As I’ve written before, there is no such thing as a perfect protest. Perfection isn’t the point of protest, nor should it be. There is no one march, boycott, or strike that can perfectly include every person who wishes to participate. But those protest organizers with enough foresight to understand and address this fact usually provide alternative ways for those who believe in their cause to raise their own voices or show solidarity. Unfortunately, this was not the case for whomever initially organized the call for women to boycott Twitter today.
I didn’t hear about women boycotting Twitter until the morning the protest was scheduled to begin. When I took a closer look at my mentions, I saw that a few women had tagged me the previous night in their posts asking for support of the boycott. I briefly considered joining them, then decided I didn’t know enough about why we were supposed to be going silent. I couldn’t figure out how women’s silence online would be congruent with our goals of equality and safety. The boycott also seemed hasty, and formed without the opinions or suggestions of anyone who understood the unique viewpoints of women of color and the way we use Twitter. As a personal rule, I do not engage in protests I cannot defend to myself. This just happened to be one of them.
The initial push for the boycott was done so in the name of actress Rose McGowan who has been an incredible force for honest conversation around sexual assault and abuse in Hollywood. McGowan’s Twitter account was briefly suspended this week after she posted a private phone number, though many believe she was actually suspended for her continued calling out of men in Hollywood including Ben Affleck, Harvey Weinstein, and Jeff Bezos.
Moments after the women’s Twitter boycott was announced, it was almost immediately critiqued by some women who felt the call for protest was too little too late. Many of these users called out those participating for their lack of initiative when it comes to online harassment of women of color. Where was the boycott for ESPN sports journalist Jemele Hill when her employer suspended her from her job citing a vague social media policy? Where was the boycott when actress and comedian Leslie Jones was harassed by trolls to the point of deleting her account for months? Why is there never a boycott of platforms attached to the mistreatment or outright abuse of the women of color who consistently speak up for all of us? These women have decided to begin their own campaigns by using #AmplifyWomen and #WOCAffirmation to uplift the voices of women, especially women of color, instead of using silence to prove their point.
This is a fantastic opportunity to talk about the thing we lack more than any other resource or feature on Twitter, and that thing is nuance. It makes perfect sense to me how the women’s Twitter boycott came to be, even I believe it is a little short-sighted. Women know that while we are rarely given the privilege of power, we have all the potential in the world to own it. I get how going silent on Twitter can remind them how much we use this platform, and how badly the men in power, who sometimes abuse it, need us women. However, when we dismiss or overlook the opinions and needs of the women who are most vulnerable among us, we undermine our own intentions.
The women who are boycotting Twitter today are not bad or wrong. The women who have decided not to boycott Twitter today are not bad or wrong. This isn’t a moment to make accusations of divisiveness or maliciousness. This is a moment to recognize when the women with the most power forget or choose not to organize with those who have the least. The Twitter boycott may be just as effective as they’d hoped it would be. The people in charge who have never listened to us before, might just listen to us today. This may very well be the moment they decide to take harassment concerns seriously, and ban trolls even if they hold the highest office in the nation. But imagine how effective it could have been if the people who had organized this protest considered their sisters who had a different point of view, and a darker shade of skin. Imagine what that kind of care could have inspired, and how it could have moved well beyond Twitter, and online conversions.
No protest is perfect because humans organize protests, and humans have never been and will never be perfect. However, there’s a self-serving laziness to the lack of progress in our progressive politics. We continue to react to the power majority in a way that mimics some of their worst inclinations. We decide directly or indirectly that in order for some of us to win, others of us will just have to wait their turn. Too many women, especially white women, ignore their own blind spots while pointing fingers at men who do the same to them. That’s why we keep coming back to this conversation. That’s why so many WOC — myself included — won’t be boycotting Twitter today, even though we don’t blame those who do. And that’s the real problem here. Even if the Twitter boycott is successful by some measure, it will also ultimately be a missed opportunity to stand together as women, our differences on display, bound in a unity we’ve yet to see so far.