Starting on May 5, I embarked on a week-long social media experiment where I only engaged with women online. I did this project in conjunction with blogger and philosopher Leigh Johnson. Here’s what I posted and she posted on Facebook to announce the project.
I have long felt like social media is a man’s world. Men get all the privileges they get as men, but it feels amplified on social media. My experience of social media in general is that men can say things that get taken as definitive, while women are asked to explain and justify. Men say things about their difficulties in any particular area of their life and it is taken as an expression of their reflective capacities, but when women express such difficulties, it is taken as a moment to offer advice. I don’t have the data (a. I would love to see such work being done and b. I think the call for data in response to this expression of my experience is in a sense part of what happens to women on the internet–we call it gaslighting when experience is not to be trusted), but my experience on the interwebz is that it’s a hard place to be a woman, especially a woman in philosophy.
In this post, I want to report on some things I learned from doing the #7DaysofWomen project. My rules for myself were that I was not going to like or comment on a post or a reply from a man, I wasn’t even going to share something a man had shared.
- There are not that many women on social media. Since I had restricted myself to engaging with women it became really apparent to me how few women were regularly posting and engaging and how much less often women would post or comment or reply to comments. The space does not feel like space that is accessible to women.
- Men seem to think I need advice about things in which I am an expert. My first day of #7DaysofWomen, I posted about an insight I had about how to grade papers. Someone I barely know IRL told me I should write “filler” in the margins of papers in order to forestall students just writing filler in later papers in the course. I have been teaching since 2003. I just got tenure last year. I know a little something about grading. I was trying to think what this person I barely know must think about who I am to think I needed this rather banal piece of grading advice. This experience is not unrelated to how women (especially women of color, as this blogpost details) are perceived as younger and less experienced in academic life.
- Social media seems to develop hubs of engagement that are dominated by men. People whom others think are worth engaging, who will add to your cred by engaging, who make you feel like you have done something right when they engage with you. Very few, almost none, of those people are women. #7DaysofWomen amplified for me how I was not immune to these perceptions. My self-implication in this process makes sense if patriarchy is not a matter of individual feeling but a shared social view of who is a meaning-maker, of who must be listened to and who can be ignored. Recognizing this situation has amplified for me the need for collective resistance through actively engaging women who post, comment, and reply, and frankly, even after #7DaysofWomen, of ignoring men, or at least of not responding to men just because of who they were and the influence and power they have.
- Men engage solely with other men about issues relating almost solely to women on the regular. This phenomenon became apparent to me because I had restricted myself from engaging with men. It is striking to me how often men post and become the only ones discussing some issue relating to women. My response to seeing this happen so many times is that in a social media world dominated by men, men should let women have the space to post about issues that are related to women instead of taking that space themselves. I’m not saying this is a rule that must always be followed. But it’s a guideline. If you are a guy and you are posting something about women and discussing it solely among men or if women who comment about issues related to women are being ignored in your discussion, you should ask whether you are posting it to actually advocate for women or to accrue credit to yourself to show that you advocate for women without actually having to support and listen to living breathing women.
There’s been some talk lately about why full professors in philosophy aren’t happy. People point to how the prestige machine cranks at full blast in particular in philosophy. And so the responses might be, men are respected on the internet not because of misogyny (“I don’t have to or want to listen to women”), but because men have the prestigious positions and that is why people flock to them on social media. I don’t think men having those positions of prestige is unrelated to the misogyny to begin with. In any case, those positions of prestige don’t quite account for why it’s worse on the internet. Or for why women complaining about the situation on the internet makes those women the problem rather than the problem the problem.