Netroots UK’s digital equality session had so much potential, but the real flaws of the session could be found in the clumsy phrasing of this paragraph, that could be found both online and in the schedule pack on the day :
‘Women have a high internet usage, but when it comes to politics and campaigning women are few and far between. Something about online campaigning seems to turn women off and there’s a digital divide as a result. So if the answer isn’t simply for women to grow a thicker skin, how can progressive campaigners better engage women online? How can women survive the dog eat dog world of political blogging or tweeting without feeling they have to join in the game? Which online campaigns, issues and online spaces might attract more women to get engaged?’
To ask these questions room filled to the brim with politically active women was incredulously patronising. We ARE engaged, we ARE surviving, and we ARE involved in online campaigns. It’s not that we’re NOT there- but there’s a tendency to organise away from websites where we’re likely to be on the receiving end of misogyny.
The session also saw the release of pent up and righteous rage about the misogynistic nature of comments on forums such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free. If you want a reason why women tend to post away from the big online forums, there’s a pretty concrete answer. And if this is one of the main reasons, surely the solution isn’t – ‘women, grow a thicker skin!’, but rather- ‘trolls, stop baiting women!’
Inevitably, the session evolved into both speakers and audience members expressing frustration at how questions like these just leave women activists going around in annoying circles, never making any progress, forever stunted at the ‘engagement’ question.
Given the nature of the moot points that were proposed, it wasn’t surprising when Lisa Ansell, Laurie Penny and Jess McCabe all pointed out, repeatedly, that women are already engaged politically online.
Laurie hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that that engaging women does not mean shovelling them away at the top of the building to wring their hands about how much they’re supposedly not doing.
Lisa stressed that women are politically active all over the net- just not in the obvious places, like the top 4 political blogs.
Jess showed the room the website she edits- The F Word – which is full of posts by politically active, campaigning women.
Why, then, are we still discussing engagement?
I am genuinely confused.