By Lauren Ferguson
Growing up in the ‘90s and ‘00s in an age of How to Catch a Predator and Craigslist murders, society, and my parents in particular, began to aggressively preach internet safety. I grew up thinking every person who messaged me on Neopets wanted to murder and/or kidnap me. The internet’s golden age of net neutrality is a modern wild west, with no supervision and endless opportunities. This phenomenon has been called dangerous, and often times it is, but the internet also has the opportunity to be a place of safety and exploration, especially for women. Social media has allowed women to connect all over the world, discussing their struggles with misogyny or just complaining about what happened at work that day. I set out to find these places, explore them, and figure out what was best for me.
“except for the one golden person [she] met, [the website] is truly 99.999% garbage.”
OkCupid was my first stop and least successful. The website is mostly known as a free dating site, but it’s also a place for friends to meet and talk one on one. I’ve known people who have met via the website, becoming best friends over the internet and forming life-long bonds, and I was curious to see if I could find a female community. I set my fake profile to lesbian in order to only attract women, uploaded a fake picture and a bio about how much I liked dogs, and set off. I got no messages within the first hour, then the next day, then the day after that. I could see a lot of people were visiting my profile, but no one wanted to reach out to the fictional Tina Belcher fanatic. Even my lame attempts at messaging people first were unanswered. Out of curiosity I switched my sexual preference to pansexual, and within second I had gotten three messages from men. Perhaps the men of OkCupid are more bold, but I was still shocked that out of the 30+ women that read through my profile or I messaged ignored me. I asked my OkCupid frequenting friend Erin about the matter, and she just noted that “except for the one golden person [she] met, [the website] is truly 99.999% garbage.” OkCupid is an easy place to meet people, but was less of a community for women that I desired. Confirming the suspicion of my classmates in high school that I was undateable, I moved on.
My next spot was Tumblr. Tumblr is like any other media sharing site, such as Reddit, 9gag, or Pinterest, but Tumblr is unique in that it has seemed to amass a group of liberal and accepting followers. Intermixed with skeleton war memes and pictures of dogs is a community of women posting about their experiences with catcalling, unfair dress codes, and sexists. It’s perfectly normal for a Simpsons screen cap to be sandwiched between posts discussing how to overcome daily misogyny, and that’s wonderful. Tumblr offers a way to let people slowly become familiar with feminism, then giving them a way to discuss it with millions of people. Tumblr’s values can be extremist at times, but the user’s still have the best intentions for women and the LBBQT community. On the other hand, Tumblr is HUGE. The website has between 30-50 million users, and unless you cultivate a personal relationship with some of those people, no one will even know you exist. A user can have 1,000 followers and still be ignored by their followers if they don’t reach out to let others know there’s a person behind the posts. Additionally, the format of posts and no group messaging doesn’t allow for women to talk to each other one on one. Although Tumblr allows users to shout into the void about feminism and possibly get an answer back, it doesn’t easily allow users to find close groups.
“I’ve had a hard time connecting with other girls/women, but here, I don’t fear judgment at all…we share struggles as well as triumphs…The Femme Bubble is a nice, safe, equalizing space.”
My favorite spot on the internet, and the most women friendly, is my secret women’s Facebook group, The Femme Bubble. It’s hard to describe the bubble – think of a hangout of about 100 active posters all who support you, love you, and want you to succeed. It’s a mini Facebook for my closest feminist friends. Many of us started out as strangers, but now I’m excited to see someone I’m familiar with post a discussion question on feminist culture or just say that their dog learned a new trick. The Bubble is more than Facebook group- it’s a feminist family. Some days girls will console me about being harassed on the street, other days they’re celebrating one of my recent accomplishments. I do the same for them, and because of the limited number of people, I’m familiar with the active posters of the group. There’s no anonymity, we’re all friends and support one another. As Kathleen Lothringer, a member of the Bubble says, “I’ve had a hard time connecting with other girls/women, but here, I don’t fear judgment at all…we share struggles as well as triumphs…The Femme Bubble is a nice, safe, equalizing space.” While the idea of this kind of Facebook group may be alien to some (it was to me when I first experience it), it’s a doable community for any group of people. I see them pop up around Facebook frequently, but they’re also terrifically easy to make. My online Bubble is often the best resource I have for women’s issues, and, as unique as it is, it’s a phenomenon that is spreading and providing security.
There are hundreds of spots on the internet women may find beneficial and uplifting, and I only searched through a select few. What appealed most to me was the idea of community, but places like Tumblr or OkCupid, where one may crave anonymity or one on one interaction, may benefit another. The internet should be handled with caution, but when used correctly, it is a trove of resources and communities ready to uplift fellow women. There are people all around the world ready to tear you down, but there are even more who want to communicate, connect, and uplift you.