How Tumblr raised a generation of feminists

Briony Hannell, University of Sheffield

Like so many millennials, my teenage years on the multimedia microblogging platform, Tumblr, introduced me to feminist politics, which inspired my burgeoning interest in gender and feminism at university. My experiences as a Tumblr teen at the height of its popularity inspired my book, Feminist Fandom: Media Fandom, Digital Feminisms, and Tumblr, which examines the platform in the early- to mid-2010s.

By the end of the 2010s, reports indicated that the majority of young women identified as feminists – a far cry from the preceding decade marked by ambivalence and unease, if not outright hostility, toward feminism.

From high-profile celebrities such as Beyoncé and Emma Watson declaring themselves feminists, to feminist books dominating the bestseller charts, to feminist commentary in Elle and Teen Vogue, popular culture in the 2010s was marked by the sudden and spectacular resurgence of feminist politics.

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Feminism, it seemed, had lost its former reputation as an outdated and dirty word. By 2017, feminism was so central to the zeitgeist that it was declared the Merriam-Webster word of the year.

Many commentators have argued that feminism’s visibility on social media was instrumental to this revival, ushering in its fourth wave. And few social media platforms received quite so much attention for their progressive, queer and feminist ethos as Tumblr.

Beyoncé’s 2013 song Flawless declared her identity as a feminist.

Since its conception in 2007, Tumblr has developed a reputation for its appeal to marginalised users, especially LGBTQ+ youth, girls and young women, and people of colour. Widely used for sharing knowledge, community building and personal and creative expression, both Tumblr and its users readily embraced its reputation as a space committed to social justice and the open, self-governing exchange of ideas.

Why and how, I wondered when writing my book, did this platform in particular play such a central role in the feminist experiences and identities of so many of my millennial peers? Here’s what I found.

1. Design

The design and functionality of Tumblr differentiated it from other popular platforms at the time. Unlike Facebook, where explicit identity cues – including your real name, age and location – are required for use, the only identity information Tumblr required of users was their age, email address and a pseudonymous username.

Tumblr allowed users to have a high level of control over their visibility and the way they presented themselves. By virtue of its simplicity, customisability and (initially) lax approach to content moderation, Tumblr enabled a greater sense of privacy and freedom of expression than its more popular competitors. This made the site appealing to those hoping to explore identities, issues and interests that could be unwelcome elsewhere.

Tumblr’s anonymity made it feel safer for its marginalised users, inviting curiosity, experimentation and openness in those important first encounters with feminism.

2. Broad definition of feminism

Feminists have long emphasised that no single or universal “feminism” exists. Few versions of feminism on Tumblr achieved the height of attention enjoyed by liberal, white, western, middle-class feminism. But others nevertheless found a footing there, providing insight into the relationship between feminism and anti-racism, queer liberation, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and more.

Emma Watson’s 2014 UN speech on feminism was popular on Tumblr.

The wide variety of marginalised perspectives and voices on Tumblr combined to play an educational and consciousness-raising role in the lives of its users, offering more complex and critical insights into intersecting inequalities.

3. Culture

For many users, Tumblr’s ultimate appeal lay in its mixture of political and educational content and content that was more playful, leisure-oriented and interest-based.

Many of the Tumblr users I interviewed for my book described their Tumblr blogs as a highly personal repository of all of their passions and interests, from personal life to pop culture and politics. As Emily, who is now in her late 20s, recalled: “I got my Tumblr account when I was 14. I remember an acquaintance suggested it, so I checked it out, and it really offered me a place to collate all my interests. I fell down the rabbit hole pretty quickly.”

When we last spoke in 2018, she said that she was hesitant to leave Tumblr, describing it as a “living document of everything I’ve ever been interested in”.

The mixture of personal and political material on Tumblr served an important purpose for young feminists on the platform. No longer was feminism an abstract, academic and detached endeavour. Instead, it was immediate, engaging and playful, embedded into a bespoke timeline compiling users’ every interest, passion and political affinity.

Decline and nostalgia

Tumblr’s controversial adult content ban in 2018 was widely seen as a death knell heralding its demise and signalling the end of an era for a Tumblr feminism marked by the embrace of different sexual and gender identities.

Yet the ban’s partial reversal in November 2022 has ushered in hopes of a Tumblr revival. These hopes are built on Tumblr nostalgia: a yearning for an imagined past of the platform centring its progressive sensibility.

This yearning is partially driven by doubts about whether today’s popular platforms will harbour the same feminist potential for the next generation. For example, while TikTok has shown some signs of promise, it’s also home to prominent anti-feminist communities and has come under fire from marginalised content creators.

Moreover, its focus on visibility and exposure, compared to Tumblr’s focus on pseudonymity, makes users vulnerable to networked harassment, which, as many feminists have noted, disproportionately impacts women and gender minorities.

Despite its imperfections, Tumblr’s unique design, culture and sensibility combined to shape a generation of feminists in the 2010s. I don’t see any modern websites or apps that would be able to follow suit in the 2020s.

Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation

Briony Hannell, University Teacher in Sociology, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explore the history of The Tanks | Tate

Tate Modern's Director of Programme Catherine Wood explores the industrial history of Tate's underground art space, The Tanks. Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl

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Keeping the spirit of punk alive

Keeping the spirit of punk alive in British culture embodies a commitment to the DIY ethos, a philosophy rooted in independence, rebellion, and self-expression. At its core, punk challenges conformity and empowers individuals to create, innovate, and resist mainstream norms.

One of the hallmarks of punk's enduring legacy is its embrace of the DIY spirit. This ethos encourages people to do it themselves, whether it's creating music, art, fashion, or challenging societal structures. In the realm of music, punk bands often eschew traditional routes to success, opting instead to self-produce albums, book their own shows, and distribute music through grassroots networks.

In the DIY punk scene, there's a palpable sense of community and solidarity. Bands collaborate with local artists and venues, fostering a supportive network that values authenticity over commercialism. This ethos extends beyond music into other creative spheres, where individuals repurpose materials, experiment with unconventional techniques, and challenge established norms.

The spirit of punk thrives in the grassroots efforts of zine creators, DIY fashion designers, and activists who use art as a tool for social change. From squats to independent venues, DIY spaces provide platforms for expression and resistance, serving as incubators for countercultural movements.


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How to write a love song

How to write a love song – three tips for beginners from a songwriting expert

Glenn Fosbraey, University of Winchester

Love and romance are unquestionably the dominant lyrical themes of popular music. In fact, research in 2017 found that “love” has been the most common theme for pop song lyrics in every decade since the 1960s.

If you’re trying to write a love song for the first time, you might not know where to begin, or cringe at the thought of being schmaltzy. But love songs don’t necessarily have to be romantic. In the 2011 song Suck it And See, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner proposed that the ultimate compliment to bestow upon a loved one is to say they’re “rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock”.

An even stranger example comes courtesy of Underneath This Lamppost Light (2008) by The King Blues where the singer expresses undying love and devotion through the line: “I’ll kiss you after you’ve thrown up in the gutter / I’d do anything for you”.

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This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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One of my own favourites, Dry Your Eyes by The Streets (2004), not only eschews terms we’d associate with love, but launches into an expletive-laden ramble in the third verse, demonstrating how love can leave us unable to express ourselves eloquently (or even coherently).

Other songwriters, however, prefer the more direct approach. The likes of Billie Eilish, Avril Lavigne, Mike Love, Lou Reed, Chuck Berry, The Ramones, and dozens of others all releasing songs simply titled: I Love You.

I research song lyrics and creative writing. Here are my top tips for making your own love song special.

1. Ensure it’s accessible

Although the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The Streets and The King Blues have tried something a bit different, their quirky expressions of love risk alienating people who can’t make the connection between the image they’re presenting and the emotion they’re linking it to.

As I note in my book, Writing Song Lyrics, while such original phrasing may bring freshness to the subject matter, non-universal images may be so foreign that the connection isn’t made between them and love. This can make your words less impactful.

As it is, most successful love songs draw on the same tropes over and over. Rain, for example, is frequently used to symbolise pain and misery – think November Rain by Guns ‘N’ Roses, or Raining In My Heart by Buddy Holly. And sunshine is frequently used to represent happiness – think You Are the Sunshine of My Life by Stevie Wonder or Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles.

If a listener doesn’t have to work too hard, you could be on to a winner.

2. Keep it simple and familiar

Three of the top five bestselling love ballads are cover versions – Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet, Unchained Melody by Robson and Jerome and I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston. This suggests that when it comes to love songs, we’re drawn to something we’re already familiar with.

This video from The Axis of Awesome shows how the same four chords have powered many of our best-loved love songs.

A 2012 experiment found that participants generally preferred songs that they rated as more structurally predictable.

Most popular love songs have discernible introductions, verses, choruses and bridge sections. Some, like I Will Always Love You and My Heart Will Go On, swap bridges (the parts of the song that connect the verse to the chorus) for dramatic key-change sections, but the best ones all strive to keep things as simple as possible.

3. Make your lyrics relatable

Love songs can act as a mirror for our own experiences. As listeners, we use songs as substitutes for what we cannot say. As such, it is important that we can relate love songs we listen to our own experiences.

This is probably the reason why so many love songs are broad in terms of their subject matter, focusing on generic occurrences, people and places rather than specifics to maximise their relatability. See Adele and Ed Sheeran for all the examples you could ever need in this area.

But if you want to write a song for that special someone, try to add a smattering of personal details. That will emphasise that the song has been written for them and them alone.

Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation

Glenn Fosbraey, Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Winchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Paul Garrard - artist

Paul Garrard is a contemporary British artist whose work spans various mediums, including collage, painting, drawing, printmaking, and digital technologies. His art is characterised by a unique fusion of traditional techniques and modern sensibilities, creating a distinctive visual language that captivates viewers.

Garrard's drawings, particularly from his early work, are equally compelling, showcasing a meticulous attention to detail and a refined skill in draughtsmanship. His use of line work creates intricate patterns and textures, giving his drawings a captivating complexity. Often, he explores themes of nature and mythology, intertwining classical motifs with contemporary aesthetics.

The artist's influences are wide-ranging, drawing inspiration from both classical art and contemporary movements. Garrard's work pays homage to the rich history of art while pushing boundaries and exploring new territories. This dynamic fusion of tradition and innovation is a hallmark of his artistic identity.Renowned for his multifaceted body of work, a large part of which carries the indelible mark of Dadaism amidst his creative repertoire. Influenced by the avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, Garrard infuses his art with the spirit of Dada, embracing its ethos of artistic rebellion and radical experimentation.

Beyond his technical skill, Garrard's art often carries a deeper narrative. Themes of identity, society, and the human condition permeate his work, inviting viewers to contemplate and interpret the underlying messages. His pictures, in particular, serve as a visual commentary on the complexities of modern life, offering a mirror to society's triumphs and struggles.

In Garrard's pictures, the echoes of Dada reverberate through his unconventional compositions and bold visual statements. The movement's emphasis on the absurd and the irrational finds resonance in his art, as he subverts conventional notions of form and representation. Garrard's ‘canvases’ become battlegrounds of creative insurgency, where traditional boundaries are blurred, and the unexpected reigns supreme. Through his exploration of light, shadow, and colour, he channels the anarchic energy of Dada, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary and inviting viewers into a world of artistic upheaval.

In the tradition of Dada collage and montage techniques, Garrard layers textures and motifs with a sense of playful abandon, blurring the lines between representation and abstraction. His art becomes a celebration of the absurd and the nonsensical, challenging viewers to question established norms and embrace the chaos of the modern world. In this fusion of tradition and iconoclasm, Paul Garrard emerges as a torchbearer of the Dada legacy, breathing new life into its radical vision for the 21st century art scene.

In the art world, Paul Garrard's contributions have not gone unnoticed. His work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions, garnering acclaim for its originality and thought-provoking nature. Art enthusiasts are drawn to the depth and sincerity embedded in each piece, recognising Garrard's ability to evoke emotion and provoke introspection.

Paul Garrard emerges as a multimedia artist whose creative explorations extend beyond traditional visual mediums, occasionally delving into the realms of sound and vision. In his interdisciplinary approach to art, Garrard seamlessly integrates elements of music, video, and performance, forging immersive experiences that transcend the boundaries of traditional artistic expression. Drawing inspiration from his diverse influences, including Dadaism, Garrard's forays into sound and vision serve as extensions of his artistic ethos, challenging audiences to engage with art in new and unexpected ways. Through his multimedia endeavours, Garrard continues to push the boundaries of creativity, blurring the lines between different artistic disciplines and inviting viewers to embark on a journey of sensory exploration.

In conclusion, the art of Paul Garrard is a testament to the enduring power of visual expression. His ability to seamlessly blend traditional techniques with contemporary themes results in a body of work that is both timeless and relevant. Garrard's art invites viewers to embark on a journey of exploration, where every stroke and detail tells a story, and each piece serves as a window into the complexities of the human experience.

G.P. Thomson

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Artist Mari Katayama creates hand-sewn sculptures and photographs that prompt conversations and challenge misconceptions about our bodies. B...