July 13, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
I currently participate in three Twitter hashtag memes.
One, #MondayBlogs, is for retweeting blog posts – any sort, by anyone. Another on Wednesdays, #wwwblogs, stands for Women Writer Wednesday Blogs. On that day women retweet and share each other’s blog posts. The third, #ArchiveDay, happens on Saturdays. It is a meme for retweeting old posts you’d like to recycle.
As with all hashtag memes, people occasionally misuse them, sometimes deliberately, often inadvertently. But on all three I’ve met some great bloggers and writers, and gained more exposure for my own posts. I’ve also shared all three, and their rationale, with anyone I thought would find them useful.
Toward the end of June I started noticing a new hashtag appearing in my Twitter feed: #Binders.
Well, maybe I should say a new/old hashtag.
It was being used almost exclusively by women, with a couple of variations, one of which was #binderwriters. I was, as one tweeter put it, “#binders-curious.”
A couple of women writers who followed me after posting to #wwwblogs had the #binderwriters or #binders hashtag in their profile. So I asked them about it.
“Can you tell me what this means?” I tweeted. “All I can think of is ‘binders full of women.’”
On the whole I’ve found people on Twitter to be very friendly and open, but only one woman answered my question (the same one, as it happens, who was #binders-curious). Her response – “Well, you’ve got the cultural reference right” – was, to put it mildly, enigmatic.
I try very hard not to misuse hashtags.
For the longest time I couldn’t figure out whether #amwriting was to be used only when a person was writing, or only when a person was writing in the morning, for example. (You can find the origin of that one here.) When someone retweeted one of my posts with #IARTG attached, I sent her a thank you but had to point out that I was only a blogger, not an “Indie Author,” so using a hashtag that stood for “Indie Author ReTweet Group” was misleading. Turned out, she wasn’t an Indie Author either. As far as she was concerned, the hashtag was a signal boost, nothing more.
So I did what one does with a trending tag on Twitter when you’re trying to find out more about it: I searched on it.
I found that if I was looking for smart women writers, journalists and novelists to follow, I should check the #binders and #binderwriters hashtags. I found a link to a map of tweeting #binderwriters that showed “how big this thing is.” I found women congratulating themselves for being invited into #binders and rhapsodizing over the support and encouragement they found with #binderwriters. I found gleeful references to a Secret Society, and jokes about Wellesley and Byrn Mawr. I found a couple of lists of #binders women I could subscribe to.
What I didn’t find was an explanation. Until this.
An article in Vogue, “A Facebook Page of Our Own: Binders Full of Women Writers,” by a (we will presume) smart woman journalist named Emily Greenhouse who had had an invitation, reposted the original, remarkably casual tweet by Anna Fitzpatrick that started the whole thing, and was willing to explain to the rest of the uninitiated:
This is a secret group, invisible to men and other outsiders, the name a nod to that hilariously appalling phrase thought up by Mitt Romney in a presidential debate. The members quickly took to addressing each other with it. “Binders!” they open—bugle, hark! The women in the group include many writers I know, at least by name, women whose writing I’ve envied and admired. “I do such-and-such,” posts one woman after another. “I work here-and-there, I write for so-and-so, I feel heartened by all of you.” The sense of empowerment spread so fast that, by Thursday, the founders decided to cap membership, at least temporarily. Binders Full of Women Writers today has close to 22,000 members.
I then went to Facebook, but because I did not have an invitation, the group was, in fact, invisible. I did find several others with similar names – Binders Full of Full-Time Freelance Writers; Minneapolis-St. Paul Binders of Women Writers; Binders Full of Women Poets. The rules of these groups – all visible without being a member – were apparently copied almost verbatim from the rules of the original group.
THIS PLACE IS: A laid-back, no pressure resource for full-time freelance writers of all backgrounds and experience levels to meet each other, network, learn, etc.
FEEL FREE TO:
*Invite any women, genderqueer, and non-binary identifying writers to the group
*Post job opportunities
*Self-promote and share your (writing related) work
*Post links to stories, articles, and books you love
*Share writing strategies, tips, tools, and resources that have helped you
*Ask questions about invoicing, taxes, pitching, grant writing, staying focused, and anything & everything relating to writing
*Take down the patriarchy
*Fan out over each other’s works
There were also some don’ts, largely around discretion, badmouthing, and respect. And then there was this:
*Don’t turn this group into a trend story, or publicize any conversations that happen within it. I’d like this to be a chill, no pressure safe space in which people can feel comfortable asking questions. What happens here stays here, like a non-sucky Fight Club or Vegas.
“I solemnly swear I’m trying to stick to her rules,” Greenhouse says. “I sent Fitzpatrick an email, but she did not reply.” How long, I wonder, did she wait? Five minutes? Ten?
I have no idea what the conversation was like in any of these invitation-only groups after Emily Greenhouse published her trend story.
But on Twitter, everything is in the open. And so I saw tweets like these:
Keep in mind Greenhouse is writing for a fashion – no, a fashion and lifestyle – magazine.
A publication whose purpose for 120 years has revolved around trends – identifying them and setting them. She got a lead on a story. And then she did her job – with some intelligent reflection on the VIDA statistics and the byline gap. Rather than focusing energy on how Emily Greenhouse betrayed her sex, perhaps we should think more about the values promoted by the publication she works for – one which contributed to the liberation of Afghan women by sponsoring a cosmetology school in Kabul, and did a glowing profile of Syrian first lady Asma Al-Asad.
It was a cute quip, the idea of “a non-sucky Fight Club.”
But the irony of basing the rules of a women’s empowerment group on the rules of Chuck Palahniuk’s misogynist, anti-consumerist fantasy, even in jest, is exceeded only by the irony on putting that empowerment group on a site which sees its members as consumers of content and products to be marketed.
In truth I do not know if #binders is Fight Club for Women or social media’s first sorority.
But starting an invisible group on Facebook and then using Twitter hashtags as a sort of Secret Handshake essentially fosters a culture of exclusion – not from the world of men, but from the world of other women. Women who are smart, and know the right people, and went to Byrn Mawr and Wellesley, know what the hashtag means. The rest of us have to rely on scraps from the Vogue table.
If I objected to anything Emily Greenhouse wrote, it was the last paragraph.
Part of me says I should approach Facebook hubs with disdain and feel annoyed at such spilling, earnest enthusiasm. But why? Joining a Facebook group is freer than union dues, and there’s a seed of solidarity all the same. So far, the group’s a good-hearted place, where women by the thousands feel roused to help each other out. The very least I can do, as a woman of the Binders, is focus less on “shoulds.”
Have we really traded the economic clout of unions for a social “seed of solidarity”?
Yes, union dues cost money. But I don’t need an invitation to join a union. All I need is a trade. And if I have that, I’ll pay my dues.