Defending the tweeting sisterhood

Monday, 5 March 2012

Do women support one another on Twitter?

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.


AliceHarold said...

This is great, and very accurate I feel.

I love Twitter and its really come into its own since I had a baby. It's helped combat feelings of loneliness, helplessness and has brought so many differing opinions about motherhood that I never would have been aware of had it not been there. Like you I've made friends and met up with other like-minded women through Twitter and its always been wonderful.

I do see an edge to it, I think there are what may be perceived as 'cliques' out there, but I have stayed well away from any of this. The only hostility I have seen has been within the parent blogging community, which is huge so there are bound to be spats and disagreements, but IMO Life's too short to argue with people in the computer!

The Middle Sister said...

I love Twitter and most of my few followers are women and fellow bloggers that both congratulate and retweet my work and I their's. Only a small minority of women are so threatend by their own sex that they can't support them.

Elly said...

I find this so ironic on the day after I was treated to some very very 'unsisterly'behaviour from a major influential feminist 'sister' Julie Bindel.

My experience of women online and in life, very often, is it is like being in the sisterhood without any sisters.

sianandcrookedrib said...

well said! the twitter sisterhood rocks.

i think it's pretty rich of the Indy to make a sexist list and then write an article blaming women for the fact that the list was sexist.

when i had my hooters issues the other week i was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support from the twitter feminist team. we share each other's work, promote each other's works, offer messages of care and solidarity, congratulate our achievements.

twitter isn't about celebs anyway. Grace Dent wasn't even on the list and she wrote the book on Twitter!

Ruby said...

Great post. I didn't see the original piece, nor will I waste time reading it. I'll be too busy building community on Twitter. I've just completed a conference, with a ratio of 3:1 female to male speakers and everyone of them was found in some way due to Twitter and virtually everyone of the 90 delegates was there because of Twitter.
If that isn't using Twitter to build community and support each other (women and men alike) I don't know what is!

And you know how I found your blog post, yup cos someone re-Tweeted it.

Hannah Mudge said...

Alice, someone mentioned the hostility in the parent blogging community to me on Twitter as an example of women not being supportive. One of the reasons I don't feel drawn to 'mummy blogging' is the drama over parenting choices and judging that goes on, the big bust ups every few months - I can't imagine wanting to get involved in it!

As you say Sian, when something bad happens or someone is going through a tough time, people are always offering support and advice.


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