A few weeks ago, I attended a fantastic conference on feminism and new media: a day devoted to online activism and freelancing as a feminist, sponsored by the fabulous women at WAM! NYC. What was supposed to be a nine-to-five Feminist Saturday Spectacular was quickly cut short for me; I bailed at noon. I listened to the first panel on “Responsible Reporting on Trauma” and attended to three-quarters of a genuinely helpful discussion on negotiating when I fell into a technology hole.
I heard about the annual WAM! NYC Conference from fellow feminists who attended last year. The conference—or the part I managed to attend, at least—was wonderful. The panelists were engaging, the advice was solid, and the room was full of bright young women. What I didn’t realize, though, was that a conference on feminism and new media would, obviously, have a lot of feminist bloggers and tweeters in attendance.
I was intimidated. I had been interested in blogging but hadn’t yet typed anything worth submitting; my twitter feed had been reduced to a private account that consisted of comments on Beyoncé’s genius and my own hygiene issues (“It’s Casual Maybe-I-Should-Have-Washed-My-Hair Friday, you guys!”). I was definitely a few steps behind these women, but I was there to learn, right?! I tentatively took out my notebook and clunky Android phone from my bag and mentally prepared for the day ahead.
The first panel began and after a few minutes I was already falling behind. While trying to take notes, I worried that I was missing something potentially tweet-able. I tried to juggle hand-writing my notes and composing tweets at the same time, but that was a failure. I quickly panicked: Was it better to stop using my notepad and just tweet everything? What was the conference-sanctioned hash tag? Why couldn’t I check-in to this thing on Facebook? It doesn’t count as live-tweeting if you post it later, right?! And why did this seem so easy for everyone else?
I was trying my best to keep up with the room full of feminists who were, somehow, simultaneously tweeting, checking into Foursquare, friend-ing each other on Facebook, and taking notes on the panelists. I felt overwhelmed. The necessity of using this technology was obvious. The hash tag for the event was written on piece of paper taped to the wall, under the note reminding us of the wifi password. The women around me rushed to plug in laptops and scroll through their smartphones. A girl sitting next to my left clicked her nails against an iPad. Everyone in the room seemed, somehow, better at this technology thing than me.
I missed most of the panel on trauma writing because I spent that hour having an inner panic attack about what I was “supposed” to be doing: tweeting or actually paying attention. When the panel on negotiating began, I realized that I was suddenly anxious, sweating, and very much over being in public. I packed up my pathetic spiral notebook and fled.
The problem I was having—apart from my obvious social anxiety issues—was that I couldn’t decide if it was more important to actually be learning at the conference or to let people know that I was at the conference. Social media is necessary in activism. My failure at it was, and is, holding me back.
New media is quickly becoming a staple in feminist activism. Feminists and like-minded thinkers collaborate and arrange to act on social media and listservs. Technology is bringing activists together in an urgent, startlingly fast way. Feminist media, as this conference was trying to tell me, is vital to change.
So why was I having so much trouble with it? It’s difficult to keep up, for one thing. Being an activist today means that you should, if you plan on making anything happen, have a very active and transparent online presence.
As a feminist in New York City, at least, it is important to make it known that you’re spending your Saturday attending a feminist media conference. It is equally important for you to live-tweet it. You’ll obviously have to write something about it later for your blog, but while you’re there it is important to make a fast Facebook post thanking everyone and friend-ing your new connections. Your name, and a testament to what a dedicated feminist you are, will pop up on your friends’ newsfeeds constantly throughout the day. The message is clear: If you want to make change happen, you need to have a viable spot in the social media world.
How can someone like me, who only tweets about her dry shampoo usage, make a difference as an activist without relying on technology? In short, I don’t think it’s possible. Following Shelby Knox on Twitter isn’t enough; an aspiring activist needs to be writing her own tweets, composing her own blog posts, and posting her own Facebook events. That was my takeaway from my brief two hours at the conference: Be the Shelby Knox you wish to see in the world! Or something like that.
Feminism, as it exists today, would not be possible without new media. To reject Twitter, or Facebook, or WordPress, or your other social media outlet of choice is to reject the chance to have your voice and your views heard. To me, it has become apparent that Third Wave feminism is very much about utilizing technology and carving out a space for yourself amongst other activists. Embrace it or get nothing done.
What’s a technology-wary feminist to do? Get real and deal. I’ve got a brand new, grown-up Twitter account (where I will only be posting occasional Beyoncé tweets now, I promise). Look out, feminism: I’m tweeting. And blogging, if you haven’t figured that out yet.
My greatest desire in being a feminist—the reason I support this cause at all—is to actually change the social structure. To earn equal pay. To have easy access to abortion. If I, or any other activist, want those things to become a reality, we have to make our voices heard and rally support around these causes. The way to do this is through new media.
Next year, I plan on going back to WAM! NYC’s conference. I will be a feminist tweeting contender when I return. And I vow to stay for at least three hours next time, before getting overwhelmed again.
Kristen Verge is a new blogger for Paradigm Shift NYC. She is a New Jersey girl recently transplanted to Brooklyn, most interested in women and the media, a woman’s right to choose, and women’s issues in the Native American community. You can see her tweeting attempts at @kristenverge.