Monday, 5 March 2012
Defending the tweeting sisterhood
So asks Laura Davis in the Independent today. She refers to the "Twitter 100", a list of supposedly influential people on Twitter published by the same newspaper a couple of weeks ago, to conclude that no, we don't. And that this is the reason why we're not getting more entries on these lists.
"It’s a question of why women aren’t more influential on the site," she says.
One fifth of the "Twitter 100" were women. I don't think that says as much about the influence of women on the site as much as the odd way in which the list was compiled. It may have been calculated by looking at numbers of followers and how active people are, but what the Independent ended up with, certainly as far as the Top 20 was concerned, was a list of celebrities, which in my opinion (and I know that plenty of other people feel the same way) misses the point of Twitter entirely. So when Davis claims that what women are saying on Twitter "isn't resonating", I think she's got it wrong. She says that when it comes to helping out other women:
"One place to start would be on Twitter, where we can encourage other’s work, quietly inferring that another opinion is worth hearing."
All day I've spotted women I follow talking about this article and wondering how Davis has managed to get it so wrong. It's an odd pronouncement considering that we've basically had completely the opposite experience on the site. Fair enough, most of us identify as feminists so we'd probably like to think we're incorporating at least a bit of sisterhood into our social networking. But since I joined Twitter in 2009, I've found it to be an incredibly useful tool for women in encouraging each other, promoting each other and networking. Offering as it does the chance to talk to other people with similar interests and passions, I know it's invaluable to many people seeking community with others. When I started tweeting, I was reasonably new to activism, new to blogging, and had no local network of individuals with shared interests to talk to about certain topics. Almost instantly, I was able to find community there.
Three years later, I can say that the women I follow on Twitter have promoted my blog. They've invited me to write guest posts for their own blogs, and for various websites. They've given me career advice and messaged me links to jobs they've spotted and thought I might be interested in, invited me to conferences and events, linked me up with other people they've thought I might get on with, met up with me in person and not lived to regret it, talked to me about matters of faith and shared in my pregnancy experiences. If that's not supportive, I'm not sure what it is. This Saturday, I'm off to London to meet up with a group of women I chat to regularly. We're going to be discussing how we can work together on a particular issue and support each other in what we do. I know all of these women because of Twitter.
The majority of women I interact with on Twitter are eager to look out for each other - giving advice, sharing knowledge, linking up with others. The groups, blogs, forums and real-life friendships I've seen spring up as a result show that this "infuriating" atmosphere of "competition" doesn't always have to exist, and isn't the default mode for many women. Thanks to Twitter, when we see yet another men-only "top bloggers" list or poll, we don't just think "where are the women?". We know where they are and we get their names out there and promote their work. Here's Cath's response to such a poll - a post that still gets this blog hits. When the same sort of thing happened with a list of "top Christian bloggers" last year, I wrote about it, as did several other people. The result? Women connecting with each other for the first time, and yes, being supportive. Much of this took place on Twitter.
Susan Shapiro Barash, author of a book called “Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry”, is quoted by Davis as saying: “It’s a dirty little secret among women that we don’t support one another”.
It might be a stereotype beloved of magazines, tabloids and well, people who love to stereotype, but what I've found on Twitter is a lot of women who hate all that nonsense and genuinely want to be an encouragement to each other. We let out a collective sigh when some newspaper runs yet another feature on "bitchy female bosses". We get irritable when some blog article tries to create a new dimension to the "mummy wars". We want to see mainstream media change the record, and that's why it's disappointing when articles like Davis's piece appear.
Before someone points out that this one time, they saw some women having an argument on Twitter, I'll say that of course that's bound to happen. It would be bizarre if it didn't, because sisterhood isn't about never disagreeing. It's not about acting like you're everyone's biggest fan just because you share a gender. And naturally, some people just aren't that nice - so let's not expect unicorns and rainbows 24/7. My point is that it's ridiculous to stereotype a social network and women in general off the back of one list, which, let's face it, doesn't really say much about Twitter in the first place.