Why are trending topic #hashtags so sexist? Part 1
If you use Twitter, chances are you’ll have clicked on a hashtag listed under the ‘trending’ (i.e. most popular) topics sidebar at least once. And perhaps only once – I can see why you might never do it again, especially if you clicked on #rulesforgirls or #ihatefemaleswho.
Here are some examples of standard fare, from apparently male users. Apologies. They’re pretty grim.
#aGOODWOMAN knows how to shut the fuck up!!!!!!
#agoodwoman is always ready to give head!
#Agoodwoman cooks for u when u get in from work and gets up and cooks breakfast when u leavin to go to work
when y’all cheat, expect for it to be over… when us men cheat, you have to be forgiving and give us another chance… #rulesforgirls
#rulesforgirls When we say we wana watch football, that means no cleaning,no talking,NO FORM OF INTERACTION.We will Chris Brown you.
#ihatefemaleswho slap they boyfriend thinkin he wont hit you back
And my two favourites, from the same guy:
#IHateFemales Who want to be men. God gave you the best gift ever bitch, acknowledge it!
You tell her! Why on earth would she want to be a man? *scratches head*
#IHateFemales Who don’t see the beauty in them & still don’t take care of their bodies & looking decent.
Why can’t she see how beautiful she is? And maybe get a wax?
These make for depressing reading, and when you’re faced with a whole screenful and 60 more appear in a few minutes, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But I don’t think what we’re watching is a misogynist Twitter takeover as some people have suggested. So what’s going on? I’ll start with some theories I have encountered and explain why I don’t think they’ll do as an answer.
A) “There are just more sexist idiots on Twitter / the internet than in Real Life”
I was at an event recently where Yasmin Alibhai-Brown spoke briefly about her recent run-in with Twitter, and was disappointed that the insight she chose to pass on to the room of feminists was to be careful of using Twitter because it’s filling up with horrible geeky misogynists.
This comment on a blog post about hashtags clarified it for me: “I wish I understood how and why stupid hashtags become trending topics.”
Um. Because they’re popular?
Sorry everyone, I know you don’t want to hear this, but Twitter is people with misogynist views, at least if the trending topics are anything to go by. I would hazard that Twitter might feel like a feminist space that has been invaded by these ‘orrible ‘ashtags because you follow feminists. But we’re in the minority, just like in Real Life.
It’s much easier to craft your own media bubble online than offline, but it’s basically the same thing. If you read the Guardian, and hang out with other people who read the Guardian, then Guardian-y sort of opinions are going to appear to be the norm. Whereas the norm, in circulation figures at least, is actually the Sun. And then the Daily Mail.
Like I said, sorry.
B) “Because black people are more sexist than white people”
Click on a sexist trending topic hashtag. Everyone in the hashtag stream is African American. Therefore…
Just, whoa there. Wait a second. Since when are ALL BLACK PEOPLE represented by a subsection of a social network? Following that logic you might think that every single white person owns an iPad. And besides, there’s plenty of misogyny to be found in ‘white’ hashtags streams too – some of the trolling on #mooreandme for example – and on Twitter in general. Sexism isn’t restricted to hashtags.
I’ve seen a number of people describe trending topics hashtag streams as the ‘dark undercurrent’ or ‘dark side’ of Twitter. I don’t think for a second that they were referring to the ethnicity of the users but I think it’s illuminating nonetheless. There are some fascinating (and sometimes toe-curling) discussions going on at the moment about ‘blacktags’ or ‘black people twitter‘ which I recommend checking out, in particular this comment.
I think it’s safe to say that there is greater uptake of the attitudes and poses of hip hop and R&B – genres notorious for misogyny and heavily polarised gender stereotypes – in the young African American twitter demographic than there is in, say, the middle-aged white British demographic, and that’s probably part of it.
But before you try and tell me that black people invented sexism (that must be why wholesome family entertainers like Jim Davidson hate them so much!) I recommend reading this 1994 article on misogyny and gangsta rap by bell hooks.
C) “Because the web encourages people to be shitheads”
There is definitely some truth in this one, and I can’t put it more eloquently than this.
I think it’s also about the hashtag format. It’s a joke, and there’s an age-old link between cheap gags and crude gender stereotypes. See also: your mum jokes, mother-in-law jokes, women driver jokes, blonde jokes, Essex girl jokes, nun jokes… Comedy, to some extent, encourages (or allows?) people to voice more controversial opinions than they might in another context.
But I can’t help feeling that there’s more to it than a web 2.0 Bernard Manning routine. In Part 2 I’ll throw in my two cents about why sexist hashtags are so overwhelmingly popular.
category → Soapbox