Twitter may be blamed for introducing feminist women to vicious trolls - but it has also introduced a lot of feminist women to each other. Photo: Stocksy
Recently I've been thinking about all the female friends I've made over the years, particularly the ones I've met online, and more specifically through Twitter. I don't think it's a coincidence that they're all feminists. Increasingly, feminist movements begin and prosper online, with hashtags, event invitations and unique perspectives not available through traditional media streams rearing their heads through the white noise of #NotAllMen and cat gifs. As these modes of communication continue to thrive, it only makes sense that feminist connection and friendship do, too.
A few years ago, I attended Clementine Ford's address at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre in Melbourne. During question time, a young woman sitting next to me asked, as someone new to feminism and Melbourne, where she could find her tribe IRL. Ford gave a great answer that escapes me two years later, but before I left the event I was sure to pass on both my knowledge and the Facebook and Twitter handles of one of the best feminist meet ups in Melbourne: Cherchez la Femme, a monthly talk show-formatted event hosted by Karen Pickering that has also parlayed itself into a film festival and feminist meet-cutes where you can connect with other like-minded people. It has been pivotal in forming my feminist beliefs and integral to making connections within the community.
At last year's IWD address at the Centre, Cherchez La Femme panellist and keynote speaker Amy Gray reiterated the strength of the relationship between women and the internet:
"Without the internet, I would not be able to know the friends I love so dearly, learn what I have about feminism and politics or get the dream writing job I wanted but couldn't find a way into the industry. Without the internet, I wouldn't be here talking with you tonight (you may want to burn down the internet after this speech though).
"The internet is a place to have so much fun and waste so much time by yourself or with your newest, greatest friends that you'll forget the damn place was actually created with a military purpose."
It may be more difficult for older, possibly internet distrustful generations to understand that many millennials not only shop and date online but we also find our 'tribes' there. So when an older colleague asked me how I make new friends, I explained to her that it was mostly electronically, giving her the example of meeting Global Women's Project manager Carmen Hawker at the book launch for The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers a few years ago. Carmen was sitting next to me and commented on the book I was reading. Later that I night I saw Anne retweet a photo of herself and none other than Carmen, who I immediately followed and tweeted at. Since then, we've bumped into each other at movie screenings and even at Bey Dance!
Similarly, at Roxane Gay's sold-out talk in Melbourne this time last year, I was sitting next to a woman who was furiously live tweeting the event, almost more than I was. I glanced over at her iPhone screen to see my own handle and moments-ago tweets in her feed and I couldn't help but exclaim, "Oh, I think you follow me on Twitter!" It turns out she was someone I'd been following for a while and who I had even encountered at the abovementioned Cherchez La Femme a time or two: Jessamy Gleeson, producer of CLF. She was there with her girl gang, whom she introduced me to and whose tweets add a wealth of feminist insight to my feed.
Feminist meet ups have always been around, advertised by flyers and word of mouth. For some, nothing beats face-to-face interaction and connection and, when we do meet like-minded people at these events, asking for a Twitter handle or blog address instead of a phone number to keep in touch can be less nerve-racking and invasive. At one CLF, I remember attendees wore their Twitter handles on their breast instead of name tags. If worst comes to worst, the unfollow button is close at hand. Increasingly, though, these events are organised and, sometimes, take place solely online. Conversely, they can then be a jumping off point to get together tangibly for coffee or as a group at CLF, SlutWalk or #madfuckingwitches protests.
Twitter is by far the social media platform that's enhanced and complemented my feminism the most, but there was a time a few years ago when I wasn't tweeting. As a new and astoundingly self-assured blogger, I contacted and friended on Facebook fellow writers like there was no tomorrow: Rachel Hills, Sarah Ayoub, Camilla Peffer, the list goes on. I had coffee with Sarah prior to Rachel's session about her book, The Sex Myth, at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House last weekend, and Camilla is one of the first bloggers I met IRL after connecting with her online, who stayed at my house when she moved from Perth to Melbourne and who I often attend CLF monthly events with.
Lesser-known, upcoming platforms like Peach allow you to sequester all your femmo friends in one place without eliciting the ire of #NotAllMen everywhere, as well as create a safe space for open discussion. Tumblr has long been a source of alternative content, activism and love-sharing. One recent example: Safe Schools launched a Tumblr where young queer people can share their stories about what the initiative means to them and those that will be most affected by the program: queer school kids.
Though it can be a place of harassment, abuse, doxxing and GamerGate, Twitter is also, like Peach and Tumblr, a place where women can agitate and, being a far more popular platform, create large-scale change. For example, survivors of sexual assault by music publicist Heathcliff Berru came together on Twitter to out the abuse in January.
On a smaller scale, Twitter allows those whose voices may be stifled in other areas to simply have a voice. That in itself can be a radical act. As editor of online magazine The New Inquiry Ayesha Siddiqi told The Guardian, "New platforms like Twitter are also more accessible to people who have been traditionally marginalised."
I asked a transgender friend I connected with on Twitter (and whose intersectional feminist website I now write for) Jetta Rae Robertson, how the app factors into her online life. "A lot of to-do is made about how social media is not a kind place—but the [physical world]… is also not a kind place, and after a long day of getting catcalled, followed into the bathroom or having people roll their eyes at me when I correct their pronouns, it's nice to have a group of friends who will get into therapeutic little fan rants and shitpost exchanges on… feminism. In a lot of ways, Twitter has helped me lower my guard around people who I'd assume aren't worth the effort."
For me, too, Twitter is a space where I can be myself - a lot of the time free from expectations and prejudices of family, coworkers and other miscellaneous acquaintances I'm still "friends" with on Facebook in a half-hearted attempt to keep up appearances and in contact should the need arise. It is where I can voice my opinion about controversial topics such as asylum seekers, reproductive rights and professional wrestling without judgement, passive aggressive comments or downright bigoted responses. Whereas Facebook is the fake-smiling family/high school reunion version, Twitter is representative of my true self. I think a lot of my Twitter-cum-real life friends would agree.
This article first appeared via The Vocal.