In her book Memes in Digital Culture, Limor Shifman talks about the persistence of memes in digital culture and how they’re spread or “repackaged”. She says, “Two main repackaging mechanisms of memes are present on the web: Mimicry and remix” (Shifman 20). Mimicry and is when a person redoes an existing meme, sometimes by different means than it was originally done. Remix takes it a step further and adds technological based manipulation to an existing meme, presenting it as something new. Limor also states that memes as a “shared social phenomenon… shape the mindsets, forms of behavior, and actions of social groups” (Shifman 18). These same theories apply to GIFs, which are merely animated memes.
I am interested in how GIFs are used within the feminist community to spread shared ideals, and ultimately I’d like to examine how Shifman’s theories of memes (or GIFs) hold true within this community. Since there are a variety of subcategories within feminism, I decided to focus on the hashtag #smashthepatriarchy for my case study of GIFs. I did some searching to figure out the origins of the hashtag and it seems to have first been used in 2010 by the Twitter user (@feministhulk), accompanied by an excerpt from an unknown comic strip. The hashtag has gained popularity on other social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram since.
On Tumblr, Shifman’s theories of remixing and mimicry can be seen in the variety of memes and GIFs inspired by the hashtag. Some fans simply presented the words on their own in an animated form:
One fan turned the hashtag into a meme:
And others created their own GIF interpretation of the hashtag:
In another case of remixing, the slogan was slightly altered and used to sell merchandise by the company HUMAN.
Obviously the GIFs and memes created around #smashthepatriarchy are most effective and widely shared within the feminist community. But, what started out as a simple hashtag has now turned into what Shifman calls a “shared social phenomenon” with people in many other communities taking notice of the memes and GIFs. Even the trolls are contributing their own remixes:
I believe these memes are effective firstly because the slogan, “Smash patriarchy” allows for rich imagery, and thus a proliferation of memes and GIFs and secondly because it’s easy to associate the slogan with strong, feminist icons as seen in many of the meme and GIFs above. Wonder Woman and Female Hulk are two such characters, as well as many fan-generated heroines. I decided to use this concept for my meme. I chose to include the text because it adds context to the GIF of the 1970s Wonder Woman. While she isn’t necessarily considered a feminist icon, I believe her character was one of the only strong female protagonists on television at the time and in that way she was “smashing the patriarchy” both through mere representation and also literally within the plot of the television series as she defeated male villains.
Shifman, Limor. “When Memes Go Digital.” Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT, 2014. 17-35. Print.