In the room the women come and go

Are they gone?


You have to understand. No way in hell would I send my writing to Feministing. No interest. I write a small niche blog that sees the same visitors every week: Cherry Hill, NJ; Chatham, ON; Helsinki, Finland. One reader checks in every morning at 6:15 and I wish I knew who she (I assume she) is, so I could say thanks and tell her to subscribe to updates by clicking on the “sign me up” thingy. I feel guilty when a couple of weeks go by without anything new — aaahhhh, she keeps checking! I need to get on it!

I’m not an arguer, though I admire the mad rhetorical skillz of many women on my blogroll. I’m uninterested in persuading anyone to adopt my point of view. (Everybody, h/t Nikka Costa, got their something). Most of my readers are part of a particular feminist crowd; others are into CrossFit/powerlifting or secondary-school pedagogy. Or maybe hairless cats.

But I do read Feministing occasionally, and last week they ran a piece that bothered me intellectually and viscerally. I wrote down my reaction (quickly, and without wearing any pants) and went to bed. I woke up to 3,000 hits because a friend had forwarded the piece to Feministing. Such is the nature of the Internet, yes?

I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote, but the piece was not addressed to or intended for the Feministing author. She’s a woman writing about what’s important to her. Fine. I took issue with what she wrote, though, and my critique was intended for a specific, seasoned feminist audience.

I am a Christian with a Jewish soul: I don’t proselytize.

The negative Feministing response didn’t shock me (nor did the number of lovely, supportive emails and new readers). What was interesting was the tone of many comments I got — as though the writers were about to detonate with self-righteous outrage. My own tone wasn’t gentle, of course, but the weight and force of all the YOU FUCKING MONSTER!s was a battle axe in response to a fencing foil. It was personal (“you’re just too fucking old to understand, but…”) smug and pseudo-academic (“You may not realize the problematic bigotry and horizontal violence of your response; you need to unpack your privilege” and condescending (“Your blog post gave us all a good laugh.”) I published the ones I thought moved the conversation forward; spammed some unread because the first line was abusive or profane. These writers were going to fucking bring me into line and, failing that, were going to try to hurt me as much as possible. I was wrong, so I deserved to be punished.

Internet incivility and aggressiveness is a thing, no matter what you’re into — I mean, Elizabethan historians and chemical engineers must get up each others’ asses online all the time — but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand until last week. I’ve got friends with unpopular opinions who receive actual death threats, and it’s eye-opening to experience the tiniest, slightest inkling-hint of how that feels.

I don’t mind people thinking my opinion is derp — go nuts! I work with teenagers, so I maintain equilibrium in the face of whiny fists-in-air — but I do mind that expressing it on my own blog got me swarmed with abusive thought-policing.

I’m allowed to have an unpopular opinion. I’m allowed to think, judge, question, complain, dissent, and write a pantsless manifesto without getting a visit from the Shame Stasi and being told I brought it on myself and deserve it. Is that a familiar trope? Have we heard it somewhere before?

I am a small fish. The “bring you into line” phenomenon is writ much larger online this week. It’s a first-world problem, yes, but I find it scary. I find it problematic.

7 thoughts on “In the room the women come and go

  1. Historians, heh. Been there, seen that, mopped the blood off the virtual walls afterward. Academic discussion groups online tend to be like Fight Club but the joke is always that the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so low.

    But Feminism: Ur Doin It Rong? The stakes aren’t low. It drives me batty (-ier) when people who are really on the same side cannibalise each other for not being in absolute perfect agreement on methods and outlook. This is not how we bring down the patriarchy, people.

  2. Phon, I love your blog. It is something I think about between readings. I look forward to your posts.

    There’s real value in disagreeing, too. It gives the reader two sides (actually more). Something to think about. Your post was in that spirit. But is the disagreement that is part of public discourse any longer possible? I think public discourse has been badly taken off course. In the style of Fox news In every arena I see it. The in-your-face personal attacks hurt the cause of discourse. Are these just trolls? I mean the ones who send obscenities. The thought police.

    I don’t think that the human race and life on this planet has much chance of surviving. No discourse and no problem solving seem possible. We are in deep trouble with the environment, climate change, the economy, and on and on. Misogyny is a key factor.

    Yet those who have headed in the general direction of dealing with misogyny cannot succeed with these kinds of attacks. Perhaps the personal attacks are a reflection of internalized misogyny, the misogynist mindset. What is feminist about these kinds of attacks? (nothing, from what I can tell). A particularly misogynist style has taken over the entire culture. In the U.S. particularly. It shuts people up is all. These are voices that need to be heard. But that’s the misogynist way.

  3. Wordwoman, thank you. That’s the best compliment there is, for a writer — that someone thinks about what you’ve written between readings.

    Public discourse is a disaster. I think calling it “trolling” is like when teenagers call systemic bullying “drama” — it’s code for something much bigger within a culture.

  4. Today I read “Obstacles to Female Friendship” from the feminist reprise library, here: It made me think about what happened in the previous post. About women and friendships. One thing is the therapisation of culture, especially in the US, but other places, too from what I hear. It seemed relevant to this discussion. A couple of quotes:

    “quote: Therapism is what elsewhere I have called “therapy as a way of life.”(6) The phenomenon of therapism, as it is manifested among women and in the women’s community, includes not only going into therapy and often staying there for years but making of one’s relationships with women in a therapeutic context. Therapism is an overvaluation of feeling. In a real sense, it is a tyranny of feelings where women have come to believe that what really counts in their life is their “psychology.” ”

    “Quote: One reason is the premium placed on the disclosure of self. The disclosure of self has become the territory of therapy. It is a particular kind of disclosure, however, that employs a mechanistic model of building, adjusting, and tinkering with the self as though it is some external object in need of repair. It is a brand of disclosure that confuses genuine self-revelation with the perpetual manifestation of intimate feelings. Refusal to tell all is regarded as repressiveness, as a denial of one’s inner self. And as a result, the women’s movement, like society at large, has fast become a therapeutic society where self-exposure ranks as one of the highest virtues. Women must show and tell all. Little about body or mind can be mysterious. Thus women engage in massive psychological strip-teases that fragment and exploit the inner life. ”

    In reading this article, I considered that what is currently called feminism (not radfem) is caught up in this overvaluing of feelings and exposure of self as a thing in itself. Perhaps that’s why the ad hominem attacks when challenged.

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