Hashtag Feminisms

Australian Media Feminists, Activism, and Digital Campaigns

by Sarah Casey (Author) Juliet Watson (Author)
©2023 Monographs X, 270 Pages


«This fantastic book investigates the proliferation, power and changing nature of online feminist activism. The book critically focuses on the challenges and risks of online feminist activism, as well as the capacity of activist campaigns to achieve real, transformative change. Casey and Watson argue that although feminists should harness the power of hashtag and celebrity feminism, there are tensions, inequalities and power imbalances within feminism which must be navigated.
This book is a must-read, especially for activists, academics, victim-survivors and policymakers. It makes an important contribution to contemporary debates about the role of feminist digital activism across three key areas: raising public awareness of gender-based violence, contributing to cultural change, including changing norms, attitudes and behaviours, and shaping understandings of how gender, race, sexuality and other markers of difference intersect to shape experience. The book is a timely reminder that feminist activism is an important piece of the puzzle to preventing gender-based violence.»
(Professor Nicola Henry, RMIT University)

«Hashtag Feminisms is powerful. It is potent. It is engaging. This book offers momentum and transformation. It provides a pathway to our future, through courage, reflection, kindness and compassion.»
(Professor Tara Brabazon, Professor of Cultural Studies (Flinders University) / Professor of Higher Education (Massey University))

Broad-scale feminist consciousness continues to gain ground globally, as witnessed by the Women’s March, #MeToo, and #EnoughIsEnough in Australia. Aided by hashtag activism and media feminists, feminist campaigns have highlighted the need for change in cultural attitudes to issues such as gender-based violence. This book focuses on feminist campaigning in the Australian context over the last decade, contending the increased velocity of feminist discourse in the Australian mediascape represents a critical opportunity for larger scale, feminist-led mass awareness campaigns. The authors ask: what is it about hashtag activism and celebrity feminisms that may be most useful to (some) Australian feminists, and what are the challenges and potential risks of these forms of activism? Does such activism have substantive political or material effects? Or is this type of activism just echo chamber activism, which does little to address structural inequalities and, if so, might anything be salvaged?

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: A Groundswell of Feminist Activism
  • PART I: Australian Feminist Online Activism
  • CHAPTER 1. Feminisms, Gender-Based Violence, and Activism
  • CHAPTER 2. #Hysteria: Activism and the Online World
  • CHAPTER 3. A Case Study of Feminist Activist Interventions in Queensland Party Politics: #SackGavin
  • PART II: Popular Media Feminisms and Feminists in Campaigning
  • CHAPTER 4. Media Feminists: Bytesizes and Branding
  • CHAPTER 5. Unpalatable–Palatable Tensions
  • Conclusion: Feminist Solidarity and Consciousness-Raising
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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There are far too many people to thank personally between us, and we will thank everyone for their support individually. Many of you know who you are already.

Sarah thanks colleagues from the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University, where she completed her doctoral studies, and her current colleagues at the University of the Sunshine Coast. She extends much gratitude to L.W., the co-creator of the #SackGavin campaign. She would also like to acknowledge and thank B.J. who patiently and thoughtfully discussed the issues raised in this book with her, but who sadly passed before its completion. Juliet would like to thank colleagues in the Social and Global Studies Centre and colleagues in the Social Work and Human Services Cluster at RMIT University.

Both of us would like to thank our families, friends, generous mentors, and the many feminist scholars and activists who continue to inspire us.

We met at a conference in Liverpool, England in 2009 and we owe a debt of gratitude to the friends we made at that feminist conference, and to our colleagues and friends in the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association. We thank the reviewers and editors for their generous feedback and suggestions. Both of us acknowledge the amazing work of Honorary Associate Professor Anne Brewster, Series Editor for Australian Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives with Peter Lang Ltd, and Dr Laurel Plapp, Senior Acquisitions Editor, Peter Lang, Oxford. Thank you for your feedback, encouragement, patience, and generosity.

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Introduction: A Groundswell of Feminist Activism

Shame on you Sarah Casey! […] Out of parental care I have warned my own daughters about the risks of drinking too much when they go out for fear of date rape and other similar consequences. They protested, just like you, you politically devious and immature female. I have seen stupid young girls behaving like drunken sluts at 3am in The Valley when I went to rescue my own daughter on one occasion. Shame on you Sarah Casey. Why don’t you attack the Labor and Greens MP’s [sic] when they liberally use the word rape. I think I know why. Shame on you!

– ‘Amazed of Brisbane’, comment in The Courier Mail, 25 November 2011

Gavin King was an Australian journalist. He was the Editor-in-Chief at the Murdoch-owned News Corp publication, The Cairns Post. In 2008, during his time as a journalist, he authored an article titled, ‘Women Should Play it Safe’ (King 2008c: n.p.). Here he posed and answered the following question: ‘If a woman drinks to excess and is raped or assaulted, is she partly to blame? As uncomfortable and difficult as this question is, the answer surely is yes’.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about the gravity of King’s considered editorial response to his own question: ‘the answer is surely yes’.

In 2011, the Queensland branch of the Liberal National Party (LNP) – one of Australia’s two major political parties – endorsed King as the 2012 candidate for the state seat of Cairns in northern Queensland. Notwithstanding some minimal media attention that had already begun, the LNP continued to support King. Despite political pressure from Anna Bligh’s state government calling for King’s disendorsement, the issue received scant attention from mainstream media or, at first, from many relatively well-known popular media feminists, despite activists bringing it to their attention. Frustrated by the lack of interest in the issue of a rape apologist potentially being voted into public office, the revictimisation that such comments can create and the complicity of the LNP in supporting King, Sarah collaborated with a colleague and began an explicitly feminist campaign which they labelled in social media as #SackGavin (Casey 2015, ←1 | 2→2016). Their campaign began – predominantly online – in October 2011. It was an attempt to offer feminist interventions into public discourse on gender-based violence relating to damaging, victim-blaming narratives and to seek King’s disendorsement from the Queensland LNP. During this campaign, Sarah was personally trolled in social media and online media publications’ readers’ comment sections. The epigraph that begins this book is one such comment from a reader of Queensland’s News Corp publication The Courier Mail. While already concurring with Sara Ahmed’s assertion that ‘an argument of second-wave feminism (one shared with Marxism and Black politics) that I think is worth holding onto is the argument that political consciousness is achieved: raising consciousness is a crucial aspect of collective political work’ (Ahmed 2010b: 6), the #SackGavin campaign expressly reinforced this belief. Sarah came to understand the emotional labour (Hochschild 1983) of public feminist activism as arguably only an insider organiser is able, and through this book we want to use her and others’ experiences to help understand the broader cultural moment we are now experiencing in gender relations. By looking back, we are able to – hopefully – look forward.

The #SackGavin campaign occurred at a time before digital activism such as online petitioning had gained significant traction in Australia and before the explosion of visible online feminist campaigning that Australia, along with many other nations, has recently seen. Prominent examples of such campaigning include #EverydaySexism, #YesAllWomen, #BindersFullOfWomen, #BringBackOurGirls, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSidekick, #WhyIStayed, #FreeTheNipple, #HeForShe, #WomensMarch, #PussyGrabsBack, #DestroyTheJoint, #LetHerSpeak, #TimesUp, #March4Justice, and #MeToo.1 The proliferation of online feminist campaigning since the #SackGavin campaign demonstrates how rapidly developments occur in the digital activist space and, in some cases, how quickly they transition into other media and public spaces. An analysis of #SackGavin offers a critical perspective on the contemporary digital ←2 | 3→activist climate as it was one of the earlier digital feminist activist campaigns in Australia. In historicising the campaign, we consider what strategies and tactics may be useful for Australian and international feminists and we also highlight some of the persistent issues that inevitably arise from such activism – for example, trolling. The campaign highlighted our sense of caution for what we would argue are sometimes necessary unholy media alliances. #SackGavin further revealed to us what we already knew: we need more, and more diverse, feminist voices in the media to bring collectivity and inclusivity together, even though there never should – or will – be one sole movement under the umbrella of feminism. The campaign confirmed the necessity of more collective feminist interventions not only to disrupt normalising discourses, but also to bring into the public eye the possibility that someone who believes that rape is sometimes a woman’s fault may participate in drafting laws.2

The problems outlined in this brief historical overview are not due to one person, such as Gavin King becoming a Member of Parliament while holding publicly acknowledged beliefs that sexual assault is sometimes a woman’s fault. There will always be Gavin Kings, and they come and they go, but the entrenched attitudes remain. Ultimately, #SackGavin emphasised the need for more collective and visible feminist activist campaigning in Australia. Now the campaign acts as an exemplar of a grassroots campaign, providing historical context on how activism has expeditiously – and visibly – changed in the last few years, and how critical it is to act upon the new waves of activism. Had this wave of activism that we are now seeing occurred by 2011, #SackGavin would arguably have gathered far more support from various feminists and feminist allies. Nonetheless, it did attract – for the time – considerable support, even though it occurred, as we will discuss, just before a turning point for Australian feminist activism.

The year 2012 marked a groundswell of feminist action propelled by mass public reactions to incidents such as the sexual assault and murder of Gillian Meagher in Melbourne, sexist comments by a radio ‘shock jock’ and then the ‘misogyny speech’ by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. An ←3 | 4→upsurge of a new mode of feminist activism was also under way and feminism was experiencing renewed energy and prominence in many Western nations. It was literally up in lights at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) when singer Beyoncé performed with the word ‘Feminist’ emblazoned in enormous letters behind her for the world to see. According to Jessica Bennett (2014), writing for Time: ‘as far as feminist endorsements are concerned, this is the holy grail’. Other celebrities such as actors Emma Watson, Laverne Cox, and Nicole Kidman; singers Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift; and Megan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, have also been vocal about embracing feminism. Feminism has additionally experienced some rejuvenation through endorsements from cis-male public figures such as (former) US President Barack Obama, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and singer Harry Styles vocally backing it, arguably invoking their ‘male feminist capital’ – that is, supporting the improvement of women’s social and economic conditions while being in receipt of advantages unavailable to women undertaking the same labour (Casey and Watson 2017; Watson and Casey 2022). Most prominently, in 2017/2018 the #MeToo movement exploded, highlighting the sexist, sexually harassing behaviour, sexual violence, and gendered abuse by men in positions of power such as Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein and countless other men around the globe. The time is ripe, then, to assess the relationship between this increased feminist visibility, celebrity involvement, and campaigning opportunities.

Activism and campaigning

Social movements such as those used to raise awareness about environmental issues, for instance climate change and ending poverty, for example, Make Poverty History and Global Citizen, have led the way in mass-mobilisation campaigns that marshal traditional and new(er) media as well as celebrity figureheads or patrons to communicate their message. These campaigns offer examples of methods that could be employed in campaigns in Australia and elsewhere. The social issue we draw on throughout this book is raising awareness of gender-based violence, ←4 | 5→particularly through challenging entrenched societal attitudes. Given the global concerns about gender-based violence, campaigning around this issue is one important to many feminist agendas; despite increased awareness of gender-based violence in Australia, particularly in the wake of the 2015 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, continually ascertaining and reassessing what works/might work better, what is useful, and what we can do more or less of in campaigning contexts is still crucial.

A key argument we are putting forward is that feminists can – and sometimes should – make use of hashtag feminisms and celebrity feminists (also known as media feminists or popular feminists) to funnel attention in organised, large-scale campaigns for public awareness and cultural attitudinal change. Accordingly, this book analyses uses for online feminist activism such as grassroots petitions and social media particularly in relation to the #SackGavin campaign as well as, for example, the much larger and more widely recognised campaign Destroy the Joint. It explores these strategies to better understand the deployment of communication tools and campaign tactics for mass-awareness campaigns. We ask: what is it about hashtag activism and celebrity feminism that may be most useful to (some) feminist campaigns, and what are the challenges and potential risks of these forms of activism? Does such activism have substantive political or material effects? Or is this type of activism just ‘echo chamber’ activism, which does little to address structural inequalities, and, if so, might anything from it be salvaged?

We argue that the methods that would most successfully promote a stronger feminist movement are already available, are often applied, and have the potential to create powerful campaigns not dissimilar to those of the scale used in the ongoing fight to end global poverty. These could include, for example, highly organised media-centred campaigns incorporating both off- and online actions, with specific targets and collective goals around awareness and leverage for continuing actions and supports, utilising grassroots activists and other experts together, as well as celebrity activists. We investigate and then recommend some viable strategies to raise awareness further and more expeditiously. The strategies under review include the application of the newer and emerging media cultural practices for more feminist campaigning to increase community awareness, ←5 | 6→mobilisation using media, and wider dissemination of feminist ideas and agendas.

We explore some key campaign methods and pathways as an information resource for feminists who want to take issues to more central, mainstream spaces. We provide a holistic analysis of some of the available tools, and those most relevant to feminist activism are identified and a rationale is provided for their selection. Such methods are often mobilised alongside traditional institutionalised channels, albeit working towards different outcomes. We argue that, while feminist awareness-raising can be advantageously prosecuted through multiple mechanisms (and already is), a multi-pronged, multi-channel approach to organised campaigning increases the possibilities for grassroots activism to invoke a greater form of participatory activism.

As we argue in this book, a mainstream mass-awareness approach certainly does not mean that intersectional oppressions are not being fought on both the material and discursive levels by feminists, activists, educators, governments, and within certain industries. However, violations of human rights – particularly through gender-based violence – continue to need urgent attention if they are to be denaturalised and if we are to thereby destabilise the status quo. While the attention of large institutions to the issues is imperative, there is also something in the smaller acts of protest that contribute to broader change when enough feminists say: We will no longer remain quiet. And we are organising.

The role of celebrity/media/popular figures in feminist campaigning is critically under-examined. The egocentric motivation of overtly popular celebrities is such that the idea of recruiting popular communication tools and tactics for more profound ends is often given cursory attention or overlooked. While we agree that ‘feminists must not poach an evangelist-like zeal from the pseudo messiah of the day’ (Brabazon 2002: 7), it is not productive to dismiss entirely the potential of some celebrity figures, as ‘celebrity = impact on public consciousness’ (Rojek 2001: 10). Indeed, celebrity and media-based feminism holds some value and it can still be recuperated for more resistant feminist activism. We signal the need for more scholarly research into the benefits of embracing the activism of popular feminist campaigning while also remaining cautious about making celebrities the ←6 | 7→sole public face of feminism. Such methods are often an entrée or ‘gateway to feminism’, as Roxane Gay (2014: n.p.) argues. The goal of better understanding the tools and tactics of activism is to enable broader, bolder feminist agitation and action, and renewed recognition of the power of the collective. Although it is often not sustainable, boldness can be reiterated so that it gradually creates a shift in the cultural imagination. This book acknowledges the potential of popular feminism, while recognising it is not without issues. It recognises that it is ‘getting something right’ in terms of its capacity to employ methods that successfully engage audiences. This book, therefore, explores how the ‘audience’ phenomenon may be best recruited and utilised for more – and sometimes better – feminist activism.


X, 270
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (March)
Media feminists Hashtag feminism Juliet Watson Feminist activism Sarah Casey
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2023. X, 270 pp.

Biographical notes

Sarah Casey (Author) Juliet Watson (Author)

Dr Sarah Casey is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Business and Creative Industries at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Her research centres on advocacy, and media and communication campaigning, with a particular interest in rural, regional, and remote women. She is a long-term executive member of the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association. Dr Juliet Watson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Australia. Her research interests include homelessness, gender-based violence, and feminisms. She was previously President of the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association.


Title: Hashtag Feminisms
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