Sady Doyle is the founder and publisher of Tiger Beatdown, a blog about gender. She has also written for 'In These Times,' 'Bitch' and 'The American Prospect.' This article appeared in the March 2014 edition of 'In These Times.'
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Media commentators are usually men older than 30. By contrast, the users they're wringing their hands over are mostly female and mostly young. The internet isn't a strange new country for these girls; it's their home turf. It's the rest of us who are in the minority.
Thanks to this fluency, young women have also proven to be remarkably creative in terms of finding ways to use the internet to support each other and improve their lives. The microblogging site Tumblr, for example, is a haven for them: its users are 51 percent female, with some sources reporting that half its traffic comes from people younger than 25.
It's also a hotbed for intense, diverse, literate feminist critique. It's the platform that made a massive crossover hit out of theory-intensive in-jokes like "Pizza Feminism" and "Feminist Ryan Gosling"; it's also where a then-unknown 23-year-old woman launched "Binders Full of Women" within minutes of Mitt Romney's sexist debate gaffe, getting so much traffic that she was accused of working for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
If social media leaves young women vulnerable to sexist harassment from strangers like never before, it also offers them a chance to connect with an unprecedented range of potential allies and to execute measurable change by making their numbers visible. Take Julia Bluhm, a teenager who launched a Change.org petition requesting that Seventeen magazine stop retouching its models; Bluhm gathered more than 84,000 signatures and received a concession from the magazine itself.
Young women also have access to pro-girl resources—such as Rookie magazine, run and largely staffed by young women, or Scarleteen, a sex-positive site about sex and relationships—that those of us in an older demographic could never have dreamed of.
So, yes, I am frequently grateful that social media did not exist when I was in high school. It is true that our conception of youth as a protected space—a time to screw up, to try things on, to not quite know what you're doing, to make bad fashion statements and worse life choices that you'll find intensely embarrassing a few years down the line—is evaporating as everyone's life becomes a public spectacle. I worry about what will happen to young women's freedom to make mistakes and grow up as their awkward years are archived online, displayed to the often merciless eye of the viewing public.
But I'm just doing what grownups are known to do: being overly nostalgic and identifying "youth" with a version of reality that no longer exists. It has always been frightening and dangerous to be a young woman in a misogynist culture. And young women have always created means by which to survive. If they have new threats to cope with, in our digital age, they also have a whole new set of tools.