So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

26 June, 2007

A Funny Thing, Perspective

So when I was in my early twenties, and still quite callow when dealing with politics, I came across, in a newsgroup I read, a particular cluster of people. They were my first reasonably direct exposure to people who self-identified as feminists in a vocal way, as opposed to the subtexts of feminist thought that I had been raised with or encountered, distantly, on news reports or editorials pages.

I don't remember what order the cascade of revelations of position was, entirely, so this is all a bit jumbled and haphazard in my memory.

Early on was the argument about whether men could be feminists. Which, even in my anxiousness about the word at the time, seemed to me to be the stupidest damn thing I had ever heard; I don't hold opinions with my genitalia, and I don't see why my genitalia would qualify me to be identified as someone with a particular set of opinions. This caused some in-depth friction, including with a transman friend of mine who had been raised to be a good feminist girl by a mother who was of the "only women can be feminists" flavor, and who thus took his trans-ness as a particularly vicious betrayal. Again if I'm remembering right, he was told, by this crowd, that he could be a feminist if he wanted, because he had the relevant experience as someone with girly bits to qualify; he said, more or less, "Fuck that noise."

I think it was at about the same time that some members of that crew put forward the proposition that agreement with the statement "Men are pigs" was a significant criterion in evaluating whether someone was a worthwhile person. Something to the effect of, "The only appropriate response from a man is, 'I know we are, I've met us'" was stated, while simultaneously the usage of the phrase as a litmus test was denied. This position was agreed with, to my incredulity, by one of the male posters to the group.

Whenever these discussions came up, the same half-dozen voices would club together and compete to be the first to smack down the dissent. People who objected to the positions they expressed were typically accused of blindness, insensitivity, and abuse of privilege; they were told they needed to shut up so they did not silence alternate positions. They were occasionally called on American-centric positions by posters to the group who were not American; this position of privilege in discourse was not acknowledged. They also did not acknowledge 'being able to speak without being descended upon by silencing harpies' as a position of privilege; they were the ones in opposition to privilege in all its forms, after all. When they had successfully silenced their opposition by rendering people unwilling to speak up because it was just too much effort to deal with the junior-high-school nastiness, they congratulated each other publically on how good they were, and how successful at enlightening others, to the point that actual on-topic discussion on the group suffered for me -- I was afraid to post anything that might rouse the wrath of the cabal.

They ebb and flow in the newsgroup, but continue to be a reason that I am not particularly open there anymore.

And now they're taking it over again, with vicious attacks on those who do not agree with their ideologies on certain issues. Their particular target of the moment is a woman I know from several areas, who I have always found helpful, informative, and engaging. They are accusing her of a variety of things, among them attempting to silence opposing positions.

Even if I did not know this woman, I could not look at this argument without laughing my fucking arse off. The head of the clique that descends upon someone who does not adhere to a particular ideology and starts just sniping, sniping, sniping is not a credible witness when it comes to "silencing opposing positions". The woman they're attacking starts a sentence with something like, "My personal objection to this is" and the chief buzzard replies, cutting off all other substance, with, "as usual, wrong."

When someone pointed out that this is what privilege looks like when it tries to silence dissent, another one of that crowd responded with, "Thanks for the demonstration."

The thing is, I don't want to write about these people -- I'm just trying to generate enough context for the short thought that I had sudden perspective on.

I'm watching the circling mess, and watching the way it all plays out, set-piece responses, entire long sequences of posts utterly predictable, with the handwringing, "I feel silenced and shut down!" from the bullies when they're called on their behaviour ...

... and I wonder how much it looks like the same thing from the other side.

I don't wonder it enough to want to go there, to pull the worst of them out of my killfiles, to pretend that that space can ever be a place that I can present myself as genuine and whole. But I wonder if they genuinely think that the people they are bludgeoning out of that space are threatening them.

Today, that makes me sad, and angry. But not sad enough to forgive.

1 comment:

Sunflower said...

My best guesstimate is that they do not actually feel silenced by the dissent they are directly browbeating, but believe that because they have experienced browbeating and silencing in other venues and circumstances, this somehow demonstrates its legitimacy as a technique (provided the cause is Right) and entitles them to use it on others.

It's not just within feminism that this occurs - my personal "horror stories" of the phenomenon are predominantly either Pagan, or personal-life without reference to any interest/identity group. Perhaps this is why I continue to identify as a feminist despite the bullshit - same way that I continue to identify as Pagan despite the myriad idiocies. I'm perverse that way - the outline of bricks is imprinted on my forehead.

The idea of forgiving this is alien to me, but I should probably think a lot more about it. That sort of behavior (when I said "horror stories", I wasn't kidding) is why I'm an Angry Person.