I know you’re on Twitter and YouTube, and you started the #TakeDownJulienBlanc online petition to stop RSD (Real Social Dynamics) pick-up artist seminars. Are you using any other online platforms? How have these online spaces helped or prevented you from getting your message out there?
I actually don’t really use YouTube. I only uploaded that video on there because Stories Beyond Borders asked me to do a video on the campaign, and I haven’t watched the video since I made it. It’d probably make me cringe. I think I made it at 11pm at night after doing a bunch of online organizing around the campaign and this was just another thing to check off my list. I was pretty tired and hadn’t even taken off my make up for the day. I was already in PJs and I put on a decent top, but I was in basketball shorts when I shot that video.
I don’t think I would have been able to pull off the campaign without Twitter…That other people picked up on the hashtag really moved it forward into the spotlight.
I currently use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I was also personally using Tumblr heavily when I was doing the campaign, which is how I first came across a video of him [Julien Blanc] in the first place. I was using Tumblr to reblog cute and funny things, but I also learned a lot about different social issues while on the platform. There are lots of diverse communities on there, and it’s a great resource.
I didn’t use Facebook or Instagram for the campaign; I mainly focused on Twitter to get in contact with people who wanted to help with the campaign. Through Twitter, we would converse and jot down notes and strategies for the campaign on different platforms. I don’t think I would have been able to pull off the campaign without Twitter; besides Change.org, that was the platform I relied on the most heavily. That other people picked up on the hashtag really moved it forward into the spotlight.
I only had so much time on my hands, so chose to spend it organizing and moving the campaign forward instead of reading petty hate mail from the other side.
Your YouTube videos about RSD received a lot of dislikes as well as some pretty awful comments. I assume you’ve had your fair share of trolls over on Twitter too. How do you deal with this kind of response? What motivates you to keep going?
I was reading them at first, and they popped up a lot on my Twitter mentions as well. At first I’d respond to the Twitter trolls by trolling them back, but after a while I just started blocking left and right. There was a lot of calling me an Asian cunt, fat, ugly, telling me I just wanted Blanc to sleep with me, etc. Some of them were so ridiculous it actually made me laugh. Oh noooo, an internet troll that defends RSD’s behaviors thinks that I’m a 3/10? I’m deemed unfuckable by a misogynist who thinks I deserve to be raped? Whatever shall I do with myself? It’s truly a loss on my part! I just rolled my eyes and moved on. There was a lot of positive feedback around the campaign and so many others were working to stop RSD and Blanc. I only had so much time on my hands, so chose to spend it organizing and moving the campaign forward instead of reading petty hate mail from the other side.
Above: an image put together by trolls about Jennifer Li.
Online, I can disconnect and disengage. But offline, especially when I’m not on the same side with friends and family, those conversations can be extremely draining.
You seem to focus your social media activity on sexism, racism and the intersection of the two. Is this an important part of who you are, how you see yourself, both offline and online? Are you as passionate offline as you are online? Do you discuss these issues with your friends and family as well?
Yes, and I think it kind of has to be, since I am a woman of color. Whether or not I want to acknowledge those parts of me, that’s how the world sees me, and that affects how it treats me. I’ve been catcalled on the street and had crappy things said to me at my workplaces based on my race and gender. It’s a part of my reality, and it’s become a more and more important part of who I am as time has gone by. I’m just as passionate about these issues in person, if not more so. The difference between engaging with conversations about race, class, gender, and sexuality online and in-person is that I can’t just block someone in-person. If I find myself engaged in a difficult conversation, it’s harder for me to pull away and realize that it’s affecting me negatively. Online, I can disconnect and disengage. But offline, especially when I’m not on the same side with friends and family, those conversations can be extremely draining. If someone doesn’t understand my perspective online, I can refer them to links that have already broken down the issue clearly. In person, I have to do a ton of emotional work where I have to explain myself, and my identity, over and over again. Having to defend why I exist to people who are close to me is a lot harder than talking to, or engaging with, strangers online.
How do you think digital technology / online communities have helped or hindered conversations or action relating to sexism and racism?
I think they’ve helped a lot. It allows people to share their personal experiences with people that don’t even know them. I’ve learned so much about fat-shaming, biphobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. (I didn’t even know those terms like 5 years ago!), through online communities. Even I don’t have as many differently-abled friends, I can still learn how to be a decent person because other folks have laid it all out online. And this allows me to do the work myself instead of emotionally draining friends who are trans, fat, etc and might not want to answer my list of questions. Lots of people have written out FAQs, articles, etc that offer a different perspective on race, gender, etc, and it allows people to think, “Hey, there’s someone else like me!” for the Black kid in a predominantly White neighborhood, or “Oh, I’ve never thought about race that way” to someone who doesn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement. The only way I can think of it hindering is that it also allows people to tunnel vision and only see the perspective they want to see, too. For example, I can choose to exclusively visit white supremacist sites and find communities that share those views. But that comes with any type of communication platform– the information is all out there, it’s just what you choose to engage in.
If I had known the campaign would become as big as it did, I would have definitely been more careful and anonymous.
You go by your real name, have YouTube videos of yourself – you are very open and very public. Was this a conscious decision from the start? If you could be more anonymous in your activism, would you want to be? Do you ever worry about being exposed to the world?
Oh, hell no. It was not a conscious decision. If I had known the campaign would become as big as it did, I would have definitely been more careful and anonymous. But once I was public, I couldn’t undo it, so I just had to run with it. I’m glad that most of the news coverage and media has focused on Blanc and not me– by the time CNN was talking about it, I think my name wasn’t even associated with the campaign anymore. Folks have heard of Blanc, but have not necessarily heard of me (and I like it that way. The campaign wasn’t about me in the first place). I was so scared that RSD, with their money and resources, would hire someone to doxx me and mess up my life somehow. I was just someone doing this on her free time. But the group that usually does that kind of stuff, Anon, was on my side in this fight, so I did feel a bit reassured. And Jake Adelstein, who I met through the campaign, told me that sometimes having your name out there is a form of protection, which made me feel better. I can now call him a friend, and he was a reporter publicly going after the Yakuza– he has much bigger balls than I do!
Above: a screen capture of one of Jennifer’s early tweets in the campaign.
I don’t think we can have offline organizing without online activism at this point– they are a compliment to each other and it makes any campaign or movement that much more effective and powerful.
Do you think online activism translates into offline change?
I used to be skeptical about online activism, but I’ve done a 180 on that view since the campaign. This was something that was started completely online, and had a lot of real work consequences– him being cancelled and being barred from 8 countries, and the soft influence that came with this campaign– now people will think of him when they think of pick-up artists, and hopefully the guys he otherwise would have lured in will give pick-up a second thought. Online activism goes side by side with offline activism now– think Black Lives Matter, for instance. That was a hashtag movement at first as well, but it’s become so much more than that. There have been in-person protests, on-the-ground organizing, and real life consequences as well. Police body cams were something that used to be on a wishlist, but now it’s being implemented in certain cities. I don’t think we can have offline organizing without online activism at this point– they are a compliment to each other and it makes any campaign or movement that much more effective and powerful.
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