I, much like many other young adult women have a very complex relationship with social media. I find myself constantly grappling with this modern discourse and wondering its impact on feminism and female empowerment. The answers are complex and exist in multiplicity. Social media allows for the spread of new and radical ideas. Now more than ever there is a community for all people of all genders and marginalized identities to safely communicate and find representation. There is the tremendous power in representation, Instagram for example centers on photographs and there is something to be said for ones ability to express their own self. The very act of unapologetically existing if your identity challenges norms can be feminist and revolutionary. Never before has the control of self-representation been so accessible to a general population. However, never before has this same population been able to so easily compare their own lives to those of their peers.
For me, Instagram offers a way to put my “best” self on display, yet it is not always satisfying since there is the implication of comparison. Whether this comparison is intended or not it is inevitable. Nonetheless, the ‘likes’ feel good, like reinforcement that what I do, or more accurately, what I put online is ‘good’. That what I post and how I look is not only accepted but praised by my peers. This led me to more questions about social media and feminism: Is Instagram a way to reinforce the beauty industry by making young people feel inadequate? For some yes and for others it is more complex. I conducted an experiment, I planned to delete the app for a few days (five) and monitor my feelings of self-confidence. My findings were surprising; I was surprised to realize how much I missed the app. My fingers searched for it on my phone every few hours only to be met in a game app in its place. I missed seeing my friends tagging me in funny photographs and videos but most importantly since I had less to compare myself. I was not more confident necessarily I just simply was not able to judge myself as harshly. I was without an ideal therefore unable to determine my own status.
Is instagram helping or hurting feminism? I do not have an answer but I can say that if you feel overwhelmed with photographs of what would think you should be I suggest you take a very short break to reevaluate your relationship with social media. We are an informed society we know better then to subscribe to prevailing beauty standards that are “one size fits all” yet we constantly subject ourselves to such comparisons. Fourth wave feminism is characterized by its contradictions and interconnectedness with technology; however, let us not forget to unplug and critically evaluate what images are dominant and the psychological effect they can have. As for me, I think I will systematically delete and redownload such apps to give myself what I have discovered are much-needed breaks. Like anything in feminism there are no universalities, but I think that is what makes them so fascinating.
Don’t forget to follow me though ;) @sampugliese
Samantha is a third year university student currently working toward her honors degree in Gender and Woman's Studies. She aspires to go into law to help spread the message of intersection feminism in the legal sector. Her favorite things to do are hanging out with her friends, family boyfriend and two adorable cats! Follow her on Instagram at @samcatprincess to see what she's up to next!