The Misogynistic Hashtag

19 Jul

Call me Ishmael, but my problems don't just end with the fail whale

Twitter, I love you. You had @me at #hello. You link me to brilliant news and amazing like-minded people, helped me follow the student protests and today’s Hackgate, and you are one of my all time favourite expressions of narcissism. (Remember that time I was on your front page? That was fun for everyone.)

But Twitter, you can be really, really sexist.

For those of you that may not be familiar with what a trending topic is, it is a way to group certain terms on Twitter, often preceeded by a hash (#) to make them more easily searchable. If enough people are discussing something, these hashtags will become ‘trending topics.’ It can be a pretty cool feature — Doctor Who commentary usually trends, and it sometimes alerts you as to which celebrities are about to appear on talk shows (or which ones have just died…). But the cool thing about these hashtags is also the problem: they are the most popular conversations on the social networking site. And as one blogger points out, “Sometimes when you try to peer into a hive mind, you end up stung by hundreds of misogynist bees.”

Offensive trending topics of the past have included #stopthatthatsgay and #rulesforgirls.

By far the worst I’ve ever seen was last year’s #ItAintRape, which I won’t even dignify with a link. At the time of writing, one of the top hashtags is #youknowuasideline, which looks a little like this:

It’s true that Twitter forces you condense information into 140 characters, but it’s somewhat difficult to defend these with the ‘oh-but-there’s-a-lack-of-contextualisation’ excuse. According to Bad Reputation, “if you ever share a train carriage with a stag party you may well overhear some of the same sentiments.”

The flagrant misogyny of most of these trending topic hashtag tweets makes me furiously angry. But I don’t find them shocking. I think Germaine Greer is wrong on lots of things but right on this one: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.” Well, now we have a handy index in our Twitter sidebar

Now, I don’t think that Twitter’s trending topics are reflective of a universal and perpetual ‘hatred’ towards women, but rather an effect of society’s tired old belief that the two binary genders are separate, unequal and cannot be reconciled. However, trying to promote understanding through dialogue usually ends in a #ragequit (for me at least), as people are inherently defensive of what they have been conditioned to believe. It is also close to impossible to have any kind of productive debate in 140-characters or less.

Bad Rep has a pretty decent theory that explains why Twitter’s sexist (-racist-homophobic-ableist-ageist-etc.-etc.) trending topics feel out of place next to your Twitter stream.

Sorry everyone, I know you don’t want to hear this, but Twitter is people with misogynist views, at least if the trending topics are anything to go by. I would hazard that Twitter might feel like a feminist space that has been invaded by these ‘orrible ‘ashtags because you follow feminists. But we’re in the minority, just like in Real Life.

It’s much easier to craft your own media bubble online than offline, but it’s basically the same thing. If you read the Guardian, and hang out with other people who read the Guardian, then Guardian-y sort of opinions are going to appear to be the norm. Whereas the norm, in circulation figures at least, is actually the Sun. And then the Daily Mail.

Also, they have an excellent answer to why Twitter is the way it is: Because the web encourages people to be shitheads. Have you ever been to text-based chat site Omegle? You’d think that, given this amazing tool, which could use anonymity to free users of prejudices like class, race, gender and age, people would finally be able to make some kind of profound, tangible connection to another human being, as equals. Well, no, it seems like they can’t. Because humanity is a dick.

It’s easier to be an asshole to words than to people.” Just look at Facebook’s reaction to Japan winning the women’s World Cup against the US, or take a look at Openbook. That people are bigoted or misogynistic when they have the safety of their monitor to hide behind is no ground-breaking story.

In regards to Twitter, use of the hashtag itself may also encourage cheap shots at minorities. As Bad Rep asserts, “It’s a joke, and there’s an age-old link between cheap gags and crude gender stereotypes.” Through comedy, people often voice more controversial opinions than they might otherwise. When I was featured on the front page of Twitter, it was not for my left-leaning tweets, or my keen observations of the books in or near my house – it was for a joke about hipsters, and one which in some lights belittled the experience of the Chilean miners. (A miner faux pas, you might say… Sorry.)

I actually think that feminists have a strong enough presence on Twitter to dominate conversations like #menmarrywomenwho. But it’s also important to remember that people are no more ignorant on Twitter than they are on any other social media platform, or high street, or train carriage. Flaming everyone who posts a derogatory tweet is a waste of time.

It’s a symptom. You’re treating a symptom, and the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head, as they say. So my thinking is, why not cut off the head?

Of the human race?

It’s not a perfect metaphor.

…And maybe Doctor Horrible isn’t the perfect mouthpiece to illustrate my point.

Basically, misogyny wasn’t invented by Twitter. It may be perpetuated in that forum, but the real problem is much bigger than that. Sexism is a global problem, not just confined to the Twittersphere. As well as undermining women, it reflects unfairly on men, it divides us, and sadly it’s not going to go away soon.

Just remember folks: you are what you tweet.

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6 Responses to “The Misogynistic Hashtag”

  1. Kas Sommers July 19, 2011 at 11:22 PM #

    I don’t use hashtags – they take up too much space in your limited tweet allowance. And I don’t look at the trending topics though I’m aware they are there on the right-hand side of my screen. My twittersphere is full-up with trying to read the people I’m following and now and then posting something myself.

    Love your article – very insightful.

  2. High Heeled Herbivore July 20, 2011 at 3:14 AM #

    “People are inherently defensive of what they have been conditioned to believe” – yes yes yes. I heart twitter too, but trending topics tend to be depressing. I try to focus on the people I follow, but then I worry I’m cocooning myself in views that I support. First world problem right?

  3. Kas Sommers July 20, 2011 at 9:49 PM #

    I’ve been reading my friend Vanessa’s blog, Mother, Singer, Speaker, Toastmaster http://vanessaking.wordpress.com/ and she asks for feedback. There may be many people reading your blog, but if they don’t “like” it or leave a comment, then no one knows.

    I encourage you to read her and leave a comment or a “like” there too (and I’ve urged her to read yours as well).

    I need to sign up to wordpress myself because it won’t let me “like” anything at the minute.

    • Stephanie D July 23, 2011 at 3:41 PM #

      WordPress has a pretty amazing visitor counter. You can tell how many people are visiting each day, and where they come from :]

  4. weavehole July 26, 2011 at 6:33 AM #

    I’ve only been on twitter for a short time but have generally been quite surprised by how right-on the world usually is. Even seemingly obnoxious tags like whitepeoplehobbies blackpeoplehobbies are most often filled with people saying ‘don’t be a racist tool’ or self-deprecatory comic vignettes. I’m not saying everyone is perfect, there are still plenty of dicks too, of course.

    As a small aside re: “Whereas the norm, in circulation figures at least, is actually the Sun. And then the Daily Mail.”

    Just been wondering to myself lately if this is really true. Surely ‘the norm’ is not reading newspapers at all. The Sun estimates about 7 million readers (off the top of my head) and far less copies actually sold. The other papers sell far fewer still. Altogether a fairly small percentage of the UKs population. Even the biggest TV shows dont reach half the population.

    So maybe this is why *everyone* feels part of a downtrodden minority.

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