After a decade of web-based patriarchy blaming, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: it is pretty inadvisable to make arguments, oppressionally speaking, that do not take into account the viewpoints of every possible marginalized group, particularly those groups of which one is not personally a member and the specialized interests of which one therefore has no direct knowledge. Of.
Of course there’s no way around that, so welcome to the personal attacks, rushes to judgment, tone-policing, out-of-context misquotations, sanctimonious castigations, and full-on misconstrutions of Internet Feminism. They will give you fits.
The phenomenon to which I allude — lately all the white ladies are talking about it — is attributable not to the usual anti-feminist dudebros, but to the Mean Girls of Feminism Eating Their Own. This describes every internet feminist at one time or another. It’s been done to me and I’ve certainly done it myself. It’s kind of horrible, on accounta it’s painful, but then again, no pain no gain, right?
The lively, free, and sarcastic exchange of ideas is a beloved cornerstone of the internet. Opposing viewpoints exposing legitimate beefs within the cutthroat world of Internet Feminism should always be expressed colorfully, and with wisecracks. Still, it can be argued that one ought to distinguish between justifiable anger and knee-jerk abuse; cannibalism not a literary style. It should not be confused with argumentation.
But let’s back up.
It all starts with the hurt feelings. If you are, as I am, merely a human internet feminist, rather than an omniscient deity of infinite scope and virtue, chances are the nuances and niceties of the Wide, Wild World of Oppression occasionally escape you, and from time to time you unwittingly commit, out of either naiveté or sloppiness, a privilege-based stupidity foul. Hell, I’m probably doing it right now! As I mentioned, failure to grasp every possible sociological subtlety from the point of view of every imaginable oppressed party can — and will — result in dispiriting beatdowns. Your intent is irrelevant. Such is internet feminism culture in its current form.
And what a curious form it is. With its demands that members conform to strict regulations, subject themselves to incessant policing, and submit to discipline and humiliation, much of internet feminism culture looks a lot like — lard helpis — BDSM. This is disturbing but unsurprising. Given that no revolutionary political movement can exist outside of the very oppressive hegemony it seeks to destroy, a system of domination and submission precisely mirroring that of broader society necessarily obtains within internet feminism as well. Spawned by oppression culture, “feminist infighting” is, at its best, justifiable anger run slightly amok. At its worst it’s a sadistic mob indulging in an abuse fetish, slaking the bloodlust of the hive.
Many a spinster aunt finds that this hive stuff can paralyze the lobe, ravage the viscera, or chunk’er into a feminism-funk. For example, its prevalence is why — for the sake of my own delicate stomach lining — I keep disappearing on hiatus. It’s fairly depressing when your own tribe pillories you for unintended privilege infractions, or worse, when they inform you you’re not even in the tribe. In many respects it’s even worse than the “I hope you die in a rape fire” dude-threats. There’s a sense of betrayal and violation engendered by these smackdowns, and it takes a toll. You make some dumbass privilegey gaffe and suddenly you’re Public FemEnemy No. 1; women you had hoped were united with you against patriarchal tyranny turn out to have their own problems (indeed, you are one of those problems), and are now gnawing on your rotting carcass.
I know, right? White tears! But wait, before you kick me out of feminism again, I’m not suggesting that so-called “white feminists” — a designation that often appears as shorthand for “racist transphobic egomaniacal yuppie white bitches who think it’s all about them” — get a free pass. Au contraire; the whole point of all this Internetian discourse is to smash oppression culture, so it’s in everybody’s interest to use their hurt feelings as a privilege clue and quit being part of the problem. Writers of privilege who give a shit about enbiggening their worldview (those who don’t give a shit should not be considered feminists) have a responsibility to examine with an open mind criticism — even sarcastic criticism — dispensed by the differently-privileged. Yet even among those who assiduously self-monitor, obliviousness will occur, so a good old-fashioned privilege-check can definitely be all to the good. To wit (anecdote alert):
Recently I received an illuminating nudge that was strangely free of hostile scolding. A reader calmly pointed out that in a recent post — about ultra-privileged Jerry Seinfeld’s diversity tone-deafness — I had omitted to mention that, as a Jew, Seinfeld, though fabulously wealthy, is also a member of an oppressed minority. Such an intersectional detail should of course be pertinent when discussing privilege in the US. The reader described my omission as belonging to the “erasing Jewishness” genre, which turns out to be a Thing about the existence of which I had been previously oblivious.
Well, it was so weird not to be chastised, pilloried, and kicked out of feminism over this lack of insight, I practically plotzed (but stopped myself before committing a cultural appropriation). Weirdlier, even though the nudge had been civil, I was no less chagrined than if it had been hostile. This chagrin was my cue to implement my standing policy, which states: whenever a concerned reader says “watch out, you’re erasing someone’s Jewishness” I should ask myself, “hey, what is ‘erasing Jewishness’, and did I in fact do it?” Whereupon I stop, Google, and grok. Once I’ve acquired a grasp of the concept, and determine that the answer is “yes,” I cop to it. Jewishness acknowledged; worldview enbiggened; patriarchy blaming lumbers forth into its uncertain future.
Over the years, the spinster weltanschauung has been similarly enbiggened with regard to countless other issues large and small, including racism, trans politics, fat acceptance, disability, mental illness, vaginismus, blow jobs, motherhood, and discrimination against the ginger-haired. The thing is, the enbiggening took place regardless of the tone of the call-out. In the old days I would get pissy and make churlish retorts (the archive is full of’em), but it gradually dawned on me that ceding power to my bruised ego merely sealed my fate as an unenlightened chump. The key, I discovered much later, is not to get huffy and defensive, or to sit back and passively demand to be educated by the aggrieved party, but to get up offa that thang. Sure, when they tell you your head is up your ass you’re gonna sulk for a minute because you’re human, but then you’re gonna get up offa that thang, because you’re a feminist.
Remember, folks: your hurt feelings are the result of privilege. They’re giving you the opportunity to go out and entruthen yourself. Don’t waste it.
One of my long-standing beefs is with dudes who love to lecture me that I will never win them over to the feminist cause as long as I keep copping a tude. My response is twofold. 1) fuck you dude, and 2) the moral indefensibility of sexism exists independently of my or anybody else’s demeanor; oppression isn’t any less wrong if the oppressed aren’t ass-kissers. And besides, winning dudes over has never been, to my mind, the objective of feminism. Appeasement will never liberate women from patriarchal oppression. What’s that old bumper sticker? “Well-behaved women seldom make history”?
Privilege-checking and a deep understanding of intersectionality are vital to modern feminism. In fact, they are prerequisites to the ever-elusive solidarity. I strenuously aver that no movement can evolve without a strong influx of ideology from vocal radicals. So maybe yelling “I hate you” at feminists from different backgrounds isn’t the most expedient of all possible solidaritous exercises, but until all the assorted privilege-weilding gets addressed, I don’t see how anyone can reasonably expect members of marginalized groups to “lighten up.” Is there a fine line between schooling and scorching? Sure, but I’ll say it again: either you’re against oppression or you’re not. A civil tone is more pleasant, but (excepting abuse for abuse’s sake; see “mob fetish,” above) not necessarily more effective.
You know, not everyone who reads a feminist blog is interested in enbiggening her worldview. Apparently there exists a sizable cohort of consumers of Internet Feminism who are content to complain that disturbing shit like this
reinforces impossible femininity standards, and then call it a day.
Not to give the impression that casting a jaundiced eye upon damaging femininity propaganda is without value. I sure hope it isn’t, anyway, or I’ve wasted a shitload of time over the past 10 years. Jaundiced-eye-casting is the one of the spécialités de la maison here at Spinster HQ.
Fortunately, for them that wants it, feminism offers more than the opportunity to rip on Photoshopped pix of sexagenarian Christie Brinkley posing as a sexy tween, more than the “toxic Twitter wars.” Here’s hoping that sincere seekers of truth will choose to stay and fight on through the distracting twitterclysms of hate, and that cooler heads will continue to calmly nudge toward enlightenment those who thirst for knowledge, compassion, liberation, and a decent margarita.
Seriously, I’m thirsty. Where’s the bar?