anger, diversity and solidarity

When I was an undergraduate, I took a module on postcolonial theatre under the tutelage of a Nigerian director called Bisi. In one of our practical classes, I was handed a monologue to read. The character was a Somali woman who had lost two sons and her husband to war and conflict. After I finished, Bisi asked me how I felt about reading it. I said I had found it really difficult, because this woman’s experiences were so distant from my own and I had never experienced anything remotely approaching that level of trauma or oppression. I said I did not know how to read it with authenticity.

Bisi told me, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, that I must use my experiences of being oppressed as a woman and bring them to bear on the piece.

I was shocked. I think I spluttered a bit. I was barely twenty years old and I knew everything (obviously.) I wasn’t oppressed, I told him. Women in Ireland have equal rights to men. Being a woman has never prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do. He smiled and asked me if I honestly though that – “as a woman, in this country” – I was free from any sort of oppression? Yes, of course, I said stubbornly. He laughed at me and moved on with the class.

I felt patronised. I felt embarrassed. I felt that Bisi was endlessly wrong and I was right. I was furious.

I also promise I’m going somewhere with this.

If you haven’t been on the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag on Twitter yet, you should really go and do that. Especially if you’re a white woman. There is a lot of anger on there and it is not going to be easy to read.

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we need to talk about trolls

Welcome to Twitter. Now get back in the kitchen. Bitch.
Welcome to Twitter. Now get back in the kitchen. Bitch.

Or rather, we need to stop talking about them. But let me explain.

Back in the early days of the Internet, when I was desperately waiting to turn thirteen so I could join Elfwood, the word “troll” meant something specific. It meant an anonymous person who deliberately posts false, inflammatory or outright stupid things for the sake of getting a reaction.

This traditional form of trolling is not harmless. As this article on the figure of the troll points out, trolls usually rely on being as abusive or offensive as possible. However, trolling used to come with a layer of self-awareness at the very least, and functioned as a powerful form of disruptive satire at its best. The troll made an art out of being as infuriating as possible while remaining believable. Their goal was to make people angry, mostly for perverse personal amusement but also sometimes to challenge entrenched views within a certain community. And so the prevalent wisdom was not to “feed the trolls” because that’s exactly what the trolls want.

Nowadays, troll seems to mean literally any asshole with an Internet connection and trolling means any incident of online abuse. The goal of Twitter users who are frequently branded as trolls may be to make people angry but it is also in a large part intended to shut people up and specifically to shut women up, which is why the brief #twittersilence response to events of the past weeks was somewhat misguided.

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