This week on Medium, tech writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash reflected on an experiment he’d run, in secret, all through 2013: Dash had gone a year retweeting only women.
To Dash’s credit, his post dwells mostly on what this resolution meant for him, not what his RTs did for the women RT’d. It was a personal test—an effort to be more thoughtful about “what messages I choose to share and amplify, and whose voices and identities I strive to bring to a broader audience.” As he frames it in his pensive year-later post, the experiment was not a condescending attempt at affirmative action for women who may not need it. It was not a thinly disguised victory lap in light of his 487,000 followers. It was just “paying a little bit of attention before I tap on the icon in my Twitter app,” Dash explains. Before the experiment, roughly 80 percent of his RTs went to men. (We should note that there are actually more women than men on Twitter overall, but not in Dash's world.)
What Dash did with his platform has ramifications beyond his own experience. He is a respected leader in a field that remains irrigated by male perspectives; when he retweets women’s posts to his followers—77 percent of whom are men—he is turning up the volume on underrepresented voices in a real way.
That said, Dash was thankfully able to write about what he learned from his year of womanized RTing without painting himself as the savior of the ladyfolk. He talks about how easy it was:
I found the only times I even had to think about it were very male-dominated conversations like the dialogue around an Apple gadget event. Even there, I’d always find women saying the same (or better!) things about the moment whose voices I could amplify instead of the usual suspects. And for the bigger Twitter moments I love, like award shows and cultural events, there are an infinite number of women’s voices to choose from.
Yes, there are women saying smart things about almost everything on Twitter, and it doesn’t hurt to elucidate this somewhat obvious point. At the same time, though, where is the virtue in augmenting lady words if they are indiscernible from male words? Isn’t the point of diversity to see things, well, differently?
That’s why the true value of Dash’s exercise manifests in his next insight.
One thing that has happened, and I’m not sure if it’s attributable to my change in retweet behavior, is that I’ve been in far more conversations with women, and especially with women of color, on Twitter in the past year. That’s led to me following more women, and has caused a radical shift in how I perceive my time on Twitter.
So it’s not really the RTing that made a huge difference for Dash, but the amped-up engagement that followed. With more women in his feed, he found that different issues rose to the top. For instance, he could not avoid the conversation around #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and #NotYourAsianSidekick, even as he was able to tune out the latest “inane meme or horrible tech story.” (He doesn’t mention what happened when it was the feminist fodder that seemed “inane” and “horrible”—but if you’re going to be enthralled to any group’s fluctuating obsessions, it might as well be a group you don’t already belong to.)
Dash also discovered—and RT’d—the @stopandfrisk account, simply because the women in his stream treated it as important, which seems like the Platonic ideal of what this experiment was for.
Yet it’s worth noting that he did not lurch through the Twittersphere indiscriminately RTing and following any virtual creature who appeared to have two virtual X chromosomes. Dash admits that he selected his beneficiaries carefully. In a follow-up post, he answers the imagined criticism “You should just retweet the best people!” by asserting, tersely, “I do.” While this feels less patronizing than the haphazard alternative, it also speaks to just how easy it is to find women being intelligent on Twitter (and off). Which makes Dash’s task seem sort of empty, even as it highlights its importance.