Women on the Web: A Study in the Solidarity Struggles of Feminist Digital Collectives

Christina Riley

Major Professor: Alison Landsberg, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Roger Lancaster, Alex Monea

Online Location, https://gmu.zoom.us/j/92089880670
May 02, 2022, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Throughout my dissertation, I trace how digital spaces reference and refashion past feminist beliefs, strategies, and schisms. By examining the feminist movement’s archive of texts, collectives, organizational tactics, and events, I underscore how these elements shape current manifestations of feminism through the emergence of feminist digital collectives. My research project is a historiography of feminist digital collectives, or spontaneous, leaderless, and affect-driven online groups with women-centric concerns. I concentrate my critical investigation on case studies of #YesAllWomen, The Women’s March of 2017, and #MeToo, following the emergent histories, narratives and struggles that shape each online collective and their offline reverberations.

New media theorists Hardt and Negri have explored how digital terrain has uncovered the ‘present’ as an accumulation of the past’s data which unfolds and connects to future pathways. This networked constellation shapes our current energies and actions by positioning certain futures as more readily accessible than others.  As feminism has moved online, it has been forced to reckon with its unresolved struggles over solidarity due to the ever-shifting, expansive dynamics of digitally collectivity. I argue that the global, instantaneous engagement enabled through social networks crucially complicates past feminist tactics such as consciousness-raising, solidarity-building and what I call, ‘emotion work.’  Digital terrain reformulates past feminist modes such as ‘victim feminism,’ ‘lean-in’ or power feminism, and intersectionality through the ignition of affective solidarity which repositions collective cohesion as a social effect not based in principles of group agreement, universality, nor ‘sisterhood.’
Through discursive analysis of various social media events and sites, I find that digital storytelling, emotion work and intersectionality are productive mechanisms for feminist digital collectivity. I argue that the affective discord of digital environments like Twitter force contemporary feminist campaigns to reconsider their approach to the politics of redress— underscoring a temporality firmly preoccupied with the past— in favor of a more transformative justice framework that centers oppressed groups as future public leaders while also prioritizing community accountability measures. I find such examples of feminist transformative justice work as interpolating feminism’s past iterations into an alternative feminist future that positions the movement as potentially more dissonant, diverse, transnational, and equalizing in its world-making.
My critical investigations do not ignore how digital terrain also poses substantial threats to the movement through the surveillance and exploitative properties of platform capitalism as well as the development and intensification of the reactionary cultures of the manosphere. I argue that we must understand linkages amongst the past in the present to carve out a space for our newfangled freedoms. This critical work stands paramount for social movement actors and critical theorists alike as these groups must persistently reconfigure a vision of the future that alleviates the social injustices of yesterday and today.