I love Twitter. I adore it. Social media more generally, of course, but especially rude, dirty old Twitter. It’s not a popular opinion – so i’m going to explain it at tedious length here with swears and wank jokes, so buckle up because I’m a tired, under-caffeinated lady who barely understands the internet and I won’t be stopped. So. Here’s what I’ve learned:
If Not Giving A Fuck About Your Position Of Influence was a discipline taught to young ladies (what a fine idea), then Twitter would be a finishing school in the French Alps. Much bemoaned as an idiot hole of pointless outrage by people who don’t know what this really means because have never tried to buy their children lunch at Waitrose Café on a Tuesday, Twitter is in fact just like dating in your thirties: people have a lot of pictures of their cats, you 100% do not need to shave your legs, and you will encounter a lot of people who really hate their ex and want to tell you about it in short, unintelligible sentences. It is no accident that I joined Twitter around the same time that I started writing. What a great writing exercise! I thought. I like Princess Bride references that are only just relevant! And I like words! I like words like Cunt! And Actually! I like imagining better versions of Richard Curtis films! The internet is the place for me.
Many people will tell you that social media is a scary, abusive place that upsets and silences women, because women are frail and emotional (unlike dudes on the internet). And that maybe women should just…leave it well alone. Because if there’s one thing we know about producing human beings from our bodies and raising them and being harrassed and being belittled and silenced at school, at home, on the street, in the workplace, in film and TV and books before we can even read them and every minute of our waking lives, it is that we are weak. And that there is no way we are going to be able to handle that on the internet like a fucking pro. I mean, what could be more whiney than calling out sexual harassment and speaking truth to power on an unprecedented scale? Omg, such victims. Thank goodness for all the Nice Guys and Old White Feminists around after #MeToo went a bit too far for comfort saying ‘Enough whining now ladies! You are strong and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Go back to being strong. And also – shush!’. They respect women.
Anyway, I’m not going to lie: social media is where rape culture not so much lurks, as dances across the floor to Blurred Lines before having a hand-shandy into the nearest pot plant. If casual, sexualised abuse is a game, which of course for those dishing it out, it is, then Twitter is Ready Player One X Chromosome. You may be surprised by this, and think it is a New Modern Thing. If you are, you may be a straight, white man. Now I’m not saying that all people who are jerks on Twitter are straight white men and also Katie Hopkins (far from it), or that all straight white men are jerks, although, as with lots of thorny issues on gender, it’s fun to pretend to be confused about that. It’s just that it’s no accident that straight white men seem to be the ones who are the most likely to make rape threats on the internet, the ones who are very likely to be doing this partly because they are very anxious to keep defining gender in terms of genitals and genetics (or defining it at all) and also the most likely to be surprised by this kind of heinous douchebaggery and the responses of those subjected to it.
But no one who has lived in the world as a woman is remotely surprised by the graphic nature, the white hot, hair-trigger ferocity of internet trolls. If there’s one thing we really, really understand, it’s that lots of men are very fragile. And that Toxic masculinity is very shit for everyone and that sucks. Dudes are covering up a deep wellspring of anxiety and insecurity by going shirt-off apeshit about masculinity (btw – you keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means) and maybe if you are really, really nice to them instead of being all busy dismantling the structures fucking them up, then you might be the one to make them better people! Maybe they won’t be terrible at sex without realising , or at not hitting their partners, or (entirely unrelated) not shooting lots of people! Maybe it’s your job to stop this, not theirs!
So, the abuse dished out by all the menz online only makes clear to us the things we already know from twenty first century documentary maker Margaret Atwood: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them, and that there are many, many men who equate being laughed at with being punched right in the face. On Twitter the thought occurs that if women always responded to winks, unwanted conversations, upskirting, slaps, punches, gaslighting and the music of Ed Sheeran in the way that some men respond to not being taken seriously, what a radical turn of events that would be.
However, here’s the thing. If the patriarchy is the Wizard of Oz, then social media platforms are the cranking levers and cogs, whirring away to make it seem all-powerful. And guys, we see it. Your privilege is showing, and I’ve got to say, it seems shorter in real life. Social media is where we learn a new thing about power: That it isn’t men only fundraisers (just a bit of fun!) or a government or, more importantly, financial institutions with actually quite a few women in now. (Look at those women, ladies! That could be you!) Power isn’t even ours for the taking – it is us. Many, many, many of us, all at once. We owned it this whole time, we understand it better than anyone and gosh, aren’t we good at using it.
For a long while there we knew, we all knew that being dicked on individually was fine. I mean, gents, really. Nothing to see here. Call us a bitch for not smiling at you, and we are so used to it, we barely notice. We keep our head down and shrug our shoulders because you know, the unbelievable consequences of calling that out. Being shown pictures of your penis on the regular is meh. Pfffff. Ok. But let us see you trying this every single fucking day on other women, other excellent women EVERYWHERE and bro, you went too far. Y’all just threw a party over at the patriarchy palace in your fancy wigs and said ‘let them eat cake.’ I mean, I will definitely eat cake, but you just raised our consciousness, mate, so we are going to finish that cake and then tell @feminazihater34, otherwise known as Dave from accounts, to fuck off into the sun. Every unthinking, off-hand piece of rudness, of brittle outrage and, every empty and not so empty threat – we see you all now, guys, and we see how you spell conspirasee. It’s been a great help. Thank you for your service.
And let’s not forget the What About Men men. I mean, how could we forget them? And they raise an important point – what about men? I mean, feminists definitely hate them, we know this, and if the internet teaches us anything, it’s that feminists are fighting only for their daughters, not their kind, thoughtful, sons. They don’t look at the effects of a system that teaches boys to never show emotion, to never veer from the strict confines of masculinity and maleness, they don’t look at their boy and look ahead to playgrounds and locker rooms and a lifetime of brutal conformity and feel their hearts breaking.
So feminists are in no way standing by the side of the information superhighway with a high vis on and a loud hailer shouting ‘Dudes Who Want To Smash The Patriarchy – THIS WAY PLEASE’. Never mind ‘No Cookies for Allies’, in the wake of #metoo the internet was full of feminist girl scouts, going door to door with trays of Rebecca Solnit articles and first year gender studies lecture notes and fistfuls of holla’s for men who commented enthusiastically about how although they don’t consciously participate in entrenched gender bias, they definitely benefit from it and will look out further reading and work to call it out among their peers in future. And wow, we were INUNDATED! You must have seen it, right? We totally ran out of cookies. In my house we have a weekly calendar for the distribution of labour – Tuesday: take out the bins, Wednesday: make some middle class whimsy for the World Book Day costume, Thursday: Overthrow the Government.
So we know that there a whole heap of guys on board and putting their shoulder to the wheel, putting their heads above the parapet and trolling angry men. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. But it’s still not exactly 50/50 when it comes to this kind of labour. In fact, when prominent men call each other out in public, it literally makes the news and provides me with ‘chuntering from a sedentary position’ as my new favourite euphemism.
So what we wouldn’t give for a strong, hard working man right now. Who hasn’t scoured the murky corners of the internet looking for an alpha male who can bench press 150lb of structural inequality? We would all stop work and press ourselves up against the window to watch a dude making a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency about the absolute bullshit contained in the average Diet Coke commercial. No wonder Demi Moore let them put A Few Good Men in the title even though she did all the fucking legal work in that movie. She found literally A FEW! All in one workplace! Alright! ‘Let’s work together on this!’ We were saying to all the excellent men in our lives. ‘You can totally be on the team! It’s like the A Team, only we love it when free and easy access to Plan B comes together! You’re right behind us guys, right? Guys??’ And we waited. And waited. We cupped our ears and listened, like the Grinch on the top of Mount Crumpit, which is where we ladies rode with our mental and emotional load, to the tip top, to dump it.* And all we heard was the crickets chirping. And the sound of women suddenly wondering what the response would be if a lot of wealthy old boys gathered at the Dorchester and hired security so they could put their hands where they shouldn’t on young men. The sound of women all at once thinking that if men are from Mars, then some of them can fuck off back there (not all men, of course!). The sound of dudes we know saying that’s important and everything, good for you, but they don’t really have time to read all that right now or saying nothing, nothing at all. And the click of millions of women on the front line realising that the back up isn’t coming so they are just going to sort this shit out by themselves.
*Please God let somebody write an entire feminist Grinch Who Stole Christmas because I would love to but can’t be arsed.
And it turns out, there is nothing more powerful than seeing a lot of very, very funny women saying not ‘this man routinely abuses his position and does terrible things’ and not even ‘this man can fuck off’ but ‘this man looks like Beaker from the muppets’ and then ‘I’m sorry – who?’ We are laughing at the things that used to silence us. We are ignoring them. Social Media is far from silencing: it is a training ground. It is where you can watch in the wings and unlearn your years of taking it on the chin. If you want deadly ninja skills for the battles ahead then this is the dark, sweaty combat hall where you learn how to find the pressure points. And squeeze. The Side Eye, the State of This, the Single Emoji Slap Down, the Mate, How Embarrassing For You, the Relentlessly Reasoned and Engaged Approach However Difficult The Conversation Is, also the It Is Not My Job To Educate You, the Goodbye Now, the Nope, the Nope, the Nope.
And if that sounds childish, it’s because it is! As childish as the GOP and the NRA and Fox News being owned right now by an 18 year old with a buzz cut and watertight fucking arguments and such power that she needs to say exactly nothing for 6 historic minutes. As childish as having a group of children taking an unjust and corrupt government and centuries of colonialism and kicking that sorry shit to death with Meryl Streep gifs and hope. And if that sounds like a revolution that’s about to reach the legal age for voting, that’s because it is. Trump might not know it yet, he may feel like Twitter is his swamp and nobody’s going to drain it, but – au contraire, mon frere. Twitter is a land war in Asia. And these guys were there first.
Whether you like it or not, there’s a playground battle going on for our future, and this is where you come to shout and tussle if you need to be heard. And if you are truly an ally, the time has come pick on someone your own size. Or, preferably, bigger. Save your bite for anyone who in that moment, however hard it is to put your finger on why, holds the reins. Get in here and look for anyone hanging onto a rung lower than yours, who is listened to, valued, believed less than you – and either speak with them to turn up the volume, or shut the fuck up and listen. Even if (and I know, this is a big one) even if you think they are wrong. Even if they are telling you that you have done something shitty when you don’t think you have, or that you still benefit from a shitty system and are part of the problem, which is hard. Even if it’s just a habit, an offhand remark, if you did it without thinking – think. Interrogate your habits. Do the reading. Don’t just expect them to explain it to you, try harder. The playing field for outrage and anger is not a level one. Draw on your capacity to listen and explain, especially if you are not dealing with this nonsense and thinking about your gender, your skin, your place in the world every time you pop out for milk. Use it when you see that other people’s Dealing With Bullshit well has run dry.
For feminists on social media are not just sharing memes, they are sharing ideas. It may be abusive and outraged, but that is more than partially the point – how else are the powerful made ridiculous except by their own tiny, tweeting hands? And let me tell you, I have learned more about intersectionality, activism and my own privilege in a year on Twitter than I did in three years at University surrounded by people who looked and sounded just like me. More than I did doing a post-graduate degree in a place that prided itself on its radical credentials, and taught me mostly to dial down the feminism in order to be taken seriously. More than this, on social media I have discovered people, lots of people, who are kind, clever, tireless, creative, talented, endlessly supportive and have a devastating line in solid burns and widening horizons. They make me laugh. They make me brave.
So, now, because of social media, we see each other, and we see how it is. And if we fall down then we pick each other up, because we’ve got some things to say. If we were scared, then we are not any more. And let me tell you, guys, there is nothing about how power works that you can teach us. We know about not being taken seriously, being ridiculed, being silenced, being made to feel ashamed – this is the water we swim in. And now here we all are, not drowning but waving. To each other. Online, we are learning a new normal – one where women speak up, speak up, speak up.
So if I provoke a flurry of dykes, a blizzard of lesbians (the correct collective terms), with daring comments about the abuse received by women making a daring addition to the electorate 100 years ago, well, let it snow, bro. Go ahead and blow up my mentions. I can take it. I might not bother to reply but I’ll be busy high fiving someone and getting on with it. And if I’m fat, it’s because every time I fuck your sense of entitlement, I get a biscuit. Yippee ki-yay motherfuckers.