Even a casual user of the Internet might notice something about mainstream digital feminism: it tends to revolve around nudity. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian’s “empowering” nude photos or women en masse attempting to #freethenipple on Instagram, you might begin thinking that feminism has the one distinct aim of liberated cis female sexuality. There are fringe feminists online of course, engaging in discourse about rape culture, gendered violence, LGBTQ issues and the wage gap, but far and beyond these real world issues affecting women on a daily basis, the internet’s loudest feminists are the ones equating power with sex. Which is a very one dimensional feminism indeed.
In the past year we’ve seen Kim Kardashian “break the Internet”, naked on the cover of Paper Magazine, and again when she posted a naked selfie to Instagram. Her sister, Khloe Kardashian, released a book called “Strong Looks Better Naked”. Amber Rose has freed the nipple on Twitter. Chrissy Teigen has shown us her stretch marks. Demi Lovato has posed “makeup free” and naked in a bath. Miley Cyrus has barely worn clothes. In all these instances we’ve screamed “Empowerment!” and “Feminism!” into the digital void. And it’s not that these women should be censored--it’s that we need to recognize that feminism, as a dynamic and still necessary political movement, isn’t just about the right to get your t*ts out, despite what you might see online.
Here, Free The Nipple refers to itself as "everyone's famous feminist movement." Really? Is it?
It's all well and good for women to seek sexual liberation, but it's only a specific, limiting facet of feminism. For the every woman--that’s you and me and the women you know in your daily life--the ability to post a naked selfie online does not equate to empowerment. Not when women still earn 79 percent less than men for the same work, with that gap growing considerably for women of color. Not when women, who make up around 50 percent of the US population, only hold 19.8 percent of seats in the Senate and 20 percent in Congress. Not when one in six American women has experienced rape or attempted rape. There isn’t a nude selfie in the entire world that could cure these deeply entrenched gender inequalities within society, no matter how often we use them as a benchmark to show “how far women have come”.
Sexual empowerment, the way we see it online, doesn’t stop laws like North Carolina’s disgusting anti-trans ones being made. It doesn’t stop the vast, institutional prejudices that still exist in America and across the world. Women aren’t better because Kim Kardashian showed us her ass. Kim is better for sure--her financial independence relies on it--but not everyone is a reality TV star, and most women are just fighting for a few weeks of paid maternity leave, rather than looking for their next multi-million dollar endorsement deal. At a grassroots level of feminism, the Internet’s brand of “empowerment," with it’s focus on the female body, is not only a moot point--it’s starting to get kind of offensive.
This particular kind of Internet feminism doesn’t help the movement. It helps the women financially who are championing it, and that’s about it. By reducing feminism to the sum of celebrities flaunting their female form, all we’re doing is perpetuating patriarchal stereotypes anyway. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, an entity that seeks to give women actual sexual freedom by giving them choices and control over their reproductive health, is under attack. In our everyday lives, we police women and women’s bodies in a way Internet feminism can completely ignore.
Feminism is about making people of all genders and sexual orientations equal--socially, politically, economically and professionally--something we might achieve by putting more women in actual positions of power, running corporations and governments, for instance. But that can never be achieved if we keep attributing power to whoever can have the nudest selfie.