Fun with Feminism No Longer Fun

As an experiment, I’m giving up the feminist blogosphere.

Not feminism, of course.  I’m not stupid.

Just the feminist blogosphere.  For a while.  To see what it’s like.

See, here’s the thing.  I’m not a great mover and shaker.  Not in the feminist blogosphere.  Not in the world.  But what I do, the little I do, can sometimes be grueling and heartbreaking.  And what I need from my fellow feminists is not much, really.  I just need to be able to read what they write, as strangers on the internet, and take it at face value.

That to me, would be and is very refreshing–to assume that what I’m reading is whole in and of itself and that a person’s thoughts and motivations are as transparent as they can be.  (It’s the reason I am half-convinced that Renegade Evolution is doing some of the most important feminist work on the internet, modeling a kind of transparency you don’t often see in women.)

I like to be challenged; I appreciate the opportunity to learn from others; and I understand I’m going to read some shit that will piss me off.

But I appreciate feeling like we’re practicing ways of interacting with each other that are different than the shitty ways women normally interact with each other.

And it is a practice.  It’s something we have to continually be mindful of and repeat in a mindful way in order to get better at it.

So, I’m over at Mag’s, following her links, and I stumble aross this at Theriomorph’s.  (I assume Chris is Chris Clarke.)  Chris says:

Most likely if someone outside their peer group had proposed the idea, some of them would be leveling these very same criticisms. But this comes out of a mailing list of a couple dozen feminist bloggers that sprang up around the Full Frontal Feminism book, and closed ranks and offered each other comforting shoulder rubs during the criticism of Marcotte’s book cover, and it’s them against the world. [Emphasis mine]

I keep waiting for someone to say something about that, but no one has.  Maybe no one else thinks there’s something wrong with this.  Maybe there isn’t.  But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s not the existence of a mailing list, per se–maybe it’s not just a couple dozen feminist bloggers, maybe it’s a couple dozen internet friends who share a common cause in feminism (which is a distinction I’m willing to believe is important)–it’s that there’s the real possibility that it could be a couple dozen feminist bloggers who are organizing to accomplish certain goals within the larger community without disclosing to the larger community that that’s what they’re up to.

This is supposed to be an egalitarian movement.  We don’t live in an egalitarian world, so I accept that people are going to have to consolidate power in order to accomplish things.  But hording our tiny scraps of power and influence in secret?

How is that any different than what’s going on in the world now?

How are we going to make change in the world if we don’t strive to be different than the dominant pardigm?

And I’m sorry, but I already live in a a world full of women talking about folks behind their backs and making decisions about who’s in the cool crowd and who’s not solely through back channels, where the person up for discussion doesn’t even know she’s up for discussion, let alone given the chance to defend herself.

Shoot, why don’t we just settle the men in the living room with their beers and a football game while we all go into the kitchen and cook, clean, and gossip about the women who aren’t there and take refuge in the moments we have to admit to ourselves and each other how much we hate our lives, while the women who are trapped in the kitchen with us, who don’t agree with us, but don’t want to be rude, look on in horror?  You know, what the non-feminists do.

Since there appears to be no difference between us and them anyway.

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22 thoughts on “Fun with Feminism No Longer Fun

  1. I’ve had very limited experience in feminist institution-building, but what little I’ve had mirrors this. A lot of people forget that the method is the theory and the process is the result.

  2. You will have to forgive me, I’m feeling all out of sorts today due to the mob scene I got as soon as I entered my office doors which has left me angry and instantly tired.
    With that said, I’m with Samantha here. I want to have “Fun with Feminism” but in the long run, I just want to be treated equal. I want the equal pay, I want the equal flexibility and I want to be allowed be angry and instantly tired and it be alright and not be judged that because I feel this way it’s a “woman” thing. And, the sad part of it is that I’m behind a closed door feeling this way.
    Yeah. Ain’t it great?
    B., you wrote this:

    And I’m sorry, but I already live in a a world full of women talking about folks behind their backs and making decisions about who’s in the cool crowd and who’s not solely through back channels, where the person up for discussion doesn’t even know she’s up for discussion, let alone given the chance to defend herself.

    Yes.

  3. I know what you mean, B. Feministing has long been off my list as having too low a signal-to-noise ratio, and Amanda Marcotte may well be there as of my reading today.

    Sometimes you just need a break from the noise so you can think straight, and the loss of any signal is worth it.

  4. Comment in haste, repent at leisure. Possibly including this one.

    In the light of day my comment at Tmorph’s may be incorrect — i certainly got the timing wrong — and at best far oversimplifies a situation that involves wonderful people doing good work from diverse points of view.

    The important thing — and your main point here, which remains valid despite my stupid comment having prompted it — is the cliques, not the means by which the cliques communicate.

  5. Hmm. You know, I hear you. About all of this.

    I’m fine with people getting support and friendship and collegiality in whatever ways they want, whether that’s an email list or whatever. The real issue for me is when extremely privileged feminists close ranks against criticism – when they get held accountable for pretensions of speaking for many more people than they actually do and respond with defensiveness and dishonesty.

    No one said a book about consent shouldn’t be written (or few did, anyway). Many said the ‘framing’ (to use that ghastly word) of this one was offensive and trite and misleading and potentially harmful to the majority of the world’s rape survivors who never got the chance to say no or yes, and reflected much larger, serious problems within feminism as a movement (or variety of movements, or completely DISunified series of movements made even more fragmented by language and attitudes like those reflected in the call for submissions).

    There’s all kinds of hifalutin language about why I have a problem with this kind of country club feminism prioritizing the experience of the very privileged and making global claims for it (intersectionality of oppressions, social justice frameworks requiring integrated approaches, etc. etc.), and bottom line: it’s because it’s dishonest, bigoted, and hypocritical.

    For a long time, I felt like the work I saw at Feministing was more good than not; a forum for young feminists working out ideas with lots of energy and support. A cool youth project that occasionally got a bit irritating to me with the gender role-conforming bubble gum and lip gloss giggly ‘woo hoo!’ party-girl bits, but was overall doing some really good awareness raising.

    For a short time, I bought into the idea that something other than vicious pretension was happening at P’gon, and thought my pernicious sense of hypocrisy, bullying, cliquishness, high school lunch room behavior, and dishonesty was unfair, or at least irrelevant to the larger substance of the blog (the book cover thread cured that and I came to the conclusion that what I sensed under the surface all along was entirely right, and in fact does poison and make suspect – for me – everything happening and not happening there).

    In the last year or so, though, watching the ways people have reacted to criticism (including the ‘communities’ of each blog), and seeing consistently divisive attitudes and complete unwillingness to listen to anyone who does not advance the status of the blogger in question, I’ve begun to feel like the destructiveness outweighs any possible good.

    I find my best feminist support and community in the offline activism and work I do, in online communities not necessarily formally defined by feminism (or if they are, not in a mass-market and marketING spin focus geared to make the blogger a quasi-celebrity in some small internetty way or via insta-book deals or TV), and in one officially feminist online group where there is still plenty of conflicting perspective but an overall commitment to community rather than advancement of one particular blogger or group of bloggers, making the status question largely irrelevant.

    Frankly, I think most of the people who blog feminism would be friggin’ useless in the ER with a woman getting a rape kit done, or mopping the shelter floor, or cleaning up baby puke while taking a hotline call, or finding housing for a family of seven escaping an abusive husband when their monthly income is less than one pair of (giggle giggle) Blahnik’s costs.

    Not all, though. So I look for the bloggers whom I would want to have with me in the real world work as much as in the theory and verbiage online. Both capacities matter. Both together are what I value the most.

    So this (looong comment) leads me to wonder if we are not, in part, experiencing a curve-moment in the role of the internet in social justice work.

    I think part of what we’re seeing is that people *are* starting to be able to generate real income streams from blogging (book deals, ads, etc.), and while in some ways I’m all for it, it creates ethical problems where there weren’t as many when people weren’t fighting for their rent and personal status.

    I sometimes feel like it’s as simple as looking at the next level of corruption via buy-in to the master’s tools and favors.

    I want to see feminists making money from blogging, from books, and having professional success.

    I want those feminists who can have that privilege *use* their privilege to advance social justice, not solely themselves.

    And that’s what I’m not seeing in the high profile blogs right now.

  6. No need to apologize. I appreciate the comments that make me think and I’ve been thinking about your comments all night.

    I think we’re at a point–or maybe we’re always at this point and just not aware of it–where we have to decide if what we’re preaching is really something that can be practiced.

    The thing that makes me both mad and sad about this whole situation is that it seems like a lot of bad behavior that women engage in is rearing its ugly head.

    We’re trained to be petty, vindictive, secretive, and manipulative and we’re trained to view that as some kind of powerful.

    I don’t know what real women’s liberation will look like. I don’t know what it will mean to be free and equal and truly powerful. I’m too trapped in my own circumstances–my desire to inflict pain on my enemies, my fucked-up-ness from my own oppression, and my privilege-induced myopia–to say for sure what something unaffected by those things might fully be like. But I feel like we have to be wary of ways of interacting with each other that hew too close to ways we’ve historically been sidetracked and turned on each other.

    And a lot of folks, especially those with book deals, aren’t being wary enough of that, I don’t think.

    And, yeah, too, what Newscoma is hinting at. I don’t live in a “rape culture.” I live in a “women-and-men-believe-that-men-forcing-their-will-on-women-as-sanctioned-by-society-is-normal-and-ok culture.” In my neck of the woods, women who leave their abusers are told by their ministers that they are sinning. They’re told to return to their husbands and to try harder to make them happy.

    Other people and places might be ahead of that, but we’re still working on “women are autonomous human beings.” Still working on getting families food, healthcare, and access to basic education. Still working on this idea that nobody has the right to beat the shit out of anyone else.

    I respect that other people are able to work on other things, but, yeah, let’s use what privilege we have to advance social justice. I want to see feminism, in practice, being about advancing social justice.

    And not just that; I want to see women practicing new ways of interacting.

    But I’m tired, so I’m probably babbling.

  7. If you’re babbling, my brain is too – makes perfect sense to me.
    …we’re still working on “women are autonomous human beings.” Seriously. And the internalized modes of interaction seem pretty toxic and self evident to me too.

  8. I’m fine with people getting support and friendship and collegiality in whatever ways they want, whether that’s an email list or whatever. The real issue for me is when extremely privileged feminists close ranks against criticism – when they get held accountable for pretensions of speaking for many more people than they actually do and respond with defensiveness and dishonesty.

    That’s pretty much my thing. I’m all for e-mail lists and vent-spaces and whatnot. I think it’s healthy to have bits of the world (or the internet) that aren’t open for everyone to look at you while you work things out. Whether that’s a blog that only a few people read, or an e-mail list with just your friends, or a password protected forum… if you need a place to talk through some things that might not make sense, or might get you yelled at, or might not be as enlightened as they should be… that’s great. Privacy is good for that.

    Where it gets sticky is the ‘closing ranks’ part. Where it goes beyond “hey, I’ve got this commentor going off on me, can you see what’s up?” and into “I don’t like this person, let’s make their online life hell!” It’s kind of a fine line to walk, because what looks like support from one end (particularly when there are a lot of understood factors and conversations that have been had a hundred times, like with clueless 101 questions) can feel like piling on and unfairness from the other. In each of the concrete cases I can think of it’s fairly obvious to sort, but… I can’t think of an abstract bright line that divides them.

    That said, I loved your bit about not living in a rape culture. Although I agree with the theory surrounding it, I think the name is a bit misleading. We live in a culture of grievous and multiple power imbalances, deep and terrible wounds between groups, and fucked up institutions that perpetuate oppression daily. We live in a culture that ranks us, that sets us against each other for the scraps tossed carelessly under the table.

    That culture contributes to the indifference and privilege lambasted in the book proposal, yes… but also to the repeated racist hierarchies set up by the very people trying to fight it. It sets up systems where calling the police can be worse than whatever drove you to have to call them in the first place. It lets companies do whatever the fuck they want to people who don’t have the power to do anything about it. Rape is a byproduct of that system, a tool of that system, an endless bleeding wound borne by the losers in all of these battles. But it’s not the only wound, nor the root of the pain… it’s bound up in all of these structures and institutions and oppressions.

    Narrowness of focus can be a good, useful, wonderful thing… but only if it’s acknowledged as being narrow. Sure, quantum physics in aggregate can ‘explain’ a sore throat (these things vibrated into that thing which made this bigger thing, triggering that reaction, which popped this other thing, which sent that signal, which registered as this sensation… all of which was done by little, vibrating things which may or may not be in this place or that place or this time or that time)… but it doesn’t fix it, it doesn’t really let us understand it, and it certainly isn’t appropriately labeled the cause of anything. Nor either the key.

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  10. Mag, I think you’re right on. And the other thing I think, that we don’t do a good job of talking about is how rape is bound up in masculinity, not just in terms of men feeling free to do what they like to those who cannot stop them, but in terms of messages men send each other.

    Men rape because they can.

    Which means, when you’re laying there next to the woman you love and you grab her arm tenderly in a way that reminds her of the man who grabbed her arm viciously, you, as a man, get the message that you are weak, that you couldn’t fulfill your role as a man and protect the woman you love.

    It means that, when you’re walking down the street and you see your neighbor, whose husband was killed three years ago by your enemy and she’s six months pregnant with your enemy’s child, it’s a way of reminding you that you’re helpless to defend your country.

    It means that, when you find out that your Church knew your priest or minister molests children, and yet he was assigned to you anyway, it’s a way of showing you that the Church isn’t accountable to mere mortals.

    Or when the molestation of boys by women is treated like it’s not that damaging, you learn that real help isn’t coming.

    I think we have to remember that rape is an act of terrorism. It happens to a specific person, but it’s meant to send a whole bunch of different messages to a lot of different people.

    That’s part of what makes it so complicated. We, as feminists obviously are against rape because of its effects on women (and men). We’re also against rape because women are not notepads upon which men might write their messages to other men.

    We want to be recognized as people to whom a terrible act has happened.

    But it seems to me that, if you understand that there’s some part of rape that’s about men sending messages to each other, some inexplicable things become clear.

    Why aren’t women on teenage boy assaults taken as seriously as man on teenage girl assaults? Because men recognize that the woman isn’t trying to (or doesn’t have enough status in society to) send any message to men in general. It’s “just” about the act and not about the message.

    And (here’s my working theory anyway), why is it so hard for women to get men to take date rape seriously? Because, for the most part, the act doesn’t seem to be a message to other men. Raping a woman you have leave to be with doesn’t prove anything to other men about what a bad-ass you are.

    And… and… and… see, if we understand this in terms of current constructs of masculinity, we can understand easily why so many men, in general, want to deny how big a problem rape can be. Because men, right now, are trained to respond to shows of aggression with aggression. If someone is violently violating boundaries you, as a “real man” should be defending, you have an obligation to respond in kind.

    And yet, how many men are actually looking to have to fight someone? So, when they hear about these things, their choice is to either receive the message–in which case, they either have to admit that they’re not real men capable of policing the boundaries they’re supposed to be policing, or they have to respond with more and bigger violence–or to pretend they didn’t understand the message (and who’d want to admit they were too stupid to understand what’s plain as day?) or to insist that the message was never delivered.

    This is, to a great extent, why I don’t believe there’s much more women can do that we’re not already doing to end rape. We live in a sexist world where the things that happen to us often don’t have to do with us and, often, rape isn’t about the victim but about the person who couldn’t protect the victim, who is, usually, male.

    Men have to take care of this. They are the majority of rapists and they are part of the intended audience for the rape.

    And, clearly, I don’t think this is the only strand of explanation for things–like I said, it’s a complex issue–, but I believe it’s an often overlooked one

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  12. “But it seems to me that, if you understand that there’s some part of rape that’s about men sending messages to each other, some inexplicable things become clear.”

    Well that’s a lot in a few words, and I think you have expressed something crucial.

    “And (here’s my working theory anyway), why is it so hard for women to get men to take date rape seriously? Because, for the most part, the act doesn’t seem to be a message to other men. Raping a woman you have leave to be with doesn’t prove anything to other men about what a bad-ass you are.”

    I don’t agree with this part though — from what I’ve seen a lot of date rape is precisely about men sending messages to each other. “I’m a ‘real man’, so I took this, see how manful that makes me?”

  13. I’m meandering on your blog again. I missed the various book-related threads when they first came out until this recent call-for-submissions. I’ve only been slowly catching up. The more I catch up, the more shocked and horrified I get. Yikes.

    If someone were to make a book out of a collection of the beautiful and thought-provoking conversations that have come out of the call-for-submissions, I’d pay money for it.

  14. If someone were to make a book out of a collection of the beautiful and thought-provoking conversations that have come out of the call-for-submissions, I’d pay money for it.

    Me, too, Helen. Big time. Like this:

    That culture contributes to the indifference and privilege lambasted in the book proposal, yes… but also to the repeated racist hierarchies set up by the very people trying to fight it. It sets up systems where calling the police can be worse than whatever drove you to have to call them in the first place. It lets companies do whatever the fuck they want to people who don’t have the power to do anything about it. Rape is a byproduct of that system, a tool of that system, an endless bleeding wound borne by the losers in all of these battles. But it’s not the only wound, nor the root of the pain… it’s bound up in all of these structures and institutions and oppressions.

    and

    I think we have to remember that rape is an act of terrorism. It happens to a specific person, but it’s meant to send a whole bunch of different messages to a lot of different people.

    That’s part of what makes it so complicated. We, as feminists obviously are against rape because of its effects on women (and men). We’re also against rape because women are not notepads upon which men might write their messages to other men.

    The conversations and minds I’ve encountered in response to this have been astonishingly smart and important and good. In the midst of feeling so pissed off about the whole thing, I’ve also been feeling really awed and blessed by the words people have written.

    I want to read *that* book.

  15. I don’t agree with this part though — from what I’ve seen a lot of date rape is precisely about men sending messages to each other. “I’m a ‘real man’, so I took this, see how manful that makes me?”

    Oh, Helen! Wow. See, this is a reason I appreciate the impulse to have an edited collection on this topic. I’m mulling this over, looking in depth at what I assume are the issues related to the “rape as a message between men” small portion of the whole vast discussion we as a world need to have about rape and it’s like Helen comes along and says, “Um, have you forgotten that your cube has six sides, not four?”

    So, yeah, I’m thinking that most men, who are not date rapists, are uncomfortable with or have a hard time taking date rape seriously because they assume there’s no message a date rapist could be sending other than “I have access to this woman,” which, because he dates her, is a given.

    But, duh, of course that doesn’t mean that the rapist isn’t sending a message. And doesn’t this exactly feed into the problem?

    The date rapist assumes he’s exactly like other men and that his message to other men is clear. Their silence is therefore seen as tacit support.

    Non-rapist men think that date rapists are nothing like them, so they’re for sure not looking to reinforce the idea that what the date rapist is doing, so, even if they recognize his method of communication, they’re apt to ignore it.

    And so (keeping in mind that I’ve been drinking), you have a situation where the good guys think that their silence is sending a strong message of condemnation, where as it’s not being read that way, I don’t think.

    And again, I just want to reiterate that, when talking about this, I’m just refocusing onto some small particular for the sake of trying to get some clarity about that one part and I don’t want to lose sight of the larger picture.

    But, hell yes, I also feel really blessed by this conversation.

    To my way of thinking, aside from the initial and ongoing hostility in some quarters, this has gone exactly as well as an online conversation can go. It’s been sprawling. I’ve discovered new people. I’ve learned shit I didn’t know. And I’ve had stuff to turn over in ways that feel productive and enlightening.

    This, to me, is an instance of real pleasure (difficult pleasure, for sure, but deep) in being a part of the feminist blogosphere.

  16. I want to have this blown up and hung on my wall:

    Ya want to build ya lay ya bricks. No matta wha else. Ya lay ya bricks . Ya can talk anyting feel any way, have all kind of excuses, but if ya na have ya bricks lay, bridge na build. – Mommy Blackamzon

  17. You know what? I’m not having fun anymore either with some of the blogs on my rss reader, so they are now gone. In their place I’ve added the blogs that have given me the most feminist fun lately.

    Those happen to be WOC blogs. I’ve been reading up a storm trying to pull my head out of my pasty white ass in celebration of the new year. And you know what? It’s FUN. Huge happy joyous fun. I started because I realized I was having some Not Getting It issues, and because simply letting that lie was not the right thing to do. And I stumbled upon a wider, more beautiful world, just as I did when I decided to learn what white feminism was about, or what any number of other things were about.

    I love the internet. Maybe I’ll try to marry it, like you did with Dr. Pepper.

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