Creating Safe Feminist Spaces on the Internet

With the advent of using 140 characters to express oneself on Twitter and the popularity of using the virtual sphere as a place to activate and revolutionize, feminism is experiencing a dynamic shift in the way social justice work is being carried out.

However, it seems that in order to partake in digital feminism, a feminist should expect to undergo a hazing process to determine whether s/he is worthy of being part of an “elite” group of social activists (the reality is that there is inherent privilege in having an internet connection). Recent conversations about the effects of online abuse among self-identified feminists have surfaced to reveal an irony: as feminists with diverse identities try to openly express themselves, critics within the feminist movement oftentimes respond with demeaning backlash that attacks the person’s ideologies and goes as far as to threaten the individual’s well-being. This, in turn, has led to increased divisiveness and hostility within the feminist movement. Instead of working towards the greater goal of achieving equality and social justice for all women, feminists are using one another as tools for destruction to push individual agendas.

As Amanda Hess writes, “Just appearing as a woman online, it seems, can be enough to inspire abuse.” We see this time and again at the hands of anti-feminist, anti-woman trolls, and now, from our own community. The result? An unsafe virtual space that spawns self-imposed censorship, as feminists and our allies don’t want to be accused of exclusivity or be misinterpreted.

For example, Katherine Cross recently explained her hesitation to publish some of her work: “I fear being cast suddenly as one of the ‘bad guys’ for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to me at the time of publication. In other words, for making an innocently ignorant mistake.”

When we push one another to the point of censorship, we force the goal of achieving equality and social justice to retrograde, lose momentum because we are too busy shunning one another, and oppress other feminists by acting as silencers. If we expect to enjoy the fruits of our hard work, we need to recognize the immense power of the Internet and consciously create safe spaces to openly express ourselves.

This is not to say there is no room for debate, but there is a difference between providing constructive criticism and bullying. To ensure that we are having fruitful conversations, we would all benefit from a heightened awareness of our words; combative banter only creates unnecessary divisions. And let’s face it: us feminists need to stick together.

In a recent article on “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars,” Michelle Goldberg posed an interesting question: is calling one another out on ideological offenses beneficial to the feminist movement, and whose movement is it anyway? The beauty of feminism is that feminist identity comes in all shapes and sizes, and is rooted in diverse schools of thought and philosophies. Every feminist has a different story to tell, and we must respect these unique points of view.

Digital feminism is extremely powerful and can be used to make the feminist movement more progressive, but only when feminists are willing to engage in respectful, open and honest conversations. We won’t always get it right, which is why we should engage in discussions that lead to productive outcomes rather than more divisiveness. After all, how can we say that there is any value in the feminist movement when we are too preoccupied with breaking each other down? Let’s leave that dirty work to Congress.

Headshot-2About the author: Annamaria Santamaria, a political enthusiast and feminist warrior, is a Latina activist from Queens, NY with a passion for ending violence against women, particularly within communities of Color. During her 9-to-5, she supports undocumented immigrant youth and survivors of domestic violence who are trying to rectify their immigration status. On her off hours, you can find Annamaria advocating for survivors of sexual violence in hospital emergency rooms, lobbying our representatives for better policies, or discussing politics. She enjoys salsa dancing, adventurous travel, and sharing a good laugh over a bottle of wine.

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