Is Social Media Feminist-Friendly?

I was hounded by Twitter trolls, simply for attending the NUS women’s conference.

The way in which education has been structured has disillusioned the youth of today. We are socialised, in the very early stages of our upbringing, to allow ourselves to be blindfolded and lulled into the dream of all being equal. Sexism and racism are concepts that are attributed to history, but inequality as a whole is skirted around by the national curriculum. However, the process of maturity and experience in the outside world is enough to remove this figurative blindfold and expose them to the fact that inequality does still prevail, in more ways than sexism and racism. But there is a persisting minority of individuals who hold the blindfold tightly around their eyes, refusing profusely to engage with contemporary society and denying themselves the ability to live in reality

My introduction may make little sense without context or adequate reasoning, so I shall start by saying that I attended the NUS Women’s Conference this week. This annual conference was established with the aim of providing female students with a space in which they could discuss and make decisions on the issues that face them in educational establishments. Evidently, the conference itself has developed over time to accommodate for the changes in the feminist movement and the social context, a notable change being the use of technology (probably unsurprising).

The hashtag #NUSWomen15 was supposed to be a means of communication, not only between those at the conference, but also for those who could not attend the conference for various reasons. Within hours, however, it was hijacked by internet ‘trolls’, the comedians of the internet, whose determination to undermine the feminist movement was relentless, and in some cases, ridiculous.

Amidst these tweets ridiculing feminism, I used the hashtag for its true purpose, to express my opinion on the importance of intersectional feminism and the idea of encouraging communication between women of colour. I was accused, within seconds of making up words and not dealing with the real issues that face women. It was after this initial wave of attacks on my feminist politics that the tweets got personal.

My ‘shitty parents’, unfortunate unemployment and alleged desire for attention were all rendered responsible for my choice of words. One tweeter even informed me that my societal position as a woman of colour placed me lower down on what he called the ‘privilege scale.’ Whilst the sheer irony of a white man educating me on my place in the societal hierarchy is quite laughable, I could not help but be shocked at how my intelligence and ability to express myself were effectively hindered, or even defined by, my gender and/ or ethnicity.

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A few examples of the abuse I received.

It is easy to make the suggestion to ignore those who feel that they can hurl numeric insults at others through social media, but when these boundaries between political and personal lives overlap, social media can impact upon the human psyche. Caroline Criado-Perez, a feminist activist, was infamously harassed on Twitter with some absolutely horrendous threats. Sentences that were strung together with the pure and utter objective of severely undermining her credibility. More recently, feminist author Laurie Penny was subject to anti-Semitic hate on Twitter after the release of her book Unspeakable Things. Feminism and Twitter have historically barely ever seen eye-to-eye. The philosophy of social media is to facilitate free speech, but that seems to be in contradiction with those who use the platform to curb others’ rights to free speech.

Social media has undoubtedly allowed for the growth and diffusion of feminist ideologies and liberation campaigns on a global scale. One example of many is Masih Alinejad’s Facebook page entitled Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women, a page through which she encouraged Iranian women to share photographs of themselves without their hijabs on. A page that won her a human rights award in Geneva. But alas, as is always the case when an excess of power is given to humanity, we are somehow automatically driven to abuse that power, to do what we would not even imagine doing without our digital alter-egos. But, as Terry Pratchett said, ‘it is not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.’

By Sharlene Ghandi

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