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Get Your Hashtag Together: Improving Online Activism

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Amanda Moser

Fan of tattoos, David Bowie, and dogs with short legs. Not necessarily in that order.

On Friday, October 13th, Rose McGowan led a Twitter boycott with the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter to protest women’s voices being silenced after her Twitter account had been temporarily suspended on the 12th, while speaking out against Harvey Weinstein and other members of Hollywood.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, and who could blame you really given the state of… everything, you’ve probably heard about all of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment and assault.

The short of it is that, in a New York Times article that broke on October 5th, Hollywood’s “worst-kept secret” was exposed: Harvey Weinstein has allegedly sexually harassed and/or assaulted dozens of women.

In their article, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, outlined many, many allegations against Weinstein that span nearly three decades; the accusations laid out in black and white, woman after woman, undeniable in their frankness.

This article, and the dozens that followed it, made it impossible for Hollywood, and the general public, to ignore the allegations against Weinstein any longer.

Rose McGowan has been the leading voice against Harvey Weinstein.

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via nytimes.com

She’s been outspoken, fearlessly taking on Weinstein as a one woman army. She’s ruthlessly put her career and livelihood on the line as she’s campaigned against him, refusing to be silenced.

This boycott seemed to be a quick response to her suspension (which was apparently caused by posting a screenshot of an email which contained a private phone number), a defensive tactic aimed to keep the ball rolling, to keep her cause at the forefront of our minds.

And it makes sense that she would want to keep attention on it.

When it comes to something like sexual assault, women who make accusations are often not believed, questioned about what they were doing or wearing, made to feel humiliated and ashamed.

You know this, you’ve heard it all before.

McGowan has been the loudest, most persistent voice when it comes to the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and men like him.

The men of Hollywood need to know they own no woman.”

Rose McGowan, The Hollywood Reporter

My first reaction was “hells yes! A boycott! I am down! I am with you in spirit and more! But not literally in spirit, for I shall be boycotting too! No tweets for me, man! None at all! I am with you ladies!!”

But the more I thought about it and the more I read other women’s reactions, the more I realized, like many issues surrounding women and sexual assault and rape and feminism and the goddamn patriarchy, this issue — and the boycott itself– is not exactly that cut and dry. And, like many issues surrounding women it’s really, really shit at inclusivity. 

In fact, many women on Twitter decided not to join the boycott.

Many stated their support for those who wished to participate, but explained that silencing their own voices on the platform was not something they wanted to do.

There were two major criticisms with #WomenBoycottTwitter:

  1. Voluntary silence is not the best way to protest forced silence.
  2. And where is this kind of support for women of color when they are forced to be silent?

When it comes to reporting sexual assault, hell, even TALKING about sexual assault with friends and family — those we trust — women are rarely believed.

We’re told we are being dramatic or we were asking for it. We’re warned that we could ruin the man’s life by making such accusations. We’re asked what we were wearing, if we were drinking, who we were with, were we alone, the list goes on and on and on…

When there’s no support for victims, no solidarity, no understanding, there’s less of a chance for victims to come forward. When all you are met with is disdain, judgement, blame, and animosity, why would you want to?

We are told not to get raped, but never what to do if we do — if we become the unlucky ones. If we are attacked, invaded, coerced.

We are not told how to report, that we should report, that we must report. We are not told that it’s not our fault, that it’s never our fault — no matter what.

We are told to stop overreacting, to stop making a fuss.

We are told to be silent.

And so, many women believe choosing to be silent in order to protest forced silence is not the way to go. Especially on a platform like Twitter, where women are often bullied and threatened, intimidated and abused.

And, the thing is, protest isn’t perfect. And it’s not supposed to be. You just grab onto the one that aligns the best with you, show up, and get to work. The point of protest isn’t perfection, it’s dissent. It’s making your presence known, standing up to say what you WON’T stand for. It’s about solidarity and support for a cause you believe in, even if others don’t believe the same.

Many women also pointed out, quite correctly, that while many (mainly white) women were coming together to ultimately support one woman (Rose McGowan), they were not as quick to support women of color who have faced similar discrimination and forced silence on the platform.

The two most notable examples of this have been the immense amount of abuse Leslie Jones received after the female reboot of Ghostbusters, and the suspension of ESPN’s Jemele Hill following tweets she made on her personal Twitter account that apparently violate the network’s social media policy.

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Photo via elle.com

Leslie Jones was hit with a barrage of hatefully racist and sexist comments which led her to ultimately quit the platform for a time. And while there was support for Jones, particularly in the form of the hashtag #LoveforLeslieJ, there was nowhere near the outpouring as there was for McGowan.

There was no call to boycott Twitter, no secondary hashtag (#MeToo — a campaign that was actually created by a black activist, Tarana Burke, ten years ago, but made recent news when Alyssa Milano tweeted about it following #WomenBoycottTwitter) that extended the conversation. There was not an army of white women galloping to defend Leslie Jones and to stand in unity with her.

Part of this may stem from the way we perceive issues, how we decide what is pressing and deserving of attention. Many people are more likely to respond to action (in Rose McGowan’s case actual physical and sexual violence) than they are to words (in Leslie Jones’ case threats of physical and sexual violence).

This, however, is not the case for all acts of violence against women. Try as I might, I could not find a major online campaign about violence against transgender women, specifically. I found the hashtag #StopTransMurders on the National LGBTQ Task Force’s site, which led, as all roads do these days, to Twitter. This hashtag holds up a mirror to our own hypocrisy. To our ‘actual violence’ vs ‘threats of violence’ hypocrisy, at least.

Scrolling down the hashtag you can see the increasingly alarming list climb higher as they count off the victims. You see name after name, picture after picture, of the transgender people who have been murdered this year. This is actual violence. These are people who have been killed. Yet where is the public outcry? If you look at transgender women alone, the statistics are outrageously distressing.

According the the Human Rights Campaign at least 24 transgender people have been killed this year. The vast majority of them, 21 out of the 24, have been women and mostly women of color.

Where is the outrage for them?

When Jemele Hill was suspended from ESPN for two weeks following a Twitter response to Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones, who threatened to bench players if they chose to kneel during the national anthem, there was even less Twitter upset.

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Photo via nytimes.com

After some digging, I did eventually find the hashtag #FreeJemeleHill. But still, this campaign was only met with a fraction of support compared to the #WomenBoycottTwitter campaign.

She, too, has been silenced. She’s been suspended from her job for speaking out against men who abuse their power, and yet, we aren’t clamoring to stand in support of her.

In response to the support of the boycott, activist April Reign (who created last year’s #OscarsSoWhite movement) decided that, rather than choosing to be silent, we should be amplifying the voices of non-white women.

Using the hashtag #WOCAffirmation many people took to Twitter, on the same day of the boycott, to champion women whose voices are often drowned out.

The focus of this hashtag was to affirm, to uplift and support, women of color who have not received the same support as white women often do.

In her CNN interview with Isha Sesay, April Reign explained that “all too often feminism has not been intersectional…very often white women are considered the default and we just need to broaden our frame of reference a little bit so that we are being more inclusive of everyone.”

When women of color talk about the exclusion they face, it’s up to us, white women, to make a stand and to include them.

Rather than listening to our sisters, understanding that they are often excluded by the narrative we are writing, and trying to be better, we are ignoring them.

We have to support them, to help amplify their voices. It comes down to doing better, to being better. And we have got to be better.

We don’t all have to agree on the method of protest, on the way we make our views known.

What’s important is that when we stand in support of women, we stand in support of ALL women — not just those who look like us.

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