Jacobin published an excellent piece by Amber A’Lee Frost. I would love to discuss the piece, because it has a ton to say about empiricism and the left-wing and how we talk about research. But I can’t, because it’s been swallowed by yet another bullshit controversy.
In her piece, originally, the line “And I just don’t think the diminutive label of ‘bro’ should be to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats” included a link to a tweet by Sarah Kendzior in which Kendzior complained that a “bro” had sent her rape threats. Frost was arguing that, as a jokey diminutive, “bro” is not appropriate when discussing rape threats, because rape threats are so important. In other words, she was saying that rape threats are very, very serious business, which she would know, since as a woman she lives with the ambient threat of sexual violence. Kendzior complained, vociferously, about the link to her tweet. It was swiftly deleted, without argument. But Kendzior, and a growing Twitter mob, pressed on. Their charge: Frost was “mocking rape threats.” I find that, simply, a direct and unambiguous misrepresentation of Frost’s point. Frost was arguing to take rape threats more seriously, not less– the opposite of what she is accused of. You can read Kendzior’s side here. You can read Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig with contrary opinions here. Ultimately you’ll have to adjudicate that argument yourself.
The bigger question this controversy brings up is simple: which women deserve the protection of feminism?
Megan Kilpatrick, an editor at Jacobin, argued as I am that Kendzior has been misrepresenting Frost’s point. Because no woman with an opinion online goes unpunished, Kilpatrick was swiftly, crudely, and constantly attacked. See, because Kilpatrick is a woman, she is required by this style of “leftist” to have certain opinions, and since she violated that expectation, she has been and continues to be attacked, being accused of not caring about sexual violence against women. In these insults, arguments that Kilpatrick is a bad feminist go hand in hand with sexism against her. Take, for example, Sexism-Enabling Defender of Feminism Christopher Carbone, who claims that Kilpatrick is okay with Jacobin “endangering a woman’s life.” (!) Carbone then went on to mock Kilpatrick’s supposed lack of expertise, bragging that he has 14 years of experience as a journalist. In other words, a dude writer belittled a woman educator and writer because he’s such a big deal in big deal journalism, which is about as straightforward an act of mansplaining sexism as I can imagine. Carbone is far, far from alone, among these he-man male feminists mocking, degrading, and condescending to Frost and Kilpatrick. Because feminism.
Stoker pointed out that all this has the effect of forcing women into a box– Frost, and now Kilpatrick, are being told that they are bad feminists or, ludicrously, actually misogynists for failing to fall into immediate line with Kendzior. The message of this Twitter mob is that feminism means women are not free to form their own opinions, not about the right language to discuss rape and rape threats, not about the public nature of public tweets, not about how to honestly criticize others in a productive way. Feminism, to this Twitter mob, means that all women fall in line or are ostracized. As Stoker writes, “unorthodox views can, especially for women in left academic feminism, result in precisely that form of discipline: withdrawal of community, overwhelming assassination of character, a very sudden onslaught of negative feedback and demands for apology.” For pointing this out, of course, Stoker immediately became a target herself. A pro-life Catholic (though still a self-identified leftist), Stoker is an easy target, and they lined up to come after her. Apostasy has to be punished. I think Stoker is terribly wrong about abortion, and I’m no fan at all of the Catholic church. But to see her called a conservative, an anti-feminist, a misogynist… these insults are ridiculous and untrue, and palpably sexist, in their assumption that Stoker has an obligation as a woman to hold any particular point of view at all.
In the name of feminism, then, three women have for days had men lecturing to them about what it means to be a woman who fears sexual violence. I’ll let you marinate on that one for a bit.
So: does Frost not deserve the same protection, under the name of feminism, as Kendzior? Does Kilpatrick not deserve those rights? Does Stoker not deserve those rights? Why do the dictates of feminism not protect them from being lectured to by men?This argument resulted in the typical phenomenon of men telling other men to “shut up and listen” because Kendzior is a woman and is giving her opinion. Why do the women who disagree with Kendzior not receive the same benefit, I wonder? Why are the many men attacking them not themselves compelled to shut up and listen? Because this has nothing to do with feminism, and it has everything to do with teams. It has everything to do with the Great Twitter Outrage Game, which is waged for publicity, for social positioning, for digital strokes. That none of those things contributes one iota to a more just, less sexist, less violent world does not occur to the people involved.
That some women seem to lie outside of the protective sphere of feminism should be clear to anyone whose ever navigated the progressive blogosphere. Megan McArdle is the most glaring example. In liberal Democrat blogs and comments, it has been open season on McArdle for a long, long time. I have argued with Megan about a ton of things, for years, but the way people talk about her in these supposedly feminism-friendly environs turns my stomach. I have always cultivated a combative atmosphere in my comments section, out of the conviction that there is value in real, harsh debate. I allow comments about myself that are, well, not kind. But every time I write about McArdle’s work or she shows up in comments– every single time– I feel compelled to warn commenters that I will ban them if they say sexist stuff to or about her. I have to. I am forced to. There are others. Kathryn Jean Lopez, SE Cupp, Hanna Rosin, Michelle Goldberg, pretty much any woman who has ever written for Reason…. If I wrote out a list of my disagreement with these women, it would take hours to complete. But under the most basic principles of not only feminism but simple, human fair conduct, they deserve to be protected from attacks that border on sexism or step right into sexism, and six years of experience in arguing online tells me that they aren’t.
What this whole incident has revealed is that this is a cross-ideological phenomenon: whether Marxist or conservative or anything in-between, if you are a woman whose opinions do not jibe with those of the self-appointed owners of feminism, you have no right to expect to be shielded from sexism. Feminism no longer applies to you. If you think differently, they’ll sick the pathetic male “allies” like Christopher Carbone to mansplain at you for awhile.
Nothing happened to the benefit of women or to feminism, this weekend. None of this made the world a safer or more just place. Patriarchy was not attacked, in any way. Rather, a small group of vocal people put their own self-interest, and their interest in martyring themselves, ahead of principle and of practical political victory– which is what actually matters, in a world where reactionary power wins simply by doing nothing. And that is indicative of privilege, the privilege enjoyed by people who don’t care that they diminish our capacity to generate outrage when they blithely throw around terms like “the pro-rape left” to describe feminist women, who have so overused the term misogynist that people don’t take it seriously anymore, who have started controversies over such minor or nonexistent slights so many times that potential allies roll their eyes at us and stay away in droves. They have spent the finite capital of outrage and attention with no regard for the cost of that waste. Only the comfortable could care so little about actually winning that they sacrifice real political gain to self-aggrandize. Those who are not privileged require actual results, which means that they care, desperately, about political efficacy, the kind Frost was writing about, the kind we badly need to discuss.
Meanwhile, sexism rolls on, hurting women– Marxist women, conservative women, liberal women, libertarian women. If only the people who think they own feminism cared equally for all of them, and not just for those who tell them what they want to hear.