I’ve been following the #twitterfeminism conversation since I read Meghan Murphy’s piece The Trouble with Twitter Feminism the other night. All day and night I’ve been sneaking Twitter time at work and staying up too late just to see what everyone has to say about the topic. It has been very inspiring to see the overwhelming amount of support that people have showed for Twitter feminism.
A great conversation ensued about the good and bad, but mostly good, of Twitter feminism, and the problematic aspects of Murphy’s blog post. There were conversations about the exclusion of PoC, WoC, LGBTQ folk, people with disabilities, sex workers, poor people, and many others from mainstream cishet white feminism, and about how Twitter feminism gives all of these people a voice and a platform.
There were side conversations about appropriation of a PoC’s (Ngọc Loan Trần) words in Murphy’s piece to prove her point. Something that the author was not okay with, and how Murphy has been pushing back against the idea of removing the quote from her piece. And of course, there was talk about how she misgendered the author in her piece (and then later apologized and edited the post.)
There were conversations about bullying, exclusion, appropriating, and other types of oppressive behaviors among Twitter feminism as a whole, but also even within the groups of marginalized voices on Twitter. Naturally, there were very interesting discussions, but there were also arguments and personal attacks. Wrong assumptions were made, insults were hurled, users were blocked, and things got personal for some people.
I found all of this fascinating. I love observing dialogues on Twitter as they allow me to hear perspectives that are different than my own. These perspectives help me grow as a critical thinker and as as someone who is committed to social justice. And a part of me that I’m not so proud of enjoys a little Twitter drama like I enjoy a good telenovela.
But notice how I said I love “observing” dialogues. That’s because I don’t usually offer my own opinions on things, especially if I have a dissenting opinion from the masses of Twitter feminists. I’ve seen people get vilified for presenting an opinion or asking a question that implies that they might have a different opinion.
And sure, people need to get called out, but is it really necessary to demonize them in the process? And yes, tone policing is not cool, anger is justified, but does that give one license to always be malicious to someone who gets something wrong? Just because feelings are justified, doesn’t mean actions always are. (I might be really mad at someone for cutting me in line, that doesn’t mean I get to punch them in the face.)
So for this and a few other reasons, I try not to say much on Twitter if I have even a slight inkling that someone will disagree with me and send a horde of Twitter users after me. (And perhaps part of my lack of participation has to do with my social anxiety, and my lack of time to actively participate in Twitter conversations between two jobs.) Is this my problem? Yes. Has just sitting back and listening been incredibly beneficial for me? Yes.
But aren’t we talking about amplifying marginalized voices here? If my voice, a queer woman of color’s voice, is silenced because I would rather not participate in the popularity contest and boxing ring that is Feminist Twitter, then what does that tell you? I wonder if there are other voices out there like mine who would rather not say something because of what they think might happen.
So while reading Murphy’s piece, I couldn’t help but agree with many (but not all) of the points she raised.
Now some of you reading this may automatically assume that I am a Meghan Murphy fan because of that last sentence. So in order to not be attacked as a Murphy supporter, as I expect that Twitter feminism might do, I must offer the following disclaimer.
I am not nor have I ever been a Meghan Murphy fan. We disagree on things such as sex work, and in fact, just the other day I was shaking my head while reading her piece in Vice about how the sex work industry is to blame for human trafficking, and how apparently no one can possibly choose to do sex work (!). She also uses the phrase “prostituted women” in her piece, which is of course very offensive. Many others have pointed out the problems with her politics. I think it’s possible to agree with certain things that people say or do, and to vehemently disagree with other things.
Here’s where Murphy and I agree:
- It’s easy to make things up about people on Twitter. This is a no-brainer. I mean, it’s the internet. And it’s very easy to use those made up things to vilify someone.
- “Twitter doesn’t like nuance. Twitter likes statements. Preferably dramatic ones.” This is incredibly true. Everything is often so black and white on Twitter. Someone is either good activist or a problematic asshole. You can either love, worship, and defend Beyonce as a feminist like she’s your firstborn child, or you hate her and all successful black women. You can either praise Twitter feminism is wonderful, useful, and flawless, or you’re just a hater who is butthurt that marginalized voices have a platform.
- “We’re all showboating, trying be Most Right…We often succeed in being Most Right by proving that someone else is terrible. Winning by default or destruction is a popular Twitter strategy.” Come on, we’ve all seen this, sometimes in the form of call outs, sometimes during arguments. We’ve all seen people called names, demonized, or ruthlessly taken down on Twitter because of a comment or a blog they wrote. We’ve seen popular tweeps use their popularity and follower count attack others. Everyone is eager to show how smart they are or who much they know, even if it means humiliating others.
- Also, people on Twitter don’t argue about their ideas, they throw insults at each other and argue about who they are as a person. So instead of saying “That thing you said is problematic because…” people say “Shut up you fucking racist shithead. I hope your house burns down. Btw BLOCKED.” I don’t want to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with me if they’re going to resort to assumptions and personal attacks.
- Many people aren’t on Twitter. About half a billion people do use Twitter, and that’s a lot, and they represent people from all different walks of life. But it seems like a lot of people IRL don’t use Twitter at all or that much. Or they don’t use it for social justice. Think about people you know IRL; are they on Twitter as much as you are? I think it’s safe to say that many people are represented on Twitter, but those on Twitter may not be completely representative of the population.
- ”Twitter tends to amplify certain perspectives and voices and erase others — either because they aren’t there or because they’re too scared to speak up, lest they become the next target. Thinking about who is on Twitter and whose voices are loudest on Twitter is worthwhile.” This is very important. Because of the way Twitter is, people like myself are too afraid to participate in conversations, as I said earlier. People are more likely to listen to you if you’re established and have a high follower count. This makes perfect sense, and I have no issue with people being popular on Twitter. However, this means that when the popular tweep attacks a less popular tweep, the less popular tweep has to deal with the wrath of the popular tweep, their popular tweep friends, and all of their followers as well. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon to vilify this person for whatever they said or did, and suddenly they are the most evil person in the world and should never be forgiven.
- Twitter feminism is far from perfect, because we are human beings and as activists are far from perfect. Every single one of us has done problematic things. We have made mistakes. There was a time when we did not know as much as we know now about social justice. We’re all growing and learning. And so it really angers me when I see people being attacked if it’s because they aren’t as enlightened about social justice issues as some of us are. Also, the people attacking others for not being as enlightened are sometimes academics, who have had the privilege to get a masters degree in [insert social justice related field of study here], while others have not. While it is true that knowledge in this day and age is free, and can be found on Twitter, Tumblr, at the library, etc, it does take time to learn and become an expert in feminist theory or intersectionality. If you’re working multiple jobs or have kids or are otherwise busy, you might not have that time.
But it is great that Twitter provides a medium through which people like me who haven’t formally studied feminist issues in depth (though I have had the privilege of getting two Bachelors degrees) can learn and discuss these issues. There are many other great things about Twitter feminism.
If you read through the hashtag, many people have already adequately explained why hashtag feminism and Twitter feminism is very valuable, online and offline. There are some of my favorite examples of Twitter feminism and Twitter social justice from 2013.
- #TexasWomenForever (As much as I am not a fan of how the pro-choice movement continues to use trans exclusive language) this campaign raised thousands of dollars for people seeking abortions in Texas. That’s real money that is going to help real people.
- #StandWithWendy – Who can forget the filibuster of the year? And Leticia Van De Putte’s awesome quote, ““At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
- #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen – Mikki Kendall’s hashtag about the exclusion of WoC from mainstream feminism
- #FastTailedGirls – Hood Feminism’s hashtag about the sexualization of young black girls and victim blaming.
- And who can forget seeing powerful images of indigenous resistance in #Elsipogtog, how @MoreandAgain stopped Juror B37 from writing a book about the Zimmerman trial, #Justice4Trayvon and the @DreamDefenders, #FreeMarissa, #RenishaMcBride, and others.
These are just a few great examples of how Twitter is used to give a voice to marginalized groups of people who may not have been heard anywhere else, or who cannot, for one reason or another, do “on the ground” or “in real life” activism. But the way, the internet in some ways IS real life. The issues mentioned above are real, and the actions of people on Twitter have real consequences.
Also, Twitter has introduced me to brilliant activists, organizations, and writers like those mentioned above, and many others. It has opened my mind to so much. My views are constantly changing and gaining depth, and at times it is challenging for me, but I am grateful. In other words, I love Twitter feminism. And I would disagree with Murphy when she says that it isn’t productive and that it’s intellectually lazy.
I love #TwitterFeminism. I love it so much that I am willing to admit that it’s not perfect, and that we can do better. So let’s start doing better.