I Am Blogging On The Possible Death Of Twitter Feminism, 2007-Style

Elon Musk has bought Twitter and will make it a private company. This man makes fantastic cars but is one of the last people in the world who should be regulating speech on social media.

This is an era when hate speech online is rampant against people of color, LGBTQ folks, women, and intersections of the three. Musk is a bully.

Incitement to violence and false information came perilously close to bringing down our democracy on January 6, 2021. Musk wants ‘all the speech’ out there.

Putting Musk in charge of Twitter is like putting a fire-breathing dragon in charge of maintaining cabins built out of match sticks. Do you really feel okay sending your children to that camp?

Many of my friends and valued colleagues have already deleted their accounts. As a burgeoning old who is no longer the twenty-something advertising copywriter who started @erintothemax in 2008 (LOL that I never changed my handle when my volunteer activist life took over my professional life, srsly!), I am moving a bit slower.

I have requested a download of my Tweets, and have taken the app off my phone to give myself mindful time to consider my next steps. It’s pretty likely I will start blogging here more again; I’m here tonight instead of Twitter, aren’t I?

Twitter has given me so much good. For my career and causes I care about, it has given me a platform to meet other activists and collectively amplify our power, connect with journalists and better inform the media conversation on feminism and beyond, speak truth to power, and learn, learn, learn. Twitter has offered an immediacy and intimacy that is both its charm and its danger. More than 15,000 people care what I have to say, which is quite funny if you think about it.

Through a number of social media platforms including Twitter I have been subjected to a good bit of abuse and harassment over the years. Most of it is garden variety stupid but on some occasions it has presented a serious invasion of privacy, threat to my safety and security or that of my family, or caused significant emotional harm. Sometimes it has happened in the name of ‘pro-life.’ Other times it has occurred in the name of ‘social justice.’ Sometimes it is people who have been physically or otherwise violent toward me who come back years later to let me know they are still stalking me and wishing me harm. There is untold bullying and abuse directed toward women and feminists online, and this stuff is particularly pointed toward people with marginalized identities I do not hold: trans and gender non-conforming people, Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, and fat women.

I do not trust Elon Musk to mitigate the infringements on the ability of people of good faith to use their voices in the public square. I believe he will make it worse. Just two days ago Musk posted a fat-shaming photo of Bill Gates on Twitter contrasting him with an emoji of a pregnant man in case anyone needed to “lose a boner fast.” Can Feminist Twitter continue to be a thing in this new reality?

I need to close this post talking about my friend Mazzie, who recently passed away. Mazzie in many ways exemplified the best of Twitter: I met her online, she was a razor-sharp feminist, funny as hell, encouraging me and everyone who followed to think deeper, be more caring, and advance social justice in inclusive ways. We interacted on the platform for I don’t know how long until once, in 2013, a man exposed himself to me and the District of Columbia police refused to take my report.

I tweeted about this and Mazzie stepped up, posting on neighborhood police listservs until I got a call a few days later from the police, inviting me to come into the station and file a report. She did this for someone she never met in real life. I’ve made some of my best friends on Twitter, some I meet and have had all these significant moments in the flesh with, and others like Mazzie, who was deeply real to me, whose last words to me on Facebook just weeks before she became suddenly ill and died were “I’m so glad we have each other <3.”

Yesterday, the day before Elon Musk bought Twitter, my friend Amanda Levitt organized a Zoom memorial for Mazzie. More than 50 people attended. On this screen I cried openly with others, some who I had met in-person and others I had only followed or known online for years. I made new friends and strengthened existing online relationships yesterday. We all agreed that Mazzie would want us to spend more time with one another in new and unexpected ways.

Tonight I’m going to think about Mazzie, not Elon Musk, as I weigh my next steps. I don’t want to think about the evil and the violence on the platform and what I anticipate could happen next. I want to capture the good and love and think about how to continue that moving forward.

Rest in peace, Kimberley Anne Schults. You were the beautiful soul who would have said exactly the right thing about the craptastic Elon Musk Twitter takeover. In your absence I’ll take a beat.

Justice For Stormy Daniels Is A Feminist Issue

Stormy Daniels’ interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes was something electric. In this conversation, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, detailed her affair with Donald Trump and the intimidation, harassment, and outright threats she has endured at the hands of the president and his attorneys. Let’s get this clear:

Believing Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Stormy Daniels told Anderson Cooper a convincing story, and she deserves to be believed. The most powerful man in the world has repeatedly tried to silence her. The most chilling part of the interview was the revelation that someone came up to Daniels in a parking lot while she was carrying her infant in 2011, shortly after she had nearly sold her story to a tabloid, and said, “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story. That’s a beautiful little girl. It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.” In addition, Daniels repeatedly referenced being intimidated by the legal machinations of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen.

There is no question that Trump has done, at the very least, versions of this to other women he slept with. Non-disclosure agreements. Payouts. Intimidation through the legal process.

Further, while not every man is as rich or as disgusting as Trump, Stormy Daniels would not be the first person who has been pressured by a man with more power to stay silent about sex. Further, as a sex worker, Daniels is part of a class of women and people who are repeatedly disbelieved for having agency in their sexual lives. It is for all these reasons — much less that she could potentially be sued Trump and his thugs for millions of dollars for speaking out on television — that believing Stormy Daniels without hesitation is a feminist issue.

Supporting Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. As a feminist, it was difficult for me to watch her say repeatedly that she did not see herself as a victim. I respect her right to self-definition. But it was also sad and hard to hear her describe her revulsion at the prospect of sleeping with Donald Trump, and the fact that she blamed herself for getting into a hotel room with him, and felt she had to follow through.

To be 100 percent clear: You are never obligated to give a man sex. Ever. Even if you went to his hotel room. Even if you are his girlfriend or his wife. Even if you just went on a date. The choice is always yours, and that is what consent is all about. Still, Daniels’ self-definition is to be respected. Supporting Stormy Daniels means that we can be concerned enough to pipe up that you don’t owe anybody sex just because you are in a hotel room, and also respecting her agency to choose to engage in sex with Donald Trump on one occasion, even though she didn’t really want to. The time to pick Stormy Daniels apart is not now. Stormy Daniels needs and deserves support, and that is a feminist issue.

Finally, justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue. By bravely speaking her truth, Stormy Daniels belongs solidly in a line of women who have resisted the horror and thuggery of Donald Trump and the people who support his work.

In the truest sense, Stormy Daniels is a patriot — and an inability to acknowledge that is, for most people, most likely rooted in the sexism of thinking a woman in the pornography industry is too dirty and/or unserious to have something meaningful to contribute to our country. That’s hogwash. There is nothing wrong with sex, and sex workers are people.

Stormy Daniels deserves justice. The ‘hush money’ legal agreement that Donald Trump failed to sign under his pseudonym shortly before the election should be ruled invalid.  Her safety should be guaranteed. And we in the feminist community should all be standing with her and making these demands.

The woman is brave, she is a patriot, and she deserves respect from every woman who says they care about women. Justice for Stormy Daniels is a feminist issue.

Dealing With Trolls And Assorted Hate Online

I have experienced a fair amount of trolling in my day. The trolling has occurred in my Twitter mentions, on Facebook, by email, in comment boxes, in paper mail, in voicemails, on blogs, and by call-ins to television and radio programs on which I have been a guest. It has been directed at me personally and organizations I’ve been affiliated with. Garbage like this can come with the territory when you’re a feminist, and especially when you’re a woman on the Internet.

At its most garden variety, the trolling is a never-ending stream of comments on my sluttiness, my stupidity, and my appearance. The trolls can’t decide if I’m super ugly, or hot and have good “jugs.” The focus is never my actual appearance so much as baldly sexist attempts to reduce my worth to my appearance. Ah, and how could I forget — I am an advocate for reproductive health, rights, and justice — therefore I am a murderer!

Most of the time I ignore this stuff, but on occasion I will share a few of the Tweets I get because opponents of equality and justice for women need to be revealed for exactly who they are.

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On the ground, the trolling can take the form of anti-abortion activists getting in your face and taking your picture. Here I am with one such man who I distinctly remember taking photographs of everyone’s faces outside the Supreme Court during a Roe anniversary:

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Logic does not apply to trolling. Twitchy decided I should be the person to pay when Hustler, a magazine that does not have my support, created an horrific Photoshopped image of S.E. Cupp that I denounced. (Incidentally, trolling against feminists often takes the form of arguing that we need drop everything we are doing and spend the rest of our efforts applauding the personal lives and policy positions of right-wing women.)

Trolling is often, by nature, obscene, although sometimes it seems like the obscene goes beyond imagination. Horrible things have happened to some people I care very much about. Adria Richards was targeted by 4chan with the express purpose of destroying her life. Imani Gandy has been the target of racist stalking on Twitter. Andrea Grimes continues to receive rape threats in the aftermath of making a joke about vaporizing guns. These women have all spoken up bravely about their stories, and they inspire me. (And while I don’t know her, I’m also greatly moved and inspired by Lindy West speaking up about a troll who took on the identity of her deceased father.)

It is because of the bravery of these four women that I’m going to share a trolling story I have never publicly acknowledged before. It deeply hurt me and I didn’t want to reward the trolls. Now, however, I am beginning to see the power in pulling back the curtain. Here goes.

After my daughter was born, I did what a lot of new moms do: I sat in a hospital room in the dark, holding and nursing a baby all night long. To keep myself awake, I sat on my phone and sifted through congratulations and well wishes on email, Facebook, and Twitter.

An individual with more than 40,000 followers on Twitter took a photograph I had shared when my daughter was first born and put up a blog post about me, encouraging his followers to give me hell. Even pasting this partial screenshot makes me angry — the violation of my privacy, the most private and joyous and significant of moments, the appropriation of the first photograph of my beautiful daughter’s life.

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His followers began to deluge me with “pro-life” hate in my Twitter mentions, telling me that she should die, telling me that it would have been better if she had never been born, telling me that I didn’t deserve her. I held this new life in my hands in the dark — this great love of my life, this daughter who needed to be brought to me because I’d just had a C-section and could not stand up myself, and I wept as quietly as I could.

It was terrible.

I couldn’t just turn off Twitter; I’d just had a baby and I didn’t want to be alone. Tons of legitimate friends were sending me congratulations and encouragement, and I wanted to share this moment with them. So I saw the terrible messages, too, and I blocked every individual who sent them to me. I estimate that I received hundreds of hate tweets in a series of a few days, and my guess is that I received many more that I didn’t see because I’d blocked the senders.

I wanted to share this story now to illustrate one of the ways that we can deal with online abusers and stalkers: we can acknowledge them. While it doesn’t always make sense to engage at the time, I think it’s important for people to realize exactly how low trolling can go. This is not a question of whether people are “tough” enough to participate in public dialogue. There are people out there who are working very hard to silence feminists. I can speak to this especially from my perspective as a feminist who dares to call proudly and with enthusiasm for a world where, without exception, everyone has access to abortion as a matter of human dignity.

I’m okay, guys. The story I shared was really tough for me, but I got through it and I am still fighting without fear for that better world we all deserve. I’ve heard others, especially feminists who aren’t active on the Internet, or those who are but may be earlier in their careers, express doubts about taking up public space for fear of the trolls. We are all best qualified to know what our personal needs and limits are, and I respect that, but I don’t want anyone to believe I’m saying the best way to beat the trolls is to give up. That is, after all, what they want.

I’m going to conclude this post by sharing a response I once gave to a young woman who was receiving hateful emails and asked for my self-care tips. Here’s what I said:

I’m sorry to hear you are receiving bad emails. That can get pretty demotivating and demoralizing. Here are some things I’ve done to take care of myself in the past, although not all at the same time and some tips may even be contradictory. Use your judgement of what works for you now, in this situation:
– Delete — without reading. I will delete some things without reading them, especially when I’m getting deluged with hate. If I start reading something and realize it’s hate, I stop mid-way through and delete.
– Share. Read the bad things and then share them (without sharing the identity of the person, as they really want the attention and I’d hate to give them that). This is not something I really consider self-care, so put yourself first.
– Block. I used to be slow to block people on Twitter, for example. No more. I block assholes right away. They do not deserve my mental space nor does anyone deserve an explanation from me about why I block them.
– Be more guarded. While I’m still pretty free with my personal information, there are things I work hard to keep private and that varies depending on where I am in my life. I used to be really secretive about where I lived, especially when I was living alone. 
– Most of all, just walk away. Life is too short to accept other people’s pain unless you have freely chosen to do so. Abuse is ridiculous and doesn’t deserve your time. Even without the abuse, carve out time for yourself. I have gotten much better about not checking email and social media as constantly as I used to — and it is relaxing!