Pissed About Sexism? Tweet About It, Honey, It'll Make You Feel Better

A new study says tweeting about sexism increases women's sense of well-being, but if that's all it accomplishes, is that really beneficial in the bigger picture?
Publish date:
February 5, 2015
twitter, sexism, studies, wellbeing, Tweeting

Twitter! It's a thing. According to people I know who aren't on the social-media service, it's a thing those who are on it use to post about mundane stuff like buying socks and be mean to other people without consequences. (Actual Facebook status from an acquaintance last week: "Ugh, tweeting is so annoying! It's for losers to shit talk and have somewhere to hide. Just don't get it." Tell us how you really feel, acquaintance.)

My experience with it, however, is much different; I use it to post links to my stories, interact with friends and laugh at their one-liners, see breaking news, participate in @midnight Hashtag Wars, shake my head in helpless horror over what teens are talking about, and tweet my innermost thoughts, which — fine — are mostly about mundane stuff.

Although I typically keep my Twitter feed humorous, I do occasionally tweet about serious issues that I care deeply about, from campus sexual assault to church-state separation to sexism. I have a healthy number of followers, but not so many that I'd expect to have my opinions and/or outrage broadly heard or serve as a significant influence.

But does a tweet need to change the world in order to be worth posting, to have value? I'm... not sure.

A new study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology has found that tweeting about your reaction to sexism can at least make you feel a little better.

"We know women can be badly affected by experiences of sexism and that responding publicly can be stressful and risky," study author Dr. Mindi Foster of Canada's Wilfrid Laurier University explained in a statement from the British Psychological Society. I already take issue with this premise, but we'll get back to that later. "This study examined whether using Twitter to respond to sexism could be done in a public way without any negative effects to their well-being."

Female undergraduates received information regarding sexism in politics, the media and universities. They were split into three groups: One group was told to publicly tweet their thoughts about what they read, one group was told to tweet privately, and the third group was instructed to not tweet at all.

Example of an actual public tweet from the study:

"Never knew there was this much sexism in politics! It's so disturbing! Shocked disgusted."

Ah, youth.

In addition to their tweets being analyzed for linguistic and emotional content — researchers observed mostly anger, discontent, sarcasm, surprise, and sadness — the participants were asked about their moods after tweeting.

Dr. Foster found that, by the third day of tweeting about their reactions to sexism, the women tweeting publicly experienced an increase in feelings of well-being. The other two groups were just as frustrated as before.

"We know that popular online campaigns such as EverydaySexism have empowered women to speak out and share their experiences," Dr. Foster said, "However, this study demonstrates how tweeting publicly has the potential to improve women's well-being,"

Okay, I need to play devil's advocate here. Women's sense of well-being? Super-important. But if that's all tweeting about sexism accomplishes, is that really beneficial in the bigger picture? If a woman with 100 followers tweets, "Dammit, I just found out Joe makes 20% more than I do for the same job," it may let off some steam, but does it do a damn thing to actually change sexism? Does it even do anything to constructively change her personal experience with it?

As you may recall from, like, a minute's worth of reading ago, Dr. Foster mentions that "responding [to sexism] publicly can be stressful and risky." But if the only perk of tweeting about it is feeling a little better — not preventing further occurrences of sexism and not making the act of responding to sexism less risky — then . . . well, so what?

Listen, well-being is important. And women absolutely should tweet their feelings and criticism if it helps them emotionally deal with sexism they've experienced or witnessed, and as a means of shining a light on an ongoing problem. But if the well-being felt is gained from a false sense of making a bigger difference — that 18 random impressions on Twitter will "fix" sexism more than, say, approaching your human resources department to discuss sexism in your workplace and come up with productive solutions — then that sense of well-being may come at the cost of real progress. More must be done than posting 140 characters worth of grievance.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to to tweet a link to this article.