There’s this fun thing we’ve been talking about for months and years and decades now, and despite continued conversations and critiques of this behaviour, it rages on… We call it trashing or tearing down or sometimes we call it a witch hunt. And it seems particularly popular in feminist circles. It’s not only a successful way to silence women, but the behaviour is sure to go unchallenged by the masses. (Misogyny never goes out of style!)
If you’ve been the focus of said trashing, you’re likely familiar with the ways in which others readily and willfully misrepresent your words, thoughts, arguments, and life in order to silence you and beat you (virtually, verbally, metaphorically) into submission. An odd preoccupation for the “feminist” movement, to be sure.
Feminist blogger, Glosswitch wrote a post about some of these issues recently, after a tweet of hers was twisted around into an excuse to intimidate and bully her, because, SURPRISE! It’s the internet and it’s de rigeur to hate women on the internet. (The internet isn’t very original).
I do hope you’ll read the post in its entirety (no skimming) because, while I will quote her liberally here, I’m not sure I will quite do her arguments justice.
Glosswitch gets at a lot of key issues at play regarding the toxicity that exists in online feminism, but what it comes down to, it seems, is woman-hating:
Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.
Beyoncé brought the words of Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to the masses in her track, ***Flawless, and I think those words are apt: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls ‘You can have ambition, but not too much’.”
Indeed, women are supposed to take up as little space as possible — girls learn not to speak up in the classroom, we learn to literally shrink ourselves, physically, by dieting and fetishizing thinness, we are forced to take up as little space as possible on public transit and, more generally, in public spaces (we are even warned to stay out of public places, lest we be assaulted). We’re not supposed to speak up, stand out, say what we really think, or be proud of our accomplishments or success — in fact, we aren’t supposed to be successful and, if we are, we should feel as though we don’t deserve it and know we will be punished for it either way. To be lady-like is to speak without certainty or to not speak at all. So I can’t help but wonder why it’s become acceptable, among certain feminist circles, to tell one another to shut the fuck up or to focus our efforts on silencing other women.
Glosswitch points to a trend in certain feminist circles that’s bothered me for some time. It seems as though we are expected to divulge every single horrific trauma we’ve experienced, every personal moment of oppression or abuse, every single problem/illness/addiction/struggle we might have faced or currently be facing, publicly and via bullhorn, before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice. Without this outpouring of every-single-horror it is assumed we’ve experienced nothing but diamonds and champagne. Do I need to tattoo “working-class” on my forehead in order to avoid being called “rich” or “classist?” Because I don’t want to. Women shouldn’t have to tell the entire world every gory detail of their stories in order to have a voice. Many women are not in a position to do this, even if they wanted to. (Consider that many abused women, for example, fear for their lives and, as a result, could never speak publicly about their experiences.) Glosswitch points out that, when we don’t engage in this practice, we are seen as deserving of abuse and assumed to have had the privilege of avoiding experiences that few women been lucky enough to avoid. Do we truly believe every woman should divulge her struggles with addiction, poverty, mental illness, or assault in order to be able to speak? Or her history as an abused or prostituted woman? Placing this demand on women by devaluing their voices and experiences should they choose not to divulge, is unacceptable.
I think, again, this is related to misogyny and visibility and to the idea of women such as me, who don’t succumb to the pressure to create a tragic narrative out of their own twitter bio, as shameless interlopers who deserve a kicking.
She notices, as I have, the way certain feminists have used this routine as a way to privilege their voices and position themselves as “better” or more deserving of a platform than other feminists:
I think a skim through the twitter bios of a number of white feminists who consider themselves “more aware” than so-called media feminists makes the continuation of this misogynist impulse glaringly obvious. I don’t list my depression, my mental health history, my sexual history, my precise attitude towards gender, my family background in my bio. But I could. I know the lingo I’d use. It would make me more than “just” a woman, but that’s why I don’t do it. Being a woman who defines herself by her actions and words should be enough.
In reality, this is silencing. And it’s also misogynist. To silence and shame and vilify other women in order to move your career forward or to build a platform is not a particularly feminist behaviour. Neither is telling a woman she has no right to speak. Neither is bullying and harassing women who do dare to speak. Throwing women under the bus in order to shield yourself from misogyny or to get cookies is cowardly. And believe me, treating other feminists as though they should be perfect people (said “perfect” behaviour is decided by a few, mind you) will only make you fearful, as you will become too scared to say anything of consequence, lest someone treat you in the same way you have behaved towards others. Women don’t need to feel more ashamed or more afraid to speak up than they already do. They don’t need to be told to shut the fuck up. That internalized monologue already exists within us and we fight it every day.
Glosswitch points out that this particular form of woman-hating is often represented as educational, as an exercise in “privilege-checking”:
We don’t allow [feminists] mistakes. We are grossly, rampantly misogynist about them but this form of misogyny is supposed to be corrective, humiliating the privilege out of them.
She points out that there is a long tradition of punishing women who get out of line and who refuse to go along with the status quo and notes that this punishment is reserved for women, not men:
It’s feminists who have the nerve to put honesty before radical posturing who are unsettling. Those who genuinely claim space, which is then written off as “privilege” (because what is a woman doing there?). Such women might actually make a difference. So into the bridle they go.
The “bridle” she refers to is a contraption used centuries ago to punish women deemed “rude,” “riotous,” or “troublesome” — attributes that are commonly and historically ascribed to feminists.
There’s an air of superiority from those who busily seek to ruin and silence other feminists: “We’re doing it right; she’s doing it wrong.” By pointing our fingers elsewhere we keep ourselves safe from attack. It seems pretty clear, though, which white feminists are using valuable ideas like intersectionality to advance their own careers and gain popularity, without an ounce of interest in movements towards ending oppression and with little understanding of structural inequality.
As a white feminist, I would say it is easier – much, much easier – to play along with this. You get to enjoy the privilege of being white and appear superior to the “mere” white feminists who just don’t “get it”. There’s an absurdly careerist edge to this. If you view feminism not as a movement for social change, but as the route to a media career you’ve got to admit it’s a competitive arena. Using other people to play at being the best white intersectional feminist has been seen by some as a gap in the market. Donning the metaphorical tin hat to shout down “bad” peers is a USP. When you boil it down, such “feminists” are arch capitalists, seeking to commodify not just feminism but the exclusion and lived experience of others. It is emotionally manipulative and disgracefully self-serving, but it doesn’t involve laying yourself on the line. You get to be a privileged white woman without looking like one.
Rather than working against privilege, though, this tearing down and this vilification of other-feminists-not-you! reinforces it, Glosswitch argues:
It is easy but morally untenable, insofar as it uses ideas of intersecting oppressions, not to offer context and understanding, but to reinforce privilege by the back door and to silence dissent. I think of it as a form of privilege laundering. I think it is an example of white people exploiting the narratives of women of colour and it sucks.
Attacking women in order to get cookies is a pretty low form of feminism. There are few who will challenge the sport of misogyny. I see feminists throwing women under the bus in order to ally with more powerful liberal white men all too often, under the guise of “intersectionality” and I wonder if they see how deeply misguided they are in their imagined work towards liberation. (Allying with men who work to silence and slander women? You’re doing it wrong.) But maybe it’s not about female liberation after all… maybe it’s just about the cookies…
But now I am on the other side of that imaginary, exploitative privilege line, I see other benefits to approaching feminism not as liberation, but as a self-interested cookie hunt. I didn’t appreciate at the time how much I shielded myself from misogyny by putting the “bad” white feminists out in front.
It’s just too easy. We all know, full well, that we will receive endless support if we hate on feminists. “Virulent hatred of feminists? We got you.” – The internet. It doesn’t make you brave, it makes you boring.
Let me be clear (not that I think my words won’t be ignored and manipulated as they so often are, despite how clear I am) and say that I am not discouraging critique and difficult conversations. But shaming, silencing, manipulation, defamation and vilification, combined with faux-progressive white-lady (of course the white bros love to do this too, don’t forget) posturing, does not encourage either critique or conversation.
I can’t imagine this summary quite articulates the arguments Glosswitch puts forth, but her righteous anger towards many of the “Twitter feminists” who pat themselves on the backs for being “better” than whomever is Twitter’s current punching bag, felt justified. “How dare you have a platform!” it says, “How dare you speak with confidence.” “How dare you speak about your life and your experiences.” “You clearly haven’t learned how to properly perform femininity and you will be punished.”
None of you have the right to tell me what my own words mean, to tell me what my thoughts are, to reconstruct my words and reality without my consent. None of you have the right to damage my mental health, make me doubt my capacity to think, to make me feel unable to trust anyone because of the whispering and distortion that follows. None of you have the right to do this just because I’m a feminist and, if flawed, nonetheless a bloody good one too. None of you has the right to expect perfection from me. None of you have the right to place the scold’s bridle on me, to shame and silence me because I don’t fit in with your hackneyed, conservative misreading of revolution.
In our desperation, we’re looking to escape misogyny by participating in it. We all know that trashing feminists will get you far, but know how transparent and destructive this behaviour is. Know that attacking other women is really about your privilege as it works to protect you from the wrath of a culture that abhors and punishes women who step out of line.
Glosswitch coined the term “misogofeminists” to describe “women (and allies) whose primary form of feminist activism is trashing other women.” And along those lines I’d like to point out what should be obvious, but seems not to be these days: if your “activism” consists primarily of witch hunts and concerted, vicious efforts to silence women, you are doing misogyny, not feminism.