The fight for gender equality is not a novel one nor is it one that will be completely resolved within the next few years. On campus, the student-led Baylor Feminists group, has attempted to address this issue through in-person meetings and through its Facebook page. Topics the group has sought to address range anywhere from the wage gap to sexual assault on campus. Though there is no doubt that their mission is an important one, it seems as if the group is starting to lose sight of what it aims to accomplish through questionable discussion tactics on its Facebook page. Many members have stopped addressing issues and opted for calling out individuals for contradictory viewpoints. Tactics such as these have bordered on cyberbullying. Such methods are a step backwards for creating meaningful discourses that inspire change and therefore pose as a threat to the group’s overall purpose.
With the first post dated at July 22, 2015, the Facebook group has undergone a dramatic change from what it initially started out as: a place to discuss issues of gender inequality. Members would share articles for discussion or pose questions about what it means to be a feminist. With 527 members today, the invite-only group still does this. However, the group has quickly taken to calling out individuals in their conversations.
In one recent incident, a member of the organization posted a screenshot of a disagreement she had with another person concerning patriarchy. While this alone is not considered cyberbullying, it becomes problematic when the name is still left on the image and draws criticisms about the individual. This was not an isolated incident, and it also led to unrelated commentaries about people on campus. This was the case when a Baylor Feminist member recently shared a post from the Baylor For Free and For Sale Facebook page. In the the post, a man was seeking to find a woman to date on campu. The original post, which been shared on various Facebook group pages, has had students jokingly tagging others to the thread. Since then, the author of the post has expressed his frustration with the amount of backlash he has received. On the Baylor Feminists page alone, some members of the page resorted to name-calling the individual with words like “awkward” and “socially inept.”
The Lariat has been subject to this sort of scrutiny on the group’s Facebook page as well. As a publication with its share of controversial columns, disagreement is inevitable. And while the Lariat editors do their best to avoid hate-speech, it remains a strong advocate of free speech. The problem lies not with disagreement from members of the feminist group, but when they verbally and very personally attack authors of the columns. This is where a line is crossed. Dialogue seeking to address change, or even change the minds of others, cannot do so when an opponent aims to silence through personal attacks.
An issue that both members and non-members of the page struggle with is where men who wish to participate in the feminist discussion fall. Earlier this month, a member of the page posted, “If you’re a man you are a guest in this space. You cannot come here and expect yourselves to have an equal voice.” According to the author’s reasoning, the opinion comes from a desire to keep “one little corner of the Internet” for women. A look at the page’s mission of supporting “gender equality to benefit all people” and the mixed-gender composition of the group directly contradicts this statement.
The problems that have arisen from the Baylor Feminists should not suggest however that the group has not been effective in some means. A notable contribution of the group has been in bringing the voices of sexual assault victims on campus to the forefront. They have provided a type of support group for these individuals and joined the demand for increased Title IX efforts at Baylor. This is why it is especially disheartening to see the group’s efforts reduced to name-calling, sex-divisive rhetoric and postings of purposely polarizing media. Administrators on the page have tried to create page guidelines but to no avail. Energies are wasted in these types of behaviors and legitimacy is compromised.
Members of the Baylor Feminists need to reconsider the way they discuss issues that matter or risk undermining the whole purpose of the group. Like any cause, there needs to be a balance between speaking out indignantly against injustice and generating damaging criticism. It is not just necessary, but it is the group’s responsibility that this occurs. Too many people are affected on a daily basis by gender inequality for those who have undertaken the cause to be associated with hostile blaming and hypocrisy. Shame the behavior, not the person, and most importantly, remember that actions often speak louder than words.