There is no doubt that the internet enriches our lives from allowing us to order pizza with the touch of an app to creating real tangible social change to make things better for lesbians and LGBT women.
Never before has it been so easy to find information, from which politicians support gay and lesbian + rights, to the nearest lesbian bar in a new city, to where the nearest gender neutral bathroom is. This freely available information is much quicker (and sadly, sometimes much safer) than asking someone.
The internet is also great for publicizing our causes, from celebrating the legalization of equal marriage (#LoveWins) to promoting the Woman’s March on Washington.
However, the internet giveth and the internet taketh away.
The Echo Chamber
Echo chamber (named for the phenomenon of hearing your own voice bounced back at you) is the term where dissenting opinions on your Facebook feed are drowned out by the number of conforming ones.
Echo chambers are dangerous and lead to a sense of complacency for people, but I’d argue that rather than blaming social media for this, we should take responsibility.
After an aunt told me that she considered marriage equality a ‘silly’ goal (not because there are other causes that the gay community needs to focus on but because marriage is between a man and a woman) and I avoided her for nearly three years. If I’d met her on Facebook, I would have blocked her.
Because a dissenting opinion is one thing, but calling my right to marry someone I love “silly” (when you have three marriages under your belt already) is dismissive and hypocritical. However, my avoidance of her didn’t change her mind and didn’t help my cause. Luckily, marriage equality is now the law of the land without her blessing, but I see now that, if I’d have tried harder, perhaps I could have appealed to her.
Free Speech and Censorship
In the comments section of this and other websites, we see people arguing over free speech and censorship, so let’s clear some things up.
Your right to free speech means that you cannot be imprisoned by the government for what you say.
It does not mean that you will face no consequences for your actions; if you go on a racist rant on Twitter and your boss sees it, you can be fired, or if you tell your friends that you don’t trust bisexuals, some of your friends might stop inviting you to dinner. Your free speech isn’t being impeded by that.
How did you feel watching the Drumpf “pussygate” video? He’s legally allowed to say these abhorrent comments about women but imagine if this guy worked with you (try to repress the urge to vomit), would you feel comfortable working with a man who boasted about sexually assaulting a woman? What if you employed him? Is that the man you’d want as a representative for your business? Probably not.
His right to free speech is not being debated; he shouldn’t be locked up for his words (although arguably, he should for his actions) but that doesn’t mean he is free of any consequences.
The key to achieving change: work together
In our current political climate, it is more important than ever that we stop our infighting and focus on fighting for our rights. We have enough people trying to tear us down, without doing it to each other as well.
Do you remember in Mean Girls when Mrs. Norberry gathers all the junior girls together and gave that inspiring speech about the girls not calling each other sluts and whores because it only encourages boys to call them sluts and whores?
It’s the same for all of us. There’s a difference between raising a valid point about someone and outright nastiness; there’s a clear difference between calling people out and just insulting them. For instance, the #solidarityisforwhitewomen movement raised valid questions about white feminism not addressing the needs of WOC. It wasn’t calling white women racist but pointing out problems with what they advocated for.
When we set up these divides, we just make it easier for other people to tear down our movement as a whole.
We need to acknowledge we can never really know what it’s like to experience the specific types of discrimination that others do.
In order to change the world, we, as women must bring together the marginalized groups that we belong to and work for the betterment of our communities. How can we do this, though?
Talk to each other and listen to each other
So many people don’t really listen to each other; they’re merely waiting for the other person to stop talking so that they can start. Now, I’m not a huge fan of respectability politics (people are not responsible for their oppression) but it never hurts to be kind when talking to people.
We don’t have to agree all the time, in fact, democracy works best with a certain amount of dissent, but we should be listening to the other side; it furthers debate, promotes education and it encourages them to listen to us in return.
Pick your battles
Some people are intentionally being an ass and no matter how well thought out your arguments, you won’t change their minds.
Sure, some people (i.e. trolls) have shitty things to say (“UR only a lesbian cos u ain’t seen the right dick yet.” *attaches dick pic and remarkably fails to turn you straight*) but some people don’t really understand and are not the best at expressing themselves in the moment, so ask more questions and get clarification.
The first time, I went to a meeting of the LGBTQ+ society at my university, everyone introduced themselves: name, what course they were taking and their sexuality/gender identity.
One of the people there announced that they were pansexual which I’d never heard before. I asked another person there what it was (it felt weird to ask someone to explain their sexuality and the wifi was too slow to Google it). They didn’t explain it very well and for a while, I thought it was just a fancy new name for bisexuality.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, that I learned that pansexuality referred to someone who can fall in love and be attracted to males, females, and transgendered people.
Focus on our similarities
Jo Cox, British Labour Politician: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
As gay and bi women, we experience double marginalization. There are those among us, who are triply marginalized through being both a lesbian and a WOC, or a woman with disabilities.
This is not to say that we must focus solely on lesbian issues or LGBTQ issues or women’s issues and ignore those that affect others, but if you don’t want to work for equality for all, don’t tear down those who are. If you truly don’t care about the Black Lives Matter movement or trans rights, or lesbian rights, or feminist issues, then fine. Focus on your own cause, rather than tearing theirs down.
Learn to apologize
We all make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes hurt someone, but a basic rule for engaging with others on the internet should be: don’t be an ass.
Imagine that you’re at a bar and you accidentally knock into someone and spill her drink. It’s clearly an accident, but would you buy her another drink, or just tell them to be less sensitive. Yeah, I thought so. So if someone calls you out on something; listen to what they have to say and consider whether you might be in the wrong.
I have accidentally insulted people in the past, but I apologize whenever it happens. The thing is, if you want people to respect your identity as a lesbian, trans, queer, bisexual, or any other identity, how can you justify not respecting someone else’s?
President Obama: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.”
IRL we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t immediately call them names or dismiss their identities, but there’s a disconnect online, which psychologists attribute to the anonymity factor. Remember that behind the screens from where you’re having your online conversation, is an actual person with hopes and fears and probably a cat.
If you can’t picture that person:
Try to join an offline group, dedicated to achieving change in your field, not only will this help you build a community but it will encourage you to work through disagreements while looking someone in the eye.
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.” – Barack Obama
Do I have all the answers? God, no.
As such, I’d like to hear your answers. Tell me what you believe we have in common with the other people on this site and how we can work to improve the country for all women.