Who better than a blogger to talk to me about the joys and struggles of online feminist activism? Here I speak with Aïchatou Ouattara, founder of Francophone blog Afrofeminista, about her practical tips for surviving the madness that is social media.
This concludes a rich conversation, so don’t miss out on Aïchatou’s reflections on how her personal journey shaped her as a feminist (part 1), her vision of Afro-feminism and sisterhood (part 2), and how her admiration for African feminists feeds her activism in Europe (part 3).
Note: The interview took place in French ; what you are about to read is a translation. To read the original version, click here.
As a feminist blogger, you’ve decided to take your activism online. There is such misogyny on the internet, and women are even more targeted if they are feminist and Black. It’s so terrifying I almost didn’t launch this blog. Have you been on the receiving end of this?
I sure have! It depends on the topics of my articles. If I’m writing on racism or sexism, it’s usually okay. But whenever I write about the misogyny of Black men, or on issues like homosexuality or abortion in Africa, I get slammed. I was called a sell-out, I was accused of being part of the “gay lobby” and of promoting the genocide of Africans (because I was defending the right to abortion). This is bullshit!
I used to engage these people. Sometimes they’d make me laugh. Then I got tired of people insulting me. I know there will always be trolls or people who want to tell me all about how feminism is against the African paradigm of who knows what. I am open to criticism, and I’ll talk with anyone who has actual ideas they want to debate. But if things get out of hand, I'll block your account. I didn’t wake up this morning to be called names online.
Does the trolling ever get to you?
Sometimes you write a tweet that goes viral, and all the trolls come blazing in. The notifications will have your phone vibrating nonstop for three days. Twitter is particularly violent and can make me anxious, compared to Facebook for example.
Once I got so tired of blocking people that I finally deleted my tweet. I didn't regret what I had written but I couldn't take it anymore, I just wanted peace. But that can’t be the solution, because the whole point is for us to speak our mind, right?
But then, when I see how activists like Rokhaya Diallo get harassed all day long, I really can’t complain much….
“I didn’t wake up this morning to be called names online.”
Tell me about it. They won't get off Rokhaya’s back, no matter what she says!
Yes, and they even come after her when she hasn't said anything. I have such respect and admiration for this woman. I don't know how she can handle so much hatred every day, and still make time to engage with her critics. I don't have that kind of patience.
Aside from the trolls, I you seem to spend a lot of time on social media, sharing the latest articles almost in real time. I tried to do that but I found it so exhausting. Too much information to process, it just makes my brain hurt! How do you deal with that?
I actually love spending time on social media. It can definitely pump your energy off you, and some news and controversies are just so negative, it's exhausting. I basically scan through the posts and I only focus on what I’m interested in. I don’t even see the rest anymore. At first I was feeling bad for not knowing everything, but I’ve learned that being an activist doesn't mean you have to be aware of everything or be part of all the conversations!
When I really need to center myself, I go on a Twitter detox for three or four days. I stay on Facebook, with the people I choose to follow. I like Instagram too, because it’s more positive.
That’s a great tip, thanks! Do you find comfort with other members of the Afro-feminist community? I guess it can be a good support system.
Many people are very caring people, and we do support each other, and that's great! Sometimes though, there’s quite a bit of intolerance on the part of some feminists. Some of them will question the commitment or legitimacy of other women who don’t fit their vision of what a feminist should do or say.
Let me give you an example. I’ve been criticized by some people who don’t thing I’m not being vocal enough about state-sanctioned racism. Others have complained that I my blog is too hetero-normative, even though I call out our African communities for their homophobia. Others have even suggested that I cannot be a true feminist because I sound like I come from a "wealthy family.”
Yep. There's a sort of race for feminist respectability that really bothers me. You have to prove that you are a “good” feminist by taking certain positions or speak publicly about the discrimination you have experienced. In short, you must fit the boxes and prove that your credentials check out.
" There's a sort of race for feminist respectability that really bothers me."
It’s a shame because not all women experience feminism in the same way. We live different lives; we have different backgrounds. Why would anyone be giving out good or bad points? Any Black woman is legitimate to talk about the experiences of Black women, as long as she doesn’t claim to speak on behalf of others.
The root of the problem is what one of your previous guests had touched on, even if she had a different perspective: as feminists, we judge each other a lot. We look down on those who make choices that are different from ours. That’s a real problem.
Let’s end on a positive note. What is your feminist motto?
As my mother used to say: you have to keep moving forward, even if it's only by a little inch. Progress happens when we refuse to stagnate.