This article was originally published on The Vocal.
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 likeminded 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.”
(I wasn’t able to attend this year’s IWD address by Celeste Liddle, but the transcript of her talk, published by New Matilda, has seen Celeste banned from Facebook for the inclusion of an image of topless Indigenous women in ceremonial body paint. Meanwhile, near nude photos of white-identifying—or at least white-passing—Kim Kardashian remain.)
Online (Friend) Dating.
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 awhile 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 worse comes to worse, 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.
All the Platforms.
Twitter is by far the social media platform that’s enhanced and complimented 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 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’s 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 the people that will most be affected by the program: queer school kids.
A Community of Changemakers.
Though it can be a place of harassment, abuse, doxing 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, while reports are surfacing that Dr. Luke, accused of sexually assaulting Kesha, has been let go by Sony amidst both online and IRL protests to #FreeKesha.
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 trans 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 meatspace… 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.”
To return to Celeste Liddle, her banning from Facebook is illustrative of the white male supremacy governing the site. This is not to say that Twitter and other social networks aren’t ruled similarly, but it’s mighty suspect that an Indigenous woman was restricted from Facebook while corporations such as The Daily Mail and the ABC were able to share articles referencing Celeste’s plight on the platform but remain unbanned. Twitter and her own blog remained the only social media available to Celeste during this time.
The Personal is Technological.
Jazmine Hughes, the editor of New York Times Magazine and formerly of The Hairpin, wrote about finding friendship online, saying that “The Internet is where I’ve found all my friends.”
“It’s easy to dismiss friendships that originate online as superficial,” Hughes continues, “with the broad assertion that no one is their ‘true’ self online, but instead a distilled curation of snapshots, quips and restaurant check-ins, all rolled into one cohesive personal ‘brand.’ But why can’t our social media presences serve as a primer to our real-life selves, a tangible way to say, ‘What you see is what you get?’ There’s a person behind that hashtag.”
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.