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#Binders Full of Fight Club Women

25

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.

Screenshot 2014-07-13 21.45.43

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.

hillaryreadingbindersCuriouser and curiouser.

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:

PLEASE:

*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:

Binders Full of Mad Women

So Disappointing 2014-07-13 13.59.26

Do Not Link Screenshot 2014-07-13 14.05.49

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.

marla singer

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.

mitt-romneys-binders-full-of-women-2

25 thoughts on “#Binders Full of Fight Club Women

  1. Natasha says:

    Do we have to wait in the pouring rain and blinding sun outside a beat-up old house to be invited in? I wonder if the invitations are limited to ‘professional’ published authors, or to any woman writer? It sounds like you have to ‘know someone’ to get in. We still have exclusive clubs like that in Pakistan. Without the stamp of approval from a member of a certain social standing, you can’t get in.

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    • I really don’t know, Natasha. I suspect there are many lovely women in the group who are not intentionally trying to be exclusive; I don’t think the young woman who started this all up had any idea how it would explode, and the original idea was to be open to anyone. But there are only so many people who can network together at one time effectively. I do think it is inconsistent to celebrate a trend as if you’re part of a movement while expecting that movement, and those involved, to be above the sordidness of trending.

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      • Natasha says:

        That’s interesting – how do things like this become exclusive? And is there a purpose to it?

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      • I don’t think there was any intention to be exclusive, Natasha – except where “the patriarchs” were concerned. (And even this was an attempt to redress a balance, nothing more.) The original idea seems to have been to set up a networking group and let anyone who joined invite others. Overnight it exploded, precisely because there was such a need. They capped the group, I assume, out of fear that it would grow completely unmanageable. Hence the clone groups. And the desire not to become a “trend story” is understandable too. But because of the fact that Facebook and Twitter work so differently, the effect of a secret, closed group that is also talking to one another on open channels with hashtags that are code to them but appear inviting to others is unfortunate, to say the least.

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  2. Annecdotist says:

    An interesting investigation into our pseudo-secret soriety. Think I’ll stick with the first three you mentioned, it’s hard enough to keep up with those.

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  3. I agree with Anne—a woman with a full-time, non-writerly job (me), has to make choices.

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  4. Wow, I had no idea about all the backstory until I read your wonderful, informative post! I thought it was a fun hash tag to use to cheekily reference the Romney phrase for women writers :)

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  5. C Beeyondo says:

    The people in Binders are all over the place–they are certainly not just Wellsley girls (and I am quite sure a large number would bristle at the accusation). Just out of school budding writers, amateur, hobbyists, part time professionals all the way up to high powered editors of fancy pants magazines. Academics, reporters, and writers hacking through the shitty publishing world trying to make their rent.

    I am a relative no one, and I got in because some friend of a friend added me. Before you blame some imagined snobbishness of this “secret” group–blame your own network. There are over 25,000 people in the group. Seems unlikely that not a single one of them knows you.

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    • Thanks for stopping by. I know what it is to be “a relative no one,” and to have trouble making rent. I’m sure the people in Binders ARE all over the place. However, I can only report on the tweets I saw, which joked about secret handshakes, Wellesley and Byrn Mawr. These are public, and easily found. I also have no desire to blame anyone – my network or yours. But to make a Facebook group secret and then throw Twitter hashtags around and not be willing to explain what they mean… I think we can do better.

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  6. Lisa Reiter says:

    Really interesting Paula, especially the search for the correct use of some of these twitter hashtags! Lisa x

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  7. lorilschafer says:

    A supposedly “secret society” that publicly uses hashtags that are bound to inspire curiosity in the public has little right to complain when the group is exposed. I mean, if Ed Norton walked around saying things like, “Oh, I’m not doing anything special tonight #fightclub,” one would certainly be justified in accusing him of breaking the first rule by the mention alone.

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    • Lori: Sorry I did not respond earlier. I think it is natural to complain when your expectations are frustrated – and this is a group that exploded far beyond what the originator anticipated, so in some sense such inconsistencies are understandable. My intention wasn’t to accuse anyone so much as it was to show how this appears to an outsider, and to suggest that the differences between social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) themselves compounded the problem. But I wouldn’t be the first person in the universe to mistake my own intention and communicate more about myself and my own issues than I do about the issue I raise – something which I intend to acknowledge in the follow-up post.

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  8. […] Last week I wrote a post about the #binders hashtag on Twitter, and the Facebook group it referred to, Binders Full of Women Writers, and its Fight Club rule. I thought it might get some discussion. What I didn’t expect was for it to be the most popular post I have had since I began blogging. OK, perhaps popular is not the right word. The most visited post. […]

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  9. Thank you for sharing about these hashtags. I didn’t know some of them. Very interesting about Binders, how it started and how it became exclusive. I definitely am curious and want to know more.

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    • Thanks, Morgan. I’m told it’s not exclusive anymore, though what the person meant was that membership was not capped anymore. But it’s still not findable on Facebook unless you have an invitation. I suppose by that definition lots of things that are private would be unfairly designated exclusive. I think what I objected to most was the air of secrecy about it on Twitter, and my sense that hashtags should be transparent, not a secret handshake or an inside joke.

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      • I understand what you are saying about “not a secret handshake or an inside joke” that doesn’t feel good to anyone. I also don’t know how you can do anything on Twitter and keep it secret. I thought the whole point of hashtags were so that people of like minds could find you, or participate in challenges like OctPoWriMo.

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  10. Ally Bean says:

    Thank you for explaining this hashtag. I’ve been aware of it for months, but only today became curious enough to research it. I’m seeing it now on Twitter profiles which I suppose means that it’s a status thing? No more secret club when it’s everywhere. Late to the party, as usual, I am!

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    • Although you still seem to need an invite with a link, they are apparently no longer capping it at 25,000 members. A friend offered me the chance to participate, but I declined; I don’t have time to do justice in the Facebook groups I’m in now, and my main complaint at the time was that the handle was being used on Twitter almost like it was a Mason’s handshake. These days any woman writer who wants the attention of other women writers seems to be free to use. I generally do for my blog posts, a couple of days in the week, including the day I post to #wwwblogs (Women Writer Wednesday Blogs) – which if you don’t know about, you can explore here: http://booksbywomen.org/women-writers-wednesday-blogs-wwwblogs/.

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      • Ally Bean says:

        Thanks for the link. I don’t know much about these writer groups/hashtag connections. Something for me to look into now that I’m aware of them.

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  11. Bethany Jett says:

    Appreciate the info on the common hashtags — where have I been??? and the info on #binders. I was excited to see your post.

    Like

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