top feminist hashtags 2014

The Feministing Five: Tara L. Conley

Tara L. Conley  As a life-long history nerd, the word “archive” will always cause my ears to perk up. Make that archive a digital repository for online feminism and, well, I’ll pretty much drop everything. Where do I sign up? 

For this week’s Feministing Five, we’re talking to Tara L. Conley, the founder and publisher of Hashtag Feminism, an online space that explores how we talk about and archive feminism.

Along with creating her Hashtag Feminism platform, Tara is the founder of Media Make Change and is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, studying in the department of Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design. Her current research interests involve mapping social and digital media cultures and environments, studying participatory research and design practices, and youth cultures. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Tara L. Conley!

Suzanna Bobadilla: What inspired you to come up with #hashtagfeminism? What are some interesting learnings that you have gathered so far? 

Tara L. Conley: Last year was a transformative year for (what we now know as) “hashtag feminism.” I remember over a year ago following closely conversations and stories attached to hashtags like #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #NotYourAsianSidekick, and #MyFeminismLooksLike. I was fascinated and inspired by the stories and activisms that emerged around these digital artifacts. I put on my researcher’s hat and went to to learn more about how these tags came about over time. Topsy showed me the data, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to locate stories around the data, and I wanted to contextualize and historicize them; something a metrics tool cannot do. I wanted to curate these stories around feminist hashtags, and I also wanted to analyze them in a way that connects the data with our stories in meaningful ways. So in late 2013, I thought about starting a website that could accomplish these things. I wanted to create a space for myself and for other new writers to produce curated and editorial pieces on our own terms.  All of this, along with being inspired by the creative design and execution of Beyonce’s last album, influenced how Hashtag Feminism came to be.

Since 2013, we’ve grown and expanded, albeit humbly! I’ve since been able to invite a wonderful editor, Kelly Ehrenreich, to help curate content, and watch as pieces like this one on #YouOkSis written by #F’s contributing writer Aisha Springer be linked to on

My mom recently texted me a picture of an old hand-written receipt that my great-grandmother kept tucked away in her chest of drawers. It was a $200 receipt for a good faith down payment on a house that she eventually bought in 1945 in Elyria, Ohio. I think I inherited my great-grandmother’s gene for collecting receipts! I find that even on the Internet, feminists in particular have to document nearly everything we do in order to prove our work and worth. I’ve learned that people desire to know the origins of our stories and movements, and digital technology is a mechanism through which we can locate these beginnings in real-time and across spaces. This year was not only the year of hashtag feminism but it was also the year that feminist hashtags helped to grow social and cultural movements. Last year, we learned that people are watching us resist in public view. This year, I suspect hashtags will be used by activists in more sophisticated ways that will help to further our movements overtime. And of course, we at Hashtag Feminism will be there to witness and to provide receipts, just in case.

SB: So much of my own practice of feminism is applying critiques to social behaviors, yet when it comes to my own social media practice, I don’t always apply that same level of nuance. For folks like us at Feministing who rely on social media to spread our activism, what are some considerations we should keep in mind while we engage with the Interwebs? 

TLC: I was recently having a discussion on Facebook about the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite. I argued that this hashtag revealed (yet again) how difficult it is for people to engage in critical conversations online about race (in this case) and about gender. Online media, or the Interwebs, are incredibly powerful tools that we have at our disposal to use for organizing around social and political change. That said, however, these tools require more from us than before; they require us to be more reflective, active, and even more calculated since information is so widely available and exploitation of information is so ubiquitous.

The activist work feminists do online and using hashtags is complicated, especially when we consider that hashtags function to tell our stories and experiences that momentarily move outside of the status quo. These practices on the Interwebs, for us, isn’t always heroic; they may also point to competing solidarities that can exclude on the basis of shared rage and victimhood. This is where we get stuck. I’m not quite sure we know how to be separate together just yet. If anything, engaging with social media over the past decade has allowed me to see more clearly how solidarities can and often do compete with one another in destructive ways. While it may be okay for the moment that solidarity is a separate but equal issue, I’m not confident that this type of circumstance will sustain transformation in the long run. I am, however, hopeful we can over time get there together.

SB: For the second year in a row, you’ve complied a list of Top Feminist Hashtags. As 2014 is heading towards as close, where might feminist online activism be headed for 2015? 

TLC: I see more people engaging in practices of resistance online through storytelling (vis-a-vis hashtags) and continuing these actions offline. I think about the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and how this phrase (vis-a-vis a hashtag) characterizes an entirely new generation of activism and pointing also to feminist activists who have used Twitter, Vine, and Instagram to tell their stories and confront systemic racism and sexism within the movement.

We are in the midst of a cultural shifting and social destabilization. Consider how feminists and women of color online have shared and responded to stories around rape, sexual assault, as well as feminist activists who have organized around the police killings in both Ferguson and in New York City. This year women, particularly Black women, have emerged as the faces of these movements of resistance. Sometimes they are recognized and other times they are not. But what makes social and digital media so crucial in this moment is that these tools and platforms allow folks to access and share counternarratives without depending on gatekeepers. We can locate, in real-time, stories that mainstream media and conventional leadership fail to recognize.

In 2015, we will see more receipts collected. The documentation of sexism, racism, transphobia, ageism will be made more visible. That said, I also think we’re going to see more policing and surveillance as a result. There will be more young leaders who emerge from these online feminist spaces, and along with this type of emergence we’ll see more coalition building, and unfortunately division. Knowing what I know now, I suspect that a lot of activism and organizing will be done in the shadows and feminists will learn to accept moving covertly as a tactic of resistance and self-care.

SB: What excites you the most about hashtag activism? 

TLC: That people notice us and recognize our stories more, and even uplift us in the process, is beyond exciting. I can’t begin to tell you how inspired I am by the women behind such movements and moments as #BlackLivesMatter, #NMOS14, #MillionsMarchNYC,#ThisTweetCalledMyBack, #YouOkSis, #RapeCultureIsWhen, and #AliveWhileBlack, among others. Many of these women who started these hashtags have taken their work offline to share their experiences with an otherwise clueless public and they’ve also managed to mobilized thousands upon thousands of people in the streets as well. Like Jamilah Lemeuix said recently in an interview for ABC’s Nightline News, while hashtag activism may not necessarily be revolutionary, the creation, promulgation, and creative use of hashtags are indeed “revolutionary acts.”

SB: You’re stranded on a desert island – You get to take with you a food, a drink, and a feminist. What do you choose? 

​Photo description: The Motivator, a community newspaper article profiling Tara's mom, Brenda Conley as the only female Installer-Repairperson for the Elyria Telephone Company Mid-Continent System. November 1, 1975.

An article in The Motivator, a community newspaper,  profiling Tara’s mom, Brenda Conley as the only female Installer-Repairperson for the Elyria Telephone Company Mid-Continent System. November 1, 1975.

TLC: My mom’s apple pie, gin (with a glass of water on the side), and my dad. The origin story of my awareness of feminism began when I first learned I could run fast. My father, a white man born in 1930 in Camden, New Jersey, would always remind me that I could run just as fast as any boy, play basketball just as good as any guy, and that I could perform any job just as good or better than any man. My father would say these things in public; in front of teachers, coaches, and neighbors. My mother would whisper these affirmations to me in private. She wrote letters. He attended my track meets and basketball games. It was a good balance and my mom was smart.

I realize now, however, that my dad was allowed to speak out in public whereas my mother, a Black woman, had to do so covertly. She resisted in the shadows. My dad could risk speaking out against racism in the workplace and sexism in organized sports and politics, knowing that his whiteness and maleness would protect him. He, unlike my mom — who was the first and only Black woman Installer-Repairperson for the Elyria Telephone Company — would not risk losing his job, livelihood, and damaging his reputation.

My father represented the first feminist ally and surrogate in my life. When I was completing my MA in Women’s Studies, he engaged in late-night feminist studies conversations, and did so enthusiastically. He was outspoken about gender inequalities, racism, and poverty. He grew up during the Great Depression and lived a long, sometimes fruitful life despite the many traumas he experienced throughout his childhood and adult life. He spoke out against racist labor practices at General Motors as a Foreman. He chose to disassociate from racist family members so he could love anew. He was a man who was well aware that loving a Black woman, advocating for his family, and for a community of Black family and friends he cared for meant that he’d risk losing ties to white family members who sat safely and comfortably in their privilege.

​Photo description: Photo of Tara's dad, James Conley in his office at General Motors. Late 1970s.

Photo of Tara’s dad, James Conley, in his office at General Motors. Late 1970s.

“You are my daughter, and that’s all that matters to me” he said six months before he died.

If we were stranded on an island together, we would drink gin and I’d ask him what he thinks about the killing of Renisha McBride in Detroit, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and about Elizabeth Warren’s prospective bid for the presidency in 2016. We’d be furious and hopeful together. We’d quell our rage and anxieties by eating my mom’s apple pie, then we’d watch for shooting stars above us. He’d tell me, as he always did, that’s there is more to this life; there’s something else out there. He’d remind me that I’m meant to do great things. He’d tell me to never settle for what’s obvious.

I do miss him.

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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