The language of women on Twitter

Twitter is revolutionising the status quo of the dominant sex in the world. (Reuters)

Twitter is revolutionising the status quo of the dominant sex in the world. (Reuters)

I’m going to throw a name at you that you’re probably going to think has no place in a piece about something even vaguely feminist, let alone a publication such as this one. It’s probably going to bring a furrow to your brow. And after you see it, you’re probably not going to want to read further, but please do.

Katy Perry. 

Katy Perry tops the list of the 100 most followed people on Twitter with more than 55.5-million followers — men, women, young, old, teens, girls boys, you name it — more than 55-million of them. This is probably not fascinating information on its own.  

But the point is that she is influential. And in this day and age, where social media platforms are a sort of parallel digital existence of our lives played out in real time, she is not influential just on Twitter. Those numbers translate. Katy Perry is influential in the world, directly, to more than 55.5-million people. 

More interesting still, of the top 30 most followed people on Twitter, 17 are women. 

In fact, there are five women in the top 10 alone, with influential men on Twitter only taking up three positions — the rest are held by handles belonging to companies such as Instagram or Youtube. 

Twitter is revolutionising the status quo of the dominant sex in the world. History and social norms have not so much taught, but bestowed on, us the fact that anyone who is important or top 10 worthy in terms of influence is always going to be a man. 

Not so anymore. Not here at least, on this digital extension of life — not on Twitter. Did you notice before? I certainly didn’t. A friend brought it to my attention and when she did, it stood out. Not in a sore thumb kind of way, but more in a “look at this amazing flag being raised without any unnecessary pomp and ceremony because it’s just so cool it doesn’t even need bells and whistles” kind of way.

Feminine power

So what’s the big deal? Who cares how many Twitter followers Katy Perry has, or Ellen Degeneres for that matter? Why is that influential? It doesn’t have to be. But a quick scroll through their feeds proves at least one thing, these women are using their power in different ways and mostly, it’s in a way that’s so subliminal, we’re not even aware that it’s happening — until we are — like now. 

It’s in the way they talk to their followers. Sometimes they’re a friend, sometimes a do-gooder, sometimes they’re playful, sometimes they’re inspirational — and none of this is new, or even particularly powerful, but the language is. And that is powerful.

Language is a passive thing in many ways. We use it without even thinking about where it comes from. We, as woman, are completely oblivious to the fact, some of the time, that a lot of what we say, turns of phrases and the ways in which we use them have been dictated by men through years of patriarchal societal rule and the roles they established. 

Even to this day, women get asked the types of questions men don’t, such as: “How do you do your job when you have kids?”

All steeped in stereotype and archaic roles, determined by men, and communicated in a language — or word choice — prescribed by men. We’re slowly becoming more aware of it, and now we as women are less inclined to find fame and fortune because of who’s wives or mothers we are. 

But still, the language exists, and it persists. It is just there, it is just language being used. 

And just like this, in this same unintentional way, something new is brewing and bubbling under. Influential women are dictating their own terms of communication without even knowing it. Without perhaps the audience even knowing it. Just like it happened with how we use language that is patriarchal in nature, so it’s happening now, on Twitter – A new world, a new order and a new language.

Katy Perry is communicating to her audience in a new compact language, a language that’s conducive not only to Twitter, but to the digital age, a language that wasn’t used before.

Carving a new language

It’s not a predetermined language. It’s made of emojis and videos and Instagrams. I

It’s free of maleness and yes, even when she does use words – those are free of maleness or even sex too.

She has in her following what she refers to as KatyKats, the same way Lady Gaga has her Monsters. Neither of them have a sex assigned to them. There is space for masculinity, femininity and everything in between. More than that, these influencers are exercising this language on all colours and creeds, at the same time. Breaking free not only of the patriarchal use of language, but also patriarchal responses – in many ways, it’s gender free engagement.

I know that the pertinent “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question prevails. That is: Are these women carving the language for themselves? Or is it just that the language is being carved regardless and they are using it more independently?

Could be either, could be both, and it’s definitely dynamic in that sense. But the fact remains, this language is falling freely and being used freely. It’s fluid in a sense. It’s not tied to anything that’s predetermined and it’s of their choosing.

Yes, this kind of communication is so common on the platform in question that it’s just accepted as the norm. We, and perhaps they are not even privy to the way in which they’re using it. This gender-free, pronoun-free use of language engages, involves and equalises. And it’s not only true for the women in their audiences, the women who are influenced by them, but the men too.

It’s not a militant, come down to our level language, or a forceful we’re up on your level kind of language. It’s not insistent. It’s not argumentative. It’s a fluid transition to the next step.

On Twitter, women rule but even so, all their followers are equal. Willingly – because they are being communicate to in a certain way. It’s sort of just happening independently, yet, if one stands back and reflects on it a bit, it is interesting for women.

It’s a digital movement, on screen, in real time - shift. And perhaps, if this can happen on what is an extension of daily life in digital, perhaps it can happen in real life too?

Collectively, the top five influential women on Twitter share an audience of approximately 217-million followers. That’s a massive portion of people who are all participating in the same conversation, at the same time, in a language that’s not determined by men and has not been used that way before – albeit subliminally.

And it is certainly more people than any Tom, Dick or Harry could fit into a town hall filled by more Toms, Dicks and Harrys in days gone by.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is the social media accounts director at Ogilvy PR. She was previously the deputy digital news editor and social media editor at the Mail & Guardian. Haji has an honours degree in journalism from the University of Stellenbosch and continues to write columns for the M&G. Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee

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