Very quickly, our tag that was previously filled with amazing quotes from speakers like Ellie Smeal and Kimberlé Crenshaw was now filled with advertising spam and virulent hatred from middle-aged conservative misogynists. It quickly devolved from general “skewering” of feminism to personal attacks on conference goers.
When I was given the chance to travel to Washington D.C. for free with amazing feminist friends to meet and learn from new feminist friends, I would have been a fool to say no. Having planned these trips and events of this scale before, I was ecstatic to be able to participate without having to do the grunt work of reservations, budgeting, organizing, etc. The first day of conference was overwhelmingly packed with speakers and workshops and presentations; it was hard to believe we would get to cover so much in one day. There was a nervous energy – a buzz – as we waited, chatting and planning for later.
The congregation of feminists from across the country proved to be as enthusiastic as they were diverse, which made for an incredible atmosphere. For me it was an unparalleled experience to be surrounded by so many intelligent, like-minded, passionate people. To be in a space where you can explore the nuances of a multi-faceted subject like feminism without having to stop every five minutes to explain “no, we don’t hate men”, “no, we don’t want to destroy religion”, “yes, some of us shave”, or “yes, we support women who want to stay at home with their children”: to have the freedom and time to delve into the complexities and histories of the feminist movement was a gift. However, reveling in the joy of being surrounded by like-minded people only lasted through the first plenary session. As excited as we were, we were incredibly effective in getting #NYFLC2015 to trend on twitter. With a trending hashtag comes attention from spammers and naysayers. Very quickly, our tag that was previously filled with amazing quotes from speakers like Ellie Smeal and Kimberlé Crenshaw was now filled with advertising spam and virulent hatred from middle-aged conservative misogynists. It quickly devolved from general “skewering” of feminism to personal attacks on conference goers.
Never in my life have I seen more gendered insults. Our hashtag, which before represented a gathering of passionate, young people, was now filled with people labeling us as a small group of bitter, fat, ugly, lonely cat ladies with no prospects and no value. This caused an interesting turn inward. We didn’t abandon the hashtag but instead spent more time speaking to each other and listening. We bonded and laughed over suggestions that we get plastic surgery and act like respectable women and we discussed the culture that made our appearances more important than our ideals. There was a unity in being ridiculed and attacked, whereas before there had been nit-picking and gossiping (as there is in any movement).
The attacks via Twitter became a common thread that we discussed in panels and caucuses. The behavior of these grown men and women was truly indicative of the ideas and behaviors that we seek to combat. Despite the dark cloud of conservative news contributors, concerned old-fashioned parents and misogynists that lingered over our hashtag, our work at conference was valuable and educational. Negative tweets didn’t stop us from discussing the empowerment of women in all countries or brainstorming ways to make our campuses more inclusive for all types of people. Accusations of leg hair and ugly faces and whiny personalities did not stop us from enjoying the National Mall and planning for the lobbying day to follow the conference. Because that is the reality of groups that oppose progress, when they inevitably get bored of spitting vitriol and insults and rhetoric, we are still there doing the work.