what’s the matter with the feminist blogosphere?

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i realized with some horror a few months ago that by maintaining this blog, i may inadvertently be contributing the feminist blogosphere. this crossed my mind after a post i wrote was picked up for re-posting on several other blogs, including at least one fairly widely-read feminist one. obviously i write a blog, & of course i am a feminist. but i really have no interest in the feminist blogosphere, as such.

i’ve dabbled in it a bit. i read the occasional post & have even been known to contribute comments in some communities. but the feminist blogosphere (&, i would argue, any kind of quasi-serious feminist discourse) suffers from a very obnoxious flaw: the tendency toward sappy, sickening, overbearing condescension around the ideas of “respect” & “safety”.

i glanced at a feminist blog this morning & noticed a post on food politics, taking as its origin point the recent minimialist “future food manifesto” in the “new york times”. the author prefaced her remarks with a “trigger warning for the use of ‘sane’ as an adjective for public policy.” she apparently feared that some readers may be “triggered” by the concept that insanity or mental illness may be disrespectfully linked to a lack of sustainability in national food policy as outlined by the food & drug administration.

*sigh* really? a trigger warning for that? personally, my first exposure to a trigger warning was in a now-defunct zine distro catalogue, in a description of a zine written by a rape survivor. the distro operator offered a trigger warning for other survivors that could potentially have bad emotional reactions to the zinester’s frank description of her rape. now THAT is a situation that calls for a trigger warning. someone who is triggered by the phrase “sane national food policy”…i don’t know how that person gets through the day. & yes, i am minimizing. sometimes it’s the only reasonable response!

anyway, the woman who was responding to the minimalist piece eventually got very upset over the fact that recipes in that column (it’s a regular column on cooking that runs in the “new york times,” if you don’t know) sometimes call for ingredients such as miso & duck legs. she felt that these items were excessively expensive, inaccessible to the average american, & basically just for rich white yuppies. she lumped lamb in with these supposedly gourmet ingredients. yes, lamb. the #1 meat of choice at every halal butcher shop in every economically depressed urban area with a halfways decent muslim population in the united states. yes, good old overpriced inaccessible lamb, which is available in cuts no more expensive than a package of ground beef at every national grocery store that offers an on-site butcher’s counter (which is pretty much all of them). yuppie rich person lamb, readily available in bulk chops packages at every discount membership bulk retailer that sells meat.

seriously?

when a reader suggested that she was just looking for something to criticize & hadn’t done any real research on the topic which she was addressing, she hulked out & responded, “thanks for telling me my experiences are invalid.”

what experiences? her experiences of mistakenly believing that lamb is a luxury gourmet ingredient akin to sprinkling your raisin bran with flakes of gold? i did a little digging & discovered that this woman lives in boston. dude, i ate so much fucking lamb when i lived in boston. if she thinks her local supermarket doesn’t carry it, it’s because she doesn’t know what it looks like & has never bothered to read the packages in the butcher cooler. i even did some price comparison using stop & shop’s peapod online grocery store & discovered that there is literally no difference in price between beef & lamb.

but of course, her “experiences” were being “invalidated”. she went on to elaborate that she “lives her truth” & rankled against being “belittled”. all because someone suggested she was being needlessly critical while simultaneously uninformed.

which is, in general, actually a huge problem not just within feminism, but in pretty much all progressive movement. now, obviously, i LOVE to be critical of stuff. & i love reading or hearing the critical things that other people have to say. that is pretty much what i live for. but i like SMART criticism–ie, criticism that cannot be picked apart & exposed for the manufactured outrage it so often is in about three minutes of basic googling. i mean, obvs uneducated criticism is not just a problem for progressives. it’s pretty much all that conservatives ever do. last week i had a little internet scrap with someone who insisted that social security insurance payments to retired or disabled americans should not be used for anything fun (like toys or movies or anything not necessary for basic survival). initially, i was dumbfounded. how exactly should disabled or retired americans for whom social security is their only source of income fund their splurges on cute shoes or candy bars or doll collections or other non-necessities then? what should they do with the money that is left over after they have paid for their rent & utilities & other necessities? the person started ranting about lazy disabled/retired americans “wasting her tax dollars,” & asking why there wasn’t an “accountability system” in place to make sure that social security funds were only spent on necessities, as defined by her.

eventually it became clear that she thought social security functioned like WIC, for example. WIC is an american need-based government-funded food program for pregnant women & women with dependent children. if these women are no/low-income, they can apply for the WIC program & be issued something that is essentially a debit card, which can be used to purchase healthy foods (fresh produce, milk, cereal, etc) at the grocery store (& awesomely, at farmer’s markets). WIC funds can only be used for approved food purchases. you can’t use them to buy cigarettes or soda pop or to pay your electricity bill.

this woman thought SSI worked the same way, that legally you could only spend it on rent, utilities, medical bills, & groceries. she didn’t know it was just a monthly check, & that the recipient could spend it on cristal & hookers with no repercussions (aside from the usual ones for anyone soliciting the labor of sex workers).

but you know. i expect it from conservatives. that’s why they’re conservatives–because they seem to not really understand the way the world works & they mistake cheap bromides for intelligent discourse. i am always a little bit surprised with people on the progressive spectrum. i’m always like, “wait…aren’t you supposed to NOT be a dumbass?” then i remember that most people are dumbasses & i feel kind of sad.

i really want to talk more about psychobabble in feminist discourse though. i appreciate comments on the topic. i’m talking about ludicrous trigger warnings, & how sometimes it seems like you can’t disagree with someone without being accused to “invalidating” them or “minimizing” their concerns. what the fuck, guys? i feel like this kind of marshmallow mentality is slowly poisoning the movement.

i will leave you with one of my all-time favorite feminist outrage fail stories: so, i grew up in ohio, & there is a big-time huge RV salesman who lives in indiana, just across the ohio border. his RV empire is enormous. when you are driving across the midwest, there are all these billboards that say, “70 miles to the RV sales lot! 50 miles to the RV sales lot!” etc etc. the dude is an RV behemoth. & his name is tom raper. his RV company is called raper RVs.

dude’s been around for decades & has made shitloads of money. a year or two ago, he wanted to donate some money to the university of indiana. as a thank you, they suggested naming the new dormitory they were building after him: raper hall. some feminists (a tiny batshit miniority–every political stripe has a couple) got VERY upset about this. what about the woman that might be triggered by living in raper hall? they asked. what about the survivors of sexual assault on campus that might be triggered by walking past the raper hall sign?

yeah, seriously. my response of course was something like, “are you fucking kidding me right now? this is performance art, right? you’re TRYING to scare me, yes?” it’s the dude’s name. please note that his name is not “tom rapist”. yes, it’s an unfortunate name, but hey. sometimes people have unfortunate names. i just…i just…i can’t. there are no words.

31 Comments Add yours

  1. Sarah says:

    I stopped reading feminist blogs a year or two ago for similar reasons, kneejerk reactions with little research, not even a single Google search. It boggles my mind that the post writer would think miso is expensive. I can get a carton of fresh miso paste from a Japanese market in my small city for $3-4 that will last for months. Miso can probably be bought at Kroger for roughly the same price, and less than that at the giant Asian supermarket in town. If my small city can do that much, I can only imagine what Boston has.

    I got pointed via Twitter to Bitch Magazine’s blog this past week where there was a controversy over a list of 100 YA lit novels that were feminist that the magazine made. A few people thought a few books were either triggering or not feminist, so they pulled & replaced those titles. Some people equated their action with libraries that ban books (but strangely, not the new version of Huck Finn that is coming out where the N-word has been replaced with “slave”); as well as treating women like children since there is no way of knowing what will trigger a bad reaction for each individual. A couple of authors have asked to have their books removed from the list because they wanted nothing to do with it after that action. It would’ve made sense for the magazine to just stick a “potentially triggering” label to the book that dealt with rape, but it makes no sense to replace the books. I don’t read their blog much, nor the magazine anymore on the simple basis that they discuss TV shows a lot that I do not watch or care about, like Glee.

    I could go on, but it’s my bedtime.

    1. ciara says:

      i know, i had the same reaction to the thing about the miso. i mean, i guess to the average white american, miso seems kind of “exotic”…but that doesn’t mean it’s expensive. jared pointed out the duck parts (another item that she branded as inaccessibly gourmet) are readily available for reasonable prices in many asian markets. & most big american cities have plenty of asian markets.

      people were also like, “OMG you guys, you know what we totally need to talk about? food deserts. people who live in food deserts totally subsist on twinkies & coca cola because it’s all they can afford, & if the government imposed a ‘sin tax’ on that kind of junk food, those people would totally starve to death.” or, people who live in food deserts are extremely inconvenienced by not having supermarkets in their neighborhoods, but most of them are able to get to other neighborhoods to use their supermarkets & don’t actually just live off of twinkies. jesus.

      my other favorite part was people hand-wringing over food sin taxes & being like, “they might start taxing ethnic foods. in my culture, we eat lots of spicy foods & red meat & those aren’t necessarily ‘healthy’ so they could be taxed.” chill out, okay? no one’s taxing your hot sauce. & then all these people chimed in about how it would be totally fucked up to tax salty foods because it seems like all of them have obscure illnesses that necessitate that they eat a lot of salt. um…it’s called morton’s. why should i die of heart disease at age 33 so you don’t have to add salt to your food? gah.

      i checked out the “bitch” list after you mentioned. i’d seen some links to it but ignored it because i don’t read all that much new YA fiction (too busy with the babysitters club, i guess). that is some crazy-ass shit! i love how like EVERY SINGLE COMMENT on there–all 400+ of them–was from someone complaining that this or that book is “triggering” or “un-feminist” or something. plus all the brouhaha over the edits to the list & people arguing back & forth about that. oh my god. i love feminism. when did it all of the sudden become 63% trigger warnings & 37% self-proclaimed feminists telling other women what they have to do or think to be considered “real” feminists? it hasn’t always been this way, right?

      1. Sarah says:

        I kind of doubt that “food deserts” actually exist in most areas. Having grown up in a small town and having family members who live in the boondocks of an even more rural county than I grew up in, there are both small supermarkets and regular ones that have been opened within the past 5-15 years. Most cities have markets in every neighborhood and some cities including Richmond and NYC have farmer’s markets in just about every neighborhood. Whether people choose to utilize fresh food is a whole other issue.

        Is it wrong to not believe that there is some health issue that involves needing to eat a lot of salt? I’m sure they can find enough condiments and Morton’s to solve their problem (or maybe they should just move to the Salt Licks), whereas scientists have not invented a machine to laser away the sodium for the rest of the world who is susceptible to heart disease.

        I think I found the post from Caitlin, so I got as far as 10 comments into the article before switching over to a blog that just had commentary about the situation. But the first 10 I read were mostly calling certain books “un-feminist.” Or just whines about why they didn’t include such-and-such book.

        1. ciara says:

          yeah, i’m with erica on this. food deserts are real. in lawrence, the closest grocery store to my house is a little less than a mile away. there is no public transit that runs between it & my house, & the company that owns it wants to close it for ten months to re-furbish it & turn it into one of those fancy grocery stores that has a built-in coffeeshop. that would mean that the closest grocery store is about two miles away…along streets that do not have sidewalks or street lights, along several extremely busy roads with four lanes of traffic & a 55 MPH speed limit, also without a public transit route. not really all that accessible for a physically disabled woman who until a couple of months ago did not have access to a car, you know? & there is a whole huge neighborhood across the river which doesn’t have a grocery store at all. they have to cross the river to get groceries, & there aren’t even any grocery stores within several miles of the main river crossing. it’s like the oregon trail over here!

          so food deserts are real & they’re a major pain in the ass. but in an urban area with halfways decent public transit, they’re a lot less inconvenient. i mean, i regularly lived a mile or two away from grocery stores in boston, but it’s a much more walkable city (street lights! sidewalks!), & its public transportation is vastly superior to lawrence’s.

          i pretty much agree with what leah wrote about how food deserts make the possibility of cooking fresh, healthy meals very inconvenient, but generally not impossible (except for the folks that are housebound…but when you’re housebound, you aren’t going to the grocery store even if it’s right downstairs). sometimes it’s a question of whether someone gets enough sleep before work, or if they go to the grocery store. if they help their kids with their homework, or if they go to the grocery store. if they avoid exposing themselves to dangerous weather, or if they go to the grocery store. but to hear the guilty liberals tell it, people in food deserts are drinking toilet water to stay alive & would surely be swimming in teddy’s all-natural peanut butter if only they had the opportunity. it’s just silly.

    2. Erica S. says:

      No, food deserts definitely exist. One of our requirements for a neighborhood in Baltimore was a good grocery store within walking distance (defined as 1.5 miles). It’s pretty shocking how few neighborhoods fit that description, even the richer or whiter ones. The place we live now barely fits it.

      I assume that the people who claim to need a pound of salt a day to live are the same people who don’t have a cat allergy until they know a cat lives in the house.

      1. leah says:

        They coincide often with those who have self-diagnosed gluten allergies.

  2. Erica S. says:

    Dude, tell me about it. I have an LJ “friend” who wrote a letter to a meat company telling them their slogan (“launch an assault on salt”) was triggering. There’s not much that the feminist blogosphere hates more than someone thinking they made a funny.

    I mean, I know that “words mean things” and all, but I don’t see how some people don’t see nitpicks over words like “sane” or “dumb” as the derailing they often are.

    1. ciara says:

      LOLs LOLs LOLs. “launch an assault on salt.” is she aware that “assault” has many other definitions aside from being half of the term “sexual assault”? jeebus.

      i agree that “words mean things”. i am just starting to think that a lot of the people who get so upset about what words mean do not actually know what words REALLY mean. things are getting a little out of hand. i accused the “lamb is inaccessible” girl of “pitching a fit” over being called critical but uninformed, & she was like, “OMG. it is NOT okay to use language like ‘pitch a fit’.” really? why not? i think it is actually less offensive than what i wanted to say, which was, “you’re throwing a tantrum like a two-year-old.” i was waiting for her to school me on how the etymological history of that word was rooted in some obscure 16th century misogynist text or something, but she didn’t.

  3. Smellen says:

    Oh god, I saw that discussion and it was OBNOXIOUS. I’m glad you engaged with that lady, and used words other than “grow the hell up,” which was all I really wanted to say.

    The overuse of “triggering” in the feminist blogosphere really bothers me, as well as some of the popular conceptions in that particular little world about what constitutes ableism when it comes to mental health. Like one writer for the Bitch blog a while ago who got all up in arms about people criticizing emo bands and how they’re “policing emotional expression” and it’s not right to tell people how they should feel when they are experiencing mental health difficulties. And yes, it’s annoying to hear people dismiss emotion-showing dudes as sissies or whatever, but a lot of those bands are really fucking misogynist. Damn right I’m going to criticize someone’s emotional expression if it involves him singing to an audience about how he wants to suffocate his girlfriend with a garbage bag because she hurt his feelings.

    1. ciara says:

      god, i’m so glad that someone else saw this ridiculousness.

      i’m also glad i’m not alone as far as the overuse of the concept of “triggering” goes. have you noticed how frequently on that same feminist blog i am writing about someone will post a news story & someone will comment & say, “you really should have included a trigger warning for u.s.-centrism.” really? a TRIGGER WARNING for U.S.-CENTRISM? i seriously wonder how these people are managing to get out of bed in the morning.

      just as an aside, because i wanted to put it in the post but forgot…i was also thinking about how i was at this feminist meeting thing the other day up at the university. pretty much everyone there except for me was affiliated with the university, & during the introduction go-round, everyone was like, “i’m a grad student in department X, my field of study is Y, i’ve been at the school for three years,” etc. so when it got to me, i was like, “um, i’m not affiliated with the university, i am in no way an academic, but i am into feminism.” later, during the discussion, someone said something about subjectivity, & someone jumped in & was like, “can you define ‘subjectivity’ for some of the non-academic people here who may not know what it means?” & i felt all these eyes dart in my direction. & i just wanted to say, “dudes. i’m 31. i know what subjectivity is, okay?” just because i don’t have a degree doesn’t mean i’ve never read a book before.

      it felt very, very well-meaning…& extremely, ridiculously condescending. of course it is entirely possible (probable, even) that there was someone in the room who DIDN’T know what subjectivity was, who benefited from the explanation. but sometimes in the rush toward accessibility, we end up patronizing the very people we are trying to include, mais non? (i will add that subjectivity was not the only “academia buzzword” used that night, but it was the only one that was defined. strange.)

  4. Caitlin says:

    Oh man, this post and the ensuing comments are like a dose of sanity for me. (Ooh, am I being ablist by saying that?) I was particularly bothered recently by everything that happened at Bitch with the YA literature list. I totally get the notion of marking something as potentially triggering to people with histories of trauma – I think it’s a decent, caring thing to do. But just because something is triggering doesn’t mean it ought to be avoided at all costs. I mean, most of the stuff that I’ve found cathartic and healing when it comes to dealing with my own fucked-up shit could very well have been considered “triggering.” I don’t think I would have been well-served by avoiding it simply because it was going to cause me to feel panicked, upset, angry, anxious, etc. Anyway, I like the way you articulate your discomfort with the way trigger warnings have been wielded – that it’s a useful concept but way too many people are applying it to way too many things, and it runs the risk of turning it into this completely meaningless concept. Not to mention the way it can be used to shut down any conversations that might make a person uncomfortable.

    Anyway, glad to know I’m not the only feminist who spends a lot of time on the internet but can’t be bothered with feminist blogs.

    1. ciara says:

      all right, before comments on this post go TOO off the rails…personally, i know you are making a joke by using the word “sanity” & then sarcastically asking if you are being ableist. but i don’t want comments here to turn into a free-for-all of people being totally dismissive of intersectionality concerns. not that it’s happened yet–just covering the bases. obvs i don’t think that usage of the word is at all ableist.

      okay, with that out of the way…i think you are exactly right that trigger warnings are beginning to become shorthand for “something that might make you uncomfortable”–perhaps because of trauma, perhaps because of privilege, perhaps because of just personal likes & dislikes. just like how i don’t want comments to this post to just totally dismiss issues like triggers or the importance of precise & meaningful language, this use of trigger warnings just minimizes the reality of triggers.

      but i am perhaps even more frustrated, in ways i don’t know how to articulate, with language like, “you’re invalidating me,” or, “i am giving voice to my own truth,” etc etc. it’s like it prizes subjectivity above EVERYTHING else…usually including other people’s subjectivity. i have been accused a few times of “invalidating” people…& i was kind of like, uh, hell yes i am invalidating you. because the shit you’re saying is fucking ridiculous! i think it’s related to stuff i have written that is critical of radical approaches to mental health support systems. i think it might come down to an issue of inner emotional resources. if you feel strong within yourself, if you can validate yourself, you don’t necessarily need it from other people–particularly not strangers on the internet. i mean, of course i think it’s fair for a person to want some validation from the people closest to them in their lives–friends, family, partners. but it’s not something i go to the internet for, necessarily.

      1. Caitlin says:

        I don’t mean to make light of concerns about ablism and such – I just noticed that I used this turn of phrase that, in some corners of the interwebs, would have been reason enough for certain feminists to flame the shit out of me. I was once called out for using the word stupid someone – a political figure, mind you – stupid, saying I was being ablist toward people who couldn’t help but not be smart. I had to walk away from my computer after that.

        I haven’t seen as much of the ‘you’re invalidating me’ stuff that you are talking about, but it sounds supremely annoying, not to mention intellectually weak. I’m trying to imagine if I had used that response every time someone called me out on something I said that was wrong or offensive, how I would have never grown and developed intellectually and emotionally. I was going to say that I suppose some people see the internet as this vast group therapy session, but even that doesn’t work, because at least with therapy you are challenged to examine your assumptions and your thinking.

        1. ciara says:

          no worries, dude. i know. i just wouldn’t be surprised if this post starts to get some attention from various corners of the feminist blogosphere, people that don’t actually know me or you or know when we are being sarcastic. & i also wanted to try to limit the possibility that the comments here would become a dumping ground for quasi-lefties that don’t like feminism to come complain about how feminists take shit too seriously & don’t have any sense of humor, etc etc. even though it is clearly sometimes true, i still think it’s a small, embarrassing minority & i don’t really want to hear tiresome generalizations like that from people i don’t know.

          i think that in GOOD therapy, you are challenged…or you are equipped with the tools to learn how to challenge yourself. but i have been in therapy for ten years (!!!), so i am all too aware of the fact that a lot (maybe most?) therapy doesn’t really go that way. i think there is a lot of emotional pampering & eschewing of self-awareness that happens in therapy. i feel like it would be really easy for me to go into therapy on friday & say, “linda, someone wronged me. let me tell you all about it,” & at the end, she would be like, “wow, you were wronged.” & i’d never have to consider what role i may have played. every therapist i’ve ever had has been visibly blown away every single time i have talked about what kind of responsibility i should take in fucked up situations where people treated me badly. i get the feeling they haven’t seen much of it, & don’t know how to develop it in patients that are actually going to return to therapy.

          not that i am, like, the magical therapy client of wonder. i have just seen too many people i know use therapy as a tool for validating their own perceived victimhood to not be at least a little bit critical of therapy. i think it’s like school–you get what you put into it.

  5. leah says:

    I just noticed today what a rockstar you were in that post and how tragic and annoying it is that thoughtful comments just puzzle people.

    I also have been thinking about the idea of priorities. Like, how people I work with will other people who don’t excercise regularily that “you just need to make it a priority”. And shit, I make excercise a priority and it takes about 7 hours of my time a week that I spend NOT DOING OTHER THINGS. When you prioritize something it means you have to make less time for doing something else and it is okay for people to have different priorities and different ways they want to use their time.

    It’s inconvenient for people who live in food desserts and have no cars to buy and cook fresh food, not impossible. For a lot of people, cooking fresh food is not a topic priority over all their other priorities. That doesn’t mean that poor people who live in crappy areas of the country are totally physically incapable of eating healthy food. It’s like leftist rhetoric can’t make piece with the idea that virtueous poor people might have individual priorities about how they want to spend their time, so instead they believe that poor people would devote their time an energy to cooking quinoa if only they could!.

    Have you seen this piece about grocery stores in Detroit? It’s in a similar vein. The problem isn’t that their aren’t great grocery stores in Detroit. It’s that people are broke and the transportation system sucks and the city is really spread out.

    1. ciara says:

      that is an awesome article.

      something i thought about this morning, after all the brouhaha in that post had already died down is…you know the part where the OP made her little list of grocery ingredidents that she considered completely gourmet & inaccessible? did you notice that pretty much all of them were staples of ethnic diets? like someone else pointed out, miso is actually pretty inexpensive. hot peppers are not expensive. lamb is not expensive. duck is not that expensive depending on where you are buying it. but miso & duck are big in east asian cooking, lamb is huge in north african cooking, & hot peppers are big in central & south american & many asian dishes. it’s not these items are “gourmet” & “inaccessibly-priced”. or even difficult to come by in the average urban grocery store. it’s that they are items that seem strange or exotic to the average white american shopper who was raised on mac & cheese & corn flakes.

      so she was inaccurate, & also a little bit racist. cool.

      i swear, “priorities” is like my mantra word. i get SO SICK of people saying that they can’t do this or that & that they are somehow oppressed as a result. i always want to shake them & be like, “it’s not that you CAN’T do this. it’s that you CHOOSE NOT TO.” & maybe the reason a person chooses not to do something has its roots in some sort of other issue that pertains to oppression along identity politic lines, but generally, the shit people claim they CAN’T do is in fact just inconvenient for their lifestyle. & they insist that their lifestyle HAS to be this way because of this reason & that reason, when the bottom line is simply that they CHOOSE not to change their lifestyle. again, that might be totally valid–maybe the necessary changes would actually make their life worse in some weird way. but that doesn’t mean that they CAN’T do something.

      i read something recently in which someone was getting so angry that a woman would get kicked off the women & families with dependent children program if she had an abortion. i searched every corner of the dependent children website & i couldn’t find ANYTHING about abortion. finally i realized that the person meant that a childless woman who joins the program upon becoming pregnant, in order to afford nutritious food & such forth, would get kicked off if she proceeded to abort that pregnancy for whatever reason (including saving her own life or extreme fetal defect). the argument was, “this woman is poor. shouldn’t she still be able to get funds for healthy food?”

      well…sure. it would be great if food was free or the government subsidized it somehow so it was wicked cheap & everyone had access to all the food they wanted. but that’s not the reality. the reality is that we’re talking about a program specifically for pregnant & parenting women, so it kind of makes sense for a woman to get the boot in the event that she is not pregnant or parenting. sad but true, you know?

  6. shesabibliophile says:

    Yes yes yes YES on this whole blog post. This is exactly why I stopped reading/commenting on Feminist blogs (especially the big-name ones), and most disability blogs.

    All too often, discussions about disability get sidetracked because someone said “disabled people” instead of “people with disabilities”. I’ve been accused of being ableist (?????) because I’ve said “disabled people” or even referred to myself as a gimp. Because, evidently, you can be ableist to yourself. I mean, it’s not the same thing as the excessive use of trigger warnings, but I feel like semantics often overshadow the important shit in disability discourse. And yeah, I’ve been accused of minimalising too.

    OH! I just thought of this. There was this thing a while back about how, if you type in “female scientist” into Google, an article about…something…offensive came up. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was obviously RANDOMLY GENERATED FROM GOOGLE (and it wasn’t even really offensive), yet the Feminist blogosphere was up in arms about it. I said “Hey, this is silly as fuck. It’s obviously a random Google thing – nothing was done on purpose. Can we focus on something more important like [insert a news event that was actually affecting women]?” …and geez, I was practically banned from the internetz for saying that.

    Re: Trigger warnings. I think half the time, people don’t even understand what that means. So they just apply it to anything that can be construed as offensive or annoying or whatever.

    1. ciara says:

      i honestly can’t even keep up with whether we are supposed to say “disabled people” or “persons with disabilities”. i just kind of alternate between the two. if anyone wants to get on my case about it…whatevs. i’m actually disabled & i guess that person cares more about bullshit semantics than actual disabled people!

      as you may know, i come from a working class background & about ten years ago, i was involved in a hilarious online feminist scandal that culminated in someone a) suggesting that i was oppressing orphans by making jokes related to oliver twist, & b) insisting that i was classist, mostly against people that couldn’t afford their states emissions standards checks. i had to LOL at the idea of someone who could afford a car telling me i was classist. so i learned that yes, in some people’s minds, you most certainly can oppress yourself. i also learned that people who say that shit are just trying to win an argument & they’re not really worth talking to.

      awesome story about the “feminist scientist” outrage. must have been a slow news day. but seriously–so much of what the big feminist blogs get all het up over is dumbass shit that happens on the internet. it’s like…you know what might help with that? getting the fuck off the internet.

      1. msjacks says:

        Please, suh! Drop a wee pence into my outstretched cup, or perhaps a halfway-smoked roll uh ye tobacco so that I might place it betwixt my cheek and my gumline!

  7. Cait says:

    I’m a feminist, and I’ve blogged for a long time but never had a “feminist blog.” I’m not even sure what it takes to have a feminist blog, actually–a primary focus on feminist politics? Or just self-identifying as “feminist blog”? There are a few sites (like Jezebel) I look at every once in awhile, but a lot of times it feels like dialogue and dissent aren’t really encouraged in online feminist circles. I’m curious if this is different offline–though I know other feminists, I haven’t been in many real-life group discussions around feminism. The Internet is a weird place where everyone is sensitive in general, it seems. I’m sleepy, and this probably doesn’t make sense, but I liked your post and wanted to comment.

    1. ciara says:

      yeah, i guess a feminist blog is probably a blog that someone specifically structures as a feminist blog, in terms of making sure they are mostly blogging about issues of interest to a general feminist community. so in that respect, my blog is a blog by a feminist & not a feminist blog. but sometimes when i do write about topics of interest to a general feminist community, i get all this Feminist Blog attention & it weirds me out. it’s flattering, of course, to have strangers get intrigued by some crap i wrote on the internet…but since so much of what goes on in the Feminist Blogosphere (TM) seems to involve Feminists criticizing one another for various subtle differences in political ideology, it’s not exactly a world i want to immerse myself in, you know? not that i can’t take the heat, but just that i don’t really have the interest. i’m remarkably indifferent to what strangers think of me. i think it’s the product of having grown accustomed to voicing a controversial opinion every day for the last 17 years or so.

      i am reading this totally awesome book right now called poser. it’s billed as a woman’s relationship with yoga, but it’s way more than that actually. it’s kind of a memoir of (so far) her first year as a new mom & she writes about how everyone in her neighborhood & friend circle is really into attachment parenting & she just can’t do it. & she finds herself judging all the other moms around her that seem to be parenting a little bit “better” or a little bit “worse” than she is, while also feeling judged by them. i feel like this is what happens with feminism (& other political cultures, & tons of other things). it’s like we save most of our scorn & criticism for the people most like ourselves.

      i have had MANY real-life discussions & other interactions with feminists, so i know that the crap i’m describing isn’t an internet-only phenomenon. but people are generally a little more vicious on the internet. more sarcastic, maybe. which makes it a little more annoying. but it’s pretty annoying no matter what, really.

  8. msjacks says:

    Sorry for being a turd and posting the Oliver Twist thing first, but I came across it while reading your comments and Could Not Help Myself.

    About a year ago I wrote a piece about my experience with self-professed Stars Of The Feminist Blogosphere. I had a lot of the same feelings you seem to have here, but I was upset and probably didn’t articulate well. Anyway, if you want to read it, it’s here:
    http://msjacks.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/13/

    Honestly, I think a lot of these “trigger warnings” and calling things classist/sexist/whatever left and right is petty people’s attempts to outdo each other, to bully, to sit atop some self-imposed dogpile that we’re expected to participate in, lest we assist the patriarchy and put each other in mortal peril. I have searched- oh, how I have searched!- far and wide for some semblance of logic in all of this and I have failed.

    And like you, I LOVE CRITICIZING SHIT. But also like you- and this is what I think really pulled your article and your general argument together in this way that can’t be criticized in any manner that is valid; nobody ever dares to say this- I expect that the criticism be in support of someone or something real: not, as you put it, “manufactured outrage.”

    1. ciara says:

      whew! okay. i am finally done reading the really long post you linked to about your own experiences with online feminist weirdness. holy moly. what a mess. if the woman to whom you are referring is the woman i think you’re referring to, i am not surprised at all. that lady has been behaving abusively on the internet for at least ten years, probably longer.

      yes on the self-imposed feminist dogpile analogy. i think that’s exactly what’s going on. i feel like there is a lot of cachet to identifying people who want to be radicals or progressives or feminists or whatever & being able to identify their words or behavior as oppressive in some way. & that is in no way to suggest that people are not often oppressive (racist, ableist, whatever) in some way.

      i wrote a post a few months ago called “i am disabled,” about a falling out with a friend who made some offensive remarks about my disability status. i didn’t talk to that person for about four months. we recently got back in touch & are trying to work things out. when we talked about the things she had said, she acknowledged my perspective & said she understood how i’d seen her words as fucked up, & she apologized, but she also said that the whole thing (being called out for saying something vaguely abelist) was really upsetting to her because she prides herself on being “the perfect ally” in all situations. she said it hurt her to think that she might not be the perfect disability ally.

      i tried to be like, “dude, you are not disabled, so you’re kind of wearing blinders as far as that topic goes. that means you can strive for perfection, but you might stumble & say or do something messed up. but that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person.” i mean, through all of this not talking, i didn’t think she was a terrible person. i think a person is terrible if they are selfish & manipulative & controlling & thoughtless, etc etc etc, & sometimes those qualities also overlap with being racist & ableist & misogynist, etc. but an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful person who say some messed up shit one time in not a monster that can never change or learn from her mistakes.

      anyway, back to my point. the cachet of calling people out. it’s big. have you ever noticed that in our little feminist world, we can never just say, “yeah, i’m not friends with that person anymore because we had a dumb fight over nothing”? it always has to be this epic falling out with all kinds of intellectual one-upmanship going on. it gets old. there is no logic. i think it just boils down to insecurity, & among women & feminists, that insecurity could most definitely have its root in sexism. if we are raised to feel like lesser people because we are women, then tearing down another woman might be the easiest way for us to build ourselves up a little.

      i think you have a good rule: criticism should be in support or about something or someone real. not just flinging around ideological buzzwords to see what happens.

    2. Smellen says:

      My absolute favorite example of someone getting on their high horse about calling out was someone getting really mad at someone else for saying, “You stay classy, [whoever the fuck],” because the word “classy” is classist.

      And yes, words mean things, and I know “classy” is a term with problematic roots, but…as an actual working-class person, my worries tend to be more about, you know, cuts to social programs that could help me, how I’m going to pay my bills, how I’m going to feed myself, blah blah blah. I don’t really give two shits if someone wants to quote Anchorman and I don’t think it’s worth derailing a discussion.

  9. msjacks says:

    Yep. Nobody can be “the perfect ally.” All we can do is listen to the people who we hope to ally ourselves with. It’s pretty much the definition of being an ally and all, last I checked.

    I agree that it’s about insecurity, but it also dovetails with narcissism in that way that insecurity and narcissism so often do, I guess in large part because both aspects of ourselves enable the hell out of each other. Have you ever read a feminist blog’s comment thread and noticed how all of the comments that aren’t sniping and abusive are people telling their life stories? Example: someone blogs about how they got called a fatass at the grocery store, so 50 other people comment with their (less eloquently-written) stories about they too were called fat once. It’s the classic feminist problem where instead of genuinely empathizing with and supporting each other, women make the mistake of trying to one-up each other, or exploiting someone else’s story for their own gain. And worst of all, sometimes people think that this is what empathy/understanding is. I don’t just see this on feminist blogs; it happens on queer blogs too, and I imagine that it happens on blogs that center around other aspects of people’s identities- although I don’t tend to read those blogs’ comment threads with a critical, involved eye, more just with a listening eye (what’s the eyeball version of the word ‘listening’?).

    The other day I got into a serious Tweet argument with this guy (interestingly, someone who posts on that awful blog I posted at awhile back) who basically tried to make this point that all leftist support for the Egyptian revolution comes from a place that is belittling, ignorant and oppressive, that calling Mubarak a dictator is problematic, and that this was his inherent perspective as a person of Middle Eastern ethnicity. There was no explaining to him that it is possible to find solidarity with oppressed people, that if an oppressed people call their ruler a dictator that we should support them, that it doesn’t mean that everyone necessarily thinks it’s an open door to declaring all Middle Eastern governments dictatorships and toppling their governments left and right- the two ideologies don’t automatically go hand in hand. And of course, any attempt to have a real discussion- or even for me to try to understand where he was coming from- ended in, “I’m not going to listen to this ignorant, stupid, racist white girl who is trying to silence me!” Never mind the millions of Egyptians who called Mubarak a dictator first, never mind that they want him out so badly that they’re STILL on the streets, et cetera. Somehow the Egyptian people’s struggle for freedom became all about this one guy and his own problems. I’m all about hearing the perspective of Egyptian folks and Middle Eastern folks here. Like I said, part of the role of an ally! But I’m not going to fall into the feminist blogosphere trap.

    I think you’re right that the roots of all of this mess lie in oppression. This is a critical part of any discussion surrounding this. Nobody initially behaves this way because they’re an asshole or a horrible person or whatever; they’re just used to reacting instead of thinking critically, or they’re simply excited that they can finally fucking speak. The problem happens when people perpetuate this horribly unhealthy cycle, continuing to participate in their own oppression, to an extent- feeding the monster.

  10. Unabot says:

    Oh thank you so much for writing this. I think trigger warnings are useful and compassionate and WAY OVERUSED/DEMANDED and I feel like it’s nearly an impossible subject to tackle. Good job.

  11. Rae says:

    Ah man, you had me right until your last point. It’s almost exactly been my experience at my private liberal arts school in WeMa. Whenever I make the points that you’re making people respond exactly as you described and its almost unbearable.
    I thought your article was really strong and the arguments were solid until the part about your favorite feminist outrage fail stories. I get what you’re saying, but it did hurt. I know that processing my experience as a survivor is my own shit to deal with but honestly, I think that if there was a “Raper Hall” on my campus it’d be really hard to deal with it in a way that lets me get back to not constantly thinking about how one experience changed me. I wonder if you would consider this point not in terms of responding to me but in terms of editing the article as I think it would be really beneficial if it could be shared more widely. (I was ready to copy and paste this link all over the place until this last point).
    Thanks!

    1. ciara says:

      sorry, not gonna happen. i believe i mentioned in the post that i grew up in northwest ohio, less than an hour from the indiana border? that an entire area of the country is PLASTERED with advertisements for raper RV. it’s the dude’s company & the dude’s name. it’s an unfortunate name, to be sure, but it’s still his name. institutions have a pretty long-standing tradition of naming buildings & other facilities after big-time donors. what should the school name a building in honor of tom raper if they are not going to incorporate his name? if he had his own suggestions for things that might work, that would be one thing, but clearly the dude is not shy about sharing his name with the world, & why should he be? his name is not tom rapist. link or don’t link, i don’t mind either way, but i’m not going to decry the over-use/abuse of trigger warnings right up to a point that makes someone viscerally uncomfortable & then back off the argument. i feel for you, i understand that feelings around being a survivor are complex & don’t always make a whole lot of sense, but i do think it’s ridiculous to suggest that a person’s name is triggering & unsuitable for public use. if people are going to campaign against tom raper having a campus building named after him, where do they draw the line? would they also campaign to force him to change his name? or the name of his business, which has been operating for at least thirty years?

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