In real life

A year and a half ago I wrote that the internet was magic. “I can’t stand the luddites who romanticize the days where people talked. Face to face. Or called each other,” I complained.

Why meet when you could email, why talk when you could dm. The internet seemed a simpler, more efficient, less stressful route towards organizing. I didn’t understand the point of wasting time in a room when you could sit on your couch in your underwear doing essentially the same thing you’d be doing in a room but with more pants.

I was wrong.

To say that the internet is a useful tool — for sharing information, finding information, organizing and communicating — is a huge understatement. Bu when it comes to feminism, meeting face to face still matters. More than that — I’d argue it’s imperative.

I’m a writer. I work at home, on my computer. It’s pretty easy to get comfortable there. I don’t consider myself an organizer or an activist, either — something that forces a person out into the real world (or, should anyway…). My social life is strong but, when it comes to my work, it’s mainly done online. I also wasn’t around during the second wave and I wasn’t involved in the feminist movement, really, before the inception of social media. When I started to write and to produce feminist radio, thereby connecting with women in the movement, Facebook, email, and Twitter were already things. They made life easier in many ways, sure. Especially in terms of sharing your work and accessing the work other women were putting out there. You could learn and say everything you wanted to about feminism online, or so I thought.

The thing that online feminism is missing is faces. And I don’t just mean because there are so many anonymous avatars online, making it difficult to know who you’re engaging with and whether or not they’re accountable or trustworthy, but because there is a piece of empathy that is lost when we aren’t literally face to face with the human being we are speaking to (or about).

In short, we’re mean to each other online. Not always, but often. And maybe women were mean to each other pre-internet feminism, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s worse now.

The things I witness many women saying to and about one other online are gross. I can’t think of another way to describe it. It, quite literally, makes me feel gross. What I see is exaggerated beyond belief, unsympathetic, untrue, uncalled for, unhelpful, and, often, quite sexist. Not always, but often these exchanges and conversations happen among people who don’t know one another and/or have never met “in real life.” And maybe that’s part of the problem.

This is not meant to be a “call out.” I’m certainly not the first to attempt to address trashing and bad behaviour in the movement. Speaking only for myself, I am aware of the different way I engage with people “in real life,” versus those I’ve never met. I can be short online. I trust very few people. (I have been bitten in the ass for being too trusting and too open and learned my lesson the hard way.) I’ll often assume people have bad intentions rather than good ones, that they are trying to trick me or weasel their way into my life only to turn on me, armed with screenshots, looking to destroy me.

Things are different when I see women “in real life” and when they see me. We are kinder towards one another, more compassionate, more understanding, and less judgmental. In short, we treat one another like human beings deserving of respect.

A couple of weeks ago, journalist, Julie Bindel came to town. As a result, a number of events were organized to provide opportunities for women in the movement to be together, to talk, to eat, to drink, to strategize and to socialize. It was an incredibly important reminder for me: Oh right. Seeing and talking to movement face-to-face matters. It is important and we must do it – not only to maintain positive, constructive relationships — but in order for a movement to exist at all.

Now, there are many women around the world who don’t have access to feminist communities and women where they live. I know that I am lucky, living in Vancouver, to be able to simply take public transit to an event organized by Vancouver Rape Relief, or meet a woman for coffee or lunch. Some women only have access to online organizing and online conversations. But wherever we’re able to organize and meet, face-to-face, we need to try our very best to take those opportunities. We’re all busy so of course it will always be hard to find time, but – and this a reminder to myself as much as anyone else else – we need to make that effort. I need to make that effort.

We’re not all going to like each other – certainly we don’t all have to always agree — there’s no reason why we should. Boundaries are not a bad thing. Thinking things through and coming to our own conclusions is not a bad thing. But in world where a flounce or a nasty comment or a rumour spread is at our fingertips, one way for us to be accountable for those insults or attacks is to see each other, face-to-face. It’s a lot harder to call a woman a “handmaiden” (or whatever grand variety of names we call one another that I need not be explicit about here) from behind a screen. It’s much easier to hate those we don’t know, to judge them, to assume the worst, to denigrate them – to dehumanize them. A rather ironic type of behaviour considering what our movement is all about… Remember? That thing we’re fighting for? Humanity? Let’s try that.

This article was originally published at Radfem Repost.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Feroshana

    This couldn’t be more timely! I was just talking about my desire to connect with feminist community in real life today with a friend who expressed interest in opening more dialogue about feminism. I’ve done some Internet searches without much luck. I’m interested to know of some organizations or activist resources in Oakland or the San Francisco Bay Area, any suggestions are appreciated!

    • Elena

      Check out StopPatriarchy.Org, they have a list of events and protests going on in the Bay Area. I’m also here too

    • Elena

      Also check out Bay Area Radical Women on Facebook

      • dandelion

        Just did and read their Anti-transphobia manifesto accusing radical feminists of gender essentialism and biological determinism and calling radical feminists “female chauvinists.” Nope.

        • Elena

          Which one?

          • dandelion

            Bay Area Radical Women

          • Elena

            I should have read through their actual website before making a recommendation, sorry Dandelion! I was up late the night before searching for radical feminist pages on fb and had just followed them, wish I had looked more into them first, just thought it was worth throwing out in case. StopPatriarchy I know for sure is good, and they’re against the porn industry, which is important

  • river

    I think you’re right, but it’s an elitist thing. The majority of radical feminists don’t have disposable income to travel, particularly the original Second Wave, who have lived in poverty all their lives. For the win.

    • Meghan Murphy

      You are partly right. I know this because I don’t have the disposable income to travel. I am lucky there are feminist groups and individuals here in Vancouver I have the opportunity to meet and work with. I can’t say that it’s “an elitist thing” to suggest we meet with women in real life whenever and however we are able to. I know women from Seattle who are not in a position of economic privilege at all who take the bus to Vancouver at every chance they get to participate in events here and they work very hard to organize events and meetups there as well. I would never suggest it’s financially feasible for all women to fly around the world, but am merely saying we need to work at seeing one another face to face, however we are able, whether it’s in our hometowns or if it means we take the bus to some feminist conference/meetup once a year. I mean, the second wave managed a movement without the internet…

      • river

        The second wave were primarily upper middle class women, academics and white. It’s not elitist to *suggest* we meet in person, but it’s an elite (comparatively so) who do manage to meet.

        • Meghan Murphy

          Hmm no they weren’t… Certainly the women I meet with are not all or even mostly upper middle class, academics, and white.

          • river

            You’re just plain wrong on this Meghan, and the reason is, you’re white middle class. That’s someone with a couple uni degrees whose parents weren’t minimum wage workers, or from a single parent woman headed family, or living in urban white Canada. Exceptions of course.

            As for today, I think only a white middle class woman could say a group of women who might be eight out of a 100 non-white, is not primarily white.

            Re second wave. I was there. The women were primarily Status of Women feminists, representing government orgs with gov jobs, National Action Committee, uni student’s union reps, single, white, mid 20s and early 30s. No children.

            Rosemary Brown is the ONLY non-white woman I can recall.

            I think it’s such hubris you’re going to tell me who 60s and 70s feminists in Canada were. From the photos, writings and historical documents, I don’t see it was different in the States. And I don’t see it being different now.

          • Meghan Murphy

            I’m working class, river. And I have two degrees because I acquired a mountain of student loan debt I will never be able to pay off in my lifetime. The women I work and ally with in Vancouver are not upper middle class and are certainly not all white. I’m not going back and forth with you anymore as this is now just a derail from the points made in the post and you continue to make assumptions about my life and statements about the feminist movement that are simply not true. Ending this thread now.

          • pjwhite

            bell hooks, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Paulie Murphy, Flo Kennedy, Barbara Jordan, Alice Walker, Julianne Mulveaux, Michelle Wallace, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni – these are just a few famous black second wave feminists off the top of my head! I’m sure these women would be shocked to learn they played no part in second wave feminism.

        • Freefromsexpozzies

          You’re erasing most of the second wave! While white and class privilege may have made those women better known and publicly recognizable, most of the heavy lifting was done by the most marginalization women. Especially lesbians.

          You don’t have to go to a conference in another state to do feminism. Start a group yourself. You would be surprised how easy it is to get a few other women to meet up and talk, or even come up with ideas for change. Sitting together in someone’s living room counts too! And even us poor people’s le make time to see friends, why couldn’t we do this?

          • Meghan Murphy

            Right. I can’t afford to travel around to conferences around the country either…

      • Nullvoid

        On top of that, I know quite a few women in real life, right here in Polk County, Florida, that don’t know about internet activism because requiring access to a computer is, in itself, drastically preventing women from speaking. Some women don’t know about these sites, they don’t know about what’s going on online. This is an exclusive club we have here.

        I think focusing on real life is a great way to include the voices of women who aren’t such nerds :B

  • I remember that article (the one referenced at the start) and I somewhat disagreed with your celebration of the internet then. I think it is useful, but I am worried that it is taking over from more personal (and therefore more accountable) forms of communication, which are preferable in my view. I find it creepy that people think they can meet their best friend or “true love” over the internet. How can develop such an intimate knowledge of someone without meeting them, seeing their facial expression, hearing them speak or even knowing whether the things they say about themselves are true? If the internet keeps you in touch with people you already know well, then great. If it is your only gateway for social interaction then I feel that is potentially dangerous, especially given all the nastiness that exists on the internet.

    “…there is a piece of empathy that is lost when we aren’t literally face to face with the human being we are speaking to (or about).”

    That is very true. Over the internet, complaints can seem insincere. It is harder to dismiss someone who is literally in tears (in front of you, where you can see them.)

    However, I take issue with the idea that this problem is specific to women. As superficial and dumb as liberal feminism is (as an ideology, i.e. women who adhere to liberals are not necessary superficial and dumb in general), the behaviour of liberal women never reaches the same level as the behaviours of liberal/MRA, pornography-defending men in terms of misogyny, violence and general nastiness.

    For example, I have not seen liberal women threaten rape or physical assault against anti-pornography activists. Pro-pornography men do this all the time. When liberal women are nasty to anti-pornography (or otherwise radical) they are more likely to justify that nastiness, e.g. by accusing anti-pornography activists of persecuting “sex workers”. On the surface this way seem like another insult, but it shows that liberal women feel the need to believe that the person they are attacking is a bad person (the “real” aggressor, if you will), while liberal men will proudly attack anyone who argues against something that gives them orgasms or entertains them in some other way (e.g. violent video games).

    I have observed many internet movements over the years and as nasty as many of them are they do not come close to the vileness of MRA men and men defending violent media (specifically violet videos games and pornography.) Their cruelty dwarfs everyone else’s and while the internet enables this behaviour to some extent, I cannot help but notice the similarities between what they pretend to do through media and what they actually do on the internet.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I don’t think this is a problem that is particular to women. Perhaps I should have been more clear about that. I’m talking, in this particular piece, about the feminist movement and our behaviour towards one another online, but this is a universal problem. Certainly I agree that those defending the sex industry are particularly vicious. But I wanted to talk about the value of feminist women meeting other movement women, face-to-face, in part because I see a lot of shit behaviour among sisters online…

  • Michael Lebednik

    Wow! A powerful reminder. Thank you, Meghan.

  • Pippy

    This is awesome. I also found it very timely; as I’ve begun to read more and more radical blogs, I’ve felt more and more like real-life action is needed. Much as thinking about and discussing things in the abstract appeals to me hugely, I feel incredibly hypocritical for not bringing that thought with me into real life, the more I read.

    Meghan, you’re great – this site is such a fantastic resource, and it’s always – though I feel like it’s kind of trite to say this – really refreshing to see people say ‘I was wrong’ (ugh sorry I can’t think of less cringey ways of phrasing things today).

    • Meghan Murphy

      “…it’s always – though I feel like it’s kind of trite to say this – really refreshing to see people say ‘I was wrong’ (ugh sorry I can’t think of less cringey ways of phrasing things today).

      Thanks Pippy. I rarely say it, but as we learn and change and grow sometimes it’s necessary 🙂

  • Nehiyaw fem

    I remembered that post from a while back. I was surprised as someone with both blue collar parents ( who also were interracial partners, mother being native and my father white) to see a fellow working class woman who couldn’t stand luddites, as it’s all I grew up around! Glad you’ve had the change of heart, perhaps the limbo of straddling between working class and life after your university covered in student loan debt has made you recollect what it means to be working class. It is so important to cherish that identity as under patriarchy, white collar women are often seen as the social class ideal that woman must strive for now, and never working class women. Classism towards women is still something I find that is often neglected in feminist movements at time, especially online, as this is probably the first year I’ve actually been able to consistently keep up with online feminist communities. I usually only have in person women’s communities that I’ve formed through organizing. I’d say sometimes online feminists mistakenly do not realize they’re being classist to a lot of working class women as we are often assumed as not doing work online, as our labor may not require it. I got tired of being told by both men and women who have the privilege of maintaining an online social justice or feminist identity that if I don’t keep up with the online world I don’t have much leverage in what goes on (not disregarding how vicious online world and it’s a frontline for sure, as it’s fucking terrifying to be a woman on the internet). However, I think many of us whose feminist identities have existed on the margins of society (streets, the system, etc) know that at the end of the day all the semantic battles that happen online as worthwhile as they are, often do not reflect much on marginalized realities which is why in person connections matter so much. I think online interviews and podcasting can somewhat recreate an in person role, so that’s one solution. But it’s still saddening when online communities no matter how well meaning come across as more assuming, as many people do not have in person connections to marginalized folks. It’s an issue especially if women existing on the margins or working class are written about so much. That’s why this article you’ve written is so important as it provides a way to bridge that gap between online and offline feminist communities in dealing with women who are working class, or exist on the margins of society. I do wish online social justice/feminist circles welcomed us more, as we are so often written about in a more speculative way but I think it’s changing for the better.

    PS There are lot’s of great books on women straddling between social classes, worthwhile to check out if you’re interested. Great piece.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right. It’s the idea perpetuated by Twitter Feminism — that EVERYONE is online constantly and that twitter is representative of marginalized people. It’s not. The majority of people on Twitter are middle and upper class. Most people don’t have time to spend their days tweeting because they’re working…

      • Nehiyaw fem

        Exactly!

    • esme

      I am interested in books on straddling social classes if you don’t mind making a recommendation. I find it very tricky myself as the most educated member of my working class family and as someone who is currently working with marginalized people regularly.