Last weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at Georgia Regents University Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium. The theme of the symposium–which is held biennially–was “Mobilizing Through the Media: Social Justice and the Digital Frontier.” The gathering was unique in that it brought together scholars, students, activists, community leaders and other members of the community to collaborate. I was grateful to hear outstanding talks on social media, pedagogy, and social justice; see performances that combined art with advocacy; and listen to a compelling keynote on allyship and building bridges (hint: turning inward first helps) given by Melissa McEwan, founder of feminist blog Shakesville.
My talk was on two hashtag events, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen and the counter-movements oriented around them. A brief description of my talk is below, and you can see the presentation I used here. I also tweeted about the event @heatherswoods using the hashtags #grusymposium and #mobilizethroughmedia.
Thanks to GRU for hosting a great event!
Twitter is a contested space. For feminists interested in theory-building and feminist praxis, it is also a conflicted space: a fertile ground for growing some movements and a near-barren ground for growing others. It is a space of great potentiality, where time and space fold in on each other to make possible conversations that would be impossible physically. Simultaneously, however, Twitter functions as a space of exclusion, where hard-wired prejudice and distinctions present in the “real world” are translated online. Despite reservations about the use of Twitter as an organizational tool for community building, this paper ultimately argues that Twitter can serve as a space of negotiation, of dialectic, and of productive debate amongst feminists interested in transgressing the current limitations of the feminist movement both digitally and materially.
With this in mind, this paper seeks to make explicit the complexity and transgressive/regressive bidirectionality of the Twitter environment by demonstrating how a set of feminist movements and counter-movements used the same digital space to draw exclusionary parameters and then make visible those exclusionary boundaries in order to rearticulate and reimagine them. I argue that in the two case studies taken up in this paper, the exclusionary markings of sexualized and racialized difference amongst and by feminists in large part mirrored discriminatory practices experienced by women of color offline. Still, the Twittersphere served as a sounding board for women of color who used those hashtags to direct a critical conversation toward the inaccessibilities of mainstream white feminism. In the case of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, for instance, feminists of color alleged and then resisted the recentering of privileged white feminism (and feminists) in the Twittersphere by demonstrating the ways in which white feminists benefitted from principles of virality at the expense of women of color. Similarly, the counter-movement oriented around the hashtag #YesAllWhiteWomen worked to make explicit the ways in which white feminists not only experience privilege in digital spaces but are oftentimes able to excuse themselves from complicity in constructing a racialized, sexualized and exclusionary digital sphere.
I argue that these hashtag-movements reveal two very important characteristics of building resistance and feminist praxis in digital sphere. First, we learn–once more–that the Web is not a utopian space where it is beneficial or even possible to bracket structural oppression in an attempt to build a just, egalitarian digital public. In this sense, Twitter is not an idealistic platform that overdetermines the actions and articulations of the people who use it; it is instead a platform with both affordances and limitations as a space for digital deliberation. However, we also learn that Twitter has become a space for negotiation of feminist theory and praxis aided, in part, by the use of the algorithmically-amplified hashtag. Women of color have been able to quite successfully make visible and counter the discriminatory practices of white feminists on Twitter, using the same platform white feminists used problematically in the first place. Thus, feminists interested in issues of solidarity and feminist community building ought (re)consider Twitter as a space for negotiation of these complex ideas as we work to make feminism a more useful, inclusive, and diverse movement.