Thousands of women defied police bans to attend Reclaim These Streets protests after the murder of Sarah Everard. Every newspaper covered the social media explosion of collective grief and rage, women sharing stories of everyday harassment. Will this be the birth of a new women’s movement in Britain?
These protests are the latest in a decade of bursts of feminist activity internationally, often in response to an outrage or attack. SlutWalk grew into a transnational protest calling for an end to victim-blaming on sexual assault. The women’s marches that took place the weekend of Trump’s inauguration were the largest in US history. Hundreds of marches across the country drew more than three million protestors.
In Brazil Ele Não attempted similar organisation against Bolsonaro. International Women’s Day transnational strikes have involved millions of women. A wave of occupations and strikes against harassment and sexual violence has hit schools and universities across Chile. Strike 4 Repeal pro-choice protests in Ireland, inspired by protests in Poland, called for legalisation of abortion in Ireland. Women’s protests last year in Poland against further attacks on abortion rights were the largest since the fall of Stalinism.
The hashtag #MeToo went viral after allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, starting a global discussion on harassment and assault by men in power. The use of digital technologies and social media has contributed enormously to the immediate transnational character of the movement, encouraging coordination of struggles, and circulating of ideas and slogans.
Dr. Laurel Weldon, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, has created an index of feminist activity since the 1970s. Weldon’s research indicates that today we are in the midst of another resurgence of feminist organising, bolstered by the explosion of online activism, but that it is accompanied by the decline of actual women’s organisations. We have an upsurge in some sorts of activity, but in many countries that is not associated with ongoing organisation on the ground.
Whilst being very effective at publicising street protests and rapidly spreading some ideas internationally, social media activity cannot replace meetings and publications for collectively developing strategy and demands for a women’s movement. Social media activity can make us feel like we’re part of a movement, but then reduce the push to go out and build something real.
The growth of the right has been accompanied by real grassroots movements of various reactionary currents. We can’t concede In Real Life ("IRL") organising and discussion to vicious and backward elements, and ourselves retreat online.
We need to build a socialist women’s movement. That won’t flow naturally out of increased social-media activity and big sporadic street protests. It will require concerted effort.