people put down social media or insinuate it’s not real activism, that’s absolutely not true.”
As proof, she points to the fact that mainstream media was slow to cover Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis’ epic abortion-rights filibuster. Social media activists, meanwhile, helped put Davis’ actions at the forefront of the national conversation.
UltraViolet’s Chaudhary agrees. “[Young people will] take an action and they’ll make a phone call but they’ll also use Twitter and Facebook, etc., to raise these issues in their own network,” she said.
SPARK, for its own part, organizes itself around a model of offline and online relationships. The organization works with young girls across the world who blog or create campaigns on social media. But they also connect with older female members through video chats, or, once a year, at a big face-to-face summit.
(SPARK retreat; Image credit: Sara Bures/SPARK)
That focus on playing up the inherent generational strengths of members keeps SPARK at the center of the feminist debate.
“We all enter the crisis and conversation with different life experiences and different tools,” SPARK’s Edell said. “Each generation uses what we have to tip the needle even further toward gender equality.”
But, other than that emphasis on communicating through social media, Chaudhary said there isn’t too deep a divide between younger activists and their older counterparts.
“As long as there’s been patriarchy, there’s been passion to challenge it,” Edell adds.
(Image credit: Guerrilla Girls)
“Each generation has its own feminisms, and we support all of them,” Kollwitz says. “Make trouble, everyone! It’s a great time stand up for what you believe in. Feminism is on the right side of history!”
Abby Rogers is a feminist who is completely content being a crazy cat lady. She reads everything, but only in real book form — no e-readers thank you very much.