The powerful hashtags that defined 2014

From innovative challenges to powerful statements, hashtag activism has been in full swing this year and 2014 saw some impressive hashtag movements across social media, but particularly Twitter. While some have criticized the phenomenon as lazy, or “slacktivism,” it cannot be denied that hashtags succeeded in creating buzz about important cultural issues, crowd-sourcing voices that needed to be heard and basically bookmarking the significant cultural events of the year. Here are a handful of some of the year’s most noteworthy hashtags, and why they affected us:

This hashtag from January took a stance against the marginalization of female authors by the literary press — because even though there are plenty of published works that are written by women, they receive significantly less attention than those written by men. Not only that, but their covers are often created to look ‘girly‘, purely due to the author’s gender. The hashtag also endeavored to promote and celebrate notable literary works by women.

The 2014 award season sparked the #AskHerMore hashtag, which posed the important question: why are female celebrities on the red carpet only asked questions about what they’re wearing? Why not ask them about their career, their preparation process for the role, or their future projects? Instead, these more substantive questions were generally saved for the male celebs, and Twitter was collectively baffled.

This hashtag was an impassioned response to the Nigerian government’s lack of action when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their dormitory in northern Nigeria on April 15 and sold into slavery. The hashtag movement was not only instigated to raise awareness of this incident, but to incite world powers to take action and make collective efforts to recover the girls.

This darkly humorous hashtag was prompted by Hobby Lobby’s refusal to cover contraception in employee healthcare due to religious beliefs. Many people started tweeting with the hashtag #DrHobbyLobby, pointing out that it seemed like Hobby Lobby deemed itself knowledgeable enough on women’s healthcare to make such sweeping decisions.

The #YesAllWomen movement was arguably one of the most pervasive social media movements of the year. The movement was partially motivated by the Elliot Rodger shootings in May, which were a result of Rodger’s rage and indignation over women who were not attracted to him. This prompted women to share their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment, in an effort to raise awareness about the violence that can result from one person’s sense of sexual entitlement.

This hashtag sent a potent message to the Internet: Street harassment is more than just “saying hello,” it’s verbal assault. Launched by Twitter user Mikki Kendall, who was tired of men excusing their actions as common courtesy, the phrase sparked a social movement—prompting thousands of women to share their own harrowing stories of street harassment and its very real effects.

When unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer, the media chose to portray him in a particular way by selecting pictures of him which seemingly implied that he was a troublemaker. Twitter users responded by posting “dueling” pictures of themselves in which they appeared troublesome in the first image and wholesome in the second, posing the question “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown which picture would the media choose?”

The #handsupdontshoot was both a hashtag as well as a slogan, which protestors repeated aloud in response to the shooting of Michael Brown. Brown allegedly had his hands raised when he was shot and killed by a police officer, and protesters raised their hands in a similar surrendering fashion. The hashtag questioned law enforcement’s understanding of the gesture, thereby emphasizing the alleged racial discrimination involved in Brown’s tragic death.

Launched by Emma Watson and UN Women, the hashtag campaign promoted male solidarity with gender equality issues. “If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about,” Watson noted in her UN speech. “It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle,” she said. The high-profile campaign got a lot of attention, thanks to a barrage of support from male celebrities like Simon Pegg, Emile Hirsch, Douglas Booth, Forrest Whitaker and Tom Hiddleston. 

This hashtag was created in response to the GamerGate movement. Those involved in GamerGate claim to be concerned with ethics in gaming journalism and resistance against changes in gaming, but the conversation has become increasingly violent and misogynistic, with female video game critics and creators (namely Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu) receiving death threats and having to flee their homes. In October, after Sarkeesian had to cancel a speaking event due to death threats, an estimated 50,000 Twitter users banded together in one evening to push back against the harassment of female gamers with the hashtag #StopGamerGate2014.

#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft
After the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident came to light, women everywhere began sharing important, personal accounts of their own domestic abuse situations. These women recounted why they stayed in abusive relationships — and why they finally left. This particular movement brought to light the intricacies of the power dynamics in abusive relationships, and the intense psychological affects they can have on their victims — and why it isn’t easy to “just leave” that situation.

#ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter
A series of protests erupted across the U.S. when the cop responsible for a fatal chokehold that took the life of Staten Island resident, Eric Garner, was not indicted for his actions. Protesters both in the streets and online repeated the mantra “I can’t breathe,” which Garner can be heard saying in the video of the incident. The fact that this incident occurred in the same year as the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley prompted the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which called attention to racial injustice in law enforcement and the legal system. Both hashtags have served to show solidarity and call for necessary change in this country.

This hashtag was created to represent solidarity with the anonymous alleged rape victim, who is referred to as “Jackie,” in Rolling Stone’s story about sexual assaults on the University of Virginia campus. When Rolling Stone later asserted that there were some discrepancies in Jackie’s story, they claimed that they had “misplaced (their) trust in her” by using her as a source. Though Rolling Stone amended their statement to accept the blame for any factual disparities, the Internet was outraged over this flippant victim-blaming, and spoke out against Rolling Stone’s harsh choice of wording by tweeting #IStandWithJackie.

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