Many women recently boycotted the social network, protesting its failure as a public sphere where all voices are welcome.
The first recorded example in Western literature of men telling women to shut up and stay in the house, writes classicist Mary Beard in her 2014 essay, “The Public Voice of Women,” is in the Odyssey. Not-yet-grown Telemachus tells his mother, Penelope, to “go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff ... speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all.”
As Beard noted in her essay, centuries on, the voices of women are still considered illegitimate in the public sphere, including the new spaces of social media. That manifests as verbal harassment, death threats, and doxing online; as complaints about the sound of women’s literal voices on the radio, giving talks, or in podcasts; as sexual harassment in the workplace; as catcalls on the street. All of these can be seen as ways to drive women out of the public sphere, and back to their proper domain of Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). On Friday, many Twitter users boycotted the platform, in response to the suspension of the actress Rose McGowan’s account for speaking out about sexual harassment by the film executive Harvey Weinstein. The driving force for the boycott was women outraged that hate speech, including misogynist and racial harassment and threats, routinely go unchecked, and yet McGowan’s account was suspended.