By Rachelle Cohen
On the 24th of March, I and other self-defining women from all over the country attended the NUS Women’s conference. Featuring a range of wonderful with a passion for activism, the event started out as a great experience. This was until what seemed like the whole of the internet was shaken by a tweet sent out by NUS Women’s’ Conference asking delegates to use ‘Jazz Hands’ instead of clapping for people who suffer Anxiety.
That evening the BBC wrote an article explaining this and what followed was a storm of tweets sent out, mocking the use of ‘jazz hands’ which then became one of the most popular topics trending on Twitter. This then caused a range of horrific tweets aimed at the people who attended women’s conference.
Trolls found social networking profiles, dating profiles and made pictures cruelly mocking the people there – making fun of the use of ‘jazz hands’ and disrespecting people’s needs. This was not only on Twitter, but news feeds on Facebook were becoming clogged up with people commenting on feminists apparently trying to ban clapping and making jokes over the delegates there affected by it. Over the 3 days the hatred became worse which led to the women’s conference hashtag being changed three times in a bid to avoid these comments.
The reason we decided not to clap was to ensure the inclusivity and the comfort of all delegates there, some who suffered anxiety found it difficult with the constant clapping that took place on the conference floor. ‘Jazz hands’ is actually the British sign language sign for clapping which is why it was used. The Women’s conference aims to be a safe space for all people who come to feel comfortable and enjoy their experience. This is how it should be everywhere.
What is frustrating is that all the amazing work that went on at the conference was overshadowed and not reported on as heavily. What should have been trending on Twitter was the policy passed which featured the inclusivity and representation of trans people both at university and at the conference; free education; free periods; greater support and government accountability against FGM; the decriminalisation of sex work; greater support for parents and carers and discussion on intersectionality.
This was my first women’s conference and it was an amazing experience, but it felt like people on the internet were waiting for an excuse to attack the conference, the people there and to condemn the idea of work towards women’s liberation.
In the 21st century this should not be the case yet it is something which is thriving. We shouldn’t be mocking people’s mental health needs, taking up a Twitter feed with sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic comments and making ignorant and offensive comments about the use of something as simple, yet as important, as jazz hands.
More than ever this highlighted the validity of what we are advocating. This is why we need a National Women’s Conference and people actively advocating women’s rights.
We don’t want to ban clapping, nor do we want to ban cake (according to certain comments made all feminists hate cake too). What I want is for people not to make offensive judgements on what they do not understand – ask questions instead, we welcome that!