Social media can be an amazing place to connect with people on any topic you want. It’s how I find my favorite vegan recipes, feel like a fitness expert with YouTube workouts and most importantly connect with a beautiful group of online badass feminists that give me hope for tomorrow. But of course, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. It seems that for every post celebrating, respecting, appreciating, and listening to women there are twice as many body-shaming, victim-blaming, and trolling just to make their presence known.
About a week after the November election I crawled out of my cave of despair to greet the online world, and what regret that filled me with. I felt hopeless. Working as an advocate for sexual assault survivors suddenly seemed like an even more impossible uphill battle, fraught with budget cuts, cabinets full of men who don’t want women making decisions about their bodies and a President with a history of perpetrating.
As the hate crimes increased against the LGBTQIA population, Muslim Americans, and everyone else who dared to exist outside the norm I was reminded of my privilege. As a white female, feminist I hold a lot of power, not only in the community but the world at large. That motivated me to act and speak up because it is literally now or never. One important venue I turned to was social media. Now despite that being just about the most millennial sounding sentence I’ve ever written, we can’t deny the power of social media. When so many people receive their news from Facebook, see every vicious late-night tweet from our President or communicate through places like Snapchat social media is important. My initial instinct to delete about 50% of my Facebook friends was rising as days went on from the election, and while I did delete the few I felt were hateful, I realized this was not the solution. Giving up on potentially important conversations in communities where I may be heard more than others felt like a cop-out.
I started to engage. Posts I would have normally scrolled through or taken a screen shot of, to send to my friends and complain I started to comment.
Last week, as I took a thesis break, I scrolled through Instagram to notice a controversial post and did what you’re not supposed to do – read the comments. One young man commented that the post was “retarded.” I could not let this one go. I went back and forth in a discussion about the appropriateness of the word with the man every few hours for a day and a half.
I admit it was frustrating to have this interaction not result in any admitted changed thinking on his part. But the more I thought about the madder I got at another aspect, nobody backed me up. This post was from a self-described feminist account that has over 39,000 followers, and not one person could lend me any support in the argument. To this guy, I was just another feminist bitch who was over reacting. Just one, because he saw not one other person reading and commenting agreed with me or called him out.
Social sanctions can have a huge impact on what people say. The example we often use doing bystander intervention training is about speeding. It is illegal to speed, but many of us still go a touch over the limit when we’re late for work. Laws are important but think of how powerful social cues can be to someone who for the first time gets told a rape joke isn’t funny or saying the r-word is disrespectful. We need more people to share their voice and support each other, so it’s not just the one angry feminist but a group of people who care. Even if someone thinks of me as a part of a group of angry feminists that is better than having no support. Feminists of privilege, of all genders, I am calling on you for backup, use your voice to reach people that others cannot. Create spaces for marginalized identities to celebrated and defended.
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