Meets and Tweets: 3D feminism, online and off

Originally published at Feminist Times.

meet-and-tweet-624x416Last Wednesday we published Charlotte Raven’s weekly editorial, “Meets rather than tweets” – an adaptation of the speech she made at our launch party for Feminist Times members the previous Saturday night.

After publishing the article, we had a conversation in the Feminist Times office and I explained why I felt the focus should be on “meets and tweets”, rather than a choice of one or the other. Our editorial meetings have a tendency to feel like consciousness-raising groups and, at the end of our discussion, Charlotte asked me to write a response explaining my perspective.

I agree with much of what Charlotte writes about 3D feminism; about the pleasure of meeting so many members, and about the inspiration and ideas that were flying around at the party – I personally wanted to commission everyone on the spot, and several times throughout the evening, the editorial team excitedly fed back to each other the various ideas from a conversation we’d just had.

But the Feminist Times team – like any group of feminists – differs widely on our views and priorities, and where Charlotte and I differ on 3D feminism is over the significance of the internet. In her editorial she calls for a 3D feminism, where we “meet rather than tweet”. Ironically, I tweeted this phrase from the Feminist Times account during the party and it was one of our most retweeted messages of the night.

She writes: “I felt the same about digital feminism as I did about Comment is Free. It’ll never work – and it hasn’t really. It has changed a lot of small things like bank notes, but can’t change consciousness, the voice inside your head asking ‘am I pretty or ugly?’”

Charlotte grew up surrounded by 3D feminist activity, but as a digital feminist I have experienced firsthand the consciousness-raising power of forums like Twitter. For me, being online provided a gateway to feminism, and to challenging the voice inside my head, long before I knew any feminists in “real life.”

For many women of my generation, digital feminism has been incredibly powerful. First Tumblr, and later Twitter, demonstrated for the first time in my life that there were other women who felt like me, and gave me a platform to write about my own feelings and experiences. I owe a huge amount of my feminist education to the blogs I’ve followed and the women I’ve met online over the last five years.

The Everyday Sexism Project is nothing if not consciousness-raising – for men, as well as women – and while it doesn’t provide a solution, it does challenge our ideas about what is acceptable. Campaigns like No More Page 3, The Women’s Room and the banknote campaign may not yet have brought about earth-shattering change, but they were all started online by ‘ordinary’ women without media experience and they all used the tools of the digital age to build momentum and force the mainstream media to pay attention.

Their campaigns simply could not have hoped for such a broad reach without the power of social media – just as the tools of the digital age have enabled Feminist Times, in a matter of months, to open up a conversation with the thousands of Twitter followers, Facebook “likers”, and supporters on our email mailing list.

Digital feminism is a haven for feminists who feel isolated offline, as I did for a long time, whether because they’re geographically remote or simply struggle to participate in offline activism. Of course, online feminism is limited: there’s the abuse and the arguing for a start, which, while not exclusive to the internet, can be particularly vicious online. It also excludes those without internet access, including many of our older feminist sisters, and a supportive tweet will never quite match up to a real-life hug. For all the sisterhood and solidarity that can be found online, I’ve also felt very isolated without an offline support group, which is probably why so many “digital feminists” don’t keep their activism exclusively online.

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, has used the messages posted on her site to work with police, schools, universities and trade unions on challenging sexual harassment. Lucy-Anne Holmes and the No More Page 3 campaigners have taken their protest to the gates of News International, now News UK, and Caroline Criado-Perez used online crowd-funding to raise funds for an offline legal challenge against the Bank of England.

In February this year I started a feminist discussion group with friend and fellow feminist journalist Rachel Hills, with the goal of taking online discussions offline.  I’ve shamefully neglected it for a few months, since Feminist Times took over a large chunk of my life, but at the time it bridged an important gap between my online and offline feminism. You can say a lot more when you’re not restricted by a 140-character limit, but we also recognized that online feminism is increasingly setting the discussions – our first meeting even focused on the topic of “Twitter feminism”, trolling and in-fighting.

When it comes to digital feminism, Twitter in particular is something that’s impossible to understand the true power of without really using it; none of my non-Twitter-using friends see the point. In a similar way, I used to be skeptical about women-only spaces, believing (as I still do) that men have a role in challenging patriarchal structures too, providing they do so on our terms. Despite this, I’ve been a convert of women-only spaces ever since my first experience of one – in fact, the power of women-only organizing is another of the things Charlotte and I agree on – but that firsthand experience was vital to my understanding.

Just as I believe a truly three-dimensional feminism must combine mixed and women-only spaces, I also believe a truly three-dimensional feminism is stronger with the combined power of online and offline voices and forums. A feminism that aims to build strong offline connections between groups of interesting, inspiring women is fantastic, and I can’t wait to start rolling out Feminist Times’ local groups and events. But digital feminism has shown me how much more diverse and exciting feminism can be when you broaden your reach and take your message online. I’ve had ‘tweet-ups’ with women I would never have met without the feminist Twittersphere, so I’m a firm believer in the value of a 3D feminism that both meets and tweets.

Leave a Reply