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Traditional Media Activism 1, Hashtag Activism 0

A Twitter hashtag campaign looks like the Internet equivalent of throwing money at a problem and then absolving oneself of the need to actually do anything.


By now most readers are probably familiar with #YesAllWomen, a Twitter hashtag campaign full of tweets telling the world how wolf whistles, name-calling, and verbal threats plague western women’s lives. It has trended consistently this past week in the wake of the Santa Barbara murders.

Illustrating the tweeters’ point, the originator of #YesAllWomen received online rape and death threats. She is afraid and no longer wants the hashtag used. Not wanting to lose the consciousness-raising potential of the hashtag, however, supporters tweeted to move the thread to the #EachEveryWoman hashtag, which was a parallel tag for women of color, transsexual women, and other women typically marginalized by popular feminists. Tweeters seem to agree that the need for the change proves their point even while they argue whether women of color are taking over this particular hashtag movement for their own purposes.


A woman is stoned. We politely look away. In Pakistan this week, Farzana Parveen was on her way to a court appearance to defend herself for marrying the man she loved. Her family had wanted her to marry a different man, so they allegedly ambushed her at the courthouse and beat her to death with clubs and stones. She was three months pregnant.

Malaysian police have arrested 13 men for gang raping a 15 year old girl. One might think this means at least justice is in motion. But the girl was allegedly raped by 38 men over the course of a couple of hours. If true, then the police don’t even have half of the accused in custody.

Meriam Ibrahim is still in shacklesfor “apostasy.” The Sudanese woman gave birth to a daughter while shackled. Most news stories focus on her death sentence, which might be carried out sometime in the next two years after she weans her newborn, Maya. But her punishment, being lashed for “adultery” (she hasn’t actually committed adultery, but the authorities refuse to acknowledge her marriage because of her religion, so they call her an adulterer) could come any time now that she’s given birth. In public, it might go something like this [warning: graphic content], although from the translations and the victim’s cries for her mother in that link, I surmise this is a young girl getting lashed. Meriam, a doctor, business woman, mother of two, and a Christian facing martyrdom, might manage stoicism. Whether or not she survives that punishment depends on how the lashes are given. (Slate has an enlightening explainer on lashing, complete, of course, with the PC-required moral equivalence.) She didn’t have a trending hashtag until The Times of London* blazoned across Friday’s edition:

Times Save Meriam

Thankfully, traditional media pressure from the British and suspected diplomatic pressure from the Foreign Office (the United Kingdom’s Department of State, since the U.S. Department of State seems uninterested in assisting this wife of a U.S. citizen) has rattled the Sudanese officials. By Saturday afternoon, someone in Sudan’s foreign ministry told a BBC contact that Meriam is to be released. The Telegraph reports:

A foreign ministry spokesman said that Meriam Ibrahim would be released and not face further charges. But lawyers for 27-year-old Ms Ibrahim expressed scepticism that she would be freed so quickly. ‘It’s a statement to silence the international media,’ said Elshareef Ali Mohammed. ‘This is what the government does. We will not believe that she is being freed until she walks out of the prison.’ [Later reports state they will release her to nurse her daughter. The sentence still stands.] He said he had even heard reports that the spokesman was in the UK on medical leave when he told the BBC she would soon be freed. ‘If they were to release her, the announcement would come from the appeal court, and not from the ministry of foreign affairs. But at least it shows our campaign to free Meriam is rattling them. We must keep up the pressure.’

It seems that a campaign by good legacy media might get results. A Twitter hashtag campaign, on the other hand, looks like the Internet equivalent of throwing money at a problem and then absolving oneself of the need to actually do anything. Witness the Nigerian girls, the oppressed females who actually got one of those coveted hashtag campaigns, and have dropped out of the news. For all the hash-tagging they received, they are still on their own.

But they are fighting. Four recently escaped. A few weeks ago, or maybe a few months ago—hashtags come and go with such frequency, it’s hard to remember time—someone created #CheckYourPrivilege to insist that members of a privileged group did not have the perspective to opine about whatever oppression was up for discussion. Typically, the privileged ones were white males, and occasionally white females and heterosexuals. Now, as Western women tweet about street harassment while non-Western women are stoned by their family on the steps of a courthouse, the admonition seems quite appropriate. The respect for natural rights common in the United States and the Commonwealth nations gives us a privileged perch from which it is all too easy miss the cries of the truly oppressed.

*Readers may have noticed that most of the links in this article are to U.K. media. The U.K. still has a good legacy media. The Telegraph first reported on Meriam’s sentence. And I must highlight the The Times of London, which I have been reading for eight years. It is a British, conservative daily, the type of source that if the over-generalized libels against men or conservatives were true, then it wouldn’t bother with stories about oppressed women. I have yet to find a source with more, much less better, coverage of the unmitigated horrors women still face in this world. In addition to checking their privilege, the leftist hashtag advocates should also check their premises about who helps women.