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Why Women Are Divided About Boycotting Twitter Today

Today is #womenboycotttwitter day, but a lot of women are not on board.

Why Women Are Divided About Boycotting Twitter Today
[Photo: Flickr user Alex Alvisi]

It’s been a harrowing week for women and for anyone who cares about women. (Or to put it in tone-deaf Matt Damon-y terms, any man who has created future women with his mighty seed.) Harvey Weinstein’s downfall has emboldened his victims to speak out, and women in general to warn each other about other lurking Weinstein types. Meanwhile, one of the predatory mogul’s victims was silenced on Twitter.

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Rose McGowan, who the New York Times revealed settled out of court after an incident in 1997, took to the platform to call out those who enabled Weinstein. One of her chief targets was Ben Affleck, a close Harvey collaborator whose behavior has now come under some scrutiny itself. One of McGowan’s tweets included a private phone number, a violation of Twitter’s terms of service. So here was a woman silenced for speaking out against men who may have failed to help prevent future sexual assaults and perhaps misrepresented what they knew. Twitter users were not having it.

Support for McGowan poured in all day, long after her 12-hour suspension had come to an end, prompting Twitter to meekly defend its terms of services. As many pointed out, Neo-Nazis and men who make death threats have managed to elude suspension. The Los Angeles Times reminded us that Fox Business Network anchor Lou Dobbs tweeted the phone number and address of Jessica Leeds, who accused Donald Trump of groping her. Twitter did not suspend his account in that instance.

The atmosphere seemed ripe for a grand gesture. Then late last night, editor Heidi N. Moore called for women to boycott Twitter. Although it started as something of a lark, the idea quickly turned into an all-inclusive mass initiative and yielded the unwieldy hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter. It’s a protest that has left women on Twitter divided in a couple different ways, however.

The primary division is over whether a boycott is truly the most effective way to make a statement here. Going dark on Twitter, after all, is answering a forced silence with voluntary silence. Isn’t that a win for the patriarchy? (I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge the lack of perspective a male writer has when it comes to discussing patriarchy.)

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If the protest reaches critical mass, there will be a dearth of informative and entertaining voices on Twitter today. Addicts who stay glued to the app will find it a certain percentage less enjoyable, depending on their gender-follow ratio. It will all work toward communicating the silent threat that if Twitter doesn’t get its shit together, it might be like this all the time. Anyone vocally against the idea, though, or against women in general, will have fewer people willing to shout them down. A lot of women are now grappling with whether the protest is sufficiently feminist and resenting the pressure to either participate or not.

Meanwhile, there’s an entirely separate argument against using this occasion to take such a stand.

Rose McGowan wasn’t the only prominent female voice silenced this week. ESPN suspended host Jemele Hill for supposedly violating its social media policy. Hill had already been under fire at the network after tweeting last month that Donald Trump is a white supremacist when a tweet this week advocated boycotting advertisers of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after he threatened to bench players who kneel during the national anthem. (Trump himself took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to do a touchdown dance about Hill’s suspension.) Perhaps in a different week, the uproar about Hill would have been more pronounced. As is, however, Ronan Farrow’s bombshell New Yorker piece about Harvey Weinstein and the parade of famous victims coming forward seized the spotlight. Hill’s silencing feels like it happened a month ago, instead of a few days ago.

Many women of color are upset that McGowan’s suspension seemingly merits a major statement from women as a whole, while incidents like Hill’s suspension or the attack on Leslie Jones last summer do not. Their skepticism carries an echo of an argument surrounding the Women’s March earlier this year, and an overall feeling that black women have been unfairly excluded from elements of the feminist movement. (I’ll take this opportunity to acknowledge the lack of perspective a white male writer has when it comes to discussing women of color being excluded from the feminist movement.)

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In response, the hashtag #WOCAffirmation has emerged and it’s currently trending higher than #WomenBoycottTwitter. It’s a chance for black women to be seen and heard at a time when a large cross-section of female tweeters are disappearing for a day. Whether it’s a rebuff to the initial protest or a corollary to its larger message is in the eye of the beholder.

It would be foolish for this white male writer to whiteguysplain an ideal solution to the dilemma of #WomenBoycottTwitter. (There is no “but’ here, that’s the end of the sentence.) The only thing that’s certain is more women will be attacked or silenced in the future, and more women and allies will have to figure out how to respond. Hopefully, each response will inform the next one, and the silence will inspire more listening all around.