I have just read English journalist, author, and broadcaster, Grace Dent’s amusing, insightful and ultimately helpful book on the Twitter phenomenon, entitled How to Leave Twitter.
In the middle of the book, under the heading Justifying your Twitter addiction, is the eighth justification: Women on Twitter: A cyber-room of one’s own. The first sentence of which is: ‘On Twitter I feel something that I feel very rarely in the rest of the world: that my sex is 100% equally represented.’
A surprising claim but one which anyone who has spent time on Twitter would find hard to argue with. On Twitter you will hear opinions voiced by women you will not hear anywhere else in the media – strong, clever, honest, silly, disinterested, brave, iconoclastic, surprising opinions.
I spoke to Grace Dent via Twitter and asked her: In your chapter Women on Twitter – you touch on the freedom women find on twitter, could this be because Twitter is outside commerce?
‘Completely,’ Dent replied, ‘That’s exactly it in a sentence. I can say what I want without a committee worrying that me or my words are alienating viewers/buyers.’
“…alienating viewers/buyers…” That’s it, isn’t it? The great challenge facing modern feminism is the enveloping embrace of commerce.
Every step taken by a woman on her path from birth to death is attended by commerce. All of her needs, real or imagined, have been anticipated so that her life’s path has become a supermarket aisle stacked high with products for every conceivable feminine need.
All those wonderful products need to be advertised, too. And this has to be taken into account when writing about women for TV, newspapers, magazines, etc. Of course you can write what you want, everyone recognises that. But if you want to make it to print don’t go writing stuff that will upset the advertisers. Do not go “…alienating viewers/buyers…” And it is at this point you realise you must write within the accepted definition of what a woman is. And that the question of womanhood has been decided and if your experience of womanhood falls outside that description your work will be trimmed to fit.
Or as Grace Dent puts it: ‘Over the last fifteen years, when writing for a female audience I have found my writing subtly – and to my mind completely unmaliciously – edited to make me sound ‘more like a woman’.’ She found that her clever references were cut and the tone of her sharper points were sometimes softened by the inclusion of preparatory ‘Maybe I’m being harsh here, ladies…’ From time to time Dent would be reminded that “this is a think piece for women so please keep it ‘chatty and warm,’ so as not to alienate readers who want to see you as a ‘sassy best friend’”.
But on Twitter there are no restrictions upon anyone’s self-expression – other than being followed or not, that is. But even this isn’t a great restriction. You can still express your opinions to your heart’s content, no one will stop you, if your heart can be content with not being heard by anyone.
Why is Twitter free of the restraints of commerce? It is a medium with an immediacy advertisers have yet to conquer. Success or failure happens in a heartbeat. Also, Twitter is Teflon coated and bullshit just slides right off. Anyone trying to sell something on Twitter must expose themselves in a way most businesses are not brave enough to do.
The most successful non-celebrities on Twitter express themselves without restraint. This doesn’t mean they must ignore age old codes of conduct and talk endlessly about their vaginas or the consistency of their stools, it means they speak openly and honestly without any obvious allegiance to a product and without an overbearing agenda. It must be noted that bores have as much success on Twitter as they have in life – none.
So on Twitter, Dent, and millions of other women have found a voice free from restraint. Dent writes: “Twitter has been a godsend for letting me write unfettered, unformulated thoughts about my experience as a female that I would have literally nowhere else to shove.”
On Twitter a woman may be whoever she wants to be.
She can even be herself.
Have you experienced more freedom on Twitter? Do you think women speak more openly on social networks? What about on Facebook?
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.