Twitter, YAW, NAM and The Problem With Hashtags

Dear Readers: We’re still on hiatus. This is just me talking here.

I’m back again with some startling news: social media is weird. Why do I say that? Well, because you, as an individual on social media, represent both yourself and any demographics you might belong to. If you hashtag, you’re throwing your voice into another stream that is made up of many more voices. Seems easy enough to navigate, right? No, we’re having a lot of trouble with that. And nowhere is it more evident than the recent YesAllWomen-NotAllMen fiasco. Today, I’m going to address this issue and try to explain why I’m using the word “fiasco.”

Let’s start where most people are going to tune out: both of these issues are important. Neither of them is mutually exclusive. When we’re answering the question: is sexual harassment still a big deal? The answer we can glean from the hashtag is, “Yes, all women deal with it.” But, not all men harass women, and that’s the general thrust of NotAllMen. Now, if you’re sitting on the side-lines, this all seems very reasonable. But, if you’re down in the pit, then these two things aren’t as simple as they seem.

To respond to YesAllWomen with NotAllMen is missing the point. It’s not about passing judgement on individual men, guys. It’s about the shit women are dealing with and making it public. And, it should probably be informing our understanding of our interactions with women, as well.

However, I also believe that an individual man might have a stake in NotAllMen, because we’ve spent the last how many years studying the effects of media on people and we still don’t get how labelling works? To me, NotAllMen is about rejecting aggression as an identifying characteristic of “males.” Because, believe me, women are capable of being aggressive.

But, again, that’s not the point of YesAllWomen. But it is the point of NotAllMen, because that self-identification matters if you’re a part of that group. Do these two groups need to fight? No, not really, but like I said, they are. So, why?

I’m not sure anyone knows the whole story, for everyone, and that’s really my big criticism of the whole thing. As far as I’ve been reading, I haven’t had one side stop and really try to listen to all the others. Because, assuming this is about one cohesive group debating another is asinine, but I know a lot of people are talking about it like that’s what’s going on. And that sort of highlights the whole problem we’re having here: the rejection of nuance.

For my part here, this is about individuals who belong to those groups not spending the time to listen, and, instead, forwarding their own agenda. I mean, that’s totally understandable. If you think something’s important enough, then you’ll toe the rhetoric line. But, this isn’t about one side versus another. This is about all of humanity.

Why is an individual being sexist? Why do they have that view? How am I sexist? How is my own myopia making it hard to see other people’s perspectives? Is trying to move past my myopia giving me a perspective that’s useful or good? What am I doing with that perspective?

These are important questions. And we can’t stop asking them. Why? Well, I went through the English circuit at a University, so I’ve seen plenty of individuals learn Trans-gender Theory or Feminist Theory and then turn around and use it to degrade ignorant ass-holes or, even, just human beings who didn’t know better. I’ve taken a certain amount of self-righteous joy in it, because we need to look at the historical perspective when we’re discussing this. But, equally, we need to care about the individuals, because education is a privilege. If we’re going to call out privileges on the net, then we need to recognize that, or we’ll turn into pompous jerks.

Also, men, having an activist group for our rights is a great idea, but I urge you to be thoughtful. Males have dominated the popular culture for so long that it’s hard for us to see why having a male-only group might be an issue, but let me just give you a “for-instance.” On my campus, we wanted to put together a Men’s Activist group. I wasn’t involved directly, but I like the notion of defending everyone’s rights, because I believe we’ll hit an even point, and then we’ll need to make sure we’re letting everyone be as free and supported as possible within the constraints of not stabbing each other. However…

Upon further reflection, and after checking some rosters, I’ve discovered that men are the majority of the population of a lot of groups. In fact, both clubs I belong to are headed by men and have a 70-30 pop. split. So, what would a men’s group be on my campus, at this time? Honestly, in effect, a group that discludes women. You can fear the spectre of quasi-Nazi pro-male regimes all you like, but I think this is the real issue. Having a boy’s club is great, but we had those for a long time. They were called clubs.

And maybe the demo-split is changing. (Although, it’s better to check than to assume) I mean, we have to acknowledge that the world is changing, right? We all know that the variation within humanity is beyond current comprehension, so why wouldn’t there be places in the world where someone would want to have a place to just be a guy? I call that place my house, but, if I spend the time, I can see their point.

So, again, why is this an issue? Well, because of hashtags. And because we forget that speaking under a hashtag means our words are being interpreted with thousands… millions of others. Because there are people who are using the hashtags for political ends. Hey, Not All Men are supporting women’s rights, here. Let’s be honest, some of the people speaking under this label are sexist jerks. But, the same goes for YesAllWomen. Let’s be fair.

But, that’s the not the point of the groups as a whole, is it?

Both of these groups are trying to do something good for the people within them. In truth, they should be supporting each other, too, though. And, honestly, these groups aren’t just made up of their original intentions; they’re made up of the people within them. I’ve read pieces on both sides that made me want to vomit my insides up. Both groups are spending a lot of time speaking past each other. So, what can we do?

Well, we’re members of these groups, too, whether we want to be or not. We don’t have to talk or anything, but I would encourage you to see people’s humanity, not just their sex or gender or any other defining characteristic. It’s demeaning to shrink an entire human down to a sound-bite. And do what you want, but we should avoid demeaning all humanity at once by simplifying something this complicated into Boys Vs. Girls. Let me give you another “for-instance”…

Recently, I saw a celebrity I won’t name say, “Tip for men, *Pro YesAllWomen explanation*…” Another guy responded by saying that the celebrity shouldn’t throw his hat into the ring so carelessly, to which the celebrity responded by deriding him and explaining YesAllWomen. Seems good, right?

Well, I would caution against making any assumptions here. The problem with the initial remark was that it was sexist. Sorry, it was. Not JUST men have this problem. We all share it. Women harass, too. The fact that women, roughly half our population, are getting harassed is everyone’s problem. However, the judgement on guys is inherent in the construction of the sentence, and if it effects you that way, then you will see it. But you might not, because it’s syntactic sub-text. It only pops out if you’re looking for it, the same way using the word “boner” here would change your perception of the phrase “pops out,” if I wanted to make a crass joke. It’s pattern-recognition working on a semantic level.

However, the sentence wasn’t meant to be about that, in reality. The sentence was about women and an issue they face. But, a sentence is written and interpreted separately, so it must be wrought carefully. When we speak on social media, we have to be clear, because we’re talking to literally everyone. We need to be sensitive, because we might be shouting at everyone on the planet that’s on Twitter, especially if we’re hashtagging, which is universal short-hand for “everyone pay attention, I’m saying a thing.”

More importantly, we need to do our best to search for a poster’s meaning. It’s hard, though, because we’re working with so little information. If your friend says something insensitive, then you have a history with them that you can use to understand what they mean. On Twitter, under a hashtag, we have 140 characters and a bunch of assumptions about the culture we live in. That’s a lot of information, honestly, but cultural information does not apply directly to human beings. You need to know where culture intersects with the facts of their life. And even then, you’ll only have a caricatured understanding of them as a person, because you won’t know what their memories, habits, biology and self are.

But, YesAllWomen and NotAllMen are working on a cultural level. So, the individual often gets over-written by the cultural narrative to which ze or he or she is speaking. The only way I see to begin solving this issue is by trying really hard to understand what someone means when they’re speaking on Twitter, not just what they’re saying. This won’t solve our problems. YAW and NAM go much deeper than this issue of communication, but we do need to be able to talk to each other if we’re going to work through issues like this efficiently and thoughtfully.

Yes, all women deal with harassment, but not all men have to let that fact dictate their identity, even if it should inform it. We can just “be” without harassing each other, but we can’t ignore that it’s happening, either. I don’t know what you think of these issues, and I’m not trying to convince you of anything but the importance of listening honestly. So, whatever my thoughts on these topics really are, I’ll see you on the other side.

Trivial Punk is a white, cis-gendered male living in the upper-lower class with a University education and too much time on his hands. He likes rice, wears glasses and once fell in a lake. #Canada

I only have my perspective, and it’s horribly flawed, because it’s horribly small. Please, check this issue out, because I only see a small portion of it at once, so I could be totally off-base. Cheers!


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