Hashtag Feminism

#wecandoitI had so much else to say last night about that damn George Will op-ed that I didn’t have time to touch on one thread of the counter-discourse against his misinformed and misogynist rant: the hashtag conversation about #SurvivorPrivilege.

Feminist writer and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki states in an interview on Buzzfeed:

I honestly started the hashtag as a way to share my frustration with the notion that survivors have privilege. It’s one of those situations where I felt like I should laugh so I don’t cry, so I used my sarcasm to start a conversation about how difficult it is to be a survivor. I hope the hashtag will help highlight the absurdity of George Will’s column and that survivors are struggling in the aftermath of sexual violence. No one wants to be the victim of a violent crime.

If you peruse the tweets reproduced in that article, or in similar articles at DCist, Feministing, Ms., and PolicyMic — or, for the moment, if you follow the live twitter feed, though batten down the hatches for the inevitable MRA backlash in 3, 2, 1… — you will see an array of experiences that is likely every bit as heart-breaking and outrage-inducing as you would expect it to be.

For example:

Meanwhile, in another corner of the galaxy, Shonda Rhimes gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth this past Sunday. (Transcript here.) Among the customary mixture of self-revelation (“Shonda, how do you do it all? The answer is this: I don’t”) and platitudes (“Don’t be a dreamer, be a do-er”) is a passage about the importance of activism in the world:

And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething

Hashtags are very pretty on twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing into your computer and then going back to binge watching your favorite show. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.

Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week.

(Emphases added by HuffPo.)

As part of an ongoing work project, I’ve been having some conversations with colleagues about the nature of societal and systems change.* We’ve been talking about this topic within the context of educational reform, but the core principles around creating change carry across contexts and topics — including misogyny, patriarchal structures and rape culture.

Let me distill these conversations down to a kindergarten level.  The research suggests that in order for real change to occur, real, lasting, sustained change, three pillars all need to be in place:

  1. People need to know the truth about something (especially when evidentiary truth goes against your assumptions or beyond the limitations of your personal experience)
  2. People need to care, to think that a particular issue matters and that the effort of making change is worth something
  3. People need do-able, impactful actions they can take to make individual change or influence systemic/societal change

So in one way, Shonda’s right: talk alone is not enough to “make the world suck a little less every week.” But I think she goes too far when she says “A hashtag is not helping.” Because action alone isn’t enough — or maybe action would be enough on its own if we lived in a miraculous utopia where everyone was instinctively knowledgeable about and motivated towards right action.

But we don’t live in that magical utopia, so unless people are given information to help them drop their privilege blinders, and unless they are inspired to give a shit, then nothing is gonna evolve.

In other words: hashtags help.

* There are moments my job sucks, and then there are moments when it is really-super-cool.


Image credit: http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/12/can-feminist-hashtags-dismantle-the-state.html