Follow More Women
About a year ago I spent a great deal of time soul-searching. I came away with several action items, one of which was “diversify my input feed.” I made several changes. Some changes were about time spent on social media; other changes were about the quality of news I read. One of them was to follow more women than men on Twitter.
Let’s talk about how I did this, why I wanted to, and what happened.
The first thing I did was unfollow hella dudes. Mostly these were men who I don’t remember following and never posted, or people who I was following merely out of politeness’ sake, or because they were “industry luminaries” and had a reputation for being smart (which was rarely the case, I found).
The next thing I did was go through my follow list and find women whose opinions I respected or I thought were funny. Then I looked at the women that they retweeted and followed them without worrying too deeply about what they would post (or not). I figured that I could always unfollow later if their posts were distasteful or annoying or useless.
(Spoiler: I have unfollowed exactly zero of these women.)
My goal was to reach a ratio of 60/30/10 of Women/Dudes/Brands in my feed. I don’t mean this ratio applied to my “follow list”, which is a useless method, but instead to apply to the “posts I was seeing”.
(I managed to hit this ratio, but it’s actually more like 60/30/5/5 Women/Dudes/Brands/Dogs.)
Why did I want to do this? It’s based on a thing I tell all my students: Listen to music you don’t like or know.
Are you a metal head? Give Taylor Swift a spin. Listen to R&B? Try some Johnny Cash. Love country? Try some Godspeed you! Black Emperor!. Get out of your comfort zone. Hear tones you’re not used to. Listen to someone else’s story.
If you stay in one place mentally you will lay down roots. This will make you inflexible and slow. You will have fewer tools. So always seek out things you don’t know anything about and do what you can to experience them.
A lot of my life’s biggest changes have started from small changes like that. I am a big believer in will-to-power. About 30 years ago, I was a dumb teenager and depressed about something stupid, and I remember saying, “I want to change stuff but I don’t know how.” My friend Mike said, “Dude, just change your brand of cigarettes. Switch from Marlboro to Winston for a while. If you don’t like it, switch back.” I did this, and it worked: the small alteration in my routine had a larger butterfly effect.
(Man, can you believe I used to smoke cigarettes? What a world.)
When faced with a daunting task, small accomplishments lend vigor to your motivation and encourage you to do even more. A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a step, that sort of thing.
Want to expand your mind? Start with something manageable. Listen to music you aren’t familiar with. Change the layout of the furniture in your apartment. Change your brand of shampoo. Something. Make a change.
Making small changes makes leveraging larger changes easier.
I wanted to change my perspective. It was inadequate. I needed to see different points of view. I made a change.
So what happened?
First, I feel smarter. I know more today than I did a year ago.
I feel that I am better informed generally, but specifically about my industry and hobbies and their politics. A large part of this has to do with the way that men and women share knowledge.
Dude programmers and designers (including myself – I am not an innocent) share knowledge like this: “Check out this thing I wrote about $TOPIC.” Women programmers and designers share knowledge like this: “I learned a bunch of stuff about $TOPIC and I think you may find this useful.”
There’s an implication in this: Men are seeking recognition; women are seeking knowledge transfer (sadly, this this is often worded in a way that seeks permission to enact knowledge transfer). It’s a fascinating distinction.
Further: dudes, as a whole, do NOT hold nuanced opinions. I count myself in this group. I am very much a “this is the line” type of person, very black-and-white, especially when it comes to issues of justice. When you hear nothing but black-and-white opinions, your opinions tend to be black-and-white. That’s sub-optimal.
I dropped some really awful dude journalists (<cough>Glenn Greenwald</cough>) and for each one of them I followed two female journalists. I tried to skew towards more conservative journalists when possible to counteract my natural bias. I feel that this gives me a more informed, smarter opinion about politics. It definitely keeps me thinking.
Second, I’m happier. Oh man, I’m so much happier these days. A huge part of that is that Female Twitter (ugh, I hate these terms) is generally more supportive.
Let me rephrase. Not “generally more supportive”; I mean “absolutely more supportive”.
The small encouragements I get make me feel good. Even seeing someone give encouragement to someone else makes me feel good. This causes me to want to encourage others to feel good as well. It’s a virtuous cycle; the same cycle I banked heavily on when I designed the “thanks” system for Wikipedia.
A real-life side-effect that this has had in my life is that I respond to people’s posts on Facebook and Twitter with way more likes/favorites/smiles/prides/whatevers. I didn’t use to do that; now I do. I like spreading encouragement.
Another way that I am smarter is due to less raw anger in my feed. There’s less entitlement. Less shouting. There’s not always less “outrage”; there’s still plenty of that. But the outrage is tempered. More thoughtful.
Third, I think I’m funnier. Dudes, lemme tellya, women are funnier than we are. They just are.
The funny women I follow challenge my own comedy. They make me work harder for my laughs and, interestingly, they make me want to improve the calibre of my audience. It’s great.
Fourth, I’m calmer. I feel much more in control of my emotions and my responses to them.
Part of this has again to do with having less I AM STRAIGHT MAIL TESTOSTRNE GAH in my ear all day. Part of this is because women tend to talk with a more emotional language, which helps me to identify my own emotions. Being able to identify your emotions helps you get control over them.
The biggest part, though, is the presence of more nuanced opinions. Hardline outrage feeds itself, getting louder with each cycle. That’s unnerving and it fills the mind with itself. While I am a Creature of Rage, constantly being filled with Rage is a less useful tool than one would think. Rage requires a single-mindedness that is defeated by nuance.
Fifth, I have more empathy. I understand more people better.
There’s another benefit of following people who are different from you. Say you find an account run by a woman of color. About half of what she posts is interesting or related to your industry but the other half is personal shit, stuff you won’t care about, make-up and hair tips? Follow her anyway and you’ll level up your Empathy score.
You’ll pick up a lot of ambient awareness about different parts of our culture. You will learn some glory and some heartbreak from this ambient awareness. For example, I will never, ever have the problems with my hair that black women do. I just won’t. Learning about relaxer and the costs involved in hair weaves seems like something trivial – until you understand it, and then you see it as anything but trivial. Knowing these types of things makes you smarter because you see more of the game board.
I don’t think I could have done this on Facebook, by the way. Twitter allows you to be a passive observer; Facebook invites interaction. Interaction is good! I love interaction. But on Facebook, the echo chambers are too loud. I cannot easily engage in conversation with my conservative friends on either my wall or theirs. This is because there are always the Asshole Donnies. You know the ones I’m talking about, too: they exist only to inject a special brand of stifling idiocy into conversations by calling folk “cuck” or “fascist”. The ones you want to shout “shut the fuck up” at.
So here’s my lesson to you, my young apprentice: Follow more women.