How Tumblr can educate: From feminism & body-positivity to cultural appropriation.

Trigger Warning:
This article contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering for some people.

I was not always an excellent feminist. I know- quelle surprise! Basically, I spent far too much of my life listening to what the media and culture was saying about feminism and feminists, as opposed to what feminists were saying. I thought I’d be real with you straight up.

I held the same hackneyed, archaic stereotypes about feminism that I would now pity in others. Even when I watched TV and movies and adored characters like Kat Stratford and Daria, I believed too readily that feminists were the hysterical, hairy-legged she-beasts that the media wanted me to think they were. I ate up the media’s bullshit. I was a silly bugger. Until I got onto Tumblr.

tumblr and feminism

Via MTV.

Cut to somewhere in my early twenties. Along with local feminist voices to whom I gravitated, like Karen Pickering and Clem Bastow, and books like Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (a book I would not today recommend but which opened my doors of feminist perception once upon a time) I was astounded at the feminist channels I was finding online. I was super excited at finding this new world of life I could delve into and be really passionate about. I was like Aladdin and Jasmine on that flying carpet. While pouring over Dr Who gifsets, make-up and hair tutorials and photosets of cats in weird places, I also found a smorgasbord of body positivity, feminist activism and women of all types narrating and sharing their experiences.

Much like ‘Rule 34’ of the Internet (“If it exists, there is porn of it”), you can be assured that if you can imagine it, someone has a Tumblr dedicated to it. Thanks to Tumblr’s smooth usability and simple setup process, you can have as many blogs going as you please.

tumblr and feminism

via Tumblr.com

Body positivity is one of the first things I found most illuminating. Blogs like Fuck Yeah Fat Positive, Chubby Bunnies and the official blog of plus-size model Tess Holliday exist to celebrate body types we do not normally see celebrated in mainstream media. Mainstream media is still (eternally) deciding whether women are too thin (“This Celebrity Is Too Thin She Must Obviously Have a Disorder Turn to Page 25 To Find Out More!”) or too fat (“This Celebrity Is Too Fat She Must Be Pregnant, We Followed Her To The Doctor’s To Get The Scoop!”) and women are just never good enough, according to the gossip rags, no matter what we look like.

Body positivity blogs encourage women to rethink the deeply ingrained ideas we have about what women’s bodies ‘should’ look like and love the bodies we have. Sometimes it isn’t even about that sort of lofty “Dove commercial” self-adoration which can be, let’s admit, deeply unrealistic.

Sometimes it’s just about not punishing yourself for what you perceive as flaws, accepting that bodies come in myriad types and there is no ‘correct’ woman. I mean, don’t we all have those days where you think, “Damn, I look rockin’ today. Look at those thighs, I’m going to crush a man with them tonight. I am a fucking boss”?

These blogs are beautiful and welcoming spaces- when they are not interrupted or hijacked by negative forces, designed to be free of judgement, negativity and, importantly, body shaming. I visited these blogs regularly in times of inadequacy; whenever I felt ashamed about my jiggly belly, or lumpy thighs, or large breasts (thanks to the impossible and contradictory standards set by the whole world, there is no actual acceptable breast size, so stop playing, ladies), I would be comforted and emboldened by women and girls posting their happy selfies.

tumblr and feminism

via Tumblr.com

Pockets of the Tumblr community have indeed taken up the mantle of “social justice warrior” (a term bandied about as an insult, usually by men’s right activists who hate being called out on their abhorrent behaviour); there are tribes on Tumblr for every manner of human. Prominent feminist voices like Jessica Valenti, Anita Sarkeesian and Lindy West all have strong Tumblr presences, but unlike the mainstream media, Tumblr opens up the portal for all manner of voices to be heard, spanning race, nationality, culture, religion, gender and sexuality. Even Planned Parenthood has a Tumblr, where you can find handy birth control and mental and sexual health information.

“Tumblr Feminism” has become a phrase all to its own; the top definition on Urban Dictionary goes:

“The school of feminist thought that, instead of fighting for gender equality, is more concerned with seeming liberal and feminist and not actually *being* feminist. This is often achieved through strict internet doctrine and openly ostracizing those who do not agree with them. One other symptom of Tumblr Feminism is that, when asked to explain their opinions, sufferers will get angry and storm off rather than actually answering the question. Similar words and ideas include Feminist Nazi, fringe feminists, and feminventing.”

Hey, I know how they feel, gang. Their feelings have been hurt by mean ladies at some point and they’re so mad about it, but the assumption is unfair. Of course, I don’t intend to dissect all manner of feminist voices across the internet here; I don’t intend to defend reprehensible opinions made by feminists anywhere simply because I also happen to be a feminist. As with any corner of the internet, Tumblr has it’s fair share of trolls, MRAs, TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), spam and straight-up idiots. I have enjoyed both healthy debate and ungodly argument with the above types and it leads nowhere.

One thing I became deeply interested in, the more I read about it, was cultural appropriation. Raised in a working-class with no liberal upbringing, it never occurred to me as a younger woman that wearing a Native American headdress, say, would be insensitive or racist if you were not indeed Native American. Same goes for bindis, saris, turbans, burqas, ceremonial warpaint, or any cultural-wear that becomes a “costume” you buy from dodgy bargain stores for your mate’s erroneously themed party.

When you aren’t explicitly told these things, you have to find out on your own. When you aren’t raised to be aware of the sanctity of other people’s cultures, it can take some learning in your own time. It may sound cheap now to even think that co-opting someone else’s culture would not be seen as insensitive, but when you’re oblivious, you’re walking around in a damn bubble, which many are still happy to do.

There are scores of blogs set up to highlight and combat racism and cultural appropriation; name-and-shame blogs for the more extreme cases. People of colour have built strong walls all over the internet in order to protect their cultures from being further bastardized by dumbass white folk on Halloween. They spend their time pointing out why, say, blackface is unacceptable, and arguing with people who maintain that it is. In the same way that, as a feminist, I spend a lot of time arguing with MRAs and misogynist trolls about women’s rights or abortion legislation, POC get droves of people defending their inarguably racist views and costumes, instead of admitting fault and slinking away to do some thinking. That’s the Internet for you!

As with other sectors of the Internet, Tumblr has been vital in spreading information and assistance against rape and sexual assault. Blogs like Project Unbreakable and I Believe You, It’s Not Your Fault give survivors a voice, support and anonymity. According to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 44% of sexual assault survivors are under the age of 18, and girls aged 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be sexually assaulted. 29% of survivors are aged 12-17. These statistics are useful when read in conjunction with some 2013 Tumblr user statistics from Expanded Ramblings: 61% of teenagers (aged 13-19) consider Tumblr their favourite method of social networking. A Statista breakdown shows that Tumblr usage is highest between the ages of 18-24 (23.3%) and 25-34 (27%) as of January 2015 (also, according to Expanded Ramblings, the ‘most reblogged liberal art’ of 2014 was “feminism” which sounds like a roundabout way of saying ‘the most reblogged social justice tag’.)

Younger people are more drawn toward Tumblr than most other social networking sites; it also shows that blog runners and creators need to be aware of this age demographic. Knowing full well how many of their readers and fans will be survivors of sexual assault, more and more blogs administer trigger and content warnings, advice on where to seek help and how to emotionally and physically deal, and, most importantly, showing them that they are not alone.

Project Unbreakable in particular can be a deeply harrowing read if you happen to visit it, but it maintains an important message: sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of what one was doing, wearing, drinking or saying. The bravery of the survivors in telling their stories is incredibly moving; I would send anyone spouting off about ‘what she was wearing’ or ‘was she drunk, though?’ to Project Unbreakable for a dose of reality and sense.

Like all social media, Tumblr has its pitfalls, annoying aspects and downright hazardous areas. No-one’s pretending that, much like the offline world, there isn’t scores of awfulness and villainy. But, also like the offline world, sometimes there’s deeply reassuring, fun and kind spaces that make you feel less alone, or happier about your thighs, or simply being content to scroll mindlessly through Nicki Minaj reaction gifs for an hour or four.

   

Featue Image: Tumblr.com//

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