This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
Last night, I guest lectured in a graduate-level class about social media. There was a lot of anxiety around the utility, viability, and benefits of social media, and understandably so. As a walking, talking social media success story, I wanted to counter some of those anxieties, but also admit that, it could have gone either way.
The question that many of the students had and didn’t have an answer for was what it meant to be a part of this “new” community or communities that had formed online. We have doxing, fake news, swarming, bots, MRA, and Neo-Nazies. We have click-bait.
But we also have #blacklivesmatter.
What does it mean to be a part of this community?
I shared this story on Twitter, but I wanted to share it again in a more narrative format. My grandmother grew up in a small city close to a military training base during WWII. They would bus girls into the base for social dances, to keep up morale, etc. Inevitably, some of the women would be seduced by the young soldiers with stories of possible death while overseas. These young women were overwhelming Catholic (this was Quebec, after all) and naive about birth control, and many would find themselves pregnant.
The young woman would be brought to the base, the soldiers were lined up, and she would pick out the one she had been with. As soon as she picked out the father, others in the line would speak up and claim that she had also been with them, and therefore the paternity of the baby was in doubt. The woman’s reputation was now ruined even further, an unwed young mother in a Catholic community.
My grandmother told me this story to warn me against men, to never put my trust in men. Given what’s going on right now, I think that there was another lesson, that men would look out each other, cover for each other, protect each other. They would not protect women, they would only protect themselves.
That was what it meant to be a part of that community. The band of brothers. The frat brothers. The prep school boys. The secret society members. Country club buddies. They looked out for themselves. To be a member of that community as a woman was to understand that your safety was less important than their reputations. Guys didn’t rape or sexually assault; women got raped and sexually assaulted.
Our community was about whisper networks and rigid rules about keeping ourselves safe. Who to stay away from when they got drunk. Where not to walk, what parties not to go to. Never let your drink out of your site. Never accept a drink from anyone else. Travel in pairs, in packs, never go to the bathroom alone, never let your friends disappear from your site, never disappear from your friends’ sight. That was how we tried to survive in the community.
Now, this online community means that “boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable. That blaming the victim is no longer acceptable. That explaining it away because they were just kids is no longer acceptable. That the indifference of our justice system to victims of rape and sexual assault is no longer acceptable. That these things are no longer happening in whispers, but out loud, online, together. We are more than 50% of the population, and so this mob, so to speak, is the majority. We cannot all be liars and sluts and attention seekers and man haters and drunks and manipulative bitches. We carried these stories with us for too long. You didn’t know because we were too scared, too beaten down, too tired, too wounded to tell you, and besides most of the time you didn’t want to know, didn’t believe, didn’t care.
I mused on Twitter that I would like to see a DA and a Police Chief hold a press conference to announce that they are diverting resources from prosecuting petty drug crimes into testing rape kits and prosecuting sexual assaults and rapes. That instead of ineffective school visits telling students not to do drugs, there will instead be presentations about consent and the law. That training will be given so that victims are treated with respect and not re-victimized.
This is what it is now to be a part of the community, or it is starting to be a part of it. We will hold people accountable for their actions. That what once was acceptable is no longer the way things work around here. What does it mean to be a part of this new online community?
It means being able to say enough is enough and mean it and have people finally start listening.