Cyberfeminism (Women in STEM)

By Janeris Kelly ’19

One major takeaway from my personal research on cyberfeminism is that the offline and online world are not two separate spheres; in fact, they both interact and influence each other. There are some scholars, including feminists, who do not think that online activities can cause change in the offline world. They believe that online activism in the form of social media platforms or online communication is not activism but rather ‘slacktivism’: the ‘lazy’ form of activism that does not cause significant change in the offline world (Christensen 3). Scholars debate whether or not this is actually the case. Initially, scholars and feminists alike believed that the internet would be a catalyst for political change, a place where identity politics and the harmful effects of it are not felt. However, over time this was challenged. Before conducting research and taking this course, I would have agreed with Christensen. How can online activity foster change in the offline world? How could someone do things online that would then translate to change? However, I learned through my research that this was not the case.

The online world can allow for change to occur in the offline world and vice versa. However, this change can be for the better or worse, depending almost exclusively on users of the online world. For example, the million women’s march was almost exclusively coordinated through the online communication of several women; the pizzagate scandal also was initiated through online communication- more specifically, the propagation of fake news within online communities (Everett 1279).

Online activities can also serve as a political stance against offline phenomenon. A great example of this is the online communities’ stance on sexual assault and violence, specifically when related to popular celebrities. Online communities accosted celebrities who were accused of sexual misconduct while supporting those who have been victims of sexual assault/violence. A very popular example of this would be Robin Thicke’s controversial song ‘Blurred Lines’. While Thicke was on a live interview, viewers were given the chance to ask questions on twitter and Thicke would then respond to these questions live. Initially, twitter users asked the usual questions pertaining to celebrities; however, the interview quickly took a turn when tweets started to accuse Thicke’s song of being a ‘rape anthem’. Users shared their experiences of sexual assault, comparing song lyrics to the words of their rapists. Additionally, users accosted Thicke on live television for his blatant disregard for the lyrics as well as his attitude towards sexual assault and women more generally. On the other hand, celebrities like Kesha and Lady Gaga use social media platforms and their visibility as stars to discuss their experiences and provide an example for other victims of sexual assault (The Guardian).

The idea of that the online world is intricately connected with the offline world is also exhibited in users’ interacting amongst themselves. The personal quickly becomes the political as users create hashtags and posts to bring light to offline experiences (Highfield 14). Some examples of this include the #Metoo, #PadsAgainstSexism and #freethenipple online movements. All of these serve to highlight and propagate injustices experienced by those in the offline world that are not brought to attention. Online platforms then allow individuals to connect with others that have had similar experiences and propagate those ideas and reach bigger audiences. Women use social media to bring light to and challenge the everyday discrimination they face; more specifically, social media is a way for women to ‘talk back’ to the dominant discourse (Keller, Mendes and Ringrose 3). Some women, for example, used social media platforms to post pictures of men who legally got away with flashing or masturbating (to them) in public. Even if the offline world authorities would not be able to accost these men, women used the online world to even the playing field and censuring these behaviors themselves (Jackson 5). This also served to literally expose the men who had acted this way online.

 Cyberfeminism explores the relationship between the offline and online world; more specifically, the way that the two interact and inform each other. Cyberfeminist theories help users and scholars alike conceptualize the complicated relationship between two seemingly distinct worlds. Social media platforms like twitter and tumblr are used by feminist activists, specifically younger feminists, to address and challenge mainstream discourse. Online feminist activity allows women to share their stories, listen to others, and learn feminist ideals and concepts that they would otherwise would not learn in traditional educational settings (Rentschler 69). Additionally, the online activism pursued by cyberfeminists changes how people talk about rape culture and respond to it by broadening the scope of the issue beyond the mainstream perspective on rape culture (Rentschler 71). This is also evident in use of hashtags on social media outlets that serve to highlight prejudices and experiences that are otherwise invisible in the offline world (Turley and Fisher 129). The internet also allows for increased political involvement among younger generations. According to Steinberg, young people are more likely to vote once engaged in some form of social media or online platform where they can be political participants (135). Additionally, studies conducted in New Zealand found that online political activism is more appealing to younger women because of its ability to shroud their organizing activities from the offline world, essentially providing a safe space from the outside world (Schuster 10). However, cyberfeminist theories surrounding the internet encompass not only feminist backtalk to dominant narratives. They can also magnify these harmful ideals.

The internet can serve to propagate and magnify harmful ideologies that are also prevalent in the offline world. The online world exists almost purely through texts and images. The extensive dependence on language allows for patriarchal and sexist ideals in the offline world to make themselves prevalent in the online world (Highfield 15). The offline world and the people living in it are what informs the online world; it would be wrong to assume that the online world would then be unaffected by prejudices and notions in the offline world. The invisibility of women and people of color in video games is an example of the prevalence of offline behaviors and attitudes in the online world. Women and people of color’s lack of visibility, at least in the initial gaming world, is evidence of the lack of visibility of such groups in the offline world (Richard and Gray 114). Social media can serve to propagate sexist and misogynistic perspectives in addition to potentially excluding people from different class, gender, and racial backgrounds (Turley and Fisher 130). Just because the internet has the potential to bring together groups that are physically separated, it does not mean that all people can take advantage of it. Not everyone has the same access to the online world- people living in developing countries or those who cannot read or write cannot utilize the internet like those living in the first world. In this way the internet can serve to highlight inequalities that exist in ‘real’ life.

All in all, one of the major takeaways of my research and group project was the complicated relationship between humans and the online world. Optimistic scholars and feminists see the internet as a place where people can exist without the constraints of the ‘real’ world. Others see the internet as a place where hatred and fake news is rampant. However, it’s simply not that straightforward. Like every other human invention, the internet is dependent on us as humans. The internet can be liberating if we allow it to be, and it can also spread hateful ideas if that’s what we utilize it for. The internet and online world is not a force of it’s own. For better or for worse, we have control over our online world. We can control what we see and use the internet for. We, as users and creators of the online world, have the ultimate power over it.


Christensen, Henrik S. 2011. “Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means?” First Monday 16(2):1-10. Retrieved from:

Everett, Anna. 2004. “On Cyberfeminism and Cyberwomanism: High-Tech Mediations of Feminism’s Discontents.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30(1):1278-1286.