In Defense of Naming Names

I read littlelight regularly.  I also read a lot of people who read her and say “Did you see this thing littlelight wrote?  You must go read it.”  So, I have the impression of littlelight being a Big Blog.  I think this has to to do, also, in part with littlelight’s experience being so different than mine.  Every time I read her I learn something new or am challenged to think about what I do know in a new way.

On the other hand, I read Daisy regularly and I learn a lot from her, but my impression of her, as a reader, is of someone I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with, snapping beans or shucking corn.  I don’t perceive her as a big blog.  And yet, I’ve seen lists that rank her in the top ten of big feminist blogs.

I mention this for two reasons.  One is because, if I hadn’t seen littlelight’s post today, I would have never known about Mandy Van Deven and Brittany Shoot’s post about the feminist blogosphere.  I’m not saying this to mean that my experience is definitive.  But my point is that no one person’s experience of the feminist blogosphere is definitive (or, in this case, even two people’s).  Because, for one, we’re not talking about a mutually agreed-upon set of blogs.  My feminist blogosphere, even the blogs in it that I assume to be widely known to be “Big Blogs,” are going to be different than other people’s.  I don’t, for instance, read Feministe or Feministing unless I see that someone has said something about something happening there, because I feel like the audience for those blogs is younger and hipper than me.  I rarely read Pandagon because I feel ambivalent, to put it mildly, about how stuff over there plays and has played out and whether my role as reader makes me complicit in it.  I do read Shakesville, though I find that to be a more “nodding in agreement” place than a “whoa, yeah, I didn’t see that” place.  I love Shapely Prose, because I feel like that’s a community of people who are also struggling with what it means to be in a body like this at a time like this.

But are those the big blogs under discussion?  I don’t know.  Are there others that are bigger?

If you don’t give people concrete examples of who you think is doing something uncool or problematic, how can we check for ourselves to see if we agree?  How can the people who are being critiqued answer those criticisms if they don’t know they are the ones being talked about?  If the blogosphere works through linking and engaging, how can that happen if we not only don’t link or engage, we don’t even name?

Van Deven and Shoot say

The prevention of small business growth is also present. If a blog replicates this corporate structure or becomes co-opted into the mainstream network, it can grow and compete with the bigwigs. But if a blog continues to simply work on its own, it tends to remain stagnant. In the blogging hierarchy, the system doesn’t allow for egalitarianism because of the competition for revenue. The big blogs will only let the smaller ones get so big, because they don’t want them getting as big as they are and pulling away their own sources of income.

And yet, they say nothing about what this mechanism is by which the big blogs only let the smaller ones get so big.  And don’t get me wrong, I am as aware as the next person of the behind-the-scenes emailing and such, but it seems to me that, at most, all the bloggers who don’t want people to read you can do is not link to you.  And all that means is that the people who read them will not hear about you from them.  Okay, well, that kind of sucks, but they don’t have all the readers there are, right?

Amber Rhea says

I’m sick of the constant policing of each other (which I refuse to partake in, but I’m talking about what I see others doing), of who gets to speak and who doesn’t, the hierarchy of who’s the most oppressed; yes, the Oppression Olympics.

I agree (and wonder if that will surprise her).  And I ask, [using what Amber Rhea says as a starting point, how is what Van Deven and Shoot not problematic?*] How is talking about people you won’t name (though clearly everyone participating in the discussion has some good guesses about who you mean) not about who gets to speak and who doesn’t?  Because, frankly, once you’ve said “This blog, which I won’t name, is doing all these things wrong in ways that colonize space (re: oppresses people) and we need to discuss it,” how can the person you’re talking about defend herself?  You always have plausibile deniability.  So everyone can, say, know you mean Pandagon but you never have to admit to Marcotte that you mean her.

What good comes of that?

Again, I return, again, to what I always say, which is a.) one point of feminism is that we are all supposed to be figuring out how to be the boss of ourselves, each individually, and running around trying to figure out when and how it’s okay for you to monitor other women’s behavior to make sure they’re doing it right does not serve that end.  You do not get to dictate what other women do.  If they do stuff you don’t like, fight with them openly.  Name them. Try to change their minds.  But address them.  and b.) one of the ways that women are fucked up by the patriarchy is that we are taught that our power comes through our ability to manipulate, to not be active actors, but to move behind the scenes to get our way without having to be clear about what we’re doing and thus open to confrontation.  I feel, though, of course you are free not to, that we have to learn how to fight publicly with each other.  Not naming names, claiming we’re just talking theoretically, not addressing our critics, not responding genuinely to criticism–all of that, and everybody does it, it seems to me, is manipulative.  And I don’t see how it serves a feminist purpose.

And it’s not like I’m free of those impulses.  I’m only human and I, too, was raised in this world and am colored by it.  And I have done every single thing here that I think we should struggle not to do.

But I still think it’s important to struggle against the impulse to police the behavior of other women and to manipulate them into doing what we want.  It’s just now how we should treat each other.


*I added the part in brackets for clarity because I wanted it to be clear that I was agreeing with Amber Rhea, not holding her up as another example of weird behavior.

17 thoughts on “In Defense of Naming Names

  1. If you are saying *I’m* not naming names, I find that hard to understand, since I link multiple posts in the post you cited here and another one I wrote the other day. The examples I’m talking about are clear. Yes, there are other examples as well, and no, I’m not going to link all of them – because let’s be honest, none of us have enough time to dig up links to every example of something we’ve ever seen. (And often times we can’t even if we try, because the blog has been deleted or put behind a password.) I have not linked to every example in the history of the feminist blogosphere that I’ve witnessed, but I’ve linked to the most recent examples, which is appropriate given that that’s what spurred my posts.

  2. On re-read (sorry, I’m multi-tasking at the moment and as such not reading closely) I see you might be talking about Van Deven and Shoot not naming names. If this is the case, I whole-heartedly agree – and this was one of my big problems w/ the article. It was too nebulous, too non-specific, too “oh we’ll just complain but won’t offer solutions or point to specific offenses.” I also already called them out on Octo’s thread for not linking any of the URLs in their ‘citations’ section.

  3. No, I’m saying that the discussion that Van Deven and Shoot seem to be trying to have is deliberately organized around not naming the names of the people they’re talking about.

    I am in complete agreement with you. And I see now that’s not clear. What I mean in that paragraph is “I agree with Amber Rhea and I think that, if you use that as a guide, you can see how what Van Deven and Shoot are doing is problematic.”

    I’ll go throw it in.

  4. Ha, okay. Good. I was like “No! Will we continue to talk past each other when I like reading her so much?!” But I’m still going to clarify it in the post.

  5. Heh, thanks… by now I really should know better than to comment on blogs when I’m doing five other things at the same time, but somehow I just can never stop myself.

  6. The problem is named: the way in which the feminist blogosphere functions is problematic. The methods by which the colonialism happens are detailed in both the post and the comments. This is not an individual finger-pointing exercise. It is a systemic analysis and critique.

  7. I think Renee’s take is brilliant. The only thing i would quibble about with her in the comments if I were to quibble is that I don’t think this kind of thing illustrates that no one listens to WOC bloggers. I think it illustrates the opposite–that people do listen to WOC bloggers and that makes other folks anxious and so they have to try to understand it in terms of colonization and resistance to colonization and theory, theory, theory.

    Believe me. I’ve been a white woman a long time and I know how we work. Once we’re standing around bickering that you’re not presenting your ideas correctly or submitting them in the right format or we’re talking about you behind your back but won’t name you or whatever, but especially once we try to move things out of the concrete and into the theoretical–how can WE understand this and thus act appropriately in any upcoming hypothetical situations–you can bet that what’s being done is having an effect and we’re uneasy about it.

    But, yet, I see Renee’s point, too, that it sure is experienced by women of color as being co-opted. I think it’s supposed to work that way. Women of color feel co-opted so they feel like they aren’t having an effect in the way they would like with the end result being, often, that they stop talking.

    White women’s discomfort solved!

    But they are having an effect or else white women wouldn’t have to be on the defensive.

    Mandy&Brittany, well, I stand by my critique. If you won’t name the systems you’re analyzing and critiquing, then you’re either being somewhat intellectually dishonest about your goals–like I said, it feels like policing other women in order to achieve a group consensus about proper behavior, but you don’t seem to want to own up to that, because you must see how, when framed like that, most feminists aren’t going to be that excited about it–or you don’t actually intend to foster real change.

    Both of those things seem like strange goals for feminists to have.

  8. I agree that it’s strange that they wouldn’t name anyone in particular. It’s like trying to hold a trial against an unnamed, unknown criminal; if you can’t even identify the criminal, how are you going to get to the heart of the crime?

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  11. Me, too. And I answered over there, though I’m not sure how coherent I was being. I just really feel like the problems are kind of two-fold, like i said over there–one is that how white people, and in this case white women, are trained to communicate, especially in academic circles, does include learning to just accept some bullshit as “how things happen.” To make a specific example, how many of us have been in a class and said something that everyone, even the professor, goes, “Oh, yeah, I didn’t see that before, but yeah, that’s totally what’s going on,” and then you discover that that’s become part of the “right” interpretation. People pass it off as accepted conventional wisdom in class and in papers and in the case of professors in books.

    And you, who had the idea, are supposed to see that uncredited addition to knowledge as just that an addition to knowledge. Isn’t that great? There’s more knowledge and you had a hand in making that happen. How awesome that you get to make knowledge!

    And I was, too, shocked to find, in the blogosphere when I first started, that people would get pissed off if you tried to pass their ideas off as conventional wisdom. And it shocked me and hurt my feelings to be called on it.

    But boy now am I glad to see that the ways I was taught to participate in knowledge-acquisition (for lack of a better phrase) were designed to have a vast pool of people who would see themselves as mere knowledge acquirers but who would, for some people, actually be anonymous knowledge generators, who would, in fact, create conventional wisdom, that can then be built off of by the named knowledge generators.

    And I certainly see how part of the problem Shoot and Van Devan were having is that they sensed that something is wrong with how the production and spread of knowledge sometimes works in the feminist blogosphere, but they wanted to talk about it using what they thought was the neutral language of academia, a language which is actually more dependent on fucked up relationships between knowledge acquisition and production.

    And that discussion, I believe, becomes even more necessary as people move out of the blogosphere and into books and magazines and other forms of media where it is still very accepted to assume that if, say, three people understand something that it’s conventional wisdom, because how will that not replicate that dynamic where a bunch of people normally viewed as knowledge-acquirers are actually being used as a free knowledge-production labor pool?

    I don’t have the answer to that, but I believe it’s an important question.

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  14. Wow, what a strange thing for [those two] to do. it seems pretty callow to call someone out on their blog behavior – to everyone else – but not allow them to see it. Also when I read their post, if it wasn’t for your explanation, I wouldn’t have any idea what they were talking about. And what is the point of dumping all that negativity on other folks anyway? Some power/control trip I guess.

    I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of van deven or shoot’s stuff, too elitist for me.

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