“From politics, it was an easy step to silence.”
When Jane Austen wrote these words in her classic 1823 novel Northanger Abbey, she hardly anticipated that one day the politics, and the silence, would be happening because of her. But in the wake of the onslaught of Twitter abuse directed at Caroline Criado-Perez, the organizer of a campaign that put Austen’s picture on the latest British banknote, her fellow U.K. feminists have rallied behind her with an unusual tactic: shutting up.
The movement is a Twitter trend called #TwitterSilence, and it involves an ironic day of quiet in protest of women’s inability to speak out on Twitter without incurring some form of abuse. The idea belongs to controversial feminist Caitlin Moran, who shrugged “I just wanted to do a thing” on Twitter before going dark around midnight.
On her blog, Moran was more direct, claiming that “I’m pro the mooted 24-hour walk-out on 4th of August, because not only is it a symbolic act of solidarity—which are my favourite kinds of symbolic acts—but because it will also focus minds at Twitter to come up with their own solution to the abuses of their private company.”
Twitter, however, had already announced it would be listening to the protests of the U.K. feminists, adding more staff to deal with abuse claims and rolling out its current “Report Abuse” button for iPhone to its Android and web platforms as well.
Meanwhile, many people, feminists included, were highly skeptical that allowing Twitter users to “Report Abuse” would do anything but make it harder for feminists to make their voices heard. After all, as numerous Twitter users noted during last week’s debate over the abuse threats, when men’s rights activists were attempting to silence Anita Sarkeesian, one of the tactics they used was flagging her Tropes vs. Women series for “abuse” on YouTube, which resulted in one video being temporarily taken down by the website.
Likewise, it seems many Twitter users, are skeptical that a day of silence is the appropriate response to bullying. As noted conservative Michelle Malkin put it:
Dear women: the best way to combat online threats/misogyny is with MORE & louder speech, not less. No to #twittersilence
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) August 4, 2013
I don’t know what Twitter silence is or supposed to do…but if it was meant to prove women marginalized by not speaking…not effective.
— Coimín (@KimberleeTaylor) August 4, 2013
It doesn’t help that Moran herself is notably one of those doing the marginalizing—when it comes to women who aren’t able-bodied, cisgendered, and white. In response to #TwitterSilence, intersectional feminist Bethany Black compiled a Storify rundown of moments in the past when Moran used Twitter to engage in the sort of abuse she’s decrying. They include her calling people “retards,” using the slur “tranny,” and famously telling another feminist she “literally couldn’t give a shit” about the lack of nonwhite representation on the tv show Girls.
“I think that the only thing this silence is going to gain is for Moran and her ilk to feel better about themselves,” Black added. “Because the problems that they are interested in fighting are ones that create good PR and affect women like them.”
Other women have responded on Twitter with more pro-active tags: #shoutback, #inspiringwomen, and #nosilence—while others dubbed the day #Trolliday, spent as a break from a social network filled with men who mock the women who—on every other day—just won’t shut up.
Congrats on a successful #trolliday, everyone! So – how do we keep C Moran + entourage off Twitter tomorrow?
— Mark (@biondino) August 4, 2013
Photo via Aja Romano