Category Archives: Twitter

In memory of Lily Jayne Summers

 


My friend died.

Though I’ve said these words aloud many times in my 30 years on this earth, it never gets easier. So when Alex told me that Lily had passed away, and Pink News confirmed my worst fears, I went numb.

Lily Jayne Summers was an incredible human being. If you knew her, you knew warmth, compassion, and humour. If you didn’t, gee, did you miss out on knowing someone amazing. Lily was the kindest, most decent person I knew. The outpouring of grief on British political Twitter, regardless of party, speaks volumes. Lily was a young woman who judged people based on their personalities, not politics. She sought not to languish over our divisions, but to find commonality. A stalwart Labour activist and prospective council candidate in Swansea, she was still willing to not only work with, but befriend and love, people from across the political spectrum.

Lily first came into my life over three years ago. She, and her dear friend Ben, were running an upstart political commentary site called The Columnist. I asked if I could contribute, and she agreed. Lily was still a teenager; I was a recently-made-redundant 27-year-old looking to start a new career. I didn’t believe in myself, but this teenage girl gave me a chance because she saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. It was Lily that encouraged me, promoted my work, and has led me to where I am today. Without her, I would not have a career.

Beyond that, though, Lily was a friend. In the early part of 2014, when I was too depressed to get off the couch and spent months on end in my apartment, Lily talked to me, counselled me, and never judged me. She understood. She routinely checked up on me, making sure I was eating, I wasn’t drinking too much, and that I was looking for jobs. Lily, the teenager, saved this adult’s life.

As time went on, Lily committed herself to her studies and to Labour activism. But we never lost touch, and she never lost the compassion she is renowned for. After Trump won, Lily messaged me to make sure I was okay and to encourage me not to give up on my home country. Working class people, she said, needed me. She was that way: she always saw good in people who didn’t necessarily see good in us as LGBT people. She always believed that humans are, at their core, decent. And she sought to bridge divides that many of us thought too broad to broach.

This was no mean feat. Lily faced transphobia almost everyday of her life. She dealt with transphobic trolls in person and online. Yet she still kept faith that people were, on the whole, good and kind. Maybe they lacked understanding, she thought, but they didn’t lack compassion.

Lily Jayne Summers was unlike anyone I’ve ever known, and I can unequivocally say unlike anyone I’ll ever know again. While our epic Facebook chats will forever remain dear, and private, to me, below are some of my favourite exchanges on Twitter with her.

The start of a beautiful friendship:

 

When I realised she understood my sense of humour:

And then later served as tech support:

Our first massive disagreement:

 

And then our second:

When she low-key shaded our friend Ben Pelc:

 

Our third massive disagreement:

 

We were soon back on the same page though

Oh and there was that time she totally draaaaged Robyn for her Bieber fever

 

Still, she understood thirst:

And held us accountable:

Without lowering standards:

I mean this was not a woman who suffered fools gladly:

 

Lily was not a woman who was afraid to set the record straight:

Though never say she didn’t cross party lines:

Always a good friend:

Even if she was a hashtag opportunist:

Though she was always there to lend a helping hand:

While smacking me with truth:

Yet still speaking truth to power:

Something we can’t forget about Lily is how anti-Corbyn but pro-Labour she was:

She never lost her charm, though:

Until she supported Sanders, haha:

I wish she had, Lily. 😦

Back to her principles:

Let Mitt Romney never forget how she felt about him:

And never forget her last tweet to me, and to America:

I love you, Lily.

Donald Trump’s tweets matter

trump-twitter

Donald Trump likes to tweet. As a candidate, many of us looked on bemused as he ranted about non-existent sex tapes at 3:00 AM. Since winning the Electoral College (but not the popular vote), that bemusement has turned to abject horror as the President-Elect of the United States has continued to tweet like a 20-year-old loner in his parents’ basement. Some, such as Kate Maltby at CNN, have suggested that Trump’s tweets are a “dead cat” meant to distract us from the true issues at play, like his fraud settlement in the Trump University case or his overseas business interests.

I disagree, and wholeheartedly cosign what ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman said to the Washington Post on Monday:

If he had said something similar in a press conference, no one would be concerned that journalists are getting distracted by his absurd language. But because it was a tweet, that’s somehow different? Unfortunately, this president-elect has decided to make Twitter his main means of communicating with the American public, and the American public listens deeply to things that he says on Twitter.

Given Trump’s distaste for the mainstream media and reluctance to sit down for rigorous, adversarial interviews, Twitter is likely to become the primary mode of communication between the President-Elect and the American people. As such, we should listen deeply to what Trump is saying on Twitter, because it tells us a lot about his character – and how he will govern.

For example, let’s look at four tweets he’s sent since 8 November:

These sample tweets all demonstrate Trump’s contempt for the First Amendment. The first Tweet, sent just this morning, calls for criminalising flag burning. We can debate the ethics or morality of burning the American flag, but the act—the speech—of burning a flag is protected under the First Amendment. Flag burning has long been a jarring act of protest used to demonstrate profound disagreement with the government of the day. None of us should want to criminalise an act of demonstrating opposition, no matter how repugnant we may ourselves find it. And certainly no reasonable person believes Americans should be stripped of their citizenship for burning a flag. Stripping people of citizenship isn’t what America does; it’s what the Third Reich did.

The second and third Tweets illustrate Trump’s complete disdain for peaceful dissent. The protests that organised in cities across the country were largely peaceful and a normal, rational reaction to the campaign promises Trump made on the trail. They were representative of the majority of Americans who didn’t want Trump to be president. But beyond that, they were a perfectly lawful and constitutional assembly. Similarly, Trump’s tweet about the cast of “Hamilton” shows, in his own words, that he thinks dissent is harassment. This is a dangerous characteristic for a president, who has the vast resources of the Executive Branch to survey and punish opponents and dissidents. If you think this can’t happen, I need only remind you that President Obama is leaving a massive surveillance apparatus to Trump, and that in our history, we’ve seen J Edgar Hoover gleefully violate civil liberties for Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

The fourth tweet is about the fourth estate, and it shows a deeply troubling penchant more reminiscent of autocracy than democracy. Trump thinks that any coverage that is less than fawning is biased, corrupt, or unfair. There is no law that says the White House must brief journalists, and autocrats routinely refuse access to reporters and news outlets who they deem opponents. It is incredibly difficult to do your job as a journalist if you don’t have access, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that Trump could deny access to the Times, the Washington Post, or any other outlet critical of him. Hell, it’s already happened on the campaign trail. Even when he doesn’t outright deny access, he sends his hordes of followers after journalists he doesn’t like; MSNBC’s Katy Tur had to be escorted out of a Trump rally by the Secret Service after he lambasted her at a rally.

Given the fact Trump is likely to continue communicating primarily in 140 characters or less, at least for the foreseeable future, covering his tweets – and taking them at face value – is deeply important. This isn’t a distraction from other important stories, but rather an important story in-and-of itself that should be covered along with policy and personnel decisions. For the time being, at least, we will have to walk and chew bubblegum at the same time.

We should also pay close attention to how Trump’s Twitter habits change (or don’t) over the coming weeks. Following his election in 2008, President Obama was made to give up his Twitter and Blackberry for national security and legal reasons.  Obama does now have his own Twitter, which I assume will be turned over to Trump come 20 January. How he uses the official presidential Twitter, though, remains to be seen. So far, there’s no reason to believe that Trump will temper his tweets and rise to the occasion of the office he holds.  Which means soon, the President of the United States could be a man who officially endorses curtailing the freedoms that have made this country great.

I’m more concerned with why people vandalised a war memorial than the fact they did

Protesters vandalised the Women of World War II Monument in London on Saturday. Photo: The Independent

Protesters vandalised the Women of World War II Monument in London on Saturday. Photo: The Independent

Nuance is dead. The internet killed it this weekend, bludgeoned it in the head. Then, just to make sure the job was done, we all kept kicking the corpse. Some of us still are.

I am, of course, talking about what happened this weekend. Several hundred (or thousand, depending whom you ask) protestors marched through the capital, starting at Conservative Campaign Headquarters and weaving their way throughout central London. “Tories out!” they shouted, protesting the recently elected Conservative majority and, of course, further austerity cuts promised in the party’s manifesto. “Undemocratic riots” were the words bandied about by Tory supporters on my Twitter feed, in what I can only describe as a complete failing to understand democracy (because the people’s right to assemble and protest government policies is a basic democratic principle) or riots (because it hardly classifies as such, especially compared to 2011 or, you know, Baltimore circa last month). “How dare these people protest a popularly elected government” which received less than 40% of the vote, they huffed. In all, 17 people were arrested, only three more than were arrested at an English Defence League march through Walthamstow the same day, which curiously wasn’t deemed a riot and has barely been mentioned in the national press.

The real controversy, though, surrounds one particular act of civil disobedience. The Monument to the Women of World War II was vandalised, with someone scrawling “Tory Scum” in red paint. Laurie Penny, a contributing editor at the New Statesman and prominent left-wing voice, was unfazed:

Which immediately created a predictable, if unfortunate, shitstorm. Ms Penny was subsequently subjected to days of abuse from people on Twitter, the tabloid press, and that perennial gadfly of the right, Katie Hopkins, who suggested she be made “a woman of ISIS”. What she—a living breathing woman made of flesh and bones and feelings—has been subjected to by “the right” is far worse than what that memorial—made of stone and steel and entirely inanimate—suffered.

But this doesn’t mean I’m sat here condoning vandalising a war memorial. Far from it, as I said Saturday night, echoing Conor Pope of Labour List:

I did – and do – have a problem with what happened. On the same night someone graffitied the memories of our war heroes, I was buying a round for three British soldiers recently returned home. My brother only last month returned from serving in Afghanistan, and before that Iraq. My sister is a veteran. My brother-in-law is still an active duty soldier. My father was a US marine. My great-grandfather served admirably in World War II. I grew up a mile from a United States Air Force Base, where many of my friends’ parents served. I sit on the state board of directors for a veteran’s charity. The military, whether in the US or the UK, is very important to me, as are the sacrifices our brave women and men have made for the countries I love. Vandalising a war memorial is abhorrent, and I can’t believe I have to even say I stand against it, because of course I do.

However, I also stand against austerity. And this is a point I tried to make to Mr Pope. On Monday, he criticised the author and World War II veteran Harry Leslie Smith for the following tweet:

To which Mr Pope had to say this:

Of course, this isn’t what Mr Smith was saying at all. He was trying to bring a bit of perspective, offering – wait for it – nuance to what had, to this point, been widely reported in terms of black and white. You’re either with the vandals who defaced the memory of war heroes or you’re against it. Clearly, from Mr Pope’s tweet, even the moderate wing of the Labour Party was buying into this rhetoric.

But it simply isn’t true, as an exchange between myself, Mr Smith and Mr Pope (amongst others) demonstrates. It’s not enough to simply decry the action of a vandal. We must ask ourselves why. Why would someone desecrate a monument dedicated to the memory of women who fought for our freedoms? Why would hundreds, maybe thousands, of people take to the streets a mere 48 hours after an election? What has so disheartened the public to embolden them to such acts?

Maybe it’s best summed up in a sign that appeared in one Camden Town pub:

Or maybe it’s that the working class are being squeezed out of affordable housing. Or that cuts to benefits and the bedroom tax are starving the poor. Or that under-25s still can’t find a job, as youth unemployment remains 3 times as high as the national average.

Explaining behaviour does not excuse behaviour. What Ms Penny, Mr Smith, and I have tried to do is point out that people are hurting. They’re disaffected, disheartened, and feel deserted. They are also angry, and righteous anger is justified anger. It isn’t that they are “sore losers,” as the headline of Bryony Gordon’s condescending piece at The Telegraph put it. It’s that they’re desperate.

But she goes on:

There is something profoundly cruel about vilifying a person for their democratic choices. When normal people become targets instead of politicians, something has gone very wrong. This then is the real politics of fear and hatred. It is espoused not by the Right, but by the Left. And the people who are going to make the next five years truly unbearable are not the ones who make up the democratically elected government, but the ones who desecrate war memorials…

This is all true, except that no one is doing this. “Tory Scum” is a vague phrase, and to assume it’s an attack on voters and not the government is to assume the protestors don’t understand power structures. And to say that it’s the left peddling fear as opposed to the right is not only incredibly reductionist, but also misses the entire point, which is that neither the “left” (Labour) nor the “right” (Tories) as we’ve previously understood it has actually addressed the gripping fear and seething anger of what is, effectively, the modern underclass. It’s to dismiss righteous anger in favour of the status quo.

And this brings us back to Mr Pope, who in his own way agreed with Ms Gordon’s assessment:

Which is exactly the problem, as I wrote on Saturday. Labour is so dedicated to respectability politics and wooing the middle-class that it’s ignoring the legitimate concerns of workaday Brits. You don’t have to condone desecration of sacred monuments to understand why someone so desperate for a better life might do just that. After all, why would they feel the need to honour a country they feel is ignoring them (at best) or abandoning them (at worst)?

I’m aghast that this happened. I’m disgusted that someone would vandalise a monument to our war dead. It is an insult to the memory of every single person, particularly the women, who fought and died for our freedom. I make no apologies for the person or people who did this.

But I’m also concerned with why they did it. Unlike Mr Pope or Ms Gordon, and indeed the vast majority of the nebulous “middle” and right-wing, I’m not allowing the actions of one, or maybe a few, to negate from the message so many aimed to send.

People are hurting. People are scared. And people are angry. This government, which hasn’t even yet written a Queen’s Speech, ought to ask themselves why.

This blog was updated shortly after publication on 13/5/2015 to include the image referred to as having been taken at a pub in Camden Town as well as a link to the Waltham Forest Guardian story on the EDL march in Walthamstow. The Curious American regrets these omissions. 

In memory of Christina Annesley.

Christina

Christina Annesley. Photo: @chrstinadarling on Twitter

 

As many of you will know, my friend Christina Annesley passed away yesterday from natural causes. She was on a prolonged holiday in Thailand and southeast Asia. I’m not going to focus on the sensationalised media coverage of her untimely death, nor do I want to write about Christina the politico. She was more than that. She was a diamond, a Whovian, a wine aficionado, and a warm and compassionate human being who made friends across the political spectrum. The outpouring of grief from every corner of the British political twittersphere illustrates how beloved our Christina was.

Was. Feels perverse referring to her in the past tense.

I never met Christina in person, something I will forever regret. I was meant to, back in November, but our schedules never synced up. Still, she invited me to stay with her. She was that kind of person. A stranger she knew only online, from an ocean away, was invited into her home cos kindness. Like I said. A diamond.

My thoughts and (oh, she’d hate this) prayers go out to her mum and dad, her mates, and Olly, her beloved. I can’t imagine the utter pain you must be experiencing. Light and love to you all.

But this isn’t a mournful post. Where I’m from, in Appalachia, we have a tradition of wakes, where we stay up all night around a coffin, remembering the good times and celebrating the life of the person we’ve lost. With that, I give you what is, in a way, Christina’s best bits, at least with me. These are a series of tweets between Christina and me over the past year, tweets I will forever remember, smile at, and cherish.

Christina, we will forever miss and mourn you. You were a rising star, a rock star, and simply darling. This world is not as bright now you’re not with us.

And I know you’d hate this song, but it’s basically been playing nonstop in my ears today. I apologise in advance for all the God and religion and stuff. I’m American. I can’t help myself.

But ma’am… rest well. Sleep soundly. We love you.

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2013

naughty and nice

It’s Christmas Eve, which means Santa’s making his rounds. While I expect coal-and hopefully some condoms-in my stocking, not all of us have been quite so naughty this year. With that, I revive a holiday tradition, and give you my naughty and nice list for 2013!

naughty

5. Katie Hopkins

Whether calling X Factor winner Sam Bailey “a fat mum in a tracksuit,” expressing her belief that Scots will do “anything to avoid working until retirement,” or slagging off ginger children as “harder to love,” this may well be Katie Hopkins’ naughtiest year yet-and that’s saying something. Despite a litany of inane ramblings throughout 2013, it was her controversial classist statement that she wouldn’t let her children play with other kids called “Chardonnay” or “Tyler” because their names imply a working class background which propelled her from annoying gadfly to unbearable git. Maybe I’m just taking this personally, as I am a chubby gay ginger called Skylar, but seriously, I need her to sod off in 2014. As that’s unlikely to happen-she’s tipped to enter the Big Brother house next month-I think I’ll just get a tattoo to spite her. Maybe one of Russell Brand.

4. Russell Brand

Just kidding, that man’s a dick. I mean, I know you did a lot of drugs Russell, but Ozzy Osbourne is more coherent and decipherable. This year’s verbal masturbation champion, Russell Brand has suggested a revolution of…? He’s rambled on and on about the need to have a banker-bashing orgy and the needlessness of voting, but here we are at Christmas Eve and I’m still waiting for his point. His talk is pretty and makes you feel good, but much like the Justin Bieber blow-up doll, there just isn’t much depth.

3. Justin Bieber

Speaking of the Biebs, much like his inflatable doppelgänger, he needs to take a seat. Seriously boy, what have we done to you? The first time I ever heard of Justin Bieber he was 3 years old talking to Chelsea Handler. That’s where it began. Nothing good can come from talking to Chelsea Handler. And then we let Usher raise him, and look what happens. From pissing in a bucket while sneaking out of a restaurant to visiting Brazilian brothels to playing naked guitar for his gran, it’s been a bit of a year for Justin. His worst act, though, was by far stepping on the Blackhawk head. Unless you’re a Chicagoan, you won’t get this; if you are a Chicagoan, don’t let the reminder ruin your Christmas. This boy needs to check it before he wrecks it.

2. Robin Thicke

Another man who needs to check something-his privilege-is Robin Thicke, the End Violence Against Women’s coalition Sexist of the Year. The only acceptable “blurred lines” are the ones the cops will likely make me walk tonight after my eighth eggnog. I just can’t.

1. That guy who kissed me by the Serpentine under a pale moon

😉

nice

5. Tom Daley

He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? I mean seriously, how can you not just want to give this kid a pat on the back (or the bum)? Sure, he didn’t cure cancer-another LGBT kid did that-but in coming out, Tom not only gave hope to countless kids around the world, but blazed the trail for other high profile LGBT athletes to follow. Make all the jokes you want about diving being the second gayest sport in the summer Olympics (after gymnastics, duh), but sport is rife with homophobia, and Tom’s decision was makes him one brave little toaster.

4. Kellee Terrell

Journalist. Activist. Filmmaker. Kellee is a jill-of-all-trades, and has done so much in the past 12 months to further causes of social justice. Her short film, Goodnight My Love, takes a nuanced look at the last few minutes of a black lesbian couple in a zombie apocalypse, which in itself is awesome enough to land her on this list. But beyond this, her outspoken advocacy for HIV awareness has helped further break the stigma of the disease, and her unwavering support as an LGBT ally has helped shed light on the plight of queer people of colour. Kellee is the only person on either list who I can also claim as a personal friend, having met her at an Oscar viewing party last winter, and her wisdom, guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in my return to writing. I can’t thank her enough.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

God I just love this woman. She’s a feminist. She’s from Kentucky. I mean we’re practically besties right there. But seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been eschewing conventional stardom for something with substance, taking on Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne for tearing into women’s appearances and telling the Guardian it should be illegal to call someone fat on tv. She’ll say what she wants, do what she wants, eat what she wants, and no shits are given. I fucking love her.

2.The British Twittersphere

You lot. Nothing sums up my experience on Twitter better than the time Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny teamed up to take down transphobic tweets. My followers aren’t many, but they’re proper quality, and my return to commentating on British life and politics has been met with a warm welcome home. Despite being an American and living in Chicago, y’all have welcomed my input and opinions as valid and, in some cases, worthy, never dismissing me or critiquing my imperial American privilege. I’m well aware that a foreigner constantly commenting on your politics can seem condescending and presumptive, but you have willingly engaged me and encouraged me. As one follower said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you know so much about what’s going on I forget you’re not here!” It’s tweets like this that make getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the British morning news cycle worth it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

1. Caroline Criado-Perez

Whilst my followers are cracking, the same can’t be said for all the Twittersphere. For her resilience and sheer tenacity, Caroline Criado-Perez is the nicest of the nice this year. When the Bank of England decided women weren’t worth £5, Caroline led the campaign to keep a woman on banknotes-and to officially recognise the contributions of women throughout British history. Owen Jones has called her “a brilliant fighter,” which might well be the understatement of 2013. Caroline has put up with threats of rape and violence all year, but her voice is louder and clearer than ever before. When Caitlin Moran organised a “twitter silence” to protest, she acknowledged the show of solidarity but said that she would not be silenced by anyone. A true role model to all of us campaigning for social justice, Caroline has inspired me beyond most anybody this year.

I hope you made Santa’s nice list, and that all your Christmas wishes come true. To all of my readers, both here and at The Columnist, I wish you nothing but joy this Yuletide season. Thank you for making my return so rewarding. See you in 2014!

Why James Arthur’s apology is bullshit

James Arthur

James Arthur

I can’t believe I have to tell straight people not to say “fag” and “queer.” Seriously y’all? The words themselves send shivers down my spine, taking me back to my years spent in southeastern Kentucky, where they were regularly spewed in my direction, dripping with the vitriol of threats and intimidation. For three years I was terrorised, and I never once went to school in the morning convinced I’d make it out alive in the afternoon. It was a daily crucible of homophobia.

My story is sadly reflective of so many young gay men and women throughout the Western world. And that’s why, when James Arthur dropped his diss against some unknown rapper, my palm and forehead had a kiki. But if his use of “queer” wound me up, his apology really pissed me off.

James Arthur has sought forgiveness without contrition. He “has gay friends,” he says. Rylan Clark is his bestie! I mean for Christ’s sake, the man likes “Little Britain.” He can’t be homophobic! His backhanded apology betrays a nasty bigotry at worst or, as I truly suspect, an unabashed ignorance at best:

What the hell? There’s no “mistaking” the homophobia here. We’re not misconstruing anything. Does he really think that because he called a (presumably) straight rapper a queer that it’s not homophobic? Apparently so:

 

In fairness to James Arthur, it’s an easy mistake to make. “Faggot” and “queer” are dropped in rap battles like IEDs in real battles. Eminem made headlines earlier this month for the homophobic lyrics on his latest LP, taking me back to the my own high school hell by both using homophobic slurs and releasing new material. He was quoted in his recent Rolling Stone interview as saying “it’s more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or an asshole.” Similarly, South Park made a similar argument several years ago, saying that “faggot” isn’t a homophobic word anymore because the definition has changed.

For fuck’s sake. Let me break this down for you. Where do you think these words get their power? Why are they so insulting? If, in the context these men are using them, “fag” is used to question someone’s masculinity or humanity, it’s because the word is rooted in homophobia. To call someone a fag or a queer is to say they are less than a man, the subtext of which is “gay.” These words are so popular in disses because they cut to the bone, and that blade drips with the blood of martyred gay men.

Likewise, let’s entertain that “faggot” has evolved to mean “bitch,” as Eminem and the South Park pricks have both argued. Terrific. You’ve stripped it of its homophobia and instead varnished it with sexism. Suddenly “faggot” means “woman” and not “gay man?” You’re still using the word to emasculate your opponent, and because sexism and homophobia are so intricately connected, you’re essentially saying the same damn thing.

But beyond this, the fact remains that these words are still used to intimidate, bully, and harass gay folks. It happened in Chichester this month , in South Yorkshire just last month, and in the armed forces, too. It’s not just in the villages and towns, though; it’s happening in the cities too, like this case in Edinburgh and even right in the middle of Trafalgar Square. In so many of these attacks, homophobic slurs (like “fag” and “queer”) were used as the victims were ruthlessly and brutally attacked. And it doesn’t seem the were attacked for being “punks” or “assholes.”

Or, to put it blatantly enough for James Arthur and Eminem, they were called faggots and then physically assaulted for being gay.

So don’t tell me that word doesn’t mean what I know it means. Don’t tell me that the guys in high school were threatening my life because I was a dickhead. Don’t tell me that these words mean something they don’t. The meaning is obvious.

And, because I’m nice like this, I’ll make a deal with y’all. As soon as “fag” and “queer” are no longer used to harass and terrorise LGBT people, we’ll be sure to let you know. Until then, kindly shut the fuck up.

EDIT 18 November 2013 at 12:49 GMT: I just read this on the use of LGBT slurs in schools , and it’s relevant and worth a share.

#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

Last night, Fi Glover had an excellent piece on BBC’s Newsnight about digital feminism and the future of women’s liberation in the 21st century. She profiled Laura Bates’ “Everyday Sexism Project”, the media’s fascination with and objectification of breasts, including Amanda Palmer’s Glastonbury nip slip, as well as the objectification of black women’s bodies. The prevailing theme was that technology and social media is changing the face of feminism, promoting the democratisation of the women’s movement.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a story about feminists online would prompt a storm of controversy on the Twittersphere. Using the hashtag #NNSexism, the Twitterati engaged the masses in their own experiences with everyday sexism while a debate erupted over the role of feminism and, indeed, women themselves. One of the biggest debates I had was the tiresome, redundant, 20th century debate over the difference between sex and gender, as illustrated below:

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, the difference between sex and gender is quite simple. Sex (male/female) is physiological. It has to do with your reproductive organs, your hormones, and your pelvic bone. Gender (man/woman), on the contrary, is a social construct. It’s the set of characteristics we are assigned, even before birth, based on our sex. Think of it as blue for boys, pink for girls. Dolls for Linda, trucks for Liam. It’s not a radical notion; it’s been debated pretty heavily for the past sixty years, certainly since the advent of the third wave feminism in the United States.

My position sparked a lot of vitriol, mostly from conservative (small c) men. Some of it was quite nasty:

Others took to calling out the “sexism” of the Newsnight piece:

What was most poignant, though, were the women (and some men, like myself) using the hashtag as a sounding board for their own experiences with everyday sexism:

What was most disappointing was the number of men trying to trivialise or completely write off sexism and misogyny:

To say there is no evidence of real sexism is laughable. It certainly shows, at the very least, that one hasn’t been paying much attention to, well, anything. Just this month we’ve had Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis speak out on the fear many women have of being “found out” or labeled a “fraud”, the United Nations showing just what the internet thinks of women (and it isn’t pretty), and The Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh defending herself against allegations that she flirted herself to the top. I mean, cos, you know, pretty women can’t bake well. Only male chefs and your nan.

Or they attempted to turn the conversation away from women and onto their own perceived grievances:

Which Laurie Penny succinctly put down to actual, perhaps stealthy, misogyny:

And of which I stand guilty:

I’ll be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing my own experience I was steering the conversation away from sexism against women (which is 99% of sexism, after all). In fact, I thought Laurie Penny was calling me specifically out when she tweeted that, and it made me reevaluate my personal approach to the hashtag. After all, regardless of whether or not I identify as a feminist, gay men are still capable of sexism, and we have a notorious entitlement to womanhood and women’s bodies.

In the end I forgave myself. My feminist credentials are fairly well known, and while it was perhaps rude to change the subject in the middle of a conversation, it wasn’t entirely off-topic. In fact, I challenged Laurie on this point (and got no response, I should mention-though I do hope she’d agree):

For as the men who couldn’t grasp the difference between sex and gender prove, we (as a society) can’t even seem to get the vocabulary, let alone the conversation, right. So the men who actually acknowledge not only the merits of feminism but the hindrance patriarchy places on their own existence ought to be not only allowed but encouraged to freely contribute. At the very least we’re acknowledging sexism is real and tangible, which is more than can be said for a great lot of us.

That’s not to give us a pass, though. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the internet has proven that even those of us with the best intentions can sometimes stand accused, and even slightly guilty of, inadvertent sexism. In the end, Newsnight did a commendable job of highlighting the rise of digital feminism, but Twitter itself illustrated the dire need for it. Social media makes it possible, in real time, to illustrate tangible examples of blatant and even unintentional sexism and misogyny, and the Twittersphere was not lacking either yesterday. The rise of sites like EverydayFeminism and Jezebel give voice to women (and men) who may otherwise lack one, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we have a Feminist Spring.

Until then, let’s all brainstorm it a catchy hashtag.