About a month ago, I added my profile to The Women’s Room, an on-line resource connecting women’s expertise with the media. I also started following them on Twitter where guest tweeters host the account at different times each day. The result has been a number of interesting questions being asked, ranging from experiences of sexism in the workplace (and how it was handled) to favourite female singer/songwriter, questions which encouraged me (along with many other followers) to engage in conversation.
The result was interesting. Since I have started following the account I have not only picked up several new Twitter followers but also engaged in long discussions about both my current research and other subjects/passions/areas of expertise. I have sent an article I wrote to two people who would not have otherwise come across it and have been invited to contribute to a blog. And I have learned an awful lot – about intersectionality, media representations of women and female singer/songwriters, among other topics. Basically, my horizons have been broadened in a number of ways: this is social media networking at its best.
What really got me thinking, however, was the fact that all the people I was making direct connections with (although not all the people involved in the more general discussions) were women. And this is also true of another community I belong to, this one within Facebook, which is one of mothers of young children. Here too I have engaged in a number of horizon-broadening debates and discussions. It has also provided immense support at moments of parenting crisis and a space in which to discuss the bodily functions of small children that no one but another mother wants to hear about – ever.
Now, not all my networks are so dominantly (or indeed, exclusively) female. Both on line and in real life I interact regularly with men who challenge, engage and advise me. Yet is the predominantly female networks (again, in real life as well as on line) that have inspired my best ideas, helped me forge the most useful connections and, ultimately, been the greatest assistance in my construction (so far) of both my personal and professional identities.
In one way, this is encouraging. I am enough of a feminist to believe in the ability of the sisterhood to empower women, so to see practical application in my own life feels like vindication. At the same time, I worry about the potential for self-segregation. Yes, as a woman I need and am grateful for the support and the challenge of other women in a male-dominated world. But I am the mother of a son; I write about historical constructions of masculinity in the context of war. I need the expertise and engagement of men as well, and hopefully I can offer a unique perspective in return.
So here is my challenge to myself as I develop my networks, on line and in person, personal and professional: to keep on engaging successfully with networks like the Women’s Room and my parenting forum while working to ensure that my engagement with other communities is as fruitful. If I can succeed, I might just get this whole social media thing cracked.