When we hear the words ‘feminism’ and ‘Twitter’ uttered in the same sentence, the word ‘troll’ also comes to mind. It’s a sad reality that often when a woman speaks out about her opinion on gender equality, she is responded to with threats of rape or murder. Oh, sweet irony.
Yet, rather than being a negative space behind which bigots can hide, Twitter has become a space in which the seeds of activism are planted, where people can freely speak their opinions and connect with like-minded people.
This year, we’ve seen entire grassroots movements stem from a single hashtag – particularly in the world of feminism - and we can now exclusively reveal the top 15 feminist hashtags of 2015.
#FreeTheNipple - 943,306
The equality movement, Free the Nipple, was launched by activist and filmmaker, Lina Esco, after she became fed up that the law was discriminatory when it came to women exposing their nipples, whereas men were able to show theirs without a problem.
When it transpired that the photo-sharing app, Instagram, would remove any images of women’s breasts if they were posted, but did not apply the same rules to men, the hashtag #FreeTheNipple began trending, with women hoping to desexualise their breasts. Last year, Esco’s film of the same name was released, and in summer this year, topless women took to the streets of 60 cities worldwide, to fightback and reclaim their bodies, fed up of society’s objectification of the female form.
#Femen – 414,581
Topless Ukranian activists, Femen, have been known for a few years for their controversial approach to feminist campaigning. The group have been accused of Islamophobia, regularly criticising Islam’s approach to women and protesting against the hijab.
In September, the group stormed an Islamic fundamentalist conference on wife beating, and were subsequently beaten by the event’s attendees. A video of the beating circulated online and was so disgustingly shocking, that Femen received more support than usual, with the hashtag #Femen trending.
#ThisGirlCan – 331,070
Launched in January, Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign invested £10m to help encourage women to participate in sport. The campaign video saw real women partaking in a variety of exercises while sweating, wobbling and bouncing the way that normal bodies do, in a bid to make women feel less self-conscious about the way they look when excercising.
Just this week, figures have revealed that the project is already encouraging more women to participate in sport, with almost 150,000 women having started playing sport at least once a week since the campaign launched.
#OscarSoWhite – 212,553
When blogger, April Reign tweeted about the lack of people of colour nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards, using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, it went viral almost immediately, at one point racking up 95,000 tweets every hour. “There were many performances both in front of and behind the camera by people from marginalised communities that I believe should have been recognised,” said Reign at the time.
The movement brought attention to the lack of diversity in the film industry, and was later adopted by intersectional feminists to draw attention to the whiteness of the feminist movement.
#ShoutYourAbortion – 208,344
In an age where abortion rights remain a contentious issue, it’s no surprise a hashtag related to woman’s ability to choose, went viral. In September, American politicians threatened to block funding to abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Angered by the news, journalist Lindy West took to Twitter to share her abortion story, saying: “The campaign to defund PP relies on the assumption that abortion is to be whispered about. #ShoutYourAbortion.”
West encouraged women to share their own story- however traumatic or personal – to show that abortion is a human right and that women should not be ashamed of the decisions they have made. The hashtag was shared worldwide.
#ILookLikeAnEngineer – 194,186
In August, a poster campaign that sought to encourage applications for jobs at a San Francisco tech company went viral – but not for the popularity of tech.
Soon after being plastered on city walls, the campaign was accused of being faked-up to lure people into the roles, with people suggesting that Isis Wenger, the subject of one of the posters – and a software engineer - was a model, with an inappropriate ‘sexy smirk.’ One such comment suggested that nobody in their right mind would believe that’s what a female software engineer looks like.
Wenger responded with an essay on the subject, exposing the sexism she regularly encounters at work, and encouraging other female engineers to post pictures of themselves using the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer, to expose the sexism in the comments and celebrate that all types of women can be engineers.
#ToTheGirls – 138,795
While promoting her new book, All the Rage, young adult fiction writer, Courtney Summers, wrote a blog post about how shame and silence are inflicted upon young women in our society.
The post recalled how Summers herself had been questioned by readers who wondered why she wanted to write about girls. Summers responded by saying: “I write about girls because girls, and their stories, matter.” Summers then asked her readers to adopt the hashtag #ToTheGirls on 14 April - the date of her book release - to encourage people to write a supportive message to young women and girls, to let them know “that they are seen, heard and loved.” She asked for advice, personal stories or simply words of encouragement, so the internet could let girls know that they mattered just as much as the boys, and to help those suffering from low self-esteem.
#ChooseBeautiful – 100,570
Dove’s Choose Beautiful campaign launched in April this year. The brand affixed signs above doorways in London, San Francisco, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Delhi, which said either ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Average’ and filmed as women chose which door to walk through.
The video observed how women perceived themselves and how they reacted to walking through their chosen door – either rushing through or laughing, or walking through contemplatively. In the video the women describe how they felt walking through the doors, with one who walked through the ‘Average’ door saying: “Beautiful to me…it’s far too out of reach.” Another, who walked through the ‘Beautiful’ door said: “It was quite a triumphant feeling.”
Dove also interviewed 6,400 women internationally, and 96% said they don’t see themselves as beautiful. The campaign resonated deeply with so many women, that #ChooseBeautiful went viral.
#AskHerMore – 92,058
In the run-up to awards season in January, the hashtag #AskHerMore began trending, as women in the entertainment industry campaigned to be asked better questions at red carpet events - too often they felt devalued by media questions, compared with those asked of men.
Launched by The Representation Project, Twitter users were encouraged to post questions they’d like to hear asked of women on the red carpet. In September, before the Emmy’s, Amy Poehler brought the campaign back to life by encouraging women to ask questions of their favourite actors, using the hashtag #SmartGirlsAsk.
#TamponTax – 80,261
In October, MPs voted against abolishing the luxury 5% value-added tax on women’s sanitary products.
Stella Creasy MP gave a funny and yet rousing speech during the debate, during which she encouraged a male MP to say tampon, rather than simply ‘products.’ The absurd ruling led to a social media storm, in which women posted hilarious photographs of themselves enjoying these ‘luxury’ items, from wrapping them up as Christmas presents to serving them on a platter.The following month, a group of young women protested against the ruling by free bleeding outside parliament.
George Osbourne later announced that the money received from the tax would go towards women’s refuge charities, which only served to fuel the anger - forcing women to pay for their own help, and reminding us that funding to these areas had already been heavily cut by the Tories.
#GirlsWhoCode – 40,457
Seen as a ‘traditionally male’ pastime or career path, the last two years have seen a push to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers and training in coding and STEM sectors and dispel such stereotypes. A number of companies have worked to create women-only coding groups to make women feel more comfortable when learning, and to bridge the gender gap in tech sectors. This year in particular, coding became a girl-friendly zone.
#FreeTheFive – 37,765
In April, five young Chinese women made headlines after they were detained following a feminist protest. The month prior, the five women had walked the streets in wedding dressed covered in blood, to draw attention to domestic violence, as well as attempting to organised a nationwide protest against sexual harassment on public transport.
Their arrests caused an international furore after people were outraged anyone could be arrested for non-violent protesting. The New York Times called the women the “first modern, independent, feminist, grassroots actors in Chinese history.”
#GenderPayGap – 22,648
This year, it felt like there wasn’t a single Hollywood actor who didn’t speak out about the gender pay gap.
Patricia Arquette kicked-off the year with a rousing call-to-arms in her Oscar’s acceptance speech, Sienna Miller turned down a Broadway role after discovering she would be paid less than half the wage of her male co-star, and Jennifer Lawrence penned a frustrated essay about how she felt following the Sony hack which revealed she was paid less than her male co-stars for her role in American Hustle.
Hollywood wasn’t the only industry that was angered, though. The World Economic Forum announced in November that it could take 118 years to bridge the gender pay gap, and women worldwide were generally livid that, in 2015, they were still being paid less than their male counterparts.
Charlotte Proudman made all the front pages in September this year, after she took a screen shot of a message she received on LinkedIn from a senior male barrister with whom she wanted to connect. The message, from QC Alexander Carter-Silk, read: “Charlotte, delighted to connect, I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture !!!” To which Proudman swiftly replied calling Carter-Silk ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynistic’.
Proudman’s reaction divided the nation, with some crowning her a feminist hero, and others accusing her of crying wolf and belittling the feminist cause.
Another brand-based campaign that did extremely well this year was Gillette’s Use Your And campaign, which encouraged women to present themselves as multi-faceted beings, as opposed to one-dimensional people limited to being either ‘pretty’ or ‘intelligent’.
Although people criticised the campaign for being hypocritical - it coming from a razor brand and all – the videos, featuring women reciting a poem that included lines like “use your and to make a stand” and “you are polished nails and a polished mind,” proved hugely popular, inspiring men and women to rethink stereotypes. Other than being simply a good video, the campaign led women to speak out about how they wanted to be seen.