Wednesday, 9 April 2014

'Twitter Activism'

I used to love Twitter. The SOCIAL networking site was once something I used for about an hour a week to meet like-minded individuals and engage in a bit of light hearted-inanity to combat the stress of everyday life (like laughing at pictures of people’s cats pulling stupid faces).

That’s what social media should be. Either informative or entertaining. Unfortunately, what it appears to have become is a communal dumping-ground for people’s angers, grievances and issues which they fire at each other like 140 character bullets. I tried to counter-balance all the whining, bitchy, moaning and back stabbing by launching a week-long positivity challenge in association with Cosmopolitan. The idea went down a storm with Twitter users wearily raising their fists and saying “yay”, so worn down were they by the tidal wave of negativity the web exposes them to on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the toxic indignation continues.

This week I wrote an article for the Feminist Times which divided audiences (as I knew it would). The jist was that there are a militant crowd of shouty feminists ‘activists’ who appear to have nothing better to do than sit on Twitter all day picking on people who don’t meet their feminist principles. All this succeeds in doing is alienating a lot of women who, for example, DON’T think dressing up is ‘making yourself acceptable to the patriarchy’ and might not think glamour modelling is the greatest social evil the world has ever seen. Women, just to pluck an example from the ether, like myself. I said we needed in some circumstances ‘compromise’ in order to make progress, which kicked up a storm of blustering huff-puffery from women who read “militant feminist” as “hey you, reading this!” and “compromise” as “rolling over and giving in”. Neither of which is the official definition, I believe.

The Feminist Times is a brilliant online resource with ample opportunity to leave your comments below their articles. My email address is also freely available on the web with the most basic Google search. Yet the abuse I received from offended women (and it was abuse) was all done via Twitter, most of whom bemoaned the fact that my account is private, thus not allowing them to scroll though my tweets and really stick the boot in (it was made private a few months ago because a 'feminist' replied to every single thing I tweeted, firing nonsensical, four-letter expletives at me 20-30 times a day and blocking her meant she could still see my tweets so continued to compulsively check my account and respond, like a dog listlessly barking at a jogger in the park on a foggy day. It was all rather tiresome).

I ask the teenagers I work with to think of their Twitters, Facebooks, Instagrams etc as a very exclusive private members club of which they are the bouncer. If someone is causing trouble and upsetting you, it’s perfectly reasonable to eject them from your club in the form of blocking or making your account private. Healthy, even. After all, it’s our online world and we should be in charge of who populates it. And life is too short to spend our leisure time locking horns with someone who’s never going to see our point of view.

I’m actually very open to constructive criticism. What I’m not open to are tweets coming from an account using a fake name and avatar spewing out deeply personal insults. That is called bullying. So far this week ‘feminist’ accounts (who have all been screenshot but shalln’t be named because I’m classy like that) have directed the following at me:

“I’m going to tear you apart you piece of sh*t”
(Since this came from a picture of a pink cartoon pony I’m not quaking in my boots)

“F*cking brainless bimbo”
(Such a sisterly response)

“No wonder you support page 3 you are more t*ts than brain”
(Just a flavour of the kind of comments page 3 girls get every day FROM OTHER WOMEN. Nice)

“Another white woman telling us all to calm down”
(Strange this, firstly because I’m not white and secondly because, call me old fashioned, but I didn’t think one’s ethnicity should be a factor when judging the validity of one’s opinion).

“You have the maturity of a 13 year old girl”
(Got about a gazillion tweets from this person. This was my favourite, though. Insulting me by comparing my mentality to that of a young woman is obviously INCREDIBLY feminist).

“I guess being a champion Oxford Union Debater is why you’re so good at talking out both sides of your mouth”
(This user researched me enough to know details of what I got up to at uni but not enough to find my email address, identify herself and provide a reasoned response to the article that upset her so much).

My personal favourites were:

“How many feminists have an entertainment agent, really? Feminism is just a USB for your telly work”; and

“It’s a JOKE you work with teenagers and write for Cosmopolitan”

(Clearly, because I’m on telly and write for Cosmo that excludes me from either feminism or campaigning. Pardon me for saying the feminist movement can be exclusionary).

Now, I understand this anger isn't all about me. That would be incredibly egotistical. It's a culmulative rage born out of perceived or very real injustices. And yes, it’s hard to be a woman in today’s culture. It’s also fucking hard to be a man, particularly a young man in 2014. It’s hard to be gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered or non-binary. It’s a struggle to be a human, sometimes. And calling each other ‘pieces of sh*t” on the web, assuming we must be right because we’re offended, doesn’t help anyone.

As well as this there was the woman who tweeted everyone from Caitlin Moran to Everyday Sexism inciting them to join in with the bullying using tweets like “meet the feminist who has an even worse opinion of women than the men who abuse us” – something she had (wrongly)deduced from my article and written her own lengthy blog about. Fortunately I know Laura Bates (she’s a fellow Cosmo award winner) and am therefore quite sure she has better things to do with her time- I’m fairly certain Caitlin does as well.

The same woman wrote at length about how I was being disrespectful to the female audience of This Morning by saying I ‘dumbed down’ my body image message for my appearances (it’s just the format of the show. It’s frothy morning telly not Newsnight) then said she herself refused to write for The Sun and The Daily Mail because of their ‘women bashing’. Assuming they’ve actually asked her to write for them (unlikely) she appeared to be saying “The Sun and Daily Mail readership don’t DESERVE my brilliant, feminist thoughts”. Since they’re the two biggest selling newspapers in the UK journalists like her refusing to contribute would simply mean there weren’t a range of viewpoints displayed in these publications. Luckily, there are women who have overlooked their personal preferences to offer alternative views in these tabloids, like the brilliant Sonia Poulton and Kris Hallenga.

What I HAVE discovered and would like to add as a kind of disclaimer to my original article, is that my main critics already know each other, at least online. I was unaware of this and thought therefore that they were representative of a certain feminist factor. I was wrong and for that I apologise. It's actually a twitter clique have regular little conversations about me and what a terrible, awful human being I am *snigger snigger* like they do in poorly crafted US films about the challenges of High School. It’s flattering, really.

It’s been an interesting few days attempting to engage with people who think sending snarky tweets all day is genuine activism. Now, though, it’s time to return to the real world. A world in which I visit 3-4 schools a week giving teenagers advice on how to exist day to day in our culture (one of their biggest problems being bullying on the web) and help them to work out what THEIR opinions and life rules are, because I have no interest in shoving my own down their throats. A world in which I write articles for the Sun on things like how to create a positive relationship with food in your young child and articles for Cosmo contributing to their long-standing tradition of what I fervently believe IS empowering for women. That’s MY brand of activism. I probably won't go down in history as an important feminist but I know I'm helping people (because they tell me) and that's all that matters to me, ultimately.

P.S. Thank you to the equal volume of Feminist Times readers who have contacted me this week to say they either wholeheartedly agreed my article, or didn’t agree with it all but thought it was a refreshing take, or explained in a reasonable manner, without resorting to expletives, why they thought I was wrong. Tweet on, sistas!

9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Stephanie I'm so sorry I deleted your comment by mistake. In response to your point - I was asked to speak about page 3 in a public forum - at a university debate - It is then appropriate to give my view because that is what I was there to do. What would have been inappropriate would be if I had tweeted NP3's signatories with the kind of personal, four letter expletives they have hurled at me. As I say in this article, social networking is SOCIAL. It's inappropriate to hurl abuse at me on there because you might not agree with my views on page 3.

    More telling than this, though, is how the page 3 issue has eclipsed the many MANY other things I said both in this blog and in my original article. It seems my stance on it has overridden everything else I say or do in some quarters. That is a shame, but is evidence for my point that page 3 is drawing our attention away from other feminist matters when it is (in my opinion) less important.

    Thank you for your feedback, though.

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  3. With respect Natasha, this might be more to do with the fact that you have used your platform to misrepresent the NMP3 Campaign, stating as fact some things which are simply not true. For example, you say the campaign says models are badly-treated when the campaign has never said this and does not believe it to be true. You say it is snobbish middle class women bullying the working class when the supporters come from all backgrounds and include lots of men. I could go on, but you get my point. I am not a member of the team but I am a long-term supporter and have watched ordinary people finally find a voice through this campaign, and realise they're not alone. It has has been hugely powerful at a grass roots level and your criticisms have been ill-informed. The team at HQ consists of working class women who have grown up with Page 3 and know first hand the damage it can cause, and there are also a couple of men on the team. All of them put in a fantastic amount of unpaid work to get the campaign across, and in my opinion have succeeded in opening up a debate around media objectification that was much less visible before. The campaign has always been involved in debate and welcomes it, but I'm sure you can understand the difference between that and being misrepresented by someone with a wide platform such as yourself. It is really galling to have these myths about the campaign spread, because they are so damaging and potentially undo some of the good things being achieved. That's why people are so upset.

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  4. First of all, thank you Natasha for reading my blog piece so carefully. I stand by every word of it. I really do wish that you have more faith in women. A couple of points though, just because I am a picky militant like that:

    1. I have been a freelance journalist for ten years and a staff hack for a further five. I've written for every paper in the UK and a zillion more mags and have even won awards for my work. Darling, when I said I haven't written for The Sun and the Daily Mail because I chose not to I meant it. There are times in life when you have to ask yourself whose side you are on and I am not on the side of papers like these. Why that is a problem for you I do not know.

    2. For clarification, yes I sent my blog post to all sorts of feminist writers because I was interested to hear their views on this debate. At no point, though, did i send you an abusive tweet, just in case that was the idea picked up by anyone from your writing.

    3. I'm not one of a close cabal of feminists on Twitter although my writing has attracted a lot of attention from feminists which I welcome. Anyway, you name-drop here yourself about who you are friends with on Twitter. Let's just call it quits on that point, eh?

    4. Finally I've had a staggering amount of support for my views from both women and men (all time high blog stats, in fact), so many of whom are dismayed at why you felt you had to patronise those people who are trying so, so hard to make a difference. That is why your original article has not been welcomed. We have enough opposition to our work and goals as it is. We really don't need you to put the boot in too.

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  5. eponymous - People have every right to be upset, just as I have a right to my opinion. They do NOT have the right to bombard me with personally abusive tweets.

    Kraken - I copy and paste below a response to your blog sent to me by Princess Jack, who studies sexual objectification and feminism - I don't think I could have summed up my views better myself. I'm sure your way of doing things resonates with some people, as does mine. We can agree to disagree, I think.

    I thought Natasha’s piece was through-provoking, timely and useful. This is yet another personal attack. “Yup, they are the same women who agree to work for a paper that prints page 3. – See more at”. Really. Are women only ‘exploited’ or ‘objectified’ by page 3? Why is ‘objectification’ always read as sexual objectification? I have felt far more degraded and objectified working in retail than the sex industry. What about the millions of women who work for corps. You could apply this line of argument to all the women ‘who are happy’ to work for Tesco, or Primark, or Starbucks, despite the shocking social inequality they perpetuate internationally, most of which regards a highly gendered workforce. What about the women who ‘are happy’ to perpetuate gendered norms by working in stereotypical jobs, such as nursery staff, care home staff, cleaners, hair dressers. Are they a problem to equality too? Maybe you’re not feminist enough if you work for any shop who uses gendered workforces in impoverished companies to sew cheap clothes. Or who serves coffee for a corrupt corp who fiddles their taxes, exploits farmers in Ethiopia and gives zero hour contracts to staff. The Sun should be boycotted for its vile treatment of the people of Liverpool. Page 3 is the least offensive thing about that racist/ classist/ transphobic/ homophobic misogynistic rag. Maybe Natasha, as with many feminists, doesn’t buy into the simplistic “it’s degradation” “it’s objectification” argument. Maybe SHE doesn’t reduce models to merely their breasts as you do. Maybe she doesn’t support Lose the Lads’ mags, and No more page 3 and Object, because of their incessant aligning of ‘sexual imagery’ with violence against women, with people citing Lilith as the zombie stat that just won’t die. Maybe Natasha doesn’t see women as victims from which porn is a terrible moral danger. Maybe Natasha thinks we should work with different agents, not against them. I agree with Nastaha that far too many of these ‘militant feminists’ spend far too much time abusing people online, and I am happy Natasha is taking police action against online stalkers, as it should not be tolerated. This article is a wonderful example of everything Natasha said. It turns the majority of women away from feminism, they think it is aggressive, scary, and a cult. The most wonderful feminists I know who have achieve massive things don’t waste time online arguing, they don’t launch personal attacks, they get off their behinds and work with who they are passionate about. This article is written isn the same vein as the passive-aggressive ‘choice feminism’ slur for those who are liberal feminists, or sex-radical feminists, or sex positive feminists. It is the exact policing and regulating Natasha spoke of. I would like to see less personal attacks, less zombie stats, less evangelical fervour and more evidence-based policy, more passionate ethnographies, and yes, a willing to hear the other side without being abusive, aggressive and calling women stupid. We already have a system that belittles women for every choice they make. It’s called the patriarchy, you don’t need to replicate it. I strongly suggest you read the parable of the sun and the wind

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  6. p.s. Kraken - You are welcome for the high volume of people reading your blog as a result of you writing about me. Any time.

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  7. That reply by Princess Jack is simple whataboutery. Yes, there are many issues, and page 3 is one. There are microagressions and in response an attempt at microchanges. Bit by bit all these microchanges will bring about real meaningful change. I've read a few of your pieces and listened to the radio (Jersey?) debate and have been disappointed to find that in each you continue to misrepresent the no more page 3 campaign by suggesting that they say that the models are mistreated and are victims, when neither of these points are tenets of the campaign (of which I'm simply an interested party). If you present this straw man and then easily knock it down then it helps no one. By all means argue why you have no issue with a national newspaper with a massive platform presenting women as mute, topless sex objects. Or why you feel that this daily image of a beautiful, slim women with exceptional pert breasts has no effect on women's body image and self esteem rather than arguing that other publications are worse. When you begin to address the actual issues then maybe we can all have a proper debate rather then one about the mode of discussion.

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  9. Hi Helen - Thanks for your reply. I've seen you around on Twitter and have a lot of respect for you and your views. With regard to THAT speech (which has haunted me for a year now) - I realise I should have been clearer distinguishing between founding members of the campaign and NP3 signatories. The reasons I saw for people signing the campaign online included all the things I said. I have spoken with Lucy Ann Holmes and think she is a fantastic campaigner to unite so many women. I just happen to disagree on the page 3 issue. She accepts that. I just wish the followers of her campaign would too. Especially when I comment on SO many other issues. Believe it or not I don't actually care about page 3 that much, but being constantly poked with a stick by supporters of the campaign kind of forces me to keep repeating my stance. I've tried so many times to withdraw from the debate!

    As for The Kraken, if she doesn't think writing a blog all about how awful you are, taking quotes out of context and making sweeping statements about how I view feminists and women then tweeting it to every high profile female writer in the land constitutes a personal attack I cannot help her. No more comments from her will be solicited. You'll notice I didn't mention her by name in this blog. To do so would have been inciting my supporters to give her a piece of their mind. That is a form of bullying and I don't endorse it.

    The end! Next topic!

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