When it comes to social media posts, campaigns or rants, I’ve never been much of a hashtag enthusiast.
I’ve always seen them as too easy to hide behind, too simplistic to imply strength, and too saccharine to truly address or action the issues they claim to draw attention to.
I don’t personally think that #BeKind automatically makes people be more kind.
I don’t personally feel that #ItsOkayNotToBeOkay is going to make things completely okay.
I don’t personally see #InternationalWomensDay ending inequality for women or sexism in general – institutional, systemic or casual.
In some ways, I’ve believed that hashtags are too easy to fire off as we sit comfortably in front of our ready-access to technology… “I’ve referenced the hashtag, therefore I am good, I am pure, and I have played my part to champion the cause.”
A bit passive, I’ve always thought.
Anyone can post about #BlackLivesMatter, yet still go on to demonstrate racial bias in the way they do business or live their life. Similarly, anyone can tell others to #BeKind on Facebook, yet still go on to spend the majority of their offline day being a complete tool.
I’ve since had my head turned and my opinion changed around much of what I’ve just said.
It was a few days ago. On International Women’s Day.
I won’t get into my thoughts on sexism or feminism for this piece, although I share a personal story about it in another blog – Grow a thick skin? No thanks, I like the one I’m in! – if you fancy a read. I have to admit, though, that I’ve started taking the IWD hashtags a little more seriously today than I had done previously.
Because although I was always silently sulking about the fact that hashtags ‘don’t achieve anything’, and admittedly being quite mocking in my tone in response to the people who use them all the live-long day in their keyboard-based fight for a cause, I started to see that other people had thoughts about hashtags, too. Much stronger thoughts, in fact. And I began to realise the power that those views held, the problems they cause, and the vivid picture they paint of where we are in society.
In short, some people were getting really angry about the #InternationalWomensDay hashtag. And I mean really upset. And, of course, once they’d used the presence of a the hashtag as an open invitation to voice their opinion, out it all poured; in steaming, bilious torrents. I think my ‘favourite’ comment was, “Why do you need a special day – we’re always having to give you things to keep you quiet.”
I’ll admit I actually laughed at this comment, as my sense of humour is really dark and I genuinely thought the guy was joking. Yes, that’s the kind of joke I’d make. Sorry about that. I’ve never claimed I’m the best feminist.
However, a quick view of his activity across many many many other #IWD posts that afternoon proved that this gent was, in fact, more cancerous than comedic.
I mean, where do you ####ing start with that one, really.
His comment, and there were hundreds more just like it from other men (and even some women), really opened my eyes. It’s changed my view on the whole hashtag thing in general, as I’ll hopefully explain, but I’ll stick with the #IWD as my hashtag of focus in this piece for two main reasons:
1. It’s topical, and so as well as being a current talking point, this stuff’s great for SEO 😉
2. I am a woman, and therefore, I have a lived experience of what it means to be one. Much as I may empathise and want to speak up and lend my support to other causes, isms and plights, sexism and inequality (or inequity, even) for women is something I am sadly knowledgeable about and experienced within. I know how this stuff feels.
I think I’ve maybe been too free in belittling the humble hashtag for IWD in the past, because I’ve not personally felt like I needed it or that it did anything for me. But it’s not about me, is it? It’s about the people who feel it is needed, and believe it does work, and know that, sadly, this may be the only thing that can give them the support they need at a time in their life when hope is low and feelings run high. This is no time for “I’m alright, Jack (or Jill)“, and I’ll be honest in saying I’m truly terrified at the realisation that my daughter could grow up to have to answer to one of these A-hole keyboard warriors – who probably appears quite reputable on paper before you’re trapped in an office with them.
I’m suddenly more incensed about all of this because until I saw the still very much prevalent response to that hashtag yesterday – across social media and all its free-speaking forms – I never realised just how bloody far we (women) still have to go for respect, to be taken seriously, and for equality.
This post, as I’ve highlighted, may just be about women for the purpose of an example, but I’ve definitely learned the lesson that this is going to be the same for every marginalised group, every ism, and every subject that’s considered sensitive – sometimes literally life or death – because we can’t face having to look at it; never mind be accountable for it. Because, my friends, this uproar isn’t from trolls. It’s from people who really should know so much better.
Until the day comes when it’s no longer acceptable for people in places of supposed levels of education, power, and business leadership to belittle others in order to preserve their own fragile dominance, there’s so much work that needs to be done. So, if you need a f##king hashtag to support you with that, I’m right behind you.
Sure, hashtags aren’t going to change the world; we need action over lip-service, and ass-kicking over box-ticking. But, if a solitary piece of punctuation can draw attention to the campaigned cause-at-hand by weeding out and exposing those who actively challenge any attempt at equality, fairness, or even just a discussion, then great. At the very least, it draws attention to the fact that we can’t rest on our laurels in assuming that equality is ever taken seriously, never mind achieved. Maybe that’s why we need all these ‘things given to us’ in the first place?
Belittle those hashtags all you want. I did. But don’t ridicule the cause, plea or plight at the heart, because that sh*t exists whether it affects you personally or not. You can even make your statement public by making light of the hashtag that’s dared to darken your doorway. That’s your right, your privilege, and your choice. I hope the irony is not lost on you, there.
But become angry, incensed, and vitriolically outraged about a hashtag’s mere existence, and go on to spew hatred or ridicule in the face of someone for whom it might just help feel a little bit better about their place and future in the world…? Well, congratulate yourself on proving the exact same point that the hashtag seeks to shed light on:
The fact that however much people campaign, or seek change, or ask for equality (or even just some help)… there’ll always be some guy (or girl) out there, actively going out of their way to abuse their power and privilege to shout… them… down.