What A Male Journalist Learned When He Retweeted Only Women For A Day

The experiment yielded some enlightening results.

Ryan Teague Beckwith, a senior editor at Time's Washington D.C. bureau, engaged in an interesting experiment this past week in which he only retweeted women and ceased from sharing any of his own thoughts (or thoughts from other men) on Twitter. His experiment echoed a previous one by FogCreek CEO Anil Dash, whose 2013 New Year's resolution was to retweet only women.

The experiment lasted for an entire day, and shortly after its completion on November 22, Beckwith created a long Twitter thread detailing what he had learned. For the most part, Beckwith's learnings fell into two categories — what he was taught by amplifying only women's thoughts, and what he gleaned from spending his time listening.

Beckwith began the thread by noting that one of the critiques he received about his experiment was that it was a form of "virtue signaling" — the practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character. Though Beckwith deemed that critique "fair," he noted there were other critiques that were less justified.


For example, according to Beckwith, many found flaws within his experiment because they felt the simple act of retweeting only women is, in itself, sexist. As he put it, "I guess if you can show me that you retweet men and women equally all the time, I'll accept that."

Another flawed criticism many offered up was the idea that Beckwith engaged in this experiment to impress women in order to have sex with them. As Beckwith correctly stated, this damaging argument is "toxic" and part of the larger problem he was trying to address. "Making this argument shows you only think of women as sex objects," he said.

There were also those who claimed Beckwith's experiment was nothing but a "hollow gesture" and said simply amplifying women's voices was not enough. While Beckwith seemingly agreed with those critiques, he countered with facts, noting he "consistently" follows and retweets women on Twitter and has made a point of hiring a number of women throughout his career.  

As for what he learned by not being able to tweet out his own thoughts? By Beckwith's own admission, it seems that aspect of the experiment was actually more enlightening. He also noted it was "frustrating" and "hard" because if and when he wanted to make a point, the rules of the experiment dictated he had to wait for a woman to make the same point first so he could then retweet it.

As Beckwith soon realized, the constraints he put on himself in relation to this experiment are eerily similar to the limitations women are forced to operate under on a daily basis, especially in office environments. 

Though he admits this experiment had its flaws, Beckwith's choice to amplify women's voices helps women become a larger part of the conversation. As Melinda Gates argued in a recent essay, giving women a say will help combat the onslaught of sexual abuse and harassment and make the world a better place for all. "For most of history, women haven't had an equal say in the norms that shape a society, or an equal number of seats at the tables where decisions are made," she wrote. "We haven't had an equal chance to determine what kind of world we live in."

But that's in the process of changing, according to Gates. As she put it, "In 2017, we now expect something better than what has always been accepted."

Beckwith's decision to retweet only women echoes a similar amplification strategy used in the Obama White House, where, in an effort to ensure that women's ideas were heard and their contributions respected, staffers would repeat suggestions made by their female colleagues and attribute the suggestions to their original author. 

As Anil Dash observed in 2014,  "we spend so very much of our time on these social networks, and there's so much we can do to right the wrongs we've seen in other media, through simple, small actions." And those actions — whether online, in the classroom, in the boardroom, or in the White House — can have outsize effects.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Bevisphoto.


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