Women, Empowerment & Online Communities: We’re Missing the Boat

I’ve read quite a few discussion-worthy meaty posts in my feed over the last couple of weeks about women and empowerment. So many good conversations out there! One common debate is the argument over moms who stay at home and moms who work outside of the house not respecting each other. Another is moms versus child-free women and another is single versus married. The commonality of them all is that it’s a situation between women where we can unify or at least respect, or we can divide, and whichever direction we choose can either help female empowerment or hurt it.

Since I spend my days online, I’m going to take a stab at sharing my feelings on online women’s relationships and how I feel that these relationships being played out on social media is a whole new world that we have yet to really figure out, and that there’s way too much division. <Important note: if you’re looking for a light or short read, this is neither.>  After working in online community for going on 18 years, I have seen so many types of communities — successful and unsuccessful, good and bad — but in reality, this occurs offline and online; the difference is mainly private versus public. I’m no expert, but it’s been a career for so many years that I’ve learned a lot about what type of online communities work and why communities fail. Even if a Facebook page only has nine people on it, that’s a community, and a valuable one, so if you’re online, this probably pertains.

empowerment quote

In a nutshell, I don’t think the lack of female empowerment has much at all to do with what we do or don’t do, what our relationships status is or if we have kids, a degree or a lot of money. I mean, really, who cares? We’re all busy and we’re all headed down the path we’ve chosen. None of us have it easy, and none of us have it better – just different. Why should we worry about what someone else does or try to one-up the others? It makes no sense. We could be kind but so frequently we jab, dismiss, correct or ignore. The reason is an excuse. We’re tired, we’re stressed, we’re lonely, whatever is shaping our mood, and it comes too natural to snap at someone, do the “I’m not going to Like their post because they didn’t Like mine” or critique.

And that’s the problem. If we women are going to come together and help each other, our first response can’t be a negative one. If it can’t be positive, it needs to at least be neutral, a mutual respect of “I don’t get you, but that’s okay, I don’t have to.”

Sounds so simplistic, yet it’s anything but. Cliques, exclusive behavior, not showing the support someone may need, making fun at someone’s expense – it’s rampant everywhere in life, at home, at business, in school, in church, and social media only makes it easier.

And that’s why we need to learn how to control our own behavior. We can’t control others’ behavior, but we don’t have to contribute. We don’t need to jump on someone if their post bothers us; we can simply ignore. We can save our debates for an actual debate/discussion thread, and keep it kind. We can ask the quiet person how they’re doing. When someone shares their personal situation or problem or vent, we can respond to show our support, even if we don’t really get it. A simple “Sorry to hear that!” or “I hope your day gets better” goes a very long way. When someone gets picked on, we can support and show unity. These are all things we teach our kids, and who do they learn from the most?

Here are a few examples of what’s out there, identifying info changed so no one feels called out:

Woman A posts to a group for moms of special needs kids and shares her bad day. Woman B immediately says “That’s nothing. At least you didn’t have to insert a trach tube. Call me when your child has a real medical issue.” Ouch. Why? Just…why? Woman B is probably exhausted, scared, sad, and having a bad day. That’s a shame, and she probably needs support too, but dismissing Woman A’s problem didn’t fix her own. Now Woman B has just made Woman A feel worse, and what does it get anyone? I have no answer, still shaking my head. That chance to support and “you can do this!” went out the window.

Woman C posts to a wall, introduces herself and says she’s so glad she’s found the group, she needs help and hopes to make friends and help others with what she’s learned on her journey. No response at all. Meanwhile, there were several recent posts and ongoing conversations. Maybe they were all using their phones or somehow didn’t see her post, and it got bumped down; I’ve had that happen to me, and I know I’ve done it. Still though, how long before she gives up? It doesn’t take much to respond, and if you don’t have an answer, why not just be honest? “Busy, but I’ll come back later.” Or “I wish I had a good answer, I’m sure someone else does, but welcome!” So easy if we just took 20 seconds. A great chance to grow that community missed.

Woman D is a member of a group and talks about her job search. (I know this person firsthand, my disclaimer! Doesn’t change the outcome though and I told her I was sharing her story without names.) She posts about being afraid of not being able to support her family and the consequences of being out of work for so long. Other conversations are ongoing, so people are around, but she gets no responses – so this isn’t just the kind of thing that happens when you’re new to a group. I don’t know if she’s secretly disliked or she’s talked about it one too many times (which I haven’t seen), but I feel like we shouldn’t pick or choose who we support if we’re going to make it public. Such exclusivity sends a message that some are more important than others or that someone’s just really not worthy of time. Perfect chance for shared resources to change lives, gone. (And shared resources is such a strong foundation for empowerment!)

Woman E also talks about her job search, but mentions how she dislikes the long interview process. Woman F immediately responds that she’d better suck it up and deal as that’s how it works. Another ouch. Tough love isn’t always the way to go; when someone’s already down, don’t kick them. Women F is probably right, I know a lot of interview processes are long, but there’s a way to phrase it that’s a lot nicer. It will surprise me if I ever see Women E ask for help again. (To her credit though, I did see her encourage someone else that was having a tough day at their new job.)  Case-in-point that women aren’t working together; not only did she not get the support, but will she reach out again? Our actions have ripples that effect people way down the line, beyond our sight and knowledge.

I’m no psychologist, but it doesn’t take one to see that these examples don’t exemplify the positive of social media – these aren’t good examples of women unified in online community. With social media being so expansive, we have this amazing tool at our disposal to network, and we’re missing opportunities. We could all benefit, but how many are turning away before they give it a chance?  So often we opt for the off-the-cuff response but I really believe if we could stop, think about the consequences of our words and re-phrase our response, we could make a big difference. We could become this empowering community of women, worldwide, but it takes all of us.

One last example.

Woman G decides to start her own business. She shares in an entrepreneurial group and asks for suggestions on which of a few business classes she should take. Woman H is the first responder, and she pokes fun at her for even having to ask that question. (Note: really, if we can’t be nice, we need to walk away. It still is the best response if you’ve got nothing good to say and can’t even fake it.) Woman I and J give her a couple of suggestions. Woman K corrects Woman I and J. Such a subjective topic, yet Woman K seemed bent on being right and kept at it. Meanwhile, Woman G was hoping to get some real help and I never got back to see if she got it. I’m going to bet not, who wants to share if they’re just going to get corrected? I don’t see a big future for this group.

We women are a force to be reckoned with. We’re smart, feisty and we have a lot going for us…but we can also be our own worst enemies. We need to step back from a situation and consider our motives. We need to remember that whenever we participate in anything in social media, it’s out there for the ages. There’s no taking it back, even if you delete it. It can affect a job search, a relationship entirely unrelated to that particular conversation and it can plain out just hurt feelings.

I know I’ve had my feelings hurt online. I’ve been hassled over my feelings on health. I’ve shared something personal only to receive a nasty response or be ignored. I’ve been left out because I’m not part of the group. Haven’t we all? But does it need to continue?

I’m pledging from right now onwards to think before I type. I pledge to respond to the ignored, to support the unsupported, to not have to be right, and to be kind even when I’m cranky. It’s not going to be easy, there will be times I will want to respond in kind, but if we each take one step a day to be nice – kind of like the RAK, or Random Act of Kindness movement so popular on Twitter or in the drive-thru – we can make a difference. We can unify and empower each other. We can lift each other up, and when we’re building up instead of tearing down, we make it a better place for all of us. Think higher wages, happier relationships/households, bigger career opportunities, great examples for our kids. The possibilities are endless, but we have to get over ourselves. We have to remember that we don’t know most people we deal with online, and even if we do, we only know them so much. We don’t know where they’re coming from, either in the big picture or even just at that moment. Maybe they just got a bad phone call. Maybe a big bill arrived and they don’t know how they’re going to pay it. Could be that they just learned a friend is going through a crises or a family member’s in trouble. So many things, so many reasons to opt for kindness and empowerment. We can’t aim for perfection – not everyone needs to be in every group, not everyone’s going to get the answer they want and we won’t like everyone, but we can at least be kind. Baby steps. You might just make the difference for someone.

And it just might come around one day where you’ll be the one needing it.

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  1. I don’t understand all of this painful bashing either. We go to communities for support or to vent. I know that my mom always taught me if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all. The same rule applies to typing on the computer for me. I think we should pull together and support each other. We all have our ups and downs and need a safe place to ask for help/advice, or even to vent every once in a while. Thank you so much for sharing this post. 😉

    1. That’s exactly what I’m trying to teach my kids — if you can’t be nice, then walk away but don’t make things worse. I want them to be supportive to others, you just never know what they’re going through. People can be so mean online! Thank you for reading it, I know it was long — and I cut a lot out! 😉

  2. I’m guilty of the non-response thing for sure. I know I should do better and I am trying. The support I’ve received has been so wonderful, so I am trying to give back as much as I can. Women sometimes just don’t understand, until they’re walking that mile in those high-heels.
    So I will do my best to welcome, listen and most of all–respond to everyone in a positive and supportive manner. It’s something all of us deserve!

  3. I have learn a few good stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much effort you put to make one of these fantastic informative web site.

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