If you like cats, equality and satire, was this the week for you on the internet. Women against Feminism, a tumblr dedicated to women explaining why they don’t consider themselves feminists, gained massive traction. Countless women submitted pictures of themselves holding texts explaining why they did not consider themselves a feminist. The women in question rile against a (pejorative) idea of a feminism in which men are the enemy. Most self-identified feminists found “Women Against Feminism” to be laughable, as it showcased so many misconceptions about what feminism actually is. Enter the cats: a rival Tumblr seeking to debunk it quickly popped up: Confused Cats against Feminism in which adorable cat photos were juxtaposed popular misconceptions about the womens’ movement. While cats may very well be the fuel that pushes the internet forward, these two tumblrs hit on one of the largest problems of the internet age, mis- and even dis-information.
The internet was hailed as great democratizer where enlightened citizens could make up their own minds after being presented with all the facts. Yet, just as the internet has made some truth more visible, it has also made hearsay, rumour, exaggeration and plain bullshit even more abundant. Case in point, the anti-vaccination movement, one that encourages parents not to inoculate their children for fear of autism, a claim which has been disproven by science too many times to count. Unfortunately for those now contracting the measles because too many children who didn’t receive their MMR injections, there is no fact-checker for the web.
With a plethora of information just a click away, individuals can pick and choose which pieces of knowledge they want to find, for example, following people of the same political party on twitter, a more contemporary version of only reading the newspaper with the political viewpoint you share. Social media can cause an echo chamber where your own views can become reinforced. This may not be as pronounced on sites like facebook where individuals are connected with family and friends (would you dare unfriend a family member who you disagree with?). This certainly does not apply to places where a person can be anonymous and/or selective about who and what they follow. And it’s understandable, who willingly chooses to follow a person they dislike? How many of us have the fortitude to consistently read the viewpoints of those we disagree with to make sure we aren’t overlooking part of the argument? It’s easy to see how simple it is to perpetuate a false picture of what feminism is, riding on old tropes that have been around since Emmeline Pankhurst.
“Women against Feminism” and “Confused cats against Feminism” are akin to neighbors, shouting across the road at each other – just causing each side to dig their heels and pronounce their own ‘rightness’ even more adamantly. These two tumblrs leave no room for any discussion. Yet even if there were digital peace talks between the two, I doubt the outcome would be positive. The web is not great at reasonable. Comment sections devolve into people shouting at each other, almost always fulfilling Godwin’s Law – though in this case the term ‘Feminazi’ would undoubtably take the place of Hitler. If discussion isn’t the answer, what is? A recent study showed that the greatest way to change someone’s mind was to agree with them, vehemently. Clicking the ‘like’ button just doesn’t have the nuance that reverse psychology demands.
People are still people, with all the opinions and biases they had before the web and their desire to be spoon-fed often outweighs their desire for intellectual rigour or nuance. Ideas, regardless of their rightness or wrongness, can be spread faster and with a deal less social grace. The question remains for those of us who consider the feminist project one of the most vital of our time: in the age of the echo chamber, how to smash the long-standing myth that feminism is an anti-man movement? We cannot rely on the web. We must engage our peers in discussion, offline, where clicking to another page is not an option. While the web is an invaluable tool for women to congregate, support each other and share ideas, it is not the great equalizer. Lets take a page from our mothers’ playbook and showcase our cause in the streets, far from the pale glow of the computer screen.