Why I won’t post at Feminist Critics anymore

06Nov10

(This is even longer than my average post. I wish I could be conciser, but I want to do the whole arc of this thing justice.)

I swear with all my heart, there was a time when Feminist Critics was my favorite website in existence. And that time wasn’t very long ago. I was a college student, sympathetic to feminism but trying to figure out why the feminists I read often didn’t make any sense, and often resorted to what seemed like weirdly broad-based attacks. And — I won’t pretend this wasn’t a factor — most used language about “male privilege” that implied it was something that all males had, but a lot of the items they listed didn’t seem like things I experienced, nor like advantages. (At the time, I had become uncomfortable referring to myself as male, but I didn’t realize it was possible my gender had been wrongly assigned. I felt trapped by the inevitability of my supposed gender, and being made to feel guilty made it hurt more.)

So I went to FC, where they spent all their time criticizing things feminists did — how they sometimes used generalizations that were too broad, or claimed facts that weren’t true, or ignored the experiences of men. Which they sometimes did, that was clear. And since they seemed to be pointing to famous exemplars of online feminism in their posts, I began to think that what FC was criticizing was more or less all of feminism — especially when I read works by Hoff Sommers and Koertge/Patai that seemed to indict brick-and-mortar academic feminism of the same crimes. So, the comments regulars left bemoaning how terrible feminism was seemed like a reasonable description of the reality that FC had created for me.

After a while, I began to read more widely. Some of this was a factor of beginning transition — I found some good trans issues sites, and all the ones that described my experience were closely linked to feminism. Bloggers like Lisa Harney (I link her in every other post, but it’s never enough) talked about feminism in a grounded way that made sense to me. Some of it, ironically, was a factor of reading the short list of “reasonable” feminists trotted out from time to time at FC — the amazingly easygoing style of Sungold explained a number of feminist concepts that I had grotesquely misunderstood, in ways that didn’t conflict with reason.

So I gradually became a feminist — but I was still reading FC, and I had actually decided to post. Because I still thought that, sometimes, feminists said crazy shit; and now that I was actually a feminist I thought, those people aren’t helping the cause. After all, feminism is basically right, so why confuse people by saying the occasional wrong or overstated thing and attaching it to feminism? And I didn’t know any other place where I could just sort of drop by and moan about that and be taken seriously, but that seemed to be the case at FC. Some people there were clearly strident antifeminists who never put a good word in about all but a few polite friends, but some did claim to be feminists who simply did not like some aspects of the movement. Which is an accurate description of me, too.

But I hadn’t gotten into a broad-based argument about feminism there. In fact, I hadn’t really seen one break out; the place doesn’t get very many regular mainstream feminist commenters. In fact, when I did get into one, it was pretty much by accident. I criticized the terminology in a post by ballgame, essentially saying that “gynocentric feminist” was a very poor way to describe a feminist who never takes men’s experiences into account, as the term merely means they center women’s experiences — which, I suggested, was not always a bad thing. That last suggestion ultimately became the grounds for an extended discussion about whether it was legitimate for women to discuss men in an academic setting, and about a laundry list of sins that feminists had allegedly committed. The original terminology quibble got left in the dust, except by a couple of posters who didn’t seem to understand my objection, and I never got an answer from ballgame (although one was promised.)

That discussion, at one point, involved Jim — who, to be honest, is an extremely clever fellow with a history of excellent exchanges with me on subjects other than feminism — suggesting that women are “predators” who “colonize” men; and when I asked him what in the world he meant by that, he responded that “absolute control of [men] for the first 20 or so years of a person’s life might qualify as colonization.” No one criticized this comment. After a series of increasingly baffled attempts to come to terms with how an entire commentariat — some of whom identified themselves as feminist — could think that sort of thing was reasonable discourse as opposed to batshit crazy alternate-reality misogyny, and after being called upon to defend a whole bunch of aspects of feminism that I just hadn’t found to be all that prevalent, I decided to take a break from the place to sort out whether there was any point.

As I mentioned earlier, FC doesn’t have a whole lot of regulars defending the mainstream feminist position; many will pop in, decide they’re getting nowhere, and quickly leave. The closest regular to mainstream feminism is probably DaisyDeadhead; she says some strange stuff sometimes, though, and I can’t always follow her train of thought. Still, I thought it was sort of incredible that she got put on extremely strict moderation (the details of which are a bit confusing if you’re not a regular; but suffice it to say, it would be an uphill battle for her to get heard there.) The initial stated reason was for making a post that really was just confusing, but which ballgame somehow transmogrified into not being “here in good faith.” Daran later stated that this was not, in fact, the main reason, but that she was being banned for “inflammatory language, evasions, distortions, goalpost-shifting and victim-playing.” Which, to be honest, people on blogs use all the time. Hell, I had accused people of at least three of those things in the thread I had just participated in — in particular, the inflammatory language. Calling women as a class predators, besides being crazy, just isn’t very nice. Distortion was also a common theme, not to mention outright lies about things that had happened in the thread. And I had accused typhonblue of shifting the goalposts. Nobody really acknowledged any of those accusations.

And I was thinking about getting into the double standard in great detail, but I didn’t want to be perceived as backseat modding or as making attacks on people. So I tried to pull my punches, and just posted that I thought the way DDH was treated seemed strange to me, and that having a mainstream feminist on the moderating team, if it were possible, might make it easier to be even-handed. In short, I was actually trying to be charitable. The immediate responses I got were from regulars saying I should go into specifics about who else should be moderated out if Daisy was. But at that point I was really leaning towards not coming back anyway, and that was a lot of effort for me to put into a project that no longer had my support. And I didn’t want to be perceived as dictating to the mods how they should do their job — I was just trying to say, look, you’re doing this thing to a feminist that doesn’t make sense to me, and because of that I, one of your few feminist semi-regulars, am probably going away; and if you’re actually trying to reach feminists, shouldn’t you be concerned about that? (Another feminist had previously posted hir concerns upthread, but had done a somewhat confusing job of it.)

Eventually I heard from ballgame. Not about the terminology thing that hadn’t been addressed, nor about the ridiculous stuff I put up with upthread, or about my Daisy-related concerns. No, ballgame was concerned — I should rather say furious, and with full mod-gear on — about the fact that I had accused FC regulars of being “antifeminists.” For this was a most vile and profound slur:

The term “anti-feminist” is a prejudicial (and inaccurate) slur against feminist critics, Skyborne. While some people may embrace the term, to me it’s an unacceptable form of ad hom. Was Ned Lamont an “anti-Democrat”? Unless you know that a specific individual you’re referring to is comfortable with the label, “anti-feminist,” you should avoid using it. “Dissident feminist,” “feminist critic,” “egalitarian feminist,” “MRA” may be acceptable alternatives, depending on who you’re referring to. If you’re referring broadly to anyone who is critical of mainstream feminism, use “critics of feminism” or “feminist critics,” please.

Prejudicial! No, it’s an assertion about someone’s political position, one that may or may not be true. Ideally, it’s one that should be substantiated; and if I was still interested in commenting I would have done so there. Basically, the situation is that ballgame and Daran (the mods who were posting in that thread) both consider the vast majority of feminists to be not helping, and accuse them of various offenses. Ampersand elaborates in the thread in which ballgame originally propounded those accusations, and puts it much better than I could:

That said, I do think that anti-feminism refers to a real spectrum of views which should be named and criticized. As an anti-feminist, I can see why you’d prefer that your views not be named and criticized for what they are, but it’s not my obligation to assist you in that desire. The term is no more an insult than “Republican” or “conservative” is an insult. It just describes a particular constellation of political views; in your case, it describes someone who strongly dislikes mainstream feminism, devotes most of his (or her) energy regarding feminism to attacking and opposing mainstream feminism, and whose political position towards virtually all forms of feminism can be accurately summed up as “opposition.”

You really remind me of anti-gay activists who insist that the word “homophobia” should never be used because it’s an “insult,” or conservatives who think it’s unfair to use the word “racist” in debate, because the word poisons the well. By trying to make the word unacceptable in conversation, they are attempting to forclose reasonable consideration of whether or not their views are, in fact, homophobic or racist. Similarly, you’re trying to forclose discussion of whether or not your views amount to anti-feminism. I don’t think that’s reasonable of you, and not discussing anti-feminism so that anti-feminists can feel more comfortable or avoid criticism of their views, isn’t what I want to do.

ETA: Finally, by your own terms, isn’t using the term “feminist” on “Feminist Critics” comments — where the overwhelming majority of comment-writers have only contempt and disdain for feminism — a form of “poisoning the well”?

“(And once again, FTR, I’m no more “anti-feminist” than the folks who pushed for Ned Lamont were “anti-Democrat” … and your strawman reinterpretation of my terminology can hardly be called ‘respectful.’)”

The leaders of the Lamont movement were longtime Democrats who had real records of supporting and defending the views of the Democratic party, even though they were opposing then-Democrat Lieberman. And when the real election came about, they were actively supporting the Democrat (who was by that time Lamont).

In other words, they had earned respect as Democrats by working as, with, and for Democrats. You, in contrast, are overwhelmingly against mainstream feminism in your posts (although you’re usually polite about it, which I admire), while you link to an anti-feminist (Robert at Glennsacks.com) with praise (you did critique some stats he got wrong, but you avoided criticizing his anti-feminism in any way). This is behavior that more describes a smart, respectful anti-feminist than it describes a feminist.

Nor do I think my reinterpretation of your terminology has been a strawman. You’ve gone again and again away from any usual definition of “egalitarian” to mean someone who sees the sexes as equal and deserving equal treatment, and have instead argued that it means that I’ve “vilified” someone — I think in context it’s clear you meant you and/or Daran — personally, and that makes me not egalitarian. I don’t think that criticizing what you actually wrote qualifies as attacking a strawman.

So, basically, Feminist Critics is to feminism what the Connecticut for Lieberman party is to the Democratic party. I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked that, stumbling out of that faction, I now find myself in a much larger tent.

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2 Responses to “Why I won’t post at Feminist Critics anymore”

  1. Hi Skyborne,

    I’m one of the bloggers at FC, though my posting and reading is rather sporadic. I’m catching up on that thread, and hopefully I’ll be able to let you know what I think when I do. For now, I’ll just say that even if you prove to have irreconciliable differences of opinion with some of our posters and bloggers, it would make me sad if such differences prevented you from enjoying whatever you had been enjoying about the blog.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Hugh.

    The problems I had with Feminist Critics only stemmed in part from differences of opinion, although they certainly existed. The more direct cause of my exit was an irreconcilable disagreement about what constitutes productive discourse. According to ballgame (with mod-hat on), calling women as a group “predators” is okay, but referring to so-called “dissident feminists” as antifeminist is considered a “slur.” I don’t believe this constitutes a level playing field. I grant your point, though, that it’s harder to deal with a tilted field when just about everyone else is on the other team.

    I recall that you authored this post, in which you stated:

    I do not consider self-identified “dissident” feminists to be a sub-type of “feminist.” […] the “feminist” in “dissident feminist” means something quite different from “feminist” unmodified. Dissident feminists aren’t a different wing of the feminist movement like radical feminists are; they are a different movement. “

    It seems to me that your terminology is, logically, much closer to mine than to ballgame’s. If “dissident feminists” are dissenting from outside of feminism, and if the people they’re dissenting against are feminists, doesn’t that logically make them antifeminist?


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