222222224th wave feminism, social media, and the fight for the ERA

By Ave Lee-Green, ERA Coalition high school intern

The year 2012 marked the start of the fourth wave of feminism and brought with it the #MeToo movement and discussions surrounding rape culture, sexual harassment, and body shaming. Eight years into this new stage of feminism, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was ratified by Virginia–the 38th and final state needed for inclusion of the amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Like the other three waves of feminism, the fourth wave has contributed uniquely to the evolution of the fight for the ERA.

Preceding this new wave of feminism were three waves with distinct events shaping the movement. The First Wave started with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1884 and ended with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The ERA was introduced a few years afterwards, in 1923. About 40 years later, the Second Wave began with the publication of the Feminine Mystique, a book by Betty Friedan who argued that women should not be satisfied with being only housewives. During this wave, many notable events occurred including the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1964 as well as the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS), which legalized a woman’s right to choose abortion. The Third Wave of feminism began in 1990s and mainly focused on lingering workplace discrimination that the Equal Pay Act of 1964 failed to address. All three of these waves have had a significant role in the advancement of the ERA.

As a member of Generation Z (born 1997-2012)–the first generation to grow up with the internet–I have watched the impact of social media grow exponentially. This is especially true in the struggle for the ERA’s ratification and inclusion in the Constitution. In the last five years, social media like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook have been a primary method of spreading awareness about political issues. The Women’s March in 2017, for example, was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Its message of the need for women’s equality was live-streamed on many social media platforms. In addition to the four million marchers in the US, another 300,000 joined globally. Using social media has allowed organizations like the Women’s March and the ERA Coalition to reach thousands of people instantly. 

Since joining the coalition over a year ago, a majority of my work has centered on the coalition’s presence on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and the ERA Coalition’s blog. Just through this experience, it has become clear to me that the reach of social media has allowed the movement to transcend borders and spark relevant conversations in other countries about women’s rights. Like a majority of other teenagers living in the 21st century, I’m constantly on my phone looking at Instagram or scrolling through TikTok. Through these apps, I have learned a lot about political issues like SCOTUS possibly overturning Roe v. Wade, which would mean that a women’s right to abortion access would no longer be federally protected. TikTok accounts like @genzforchange are a great way for TikTok users to stay up-to-date with politics in the U.S. Around 71% of 16-29 year-olds are on social media, which means that to educate young people about the Equal Rights Amendment, the internet has become a necessary and valuable tool. However, it also can be a dangerous source of disinformation, and consumers of internet information have to be able to tell the difference between facts and lies.

In the past year, I also have been introduced to the concept of intersectionality, which refers to the interconnectedness of the different sections of someone’s social identity. As defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate who coined the term “intersectionality”: “Sexism isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. It doesn’t happen to Black and white women the same way.” The relationships among someone’s socioeconomic status, gender, race, religion, and ethnicity creates distinct opportunities or disadvantages for them. These overlapping systems of discrimination must be addressed together for marginalized groups and individuals in the U.S. to reach greater equality.  

Even within the feminist movement, racial divisions have been a serious obstacle in the struggle for women’s equality in the U.S.. During the Seneca Falls Convention when women were fighting for the right to vote (during the First Wave), Black women specifically were excluded. It was made clear that the movement was fighting only for the rights of white women to vote. However, since the introduction of intersectionality, the movement has become significantly more inclusive. From the very beginning of my time at the ERA Coalition, this work has shown me not just the value of raising awareness for the ERA but also the importance of working to uplift all marginalized communities, including my own community as a young Asian American woman.

Among the many issues intersectionality confronts is the gender wage gap. On average, for every $1 a white man makes, a white woman will make $0.79 and a Black woman will make $0.64 for the exact same work (americanprogress.org). The intersection of racism and sexism that a woman of color faces creates a unique risk of economic and social inequality for her.  Intersectionality has become a key perspective for understanding the prevalence of the wage gap in the U.S..

Based on my experience, the most valuable contributions of Fourth Wave feminism are that it has brought a new framework (intersectionality) and the use of new technologies (social media) that activists can use in our efforts to advance the ERA’s inclusion in the U.S. Constitution. By including the voices of overlapping marginalized communities and using social media to spread accurate information nationwide, we have been able to expand the support for the ERA and ultimately achieve the 38th state’s ratification.