Guest Post: Hashtag Feminism

I recently re-entered the world of (Black) Twitter, and was quickly greeted with a new form of communication and activism taking the feminist of color Twitterverse by storm–hashtag activism/feminism. The first example of this new form of activism was possibly this summer’s response to the news of Paula Deen‘s racism. Titled “#PaulasBestDishes,” a hashtag started by @BrokeyMcPoverty, users were invited to tweet examples of culinary dishes with titles satirizing the history of American Slavery and segregation. Aside from being painfully hilarious, this was the first time that the collective of Twitter users now commonly referred to as “Black Twitter” came together through a hashtag and talked to each other. Recently, this kind of an event has been called “hashtag activism” and is a form that has been used most notably by feminists of color (hence, hashtag feminism). The two most well-known examples of this until recently were #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, which came in the wake of the mainstream feminist response to Miley Cyrus‘ VMA performance, and the subsequent #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen. In the past month, however, hashtag feminism has taken off to an unprecedented degree. For the sake of brevity, I will simply list and explain the examples I have in mind below with links to storify versions for everyone’s viewing/reading pleasure–the world of Twitter is so complex and constantly evolving to the point that analysis might take this from a blog post to an academic essay.

#AskRKelly and #FastTailedGirls

#FastTailedGirls is a hashtag that had women of color tweeting in about the various ways they were assaulted by older men as children in relation to the idea of being “fast” (promiscuous), and the ways in which it changed their relationships to other people. Largely, men were then allowed to pursue, sexually assault, and potentially rape young girls with little to no repercussions. If anything, they would be lauded for their sexual success, whereas the young girl would be punished for being “fast”. This also forced a number of protective measures, where the women tweeting in spoke about being unable to express any sort of preteen/teenage sexuality for fear of being called “fast”. #AskRKelly was a publicity stunt done by R. Kelly to promote his latest album where users were able to tweet him questions using the hashtag and he would answer. This stunt went horribly wrong, and many people instead tweeted him satirical questions about his history of pedophilia. The two are related because at some points on the Twitter feed, #FastTailedGirls had women tweeting in to recount their experiences as young Black women on the Southside of Chicago being preyed upon by R. Kelly. Thus, the creation of #AskRKelly created a space for the women from #FastTailedGirls to raise questions about why someone as predatory as R. Kelly was still famous, and to bring to light the numerous cases of statutory rape or pedophilia being erased as a result of his fame (i.e., his secret marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15 years old).

#MyFeminismLooksLike

In response to the conversation around whether or not Beyoncé is a feminist per her latest album, Beyoncé, @prisonculture (a prison abolition activist with the NIA Project out of Chicago) started tweeting out a “visual album,” comprised of a set of pictures that chronicled her definition of feminism with the hashtag #myfeminismlookslike. In a sense, this hashtag attempted to breakdown the ways in which mainstream feminism tries to define what feminism is and delineate who can and cannot be a feminist by sending in a variety of definitions of what feminism can be. Some users tweeted pictures of their mothers and grandmothers who did whatever was necessary to improve the lives of their children, while others tweeted about their various feminist icons (bell hooks was popular). In addition to the following example, this hashtag also spurred the hashtag #MyFeminismIsTransInclusive, which I learned about from @sophiaphotos, a trans user (and wedding photographer).

#NotYourAsianSidekick

#NotYourAsianSidekick, started by @sueypark, also came as a result of the #MyFeminismLooksLike hashtag. She actively alerted her followers to the fact that she would be tweeting using the hashtag and invited others to do the same, actively intending for the hashtag to trend (unlike the others). This hashtag was not limited to “feminist issues,” if you will–users tweeted in about a wide variety of micro and macro aggressions faced by Asians (many having to do with their ability to speak English and do math), tension surrounding assimilation, exoticism/Orientalism, and the “model minority myth” and how it is used by non-Asians to support anti-Black racism. For me reading the posts, one of the most shocking things to learn about was the way men, largely white men, used sexually dominant language and behavior to hit on Asian women and emasculate Asian men, operating under the assumption that Asian women are submissive and like to be dominated. I won’t name or link to it here, but there is an entire Tumblr of screenshots from online dating websites depicting such behavior.

It is also important to note that such forms of internet activism can lead to action in the real world. @sueypark, who was a graduate student in ethnic studies, has since moved to Chicago to be a writer/community organizer, and has taken on #NotYourAsianSidekick as her activist banner.

#BlackFemMusic

The last example I will list here is #BlackFemMusic, a Twitter conversation hosted by @NewsAndThen featuring @thetrudz, @Blackamazon, @dreamhampton, @Karnythia, and @FeministaJones, all major figures in the Black feminist Twitterverse. The conversation was about the legacy and history of Black feminist music, going as far back as Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba and reaching as widely as Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, and Rihanna. It too was the result of the release of Beyoncé’s latest album, and provided the missing half of the conversation about her album–regardless of how a listener feels about Beyoncé or her album, Black feminist music has existed for years and much of it tackles the same issues and realities that she tackles. For what it is worth, nobody addressed my questions around the economic/capitalist meanings of producing a feminist pop music album especially in relation to the other named artists, but I got a few retweets so I assume I am not the only person who is not satisfied with the current analysis of Beyoncé in the lineage of Black feminist music. Despite this, the hashtag was an intense music share and generally positive conversation around Black female sexuality and agency in music, and I can guarantee everyone reading learned something about the history of music made by Black women.

These examples are by no means exhaustive, as is the nature of Twitter–things are constantly changing, new hashtags are being created, conversations are evolving, and critiques are ever-present. About 7 hours after #BlackFemMusic, #twitterfeminism became the location of a conversation about whether Twitter is an appropriate place for feminist activism. It was in response to an argument between @Blackamazon, @Karnythia, @RaniaKhalek, @sueypark, and @MeghanEMurphy, who recently wrote an article about how Twitter feminism was largely empty, distilled down to mantras and blanket statements and absent of real conversations. In turn, this led to a discussion about the differences between mainstream feminism, and woman of color feminism, arguing that Twitter was the perfect way to reach a wide range of people who otherwise might not be exposed to classic feminist texts or participate in other forms of activism. Even as such critiques appear and evolve, it has become clear that in the past month–literally, in the wake of the release of Beyoncé’s album–hashtag feminism and hashtag activism are becoming permanent and important forums for dialogue. There is even already a website, Hashtag Feminism, that finds and curates these conversations via Storify. Regardless of how one feels about it, hashtag feminism will probably exist as long as there are people creative enough to think of catchy hashtags and start the conversations–probably, as long as Twitter exists.

LA is not actually in Girlpower. She kind of hangs out in the classroom, listening to the conversation, taking notes, organizing things, and playing around with computers and projectors, under the guise of being a “teacher’s assistant”. She tweets at @_superluminal. 

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Hashtag Feminism

  1. I think part of the drive behind Twitter hashtags is that it is reactionary and happens in real time across the entire globe. Well, in addition to the fact that Twitter collects all of the related tweets under the same hyperlink.

    It all makes it very exciting and very annoying because you get the really good hashtags that make you proud and the terribly racist and sexist ones that make you wonder how you will live in the world now that you know how the world thinks.

  2. So a page shared this http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/kultur/fernsehen/SRF-bei-den-Negern/30134817/print.html on Facebook. It is a Swiss TV actress playing Oprah Winfrey, in blackface, about a racism incident in Zurich.

    And someone commented with “Black Twitter is going to take care of this”. The comment reminded me of your post and I realized that while Twitter has had some really terrible hashtags, I can see the twitter activism you were trying to highlight in your post. It says something about Black Twitter that it can be counted on to “take care of this” when stuff comes up. It means they have permeated social media (and hopefully society) enough to have their voice heard. And maybe those other terrible hashtags will eventually see the light.

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