The Blog

How to Be a Feminist on Twitter

Apparently we can't have a sensible discussion about anything without it descending into accusations of bigotry, blindness to privilege or just plain old childish nastiness. Unlike many criticisms leveled against feminism, this is probably one those inside the movement can accept.

So recently, there's been a lot of weeping and wailing about how the thing - social media - which helped lift fourth-wave feminism off the ground, is dragging the entire movement to do an emergency crash landing. Apparently we can't have a sensible discussion about anything without it descending into accusations of bigotry, blindness to privilege or just plain old childish nastiness.

Unlike many criticisms leveled against feminism, this is probably one those inside the movement can accept. Many's the time we've checked into Twitter to post a lovely, pointless Twitpic of a nice owl, and have hastily retreated in the face of feminist flame wars burning up our feed, the owl pic safely tucked away for a friendlier day.

But - there are those friendly days. There are days when we all do things brilliantly and end up changing the world, in big ways and small. Rather than bemoan the behaviour of ourselves and our sisters, we thought we'd offer a guide to how all days can be like those friendly days, if only so we can tweet our owl pics away happily, safe in the knowledge they are not being consumed in a vortex of hatred.

Beulah: Look after baby feminists

Feminism can be scary and intimidating for the uninitiated. New feminists make mistakes, they haven't read the right books, they feel pressure to have all the answers, we've all been there so don't accidentally come down too hard on someone who's new to feminism. Always make sure the person you're about to verbally body-slam hasn't just made a mistake. Sometimes people just need a gentle prod in the right direction, not a timeline full of vitriol. One of the worst things about being on twitter is watching new feminists being intimidated into silence because they're scared to say "the wrong thing".

Rebecca: Accept your privilege

If you've got Twitter open in front of you and can read the prattling bon mots whizzing past, you're already more privileged than more than half of the world's population. So there's not one of us that doesn't need to check our privilege, ta very much. This doesn't mean smacking yourself with birch branches in cis/white/class-penance. It just means being polite, thinking of others, and letting them think - and speak - for themselves.

Beulah: Hashtags: when to walk away

There have been a lot of amazing, insightful feminist hashtags; #NotYourAsianSidekick, #Solidarityisforwhitewomen and #girlslikeus are especially good. But not all of them are for all feminists. If a hashtag doesn't apply to your personal circumstances it's better to sit back and learn. On the flip side the hashtag #realjobsnotblowjobs had good intentions but was chronically misguided and caused offense to many sex workers. Do your research before jumping in.

Rebecca: Recognise allies

Sometimes people will call you out and you will want to club them round the head with their own Doc Martens. Don't. Unless these people are of the bridge-dwelling sort, be polite to them. They don't want a fight. They just want us all to be nice to each other. Accept differences and accept the strength you can get from diversity of opinion. Let them try to change your mind - you'll either learn something new or strengthen your own convictions.

Rebecca: Stand your ground

That said, you can be the most open-minded beam of crusading loveliness ever, and still be accused of being a bigot. If you're sure you're not going round like that boot that stamps on everyone's faces at the end of 1984, and you genuinely believe what you're saying is right, then bloody well carry on saying it. Twitter and feminism alike cannot and should not be a place of one voice. Debate is what furthers discussion.

Beulah: Build a community

Twitter is fun. Or at least it's meant to be. As Rebecca pointed out; you can be the Florence Nightingale of feminism, but somewhere, someone, will take offense. Whether their offence is justified or not you need people to have your back and tweet Buzzfeed links of baby hedgehogs at you. Otherwise it just feels exhausting and you have less time and energy for feminist crusading.

Beulah: Avoid activist burnout

Activist burnout is a well documented pitfall for feminists and with Twitter being so goddam handy (I have a remind myself not to check it while showering) it's easy to start getting worn down. To avoid checking in to a Timeline full of anger, triggering content and doom make sure you follow some fun accounts, take a week off once in a while and avoid checking twitter when you're already feeling over-caffeinated, overwhelmed and under-appreciated.

Rebecca: Know when to let trolls lie

There are some brilliant feminists on Twitter whose response to trolling and death threats was to call their trolls out on it, and even to get them put behind bars. These feminists still all took breaks from Twitter when it got too much. There is often nothing to be gained from dealing with most trolls other than a headache, and taking a step back is nothing to be ashamed of.

Beulah: Don't become a troll yourself

Assuming you've built your community, avoided burning out, avoided the trolls and taken care of all the new feminists; don't become a troll yourself. Don't police everyone, don't have a twitter gang you call in whenever anyone disagrees with you, don't start thinking you've got all the answers. Because that's not feminism, it's boring and it's bullying. Have fun, get angry, get proactive and remember, it's just twitter.

Rebecca: It's Twitter: you can care too much

Although Twitter has been one of the main reasons for the strength of Fourth-Wave feminism, it's not all of it. Twitter is not the bloody School of Athens. Twitter is a social networking site which makes money by selling advertisers data on your behaviour and where people have set up profiles for Big Ben, David Cameron's (surprisingly left-wing) cat and the Death Star. It is not wise to nestle too cosily or determinedly under the blue bird's wings.

Image by Pete Simon, used under a Creative Commons License.