Facebook · fast feminism · social media

The Politics of Facebook

It’s no secret: I spend a lot of time on Facebook. One friend recently told me that I am “the world’s most facebook-active woman,” which I know is untrue, considering the posting rates of, well, some other people I know (which I use as a moderating compass).  Recently a friend posted on my fb wall a link to an article making the rounds on the interwebs arguing that women with short hair are deranged and masculine, with the comment that she “knows I like infuriating posts.” This is also true, to an extent–I like getting enraged about stupid things people say about feminism, and then sharing in the hopes that other people get riled up as well. Sometimes that process backfires, and friends seem to fall into more of a state of existential despair; I get comments like “I-am-so-angry-why-did-you-post-this??” (<paraphrased, in response to a clip about a new book arguing that America is declining because there are fewer manly men in leadership roles. I will not provide a link.). The last thing I would want is to foster apathy or powerlessness in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

In truth, it tends to be relatives or old friends who tend to follow my Facebook postings the most closely, and often my more overtly feminist or political posts are aimed at those outside an academic setting who may not otherwise have the same exposure to those ideas. Sometimes, in my sheltered academic world, I forget how non-ubiquitous feminism is. Recently I mentioned to a 30-something friend-of-a-friend who was visiting New York that I am now a writer for a Canadian feminist blog, and she stopped me a few sentences later to ask “I noticed you said you write for…a feminist blog? So..you’re a feminist? What…does that even mean?” Almost choking on my chicken paillard, I tried to explain that, you know, there’s still a myth that feminists are man-haters, but really we’re just aware of and trying to address ongoing structural inequalities in the world. I had a similar conversation with a guy in the hotel industry whom I encountered at a party last year, who actually laughed in my face when I said I’m a feminist. This word still has a sting, despite attempts to rid feminism of its stigma (though I have problems with such simplified equations as well, as I don’t think feminism should equate to passive belief in some abstract notion of “equality,” a fraught term in itself).

So, call me a slacktivist if you will, but in my limited sphere as I pick away at my dissertation, Facebook has become an outlet for advancing my own political agenda while remaining receptive to the responses and positions of others (and of course striking is far preferable, hurrah Erin!). Sometimes my timeline simply blows up with debate, which I both love and fear (SMAD is a real thing, people, and I think I have it!).

But how emotional or extreme should our posts be? Should we all be social media provocateurs? Obviously, the answer to that question would differ according to the person and situation–I know plenty of activist-artists who seek to raise raucous, and good on ’em. But I worry about my own more emotional posts that often dive right over logic or rational discussion in their expression of outrage. Aren’t I just lowering myself to the same level as these ludicrous pockets of culture when I post inflammatory articles, adding an equally inflammatory comment to the top, with the intention of eliciting other extreme responses? And, in reposting offensive beliefs, isn’t there a chance that someone will step in and counter with “hey, but this guy has a point! Feminine men are ruining America!” I’m not sure a further polarization of issues is really what we want, but neither is avoidance; it’s important that we don’t remain ignorant of or (worse) become desensitized to the dangerous hogwash that emerges from the likes of Fox News.

I’d like to argue here (with shaky reference to Greek tragedy) that anger can be a useful incitement to heightened awareness of crucial issues facing women and activists today–either online or elsewhere. This week I’ve been reading Bonnie Honig’s Antigone Interrupted for a Fem Theory Reading Group  at Fordham. Honig addresses the politics of lamentation, claiming that we must learn how to mourn without fetishizing or romanticizing the object of mourning, how to call for change without undermining the power of the particular–all part of the “agonistic humanism” that Honig wants to advance. In chapter four, Honig argues that our grief, like Creon’s when he learns of his wife’s suicide as he holds his dead son in his arms, should be both ruptural and concessive: we should allow ourselves to be interrupted by grief, to let ourselves be overtaken by emotion, but also to attempt to reinstate our grief within or against a recognizable political structure. “Lament, as différance, is not a basis for politics but is a sign of the partiality of our codes of grief and of the limited ability of our codes of grief to control or redeem our losses by embedding them in economies of meaning that are supposedly themselves impervious to rupture and interruption” (120). That is to say, lament, though not necessarily political in itself, reveals that the institutionalized structures we have in place for dealing with grief are insufficient in covering it over. Our grief is always partial and singular, but should be put to productive use, while recognizing the limitations of such concessions. Ritualistic burial ceremonies may attempt to harness and contain grief, but lingering ruptures remain that must touch and affect some kind of political system.

So public outcries of sorrow, frustration, suffering, or angst, are okay; sometimes there is a need for the nonerudite and unreasoned in response to shitty things. Antifeminism is awful, and feminists should be allowed to respond in flaying gestures of lamentation, even in the somewhat flimsy sphere of social media; not every act needs to lead to revolution for it to be politically powerful or rejuvenating. But you sometimes have to put up with some pretty shitty responses in return, and you often have to follow up with a more rational explanation of the article or clip you’re posting and the argument you’re advancing against it, to try to prevent alienating or polarizing opinions even further. Social media culture is admittedly a far cry from fifth-century Athens, but today, as I [over-]analyze yet another long debate about feminism that transpired on my wall (this time in response to the response to the article about short hair and derangement, which does deserve a link!), Honig offers me some reassurance that emotional indignation can sometimes be productive.

Similarly, and on a lighter pedagogical note, such expressive possibilities account for why I’m a defender of attention-grabbing ejaculations from texting culture such as emoticons, emojis, and capslock abbreviations (“HAHA WTF I KNOW”), because they can sometimes communicate more effectively than drawn-out, rational discourse. Of course, we need to speak the same language here, and as Honig claims, lamentation should never be in itself the basis for politics. But it can be a starting point.

So I guess I’m offering a defense of inflammatory online posting in certain situations, with many caveats: know and be sensitive to your audience, be ready to explain in cogent language what the limitations of the argument you’re both exposing and attacking are, and sometimes, it may be best to forgo the link. But also, quick tip…there’s a great privacy function on Facebook that allows you to hide certain individuals from your posts. Sometimes, friends, it’s simply not worth it…