A couple of weeks ago I was delivering a lecture on Gender Awareness at St Mellitus Theological College. Over lunch, I briefly saw a dear Twitter friend who is training to be a priest. She explained how difficult life is as someone who has feminist consciousness, that she doesn’t have the capacity to challenge all that she sees, as a mother, ordinand and human being. She hugely encouraged me, telling me how my ongoing work on gender justice helps her; just knowing that I’m fighting the patriarchy encourages her. After she left, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I get to be a fulltime warrior against the patriarchy. I do have kids, but I get to spend the majority of my life focussing solely on fighting the patriarchy. It occurred to me I should have told her how in awe I am of her, and all the other part-time patriarchy-smashers, who also have to hold down fulltime jobs that are unrelated to gender justice.
Last week I was in Cape Town. It was an amazing experience, and I’m hoping to write more specifically about it at a later date. I was in Cape Town delivering training about domestic abuse to a group that included a social worker, teachers, foster mothers, youth workers and a vicar. You can read more about the trip HERE. The training took place in the church led by my Twitter friend, Dave Meldrum (a British vicar in Cape Town). Back in 2014, after connecting on Twitter, he wrote a guest blog for me about restitution and gender (you can read it HERE). Fast forward to 2016, and it turned out we were both on the same MA programme with London School of Theology. The course is run online, creating a wonderful opportunity to study with people across the world, including Dave in Cape Town. Through our studies we’d connected further and then when it emerged that I would be delivering training in Cape Town, Dave kindly offered his church as a training venue. Last Friday I found myself sight-seeing with Dave, a Twitter friend who is now an offline friend too. Afterwards we sat at his house and chatted about the impact of Twitter on our lives, including that I found myself sat in his house, thousands of miles from my home.
I joined Twitter in August 2011. I knew few feminists offline. I was full of opinions and ideas but I didn’t have a community to share them with. I felt alone and vaguely wondered if it was me that was wrong, repeatedly finding myself in disagreement with Christians, church leaders and the world generally. Twitter enabled helped me to find a community and to realise that I wasn’t mad or wrong (well, sometimes I’m wrong…). On Twitter I found my people, Christians and feminists (and Christian feminists) who I didn’t agree with on everything, but who became my people.
Twitter has changed in the last few years. It has been inundated with adverts, extra characters and Nazis. It enables terrible bullying and abuse and possibly contributed to the election of Donald Trump. However, it wasn’t always like that! Some of my most dear friends are people I met on Twitter. There was a time where conversations included so many people’s names that there was only enough space in a tweet for two words at a time. We would debate and discuss so much. We even read the Bible together communally over 6 months (it was quite intense, most especially Alastair Roberts’ blogs!). Out of that community came the Gathering of Women Leaders, Project 3:28, and wonderful, lasting friendships that have changed my life.
After I left Dave’s house on Friday, I began thinking about the ways that the Twitter communities I am part of enable me to do what I do, to challenge patriarchy and misogyny. I was reminded of a story Rus Funk told at a conference we were both speaking at a few years ago. He spoke of how he was in a locker room getting changed and in walked a lawyer. The lawyer was surrounded by a group of men and was boasting about how he had represented a man who had abused his wife. He was proudly sharing he had ensured the man was cleared of all charges. The other men in the locker room were all cheering the lawyer on. Rus Funk explained that he knew he needed to challenge the lawyer, but that he was fearful of doing so. He told us that he wasn’t fearful of being attacked by the lawyer. What he was scared of, he explained, was losing his man card. There was a deep fear that standing up for women in that locker room would lose him his Man Status. What enabled him to challenge the lawyer was the fact that he belonged to a different community, with a standard that required misogyny to be challenged.
Twitter is that community for me. I know that I can share the ways I’ve challenged misogyny on Twitter and people will offer their support. When I go into situations which are combative or require courage, I can do it because I have people who are cheering me on and who love me. And a whole load of them are people I’ve never actually met face to face. I have a community who I am accountable to for speaking out, standing up, and not accepting the status quo.
Whilst I was in Cape Town, I read “The Incredible Woman” by Riet Bons Storm. It is an extremely good book and you should all read it! She writes,
“By acknowledging her own voice and subject quality, a woman becomes conscious of the gap between herself and the dominant discourse with its belief system and sociocultural narrative and the roles “Woman” given to her…She can gradually or suddenly decide that her truth is not the same as the dominant sociocultural narrative. If that happens, she “falls out of” the blind acceptance of patriarchy. At that moment she becomes utterly confused, sometimes she is called “mad” by the dominant discourse… till she can find a companion who looks at her with affirming eyes, acknowledges her emerging subject quality, and proves herself or himself to be an ally in the quest for the woman’s own voice. Touched by that companion, or by a group of companions, she can develop her own voice. This emerging voice is always a rebellious voice, in that it has to contradict and disobey the dominant sociocultural narrative and its proper roles for women. By means of a rebel-self, together with other rebel-women, a new sustaining speech-community can be formed.”
I can only do the work I do and hold onto my rebel-self because Twitter is the speech-community that enables me. Not just in terms of accountability, but also practically. I was able to travel to Cape Town because people on Twitter (and some offline friends) donated money. Some Twitter friends financially support my work monthly, some are prayer warriors speaking protection over mine and my family’s life, some are dear friends, and one even crocheted me a Cuterus (thank you Jayne Manfredi)!
I think we’ve moved to a place where there’s a general acceptance that online relationships can be “real”, but I felt compelled to write this blog to honour those people that I either met or primarily interact with online, they are not only “real” friends, but are precious to me. Without you I couldn’t do what I do and I am so grateful for all of you! Thank you for being my people, you rebel-women and consciousness-raised-men. In these dark days, thank you for lighting my way.