The world, it seems, is increasingly divided into two: those who think that having the last word in some obscure Twitter spat matters; and those who wash their hands of the entire accursed shooting match.

For the most part, i’m with the second group. There is little new under the sun, and Twitter discourse simply reminds me of some of the harsher debates i used to see go down in usenet – a somewhat slower-moving, but equally fractious forum for debate in earlier internet days.

In one way. A big difference, today, seems to be the hurt that is done to the most vulnerable through twitter. That’s new – and that has to stop.

The worst that happened on usenet forums was that some threads never ended. There were, i noticed early on, people who HAD to have the last word. If you had any sense, you’d just let them have it and move on. But sometimes a thread attracted two such individuals and then…let’s just say the thread would “stretch out til the crack of doom”.

That and some name-calling which, on moderated forums, was mostly mild.

Friends and monsters

What was different, of course, was the whole business of friending. It was absent then, and while some might see that as dark age stuff, the addition of the friend facility brought with it something else: the ability to apply a subtle form of added and in some cases quite vicious social pressure to other online commentators.

Back, though, to the present. In the last couple of years, i have spoken out loudly against online monstering. Mostly women, these are people who have had the effrontery to speak up on an issue and then found themselves on the receiving end of a storm of vitriol and abuse. The awful treatment of Caroline Criado-Perez springs instantly to mind.

That phenomenon alone was enough to make me rethink my views on freedom of speech: to realise that the online world is a space, like any other, and this form of attack is also a form of bullying, designed to deny access to that space to particular voices. The law needs to take a tougher stance on this – and i believe the Crown Prosecution Service is not yet up to speed on the issue.

Back at the Nine World workshop on feminist activism, there were many decent women who owned to absenting themselves from online debate because they were fearful of the consequences. All too easy to point the finger, there, at twitter warriors of various stripes. The loud mouths. The attack dogs. The MRA’s and, yes, activists of any cause (including the trans) whose first resort in debate is to the personal: to name-calling and ill-wishing.

I’m neutral on many things: not on that.

So its all about nasty people and if only we could find a way of putting them back in their box – a twitter panic button, f’rinstance – all would be well? Not quite.

The importance of being friends

Another theme to emerge at Nine Worlds – often in the film and narrative workshops – was something overlooked in mainstream discourse: how women would like to see a range of relationships in film. The focus not just on the romantic dyad, with dramatic tension invested in the eternal tease of will-they-won’t-they? (answer: if its a Hollywood movie, of course they will!).

Other relationships are of interest, too. Mother-son, mother-daughter, sisters…friends! That’s one reason i’ve found film interesting in 2014: because alongside the Chimp and Guardians blockbusters, there have been films in which the central feature has been an examination of a different relationship.

Just friends in the Grand Budapest Hotel. A relationship regained between a father and his 10-year-old son in Chef. And most mind-blowing of all, an exploration of the relationship between two women, Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon on a grandmother/granddaughter road trip in Tammy.

Brilliant! And such a shame that the latter was so wrongly promoted as a screwball comedy by the studio.

Friendship. That’s the thing: the loss of it what many women fear. Its there – or should be there – at the heart of feminist debate. Loyalty, trust, sisterhood: these are things that should be a given. Not something used as bargaining chip to bring others back into line.

That’s why the solution advocated by many – usually blokes – that to survive the online world, one need only toughen up and get a thicker skin is SO irrelevant. The problem – the real problem – is not the variety of attacks one must endure for simply stating one’s views online.

Its the shunning, the exclusion, the expulsion from friend circles that follows.

Perhaps there’s a theme beginning to emerge here. Yesterday was about trust: that we would all get on a lot better if we trusted our fellow activists and didn’t assume the worst the moment they disagreed on some abstruse point of policy.

This is about something else: a broader sense of loyalty. Not mindless following, but that truest test of true friendship: a willingness to stand by a sister even when we think they have it totally, utterly wrong.


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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One Response to Sisters!

  1. About “loyalty … to stand by a sister even when we think they have it totally, utterly wrong.” … Are you saying, for example, that, feminists in the 1980s should have stopped themselves from complaining about Thatcher’s policies, and should have, instead stood by her on account of her being a “sister”? Or is there a point where you feel sisterhood (or whatever other group affililation) ceases to outweigh one’s beliefs and principles? If so, where?


    About Twitter protests, I see your point, and I hadn’t properly thought about this before. There’s a sort of structural problem in Twitter such that, even if something was not intended to be a harassment campaign, it tends to evolve into one.
    1) Even just MENTIONING someone effectively becomes a msg to that person.
    2) The retweet model enables others in the protest to modify (frequently “nastify”) the original wording, and get the nastier version into the retweet cycle.
    So things that might have started out feeling like a fairly civilised petition-style protest can end up having an effect that’s more like a baying mob. Yes, I see that Twitter protests have an intrinsic risk of going wrong.

    With that said, some Twitter campaigns (e.g. the recent #Kahkaha protest of Turkish women laughing at their misogynistic Deputy PM) still do feel admirable to me … not sure if you feel the same way, or if you think that even those campaigns shouldn’t have happened.

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