If you were on Twitter yesterday and you follow or are followed by a lot of women in academia, you probably noticed that something was afoot. Around midday, posts began to proliferate using the hashtag meme “FollowWomenWednesday”; they listed the handles of women who tweet. As of 2:30 p.m. today, as Karen Cox (@SassyProf) discovered when she ran it through Hashtag Explorer, posts using “FollowWomenWednesday” landed on the Twitter feeds of more than 1.7 million users.
I started #FollowWomenWednesday after several discussions amongst my friends about my previous Historista post on gender bias on Facebook and Twitter. Despite the fact that more women than men use these social media sites, men dominate the feeds, especially on Twitter: both men and women retweet men twice as much as they retweet women.
I thought a hashtag meme – a free tool that everyone immediately understands and knows how to use – would be a good way to promote women who tweet, and to draw attention to Twitter sexism. As one of my Twitter followers Kurt Luther (@kurtluther) pointed out, in order to retweet women you have to follow women. I hoped that #FollowWomenWednesday would also introduce me to a number of scholars whose work I would not otherwise have known.
The project exceeded my expectations in this regard. By mid-afternoon, there were so many #FollowWomenWednesday posts that few of us could keep up with the live-stream. What was most striking was the interdisciplinarity of the project: scholars promoted women working in all time periods and continents, and in history, literature, archaeology, and the sciences; they listed the handles of women hailing from across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Although racial and ethnic diversity was apparent across posts almost immediately, the hashtag #FollowBlackWomenWednesday made the effort to diversify Twitter feeds more overt.
As Ann Little (@Historiann) pointed out in response to my initial post, social media equality should not be mistaken for gender equity. Nor should a project like this let people think they can stop doing all they can to make women’s voices heard. But it is one step forward. And in a delightful turn, #FollowWomenWednesday seemed to reverberate with happiness – a rare thing on social media.
It remains to be seen whether this hashtag meme has staying power — check back next week. But for the moment, #FollowWomenWednesday has served to make many women and men more aware of their social media biases, and to bring a large community of scholars, artists, and writers together with one purpose. It was a good day, and an inspiring one.