The Internet is a feminist issue

Feminism and the Internet: Ever wonder how they relate, and why feminists should care about Internet policy?

Last week, 70 members of the National Organization for Women attended Changing Media, Changing Policy: Feminist Voices Needed, a workshop at the National NOW conference to explore feminists’ roles in shaping Internet policy. The workshop brought attendees up to speed about the national broadband plan now being drafted in Washington, D.C., and it sparked a conversation centered around three questions:

  • How does the Internet cut across the issues we care about?
  • How do Internet issues affect you?
  • How do Internet issues affect women’s lives?

The workshop was led by me and three other women: Lisa Bennett of NOW, Edyael Casaperalta from the Center for Rural Strategies, and Misty Perez Truedson of Free Press.

Edyael linked the Internet and feminism when she spoke about the Internet as a tool for creating social change and working on issues of health care, economic development, education and reproductive rights.

She pointed out that the Internet makes it possible to find content that combats sexism, homophobia, racism, classism and xenophobia. In contrast to the mainstream media, where so many voices and perspectives are excluded, the Internet serves as a portal to content that is culturally relevant. It’s also the only open platform where women can express their own views and post their own material without a gatekeeper. This ability to self-publish turns the mainstream media model, with its scarcity of women media owners and media makers, on its head.

Without access to the Internet, many communities can’t participate fully in our democracy, economy, culture and society. A high-speed Internet connection empowers women.

After much discussion about the connection between the Internet and feminism, we used keypad voting devices to collect information from the attendees. At the close of the workshop, more than 90 percent of the audience agreed that closing the digital divide between those with access to high-speed Internet and those without is a feminist issue.

Attendees also said that the Internet is important to feminists for:

  • Information: One attendee told us, “These Internet issues affect the frequency and access to global/national information that isn’t presented in the mainstream media. Without access to it, knowledge is lost and education is hindered.” Another attendee said that the Internet can make “women’s history more accessible.”
  • Advocacy: One participant wrote, “The Internet allows information to be shared quickly and gives people the ability to organize support for issues.” She said that sharing information for advocacy facilitates “getting legislative votes and lobbying individuals in government.”
  • Education and Jobs: Another person pointed out that in many places, the Internet is required not only to search for jobs, but to apply for them. And another participant wrote, “Through the Internet, low-income women can get access to information to help them improve their lives – for example, they can find scholarships to go to college.”

Overall, the attendees at the workshop resoundingly said that yes, the Internet is a feminist issue.

Roughly 80 percent of participants said they share a commitment to engaging in activism around the national broadband plan to connect everyone to high-speed Internet. That plan is being drafted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in Washington, D.C.

Participants said they’d be willing to contact the FCC, lobby their legislators to bridge the digital divide between Internet haves and have-nots, work with local officials to equip their communities with Wi-Fi, start grassroots organizations on college campuses, and talk about the connections between the Internet and other social justice issues.  

Feminist voices are needed in the Internet policy debates happening in Washington. These debates simply aren’t complete without feminist perspectives. Send your comments on the national broadband plan to the FCC before July 21 and make your voice heard.

This workshop was a collaboration between Free Press, the National Organization for Women, and The Center fur Rural Strategies. Presenters Misty Perez Truedson (Free Press), Lisa Bennett (NOW), and Edayel Casaperalta (Rural Strategies) and all of the attendees contributed to the workshop and this blog post.