When I was a feckless youth in college, I had a job briefly for a group that billed itself as a public advocacy group. In less fancy-talk, it mean that they were a grassroots lobbying group. Our job as peons was to go door-to-door knocking and asking people for donations to help us in our fight cleaning up the Superfund sites across NY. Superfund sites are places that the government have earmarked as places of high amounts of toxic waste and waste dumping that need to get cleaned up because they are imminently damaging the lives of people who live near them. It struck me very early on that most of the people donating were doing so under the impression that we were working with the EPA to actually physically clean up these sites, but the truth of the matter was that we were soliciting the money so that the group could continue to go lobby in our state capital.
This is a much harder thing to deal with when you are talking to a mother whose child has a birth defect because they live near one. I felt disgusting and disingenuous. I quit that job very soon after.
I mention this because I see a rise in articles, seemingly from all pretty well-connected white women at mainstream feminist blogs decrying how toxic Twitter is, and by extension, the feminists that are on there. Feminism, from their perspective, is seemingly being torn apart by women fighting each other with Mean Girl-style tactics and being vicious, so much so that people are feeling shouted over or scared. The only problem is that these articles still only seem to be pointing at groups most often affected by how toxic Twitter can be, that is to say women of color, trans women and and throwing them under a bus for being “too angry” and not actually addressing the moments when Twitter can truly be a toxic place.
The point I tried to make (and failed pretty spectacularly at) yesterday was that when it comes to having the discussions about Twitter being a hazardous place for feminists, the people running that discussion have been, and should be, women who are disproportionately affected by the fights and harassment that seem to crop up whenever they dare to talk about anything. Most of the time when a well-connected white feminist steps up to her microphone to write a pitched piece, it glosses over those narratives and simply skips to going on about “those angry people” who consistently get over fights about “unimportant things” like “cis” or “race relations.” Very often, it seems like the authors of the pieces are frequently coming off a bout of being criticized themselves for marginalizing other feminists.
So in this way, the problem consistently seems that the people most often making Twitter (and other forms of social media) places of hazardous, neglectful discourse are the same people who feel like they are most affected, and in turn, should be the ones to drive the discussion and look to save feminism from it’s nasty clutches. But are they really going to save anything? At most, it feels like they want to collect the attention, care and most notably, monetary rewards from being an outspoken advocate against it but not really reflect on how the mess got there in the first place or their role in not helping clean it up. It is a dishonest thing to shit up a place you don’t necessarily need to espouse your opinions and tell everyone who relies on it for activism, group consciousness-raising, and networking (or fun things like having friends) to leave because it’s disgusting.
I do believe we need to have this conversation about Twitter fighting but one only needs to look so far to people like Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices), Mikki Kendall (@karnythia), or Sydette Harry (@blackamazon) to see that this has been going on a long time already. (It is almost as if following many different women on Twitter has been influential to forming opinions on how social media is used! Shock!) When I say “we” I do mean other white feminists. Because our complicity in this is often times more the reason social media is so aggressive and toxic, why the responses are vitriolic and why fighting happens so frequently – we say shitty, oppressive things while being feminists and refuse to listen to criticism about it and label the participants as unjustifiably angry. While I do believe that there are moments on social media when things can get “too heated” or nasty, I’ve had the privilege to only have those moments with other white feminists. Being criticized while online does not fall under “nasty” for me, especially if I say something terrible from my position of being a white lady.
So when I remarked kinda off-the-cuff about “not being scared of other feminists”, it was my attempt to reflect on that idea. I recognize that too often people feel like they can’t truly dissent or express their opinion within feminism for fear of reprisal. But I feel like someone like me stands a far better chance of getting away with saying literally anything and getting away with it just because of my position in the community. The distance between myself and someone like Michelle Goldberg could easily be a one-way ticket back to Brooklyn and a couple of book deals. I’d be a terrible mouthpiece for why Twitter is so toxic within feminism, and why it’s problematic on a structural level to have only white feminists being the ones to have neglectful and downright dog-whistle-y conversations about what the “real dangers” of social media are within the feminist community. Even in writing this article, I am taking a big leap of authority to tell other white feminists who might want to sign on wholesale with the notions of Twitter toxicity and not look often at what is being said and who the fingers are being pointed at rather than letting people better suited for this discussion to really lead the charge (as they have been doing for some time.)
Like I said before, it is dishonest to talk about the mess when you had a hand in it, and it’s unfair to work from a place where you can neglect an outlet so many of us use as feminist networking and socializing to tell us how terrible it is. Wanting to solicit support from the people who have been left holding the bag of our mistakes while simultaneously blaming them for the failures of feminism on social media is not only disingenuous but outright supremacist in its approach. We need to reflect on how this toxicity came about, recognizing that anger and criticism for our neglect and shitty behavior is warranted and working the hardest on making social media better for everyone.
Follow-up: Suey Park knocks it out of the park with this takedown of “toxicity” from white feminists but also in support of Twitter feminism.