Guest Post BY SARAH BEAR
Sarah Bear is a Prevention Coordinator for Burlington County, NJ with a B.A. in Gender Studies and Digital Media from Albright College. She frequents social media platforms for activist purposes and strives daily to dismantle rape culture.
As sexual assault prevention coordinators, we are constantly searching for the most effective way (or ways) we can meet our goal. While many strategies have been developed, we would likely all agree that one primary focus is sparking culture change by attacking the root issues that allow rape culture to thrive. As a passionate preventionist who utilizes social media frequently, I strongly believe that social media activism can aid sexual violence prevention, specifically allowing us to broaden our message to a multitude of audiences.
There have been many criticisms on the subject of utilizing social media as an activist tool, leading some to describe it as “slacktivism” (a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism”). Some claims state that slacktivism allows individuals to hide behind a screen in the safety of their homes, avoiding the risks that come along with street protests, sit-ins, and other in-person forms of activism. Another criticism says that simply “liking” a Facebook page or “following” a Twitter account does not foster the dedication required to further a movement or a cause.
Despite these criticisms, social media activism may serve as an important tool in sexual violence prevention. When it comes to strictly raising awareness, survivors have the opportunity to speak out in ways that don’t require them to interact with another person face-to-face, which can provide a level of comfort that may not have been offered before social media. In early February, #TheresNoPerfectVictim was launched on Twitter by activists Julie Zeilinger and Wagatwe Wanjuki to highlight, challenge, and discuss the barriers survivors often face during their battle to put their perpetrator behind bars. Hashtags like this and others promote conversations around important discussions that must be had in order to encourage a culture of understanding, especially when the dynamics of sexual violence are so frequently misconstrued.
There are many other fantastic examples that individuals and groups use social media to talk back against negative messages. The Representation Project is a non-profit organization that seeks to use media in ways that challenge and speak out about the limiting gender, race, and sexuality stereotypes perpetuated within our media and culture. They frequently use Twitter to further their cause, specifically around the hashtags #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike. The #NotBuyingIt hashtag calls out media that propagate these stereotypes, while the #MediaWeLike hashtag highlights and applauds media that challenge the stereotypes we often see.
Following the same strategy, sexual violence preventionists can use social media to call out media makers who perpetuate rape culture. This past February, a professor at Wheelock College, Gail Dines, started an online movement #50DollarsNotShades, which encouraged individuals to donate money to local domestic and sexual violence agencies instead of using that money to see the recently released 50 Shades of Grey movie. The movement and hashtag also served as a tool to discuss how the 50 Shades of Grey series has very blatant acts of dating and sexual violence.
As we work to increase sexual violence prevention messages in communities, we seek to social media and the internet are great places to increase an audience. Social media gives us the opportunity to reach individuals at a capacity that had not previously been available. It allows us to connect and network with others across the globe. More broadly, the internet provides us with the possibilities of promoting our message to an extremely large audience, and potentially affecting each individual on some level.
In our media literacy curriculum, we discuss the ways media shape our culture. In an increasingly technological world, media shape our culture now more than ever. We have access to more information than ever before. If we truly want to change our culture, we must follow the culture.
NJCASA features posts from guest bloggers to provide a broad perspective about topics relating to sexual violence. The views, opinions, and experiences expressed in guest posts are those of the author and are not necessary shared, or endorsed by, NJCASA.