From #destroythejoint to far reaching digital activism: Feminist revitalisation stemming from social media and reaching beyond
Jessica McLean and Sophia Maalsen
Civic engagement in digital activism involves diffuse yet powerful networks of individuals and organizations uniting, at least in some form, under a common interest. This case study of Destroy the Joint, a largely online group of over 52,000 people on Facebook and 14,800 on Twitter, shows how what began as a humorous turnaround of sexist comments on national talkback radio, is now a broad-based and effective unified but not uniform organization that aims to shine a light on sexism and misogyny. In analyzing its origins and accounting for its ongoing relevance nearly two years after the birth of #destroythejoint, we show how feminist activism in social media and elsewhere is growing in Australia, and other parts of the world.
The origins of Destroy the Joint
The #destroythejoint movement began after a conservative Australian radio host, Alan Jones, declared on August 31st 2012 that several leading women in politics were ‘destroying the joint’ by their efforts to support gender equality and other miscellaneous acts. He had said:
"She [the Prime Minister] said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating. Women are destroying the joint—Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly."
Jill Tomlinson, a surgeon and writer, ignited the campaign in conversation with education activist and writer Jane Caro, with the following tweet exchange:
Tomlinson responded with an invitation for others to contribute and originated the new hashtag:
Within one day, thousands had tweeted their own versions of acts and intentions to quash sexism and misogyny and a new digital activism moment and movement had begun (McLean and Maalsen, 2013).
First Destroy the Joint actions
Initially, the Destroy the Joint (DTJ) hashtag was an online meeting point for people reflecting on the absurdity of claims that women in political life were destructive forces because of their gender, but grew to encompass critiques of gender inequality and lampooned sexist and misogynistic acts.
The popularity of DTJ can in part be linked to the political climate at the time of its creation and a wider discontent with gender inequality.
Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, experienced frequent public sexism, from conservative commentators and politicians alike. In early October 2012, during a debate in parliament about the behavior and role of the then Speaker of the House, the leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, accused Gillard of sexism. This accusation prompted the renowned anti-misogyny speech where Gillard declared to Tony Abbott that “I will not be lectured on misogyny and sexism by this man… and the Leader of the Opposition should think seriously about the role of women in public life and in Australian society because we are entitled to a better standard than this.”
Being entitled to a better standard of gender equality is a key objective DTJ's activism. The first substantial intervention Destroy the Joint contributed to was against Alan Jones’ radio station, campaigning for advertisers to withdraw support for his show in response to his ongoing sexist behavior, particularly directed against Gillard. Over 100,000 people signed an online petition within a week and Jones’ radio station lost between AUD 1 and 1.5 million. The feminist campaign action enacted through social media thus affected a corporation in a material sense.
Micro-campaigns under a unified anti-sexism and anti-misogyny collective
Multiple, micro-campaigns characterize the ongoing productive space that is Destroy the Joint, and extend its reach contributing to a feminist revitalization that operates in social media and beyond. While DTJ started as a hashtag, now there is also a Twitter and Facebook presence for this digital activist collective.
Some of the micro-campaigns DTJ organized are shown in Table 1:
Digital activism in DTJ: connections to global campaigns
Currently, feminist moments and movements are proliferating around the world, many emerging in digital spaces, such as #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen and often spring-boarding from these to other activist modes, including book publications, anti-corporate interventions, walks and gatherings. For the Facebook supporters of DTJ, a prominent campaign to stop violence against women presently focuses DTJ activity (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Current Facebook home page for Destroy the Joint (March 2015)
Similarly to #destroythejoint, #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen provide meeting points for further engagement with feminist issues. The feminist revitalization has global reach and works to reinforce simultaneous campaigns and interventions. For instance, Destroy the Joint social media pages frequently cross-reference #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen and invite followers to contribute to these globally linked discursive feminist spaces. In this way they allow for distributed feminist networks to converge in online spaces to focus support on contemporary gender issues and create a community around this. Furthermore, despite being "online" their campaigns have physical and material effects as demonstrated in Table 1, suggesting that campaigns facilitated through new media are effective and useful ways of producing change.
McLean, Jessica and Sophia Maalsen. 2013. "Destroying the Joint and Dying of Shame? A Geography of Revitalised Feminism in Social Media and Beyond." Geographical Research 51: 243–256. doi: 10.1111/1745-5871.12023
For Destroy the Joint on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DestroyTheJoint
For Destroy the Joint on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jointdestroyer