Response to Clarisse Thorn’s Backlash 2: Nuke *and* appease, please; be a both/and blogiverse

On Feministe, I posted in reponse to Clarisse Thorn’s article on “The Backlash 2” about where activists should draw the balance between encouraging safe spaces and high-level conversation on the one hand, and not unfairly filtering out contributions from people who are privileged and/or aren’t as well-educated on the topic.

I referenced:

Kinsey Hope’s theory on the different kinds of strategies employed by commenters in arguments: the nuker, the appeaser, the the emoter and the logic bomber. From commenter Jadey at Feministe, a link to the introduction to her four-part series on the topic.

And also I Blame the Patriarchy’s recent post on a change in her comment policy which states, “This blog is goin’ dudeless. If you are commenting as a dude, don’t do it here,” the salient bit of which (in my opinion) is *as a dude* which implies the commenters’ presentation is being restricted, not the commenters’ chromosomes, gender identification, or genitalia.

Here’s my comment:

I’m a big fan of the idea that there should be a multiplicity of strategies and points of view. So, ideally, there should be forums where nukers are asked to take a gentler stance, and forums where nukers are permitted. There should be forums that draw the line for “is this a valuable contribution?” at well before 101, and forums that draw the line at the advanced calculus level.

They all have their benefits, and they all have their detriments, and the more different types of conversations that are happening and being engaged in, the more different kinds of ideas can be produced and shared.

I admit you’re more of an appeaser than I prefer. I like your work, and many of your thoughts, and I appreciate the consideration and time you put into your pieces. I feel I learn from seeing your perspective. I feel much the same way about I Blame the Patriarchy. Even if I don’t agree with your conclusions or hers (and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t), I’ve learned something by exposure to both.

I’m not particularly fond of arguments, though, that suggest all spaces should be similar in terms of how accepting/appeasing/101-friendly they are. Maybe that’s not what you meant to suggest, but it’s sort of how I read it. I think the balance you strike is a needed balance. But I also think more restrictive balances are needed.

To draw the comparison again to I Blame the Patriarchy, I actually think that her comment restriction (at least as I read it) is kind of brilliant–men are actually perfectly permitted to post as long as they don’t post about being men, since that’s not the topic of the space. I admit that her piece was ambiguous on the point, but that’s what I read her to mean based on her prior essays on the subject, in which she celebrates men’s contributions to the site, but says she finds it grating when someone takes the conversation to a place about “I, as a man, feel that the issue should really be X.”

It’s not that men’s perspectives on the issues are bad in general, but I think it’s okay to have a space where they don’t dominate the conversation. And it’s okay to have spaces where they do! I actually often think Alas, a Blog, where I write, would be much more successful as a space intended for male perspectives on feminism and positive constructions of men’s rights activism. However, the men I write with, who I feel are rather brilliant on these topics, have expressed that they don’t feel like they have time to create what would amount to a new movement, which is reasonable–they have lives.

Anyway, there’s room for that sort of forum (I would argue even deep necessity for it, since men really are restricted by some of the kinds of things MRAs don’t ever manage to productively talk about), and there’s room for I Blame the Patriarchy’s comment policy, and there’s room for places that do both, or some mixture.

(Aside: Unfortunately, I think I Blame the Partiarchy’s comment policy is doomed to failure for the simple reason that the commentariat is kind of a clusterfuck. There’s poisonous privilege of the kind that I really don’t think is okay anywhere, as per the threads on trans rights. A few years ago, I had brief hope that the commentariat was going to explode out all their nasty and then start to improve, as happens sometimes, but it never seemed to happen there. Not that there isn’t signal there, sometimes, but there’s a lot, a lot of noise.)

I’m not trying to say (as I believe you are also not trying to say) that there are never lines where behavior is unacceptable. I’m not really chill with any social justice forum that permits the kinds of comments about trans people that are regularly written at IBTP. I guess I might be forced to admit that it might be okay in some kind of no-moderation community where the goal was antithetical to moderation, because I do believe that there’s probably something to be gained from those conversations just as there is from controlled ones, but permitting that kind of poison is, IMO, antithetical to stated social justice goals.

Anyway. To analogize it to a class discussion, some professors direct a lot, some a little, some not at all. On either end, the discussion can be impaired by too little or too much direction. But even the extremes work for some people, produce a conversation that might not happen in the same way if a different technique was used. And on the internet, where we do not lack for classrooms, I think it’s great for many different strategies to be embraced.

So, basically, both/and please. Nukers and appeasers. 101 conversation and level 1 conversation and the kind of conversation you only get at conferences with experts. And lots of room for people to pick which settings they want to be in.

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33 Responses to Response to Clarisse Thorn’s Backlash 2: Nuke *and* appease, please; be a both/and blogiverse

  1. 1
    maevele says:

    My goodness, that thread sure proves your point about the blatant transphobia and cissexism up in IBTP. I’m only half way through the comments, and IDK if I can finish reading it.

  2. 2
    Aunti Disestablishmentarian says:

    As a longtime reader of IBTP, I’ve been disgusted by the vitriolic Transphobia in the recent comments. I’ve also been encouraged by Trans justice and solidarity minded members of the commentariat. The thread is a putrid mess which is burning itself out, but not much good, if any, has come from this exercise.

    The question I have, is how the commentariat will behave in the near future. Way back, there was a real brain trust– interesting ideas tossed about. These days, vitriol aside, not so much.

  3. 3
    Myca says:

    Holy crap. I just read the linked thread at IBTP. Why isn’t she just banning these bigoted jerks? I mean, what use does a comment policy even have if it allows that stuff through?

    —-Myca

  4. 4
    Elusis says:

    Why isn’t she just banning these bigoted jerks? I mean, what use does a comment policy even have if it allows that stuff through?

    Well, one purpose it serves is to illuminate the unstated prejudices of its enforcers.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    I agree with you that Twisty’s no-dudes policy, as she formulates it, is quite brilliant. And reading that thread made me feel embarrassed for how long it took me to start banning blatantly transphobic comments from “Alas.”

    At the time, my feeling was that the debate over transphobia needed to happen in feminist spaces. But eventually, it became clear to me that what was being lost by allowing that debate — which was the views of trans comment-writers who didn’t feel comfortable sharing a forum with openly anti-trans comment-writers — was far more valuable and interesting to me than the debate was.

    Nowadays, my feeling is that within feminism — or at least, the parts of feminism I spend my time within — the debate is over, notwithstanding that there are some remaining holdouts.

    So, basically, both/and please. Nukers and appeasers. 101 conversation and level 1 conversation and the kind of conversation you only get at conferences with experts. And lots of room for people to pick which settings they want to be in.

    I so totally agree.

  6. 6
    Schala says:

    I tried to post on the thread, but the filters are so weird that they block everything in moderation (and they stay there forever, since no one is there to approve them). One wonders how come mAndrea can post hateful 5 paragraph posts when I can’t even manage to get a single sentence past the filters.

    Since I never participated at IBTP before, I can’t be banned prior to this.

    I think the trans discussion can happen in feminist space…but not in radical feminist space. I’m not sure if IBTP qualifies as radical, but I guess it does.

    I think it could happen here, like it did 4 or 5 years ago (following a similar derail, and then a comic) – because moderators here wouldn’t let some stuff fly, and I bet most trans feminist commenters won’t feel they’re going against an army on their own – which is what posting on IBTP, Femonade, Julian Real’s blog, or Feminazi gives as an impression (and sometimes its justified, since there really is an army vs one).

    If the blog mods and admins are hostile to trans stuff at all, discussion can’t happen (likely won’t be posted, or will have the comment modified to sound troll-like by mods/admins).

    I tried discussing with Julian Real in december. His blog would crash my browser often (past a certain comment length, boom), and half my comments didn’t appear (he didn’t approve them). His commentariat, including himself, considered me “anti-feminist, anti-radical, class-privileged, race-privileged”, for daring to say I had the right to be in most women’s space (without begging for it to FAABs) and saying his FAAB-first argument was patriarchal (ie they use the same argument to other trans and intersex women).

    I’m not sure where he pulled the class-privileged from, since I live with less than 10k a year, and certainly wasn’t rich as a kid in a family of four kids with only one parent working. I also don’t know where he was going with his race thing, since I didn’t mention it. Or my alleged lesbian-hatred thing, since I didn’t either.

  7. 7
    Mandolin says:

    I’m sorry, what’s FAAB?

    I’m sorry you get shouted down in radical feminist spaces.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    FAAB = Female Assigned At Birth.

  9. 9
    Myca says:

    I would just like it if some radical feminists would ask themselves why this is such an ongoing issue in radfem spaces. I mean … I don’t think it’s an accident, and I don’t think it’s coincidental. I don’t think that radfem thought leads inexorably to transphobia, but nor do I think there’s no connection.

    Jill’s post following the linked one was a strong repudiation of transphobia, so I’m not accusing her of anything. I don’t think that she, personally, is transphobic … but I think it’s fair to say that she’s knowingly maintaining a transphobic space. This isn’t the first time this has happened at her place, and we know that she’s got no problem banning people, so if these comments are there, it’s because she wants them there, for one reason or another.

    Now, once again, I want to emphasize that I don’t think she’s transphobic, and it may be that her reason for preserving these comments is because she wants to be able to publicly repudiate them, because she thinks that it’s important to have the fight, because she thinks that opposing views are valuable, or because the commenters are among her most regular and reliable. Some of these reasons I agree with, some I disagree with, but none of them involve her endorsing the comments.

    They all involve her providing a protected ongoing space for transphobia to her idological allies, though, and I find that troubling.

    —Myca

  10. 10
    Schala says:

    I don’t think that radfem thought leads inexorably to transphobia, but nor do I think there’s no connection.

    I have evidence that it doesn’t, but people who don’t endorse the transphobia might actually quit feminism, or at least this branch – leaving the floor to the haters in larger part.

    I’m not sure if DaisyDeadhead and Renegade Evolution were radical feminists, but it seems they are dissenting enough nowadays to not be considered feminist by many (and not only the trans haters). I’m pretty sure Ren herself doesn’t consider herself feminist anymore. I can’t say for certain for Daisy.

    They’re wonderful allies in any case.

    The mention FAAB comes both to say “raised as a girl” and because it seems that the term cissexual is considered offensive in those spaces. Something about erasing the femaleness of the person. Like my being white, or heterosexual erases my femaleness, you see.

    And cissexual is a neutral term not loaded with baggage, unlike ‘straight’.

    Hmm, they also deny that trans women experience oppression unique to them as trans (and so do trans men). Cissexism is an illusion, it doesn’t exist. They say it’s plain old misogyny. The kind that creates over 40% suicide attempts. The completed suicide rate is at least a few hundred times higher than the general population too (it’s around 20 per 100,000 right?).

    I’ve also heard it said that it’s trans women who oppress cis women, by appropriation, co-optation what have you, of the oppression of women, “without having lived it” (and childhood is said to be paramount to have the experience of being oppressed as a female person – without it, it’s a walk in the park apparently).

  11. 11
    Mandolin says:

    I 100% believe in cissexism.

    From reading and talking, I think it’s likely that the experience of trans women, taken as a body, does not 100% mirror the experience of cis women, taken as a body.

    This is obvious in some ways–cissexism makes trans people’s lives much more difficult, in general, than cis people’s. Cissexism exists and cissexism affects lives.

    I do also think that sometimes trans people have a different experience of socialized gender that doesn’t 100% accord with cis sexuals’… or, basically, I think that trans men may (though don’t necessarily) have an insider’s insight into the way it feels to experience sexism as a female, and I’ve occasionally heard trans women say things that feel to me as if they’re rooted in an experience of male privilege, however complicated and partial and temporary that experience may have been.

    I feel like it’s dangerous and possibly unhelpful to discuss these observations, not because they’re unpopular, but because they have the potential to give aid and comfort to the kind of FAAB/women-born-women/whatever-euphamism/transphobic crap some (many) of the commenters at IBTP spout.

    I guess I’m trying to get at the potential relationship between rad feminism and transphobia… and wondering to what extent universalism and acknowledgement of difference are real barriers. Rad fems seem to want to argue that since trans women are not cis women they can not be in the category women. I think the correct position is that the category woman includes both trans and cis women. I wonder to what extent that gets read by radfems as there is no difference between the categories trans and cis women.

    Which is to say, I think there are certain kinds of differences between the trans and cis perspective that are acceptable parts of discussion, but others that aren’t so much… partially because people who want to be trans-friendly don’t want to, as I said, give aid and comfort to trans-unfriendly people.

    Maybe I’m not making sense.

    Ultimately, I think the real problem is that rad feminist ideology lends itself to binary good/bad thinking and is unfriendly, in general, toward complications. Twisty at IBTP, in my opinion, does NOT ascribe to that kind of thinking, but imo Heart (for instance) does. If one accepts that sexism is the first prejudice from which all others follow (an unprovable assertion), then this lends itself to minimizing other axes of oppression, such as racism, homophobia, and transphobia. It doesn’t necessitate minimizing other forms of oppression. But it assigns a kind of specially important role to sex discrimination that I’m not sure is warranted.

    Yes. Rambling. Anyway.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    “I’ve also heard it said that it’s trans women who oppress cis women, by appropriation, co-optation what have you, of the oppression of women, “without having lived it” (and childhood is said to be paramount to have the experience of being oppressed as a female person – without it, it’s a walk in the park apparently).”

    OK, I guess this is kind of what I mean, and let me see if I can be clear.

    We are both women, so we have some common experiences of life as women. Those experiences will be mitigated, of course, though lots of different other factors. For instance, I’m fat, and I seem to recall you’re thin. So we’re both women, but I have experience as a fat woman, and you have experience as a thin woman. I think you mentioned in this thread that you’ve never had much class privilege, and I have, so I have experience as a class-privileged woman, and you have experience as a non-class-privileged woman.

    Now I’m going to go on and make some assumptions which might not be accurate, for the sake of my point, and I hope that’s not offensive.

    I was raised as a female child and (I assume) you were raised as a male child. So that changes our experiences again–I have experience of the kinds of oppression cis-gendered female children experience. But I DON’T have experience of the kind of oppression male-bodied, female-identified children have, and you do. I will have experienced some varieties of misogyny. You will have experienced some varieties of misogyny (possibly different ones, possibly overlapping ones) and also varieties of cissexism. You will also have experienced some amount of male privilege, even if it was complicated, partial and temporary, and I will never have experienced that.

    It seems to me that the rad fems get hung up on that last difference, which is not very significant in terms of all the other words I’ve just put down about our similarities and our differences. They want to talk about the male privilege you’ve experienced and the misogyny against cissexual female children I’ve experienced.

    And it seems to me that in reaction to this, I as an ally end up reacting in a fashion that might not be helpful. Rather than saying “yes, this exists, but is relatively minimal,” I end up wanting to erase that from the discussion altogether. And I wonder to what extent radfems read this as dishonest–not that trans-positive people are trying to make sure the conversation about cissexuality and transsexuality aren’t dominated by what is a minimally relevant, small point, but assuming that trans-positive people are pretending that difference doesn’t exist at all.

    So the whole conversation ends up sticking there. Really, really stupidly.

    It feels a lot like the false accusations of rape thing MRAs get hung up on. These happen; they’re distressing; but it’s totally, totally a minimal thing. It deserves to be like 1% of the discussion about rape, but MRAs seem to want to make it like 90% of the discussion about rape. And as a consequence, feminists and feminist allies sometimes refuse to talk about it at all.

    But then the MRAs read feminist unwillingness to talk about false rape accusations not as an attempt to make sure the conversation doesn’t focus on something minimal, but as an attempt to deny rape accusations ever happen or that they suck when they do happen.

    Not that having had a minimal, parial, and complicated experience of male privilege is ANYTHING like a false rape accusation, except inasmuch as the conversational dynamics may be similar.

    I’m not sure how you solve the problem. Actually talking about rape accusations doesn’t seem to soothe MRAs any, and so I’m not sure the parallel would be effective with radfems either. But I wonder if that’s part of where the miscommunication starts and sticks.

  13. 13
    Mandolin says:

    Oh, wait. I meant STOP OPPRESSING ME BY BEING IN A GROUP THAT’S RIDICULOUSLY, HORRIBLY, VIOLENTLY OPPRESSED, WITH MURDER AND SUICIDE AND EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING STATISTICS SO HORRIBLE AS TO MAKE ANY FEELING PERSON WEEP. How do you think all the terrible things involved in the oppression of trans people as a result of cissexism I don’t have to deal with make ME feel?

  14. 14
    Schala says:

    I feel like it’s dangerous and possibly unhelpful to discuss these observations, not because they’re unpopular, but because they have the potential to give aid and comfort to the kind of FAAB/women-born-women/whatever-euphamism/transphobic crap some (many) of the commenters at IBTP spout.

    I think it’s useful to talk about those, if only to bring an end to the arguments about targeting exactly what we’re talking about.

    I’ve seen radfems accuse trans women of male privilege…for simply saying they were women. And it doesn’t compute to me.

    If at least certain definite behaviors, that can only be the result of male privilege, were put on the table, I might agree, consider etc – but as it stands, I get real defensive being called on having male privilege – because it’s always assumed that I’m misogynist by default, and “attempting to reform”, instead of assuming something based on individuality.

    Much like how Julian Real speaks about himself – saying he’s awful awful because he was born and raised as male, even though he never identified with other boys and doesn’t identify as one (he identifies as intergender). Instead of saying he had the potential to do bad things more so than cis women (something which he claims he avoided for the large part), he says that he was bad by existing alone. He wants to atone for something that isn’t a crime, instead of fighting the real crimes. He can fight sexism without self-flagellating.

    True, there probably are things that participate in our oppressing others, though some we have no control over. We should focus on the ones that we do have control over, or could have control over (through law and company policy I imagine). You can’t decide which race or sex you were raised as, but you can fight sexism and racism, and assumptions based on it. I always cringe hearing sexist things, and will tell my boyfriend it makes me cringe – even if my opinion is not always popular with him regarding the matter (he thinks all the forums/blogs I visit are populated by insane people who represent a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the real world). He’s not misogynist in much of what he does – but he is sometimes in what he thinks – overall he’s better than most.

    Rad fems seem to want to argue that since trans women are not cis women they can not be in the category women.

    Many go further than that – they argue that since they were raised as men, they can never be women, in any way, shape, or form, and that claiming to be a woman (if trans) is reifying gender roles and all about dresses and pink. The bodymap thing doesn’t compute for them, even with mAndrea who’s read tons of comments from Zoe Brain about it. So it’s always reduced to gender roles, and butch trans women are all ignored in favor of the media representation.

    And trans men? Well, they’re really deluded butch women who’ve been had about gaining male privilege and being allowed to do more stuff as men – instead of staying as females and fighting the patriarchy. That’s the theory anyway.

    If one accepts that sexism is the first prejudice from which all others follow (an unprovable assertion), then this lends itself to minimizing other axes of oppression, such as racism, homophobia, and transphobia. It doesn’t necessitate minimizing other forms of oppression. But it assigns a kind of specially important role to sex discrimination that I’m not sure is warranted.

    In the thread in question, I quoted a passage I posted on FC blog (pretty sure it’s on the most recent open thread) about how some deny having any privilege and how it’s so divide and conquer to say women have any privilege at all. Not class, race or non-trans privilege – the only oppression worth uniting about is that of women, period. It sounds selfish, and kind of reminiscent of MRAs who deny male privilege.

    This is the quote:

    “That fucking ‘privilege’ thing is annoying too – I’m tired of being told I’m ‘privileged’ for a life that I was born into. I’m privileged just for existing. What an asshole.”

    ——

    For instance, I’m fat, and I seem to recall you’re thin. So we’re both women, but I have experience as a fat woman, and you have experience as a thin woman.

    Well, I’m less thin now. I’m umm, neither now. I was 105-115 lbs for 5’6″, I went up to 146 lbs, and now down to 140 lbs. I’m aiming for a more healthy (than 110) 125 lbs, ultimately, in a few months. I do have a belly now. And 50% of my clothing doesn’t fit anymore (especially pants and some tighter non-stretch skirts, belly shirts are obviously off the menu too).

    I’ve been abnormally thin for basically all my life…rum changed it – it’s highly caloric. Now less rum, and more exercise. I didn’t drink at all before being with my boyfriend.

    It seems to me that the rad fems get hung up on that last difference, which is not very significant in terms of all the other words I’ve just put down about our similarities and our differences.

    Probably because male privilege is sometimes presented as woman-hating, violent, hypersexual, and with access to the best jobs and wages with no merits at all. And trans women are all presented as 40-something fathers-husbands who’ve had jobs as executives or professionals, living wealthily right until transition. It’s the media representation, too – except porn.

    I transitioned at 24, with a high school diploma and perspectives in minimum wage jobs…at least some of them. I was celibate for pretty much all of that period, and certainly not a father. So I don’t fit, but square peg meet round hole.

    I know a couple trans women about my age, and in similar situations. Some work, some can’t find any. None were ever married or fathered.

  15. 15
    Elusis says:

    This is really good stuff, Mandolin. Props to you for teasing it out – I just throw down my keyboard in disgust and refuse to deal with radical feminists.

    I think the real problem is that rad feminist ideology lends itself to binary good/bad thinking and is unfriendly, in general, toward complications. Twisty at IBTP, in my opinion, does NOT ascribe to that kind of thinking

    I feel like she’s written some stuff about sex workers and blow jobs that are just that kind of thinking. But since I mostly flee, like I said, I can’t be sure. It just seems to me as a long-time feminist that binary thinking is a hallmark of radical feminism.

  16. 16
    Mandolin says:

    OK, this is my understanding of that stuff re: Twisty. It is not a radical feminist perspective. I am not a radical feminist.

    First of all, I think Twisty would understand sex work as an inherent violation of bodily autonomy, one that is much, much worse without consent, but that is still not okay even with consent.

    Secondly, I think Twisty would probably understand all (or at least most, depending on her analysis of class issues) labor under a capitalist system as coercive and an inherent violation of bodily autonomy, one that is much, much worse in some circumstances than others, but always coercive.

    From an anarcho-socialist perspective, this is pretty much just true. That some people’s time is considered more important than other people’s time, that participation in the system (which necessarily involves exploiting other people) is mandatory under threat of lacking access to necessities and dignity… these really aren’t good things, or at least they’re morally complicated things, even for me, and I take a less hard-line stance.

    Sex work is especially complicated because it interacts with sexism in toxic ways that complicates the essential, inherent violation of bodily autonomy inherent in wage work because of the way it interacts with women’s participation in the sex class, both for the individual (e.g. I have a friend who was, I think, in an ideal position re: sex work, and I thought it was awesome–and it mostly was–but then the sex work was used as a really vicious, legal weapon against her, which is an example of how sex work can be toxic in our society even when everything is going well), and for the group (e.g. trafficking for non-consenting women, relationship to rape culture, or even just the circumstances of the masseuse who used to post here who reports being repeatedly propositioned and sometimes pressured to engage in sex work.)

    I, as not a rad feminist, might argue that the solution to these things is to work toward a culture that emphasizes enthusiastic consent (which would hopefully mitigate the circumstance of the masseuse), to work toward a culture that has no stigma against sex workers (which would prevent the misuse of the legal system to oppress my friend), and to work generally toward the destruction of the idea of the sex class and toward equality of the sexes. And that these things would lessen or get rid of the special problems inherent in sex work in our society.

    Twisty would probably reply that if you actually reached all of those goals, sex work would no longer exist to be less inherently toxic, because sex work relies on capitalist inequality (which I imagine she’d formulate as incompatible with meaningful sex equality), relies on the existence of a sex class, and relies on a model that does not require enthusiastic consent.

    In the kind of future I think Twisty would imagine (and again, I’m speculating based on her writing), there might be a pool of people who wants sex and a pool of people willing to have sex with strangers. But in order for consent to really exist, the pool of people willing to provide sex would have to be free from economic coercion–they’d have to be able to say no whenever they wanted without fear of penalty. So there might be something that serves some of the purposes of prostitution (access to certain kinds of sex) but that would be unrecognizable as prostitution.

    I might reply that that’s a long-term view, that it might indeed be worth working toward a utopian anarcho-socialist society, but that in the meantime, one does not need to entirely eliminate sex equality or entirely model enthusiastic consent–one can simply increase these these things without achieving them entirely, and in the meantime, improve the situation of sex workers, just as working against unrestrained capitalism improves the situation of other oppressed workers.

    This is sort of the eternal back-and-forth between radicals and reformists. I have great respect for radicals, but identify as a reformist. I’m focused on incremental steps. Radicals are focused on the revolution.

    I think there’s a good argument for both, and I think Maia and Ampersand were having it in another thread. Maia was talking about the fact that revolution can occur at unexpected moments, that great movements for social change can happen any time, and are worth working for. I would say, it would be great if lightning would strike, but in the meantime, let’s make the incremental change we can. Let’s imagine great policy ideas that would fix everything, but bear in mind that we also need to know what policy ideas that won’t fix everything, but will improve things, we can actually use in the meantime. In my experience, most radicals would say, sure, yes, absolutely, go for the incremental changes, make those happen, that’s good, but keep your eye on the real goal, help be the conductor, help make lightning strike.

    In other words, I expect it’s at least partially a matter of focus. Twisty (I imagine) would say, sure, awesome, let’s reduce stigma against sex workers, which is stupid and awful and horribly damaging and oppressive. She’d also say, though, that sex work can’t ever really be non-oppressive because the circumstances that would make it non-oppressive would result in the dissolution of sex work. And I’d say, maybe that’s true, but that day is probably really far off, and getting rid of most varieties of oppression is going to be kind of like reaching the limit on a mathematical curve; pragmatically I need to focus on amelioration, not abolition.

    So, again, focus. I approve of her goals, but focus on the immediately achievable. She approves of the immediately achievable, but focuses on the goal.

    I think both things are probably necessary in political movements. But I also think it’s really easy for people to talk past each other, because time scale is not always integrated into the way that we talk about politics. When Twisty says “sex work is inherently oppressive” there’s a whole structure of political thought underlying that, and it’s not all expressed; when she says “women lack the ability to have totally free agency in a patriarchal system” she’s talking on a large scale, concerning groups and long ranges of time. When reformists reply “some sex workers are actually finding ways to seize agency” we’re talking about the local, the particular, the immediate, and there’s great reason to talk about those things. But if a radical replies, “she still doesn’t really have agency” then what’s happened is a change in scale; the sex worker is exercising agency and empowerment in an immediate way, and that’s fucking fantastic, but the systems which exist to make sex work complicated still exist outside of any particular happy circumstance.

  17. 17
    Mandolin says:

    Re: blow jobs:

    I wanted to address this separately because unlike the sex worker thing, I don’t think the blow job thing comes from a range of Twisty’s writings; it comes from one incident. I think it’s still more comprehensible in the context of all of Twisty’s writing.

    But I wanted to talk about it personally–Twisty’s post helped me understand the ways in which my relationship with my ex had been abusive, the reasons that I really don’t like having to give blow jobs (relating to abuse), the fact that I wasn’t crazy or alone or sex-negative or a bad partner because I didn’t like what had happened.

    So, yeah. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing she could have said. Myca has said that it could have been really damaging to women who did like giving blow jobs. I’m sorry that happened. I think that in the broader context of Twisty’s writings, it would be hard to read the comments as strictly as I think Myca does, but I also think a lot of writing has the potential to be damaging on one side, but productive in another, and I think that paying attention to ambiguity and nuance requires that we acknowledge something can be both. So I can be grateful for something, but acknowledge it may have been oppressive in another way. I’m still glad it happened.

    I’m also glad Dan Savage has a column. I’m glad he’s been a voice for sex positivity and joy in sex and alternate sexualities. I really wish he’d be less of an ass about sexism and fat phobia an transpobia and other issues. I find his worst offenses to be the couple of times he’s listened to descriptoins of what is clearly rape, and laughed them off–notably once he said that a husband who had sex with his sleeping wife multiple times, after she had explicitly said she did not want him to have sex with her while she was asleep, was not a rapist. Unlike the blow job thing, I don’t think there’s any positive side to that remark. It’s just damaging and awful. But it still doesn’t erase his good work.

  18. 18
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Myca says:
    February 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I would just like it if some radical feminists would ask themselves why this is such an ongoing issue in radfem spaces. I mean

    It’s not surprising. Any relatively orthodox movement has those problems.

    This is a feature of orthodoxy as applied to human behavior: the more invested that people are in a particular and limited set of beliefs, and the more they believe that they are “right,” the less likely that they tend to be willing to consider the feelings, viewpoints, or beliefs of others who aren’t part of their movement (and who are therefore “wrong.”) It’s also compounded by radicalism to some degree, mostly because the degree of radicalism affects the degree of potential overlap with average non-group members.

    That statement isn’t by any means aimed at radfems in particular. They’re in a class among many, across the political spectrum. I just think it may be useful to see the particular problem as an incidence of a larger (relatively universal) trait of group dynamics arising from orthodox radicalism, rather than a problem arising from the particular set of radfem beliefs.

  19. 19
    Elusis says:

    Thanks for all that, Mandolin.

    Twisty (I imagine) would say, sure, awesome, let’s reduce stigma against sex workers, which is stupid and awful and horribly damaging and oppressive.

    I don’t know.

    Because the way folks on that site talk about sex workers is often in a very “dur hur, herp” kind of way – “I’m liberated by pornifying myself!” and so forth. Very mocking, demeaning, condescending, etc. I have a very hard time imagining a radical feminist blog calling on radical feminists to stop that kind of talk about sex workers. My guess is that it would go about as well as the conversations about how maybe bashing transwomen should stop.

    And that’s pretty much how I felt about the blow job post too, like it was demeaning and condescending to women who like giving blow jobs. “You can’t possibly know what you actually think because you’re so horribly co-opted by the patriarchy.” Pick your issue that second-wave feminism railed against – wearing makeup, staying home with children, being a consumer of porn – and you get the same kind of attitude. It’s what fueled my thesis for my first master’s degree, where I argued that Annie Sprinkle’s performance art work should be included in the feminist theatre canon, and I had a terrific time going up against MacKinnon and Dworkin and all the other women who talked about other women like they must be idiots because they disagreed with the radfem analysis of their lives.

    The thing I can’t cope with about radfem nukers is that they *take other women down* with their rhetoric. Eight months ago I was fired from my job for performing in a mildly adult, legal, tasteful burlesque show, an act that was rife with opportunities for critical analysis of patriarchy (the gender of my institution’s president, my gender, my age, my body size, my queerness, and institutional power were all salient to the whole thing), but I feel pretty sure that a radfem response would be “well see, that’s what you get for thinking that taking your clothes off makes you empowered.”

    I don’t need their 101, or their appeasement, or their facts, or their emotional appeals, or any of it. I’m intimately familiar with the facts about women’s performances of sexuality as I’ve dealt with it on personal and professional levels for going on two decades now. There is no radfem space, however curated or moderated or managed, that works for me in terms of engagement because their very premise is one of fundamental disrespect to a significant number of women who matter a great deal to me. As far as I can tell, radical feminism has not dealt with this at all since the 70s, and if a movement that’s supposed to be for women can’t stop crapping on women in 40 years, I’ve got nothing to say to it.

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    Well, except that Twisty describes wearing makeup as patriarchal camouflage and it kind of is. She doesn’t insult people who do it. People in comments sometimes do.

    It’s not that makeup can’t be fun, but it really doesn’t exist as a standalone fun thing in our society. It has cultural meaning. So do high heels. And compulsory femininity is definitely the suck, yes? It’s nice that some people enjoy performing femininity, but it sucks that those of us who don’t really are still expected to, and so are those of us who like it occasionally but don’t particularly want to wear makeup whenever we leave the house. It also sucks that men who want to perform femininity are vulnerable to violence, whether they’re executive transvestites in the Eddie Izzard model or drag queens.

    I hope you know I was horrified by what happened to you re: your job. I said so elsewhere… That was really awful and I’m totally horrified. I think the productive radfem response would be less saying you deserved it than pointing out that while burlesque offers certain opportunities for critique, it can’t be truly empowering while it exists within the context of the kind of shithead oppression that got you fired. (I guess my response to that from my POV would be to question the absolutism of the word truly, in synch with my feeling that much of femininity and femininity performance exists in a space where it’s both awesome in some ways and potentially harmful in others, and I generally try to respect individuals to figure out how to balance that. e.g. I’m aware that my participation in compulsory femininity contributes to the culture in which other women have little space to rebel; I’m also aware that I benefit from it in some ways–it empowers me to take action in the public sphere–and I’m willing to say that I think the substantive benefit of my empowerment is worth the minimal additive power of my contribution to the culture of compulsory femininity.)

    That’s not to say that the non-productive radfem comments don’t exist. I respect that people feel shut out of those spaces as women, and I kind of do too sometimes, but I also often feel shut out of sex positive spaces like Clarisse’s or Renegade Evolution’s, too. And certainly spaces like Savage Love. I’m not sure either side has really nailed the “don’t crap on other women” thing.

  21. 21
    Elusis says:

    See the makeup conversation winds up back at the same place.

    Radical Feminist: Wearing makeup is a tool of the patriarchy.

    Me: I can appreciate your points; however I like makeup for many reasons unrelated to the patriarchy.

    RF: It’s impossible to divorce makeup from the patriarchy.

    Me: I feel pretty confident in my ability to hold a both/and space around the meanings of makeup for myself.

    RF: That’s because you just don’t get it.

    And scene.

    much of femininity and femininity performance exists in a space where it’s both awesome in some ways and potentially harmful in others, and I generally try to respect individuals to figure out how to balance that

    Which is pretty much where I come down as well, but the RF response to that always, always winds up amounting to “well if you think you can know your own mind under patriarchy, you are kidding yourself.”

  22. 22
    Mandolin says:

    OK. That’s really not what I think radfems necessarily say. I mean, seriously, reading Twisty gave me the tools to understand and articulate my relationship to makeup. I think your reading of her is reductionist. I don’t mean that to be insulting because I think you’re super smart and I respect you, but I really fundamentally don’t think that’s where the radfem’s–or at least where Twisty’s–analysis starts and ends. I guess that’s irreconcilable.

  23. 23
    Schala says:

    Twisty might be more nuanced and deep about her analysis, but other radfems you can encounter, on say, Michfest boards, or their respective blogs – are pretty much as Elusis says.

    The moderates who have more nuanced views sometimes go up to renounce their membership as radfems at all, because of the hating, so yeah.

    You get people super offended at being ‘labeled’ cissexual, while being perfectly comfy using male names, pronouns, citing ‘male energy’ (whatever that is – apparently the mere presence of someone assigned male at birth is enough) as being chaotic for womyn; to deny the existence of trans women as women. I’ve also heard the “you sound like a man, you look like a man” thing – coming from butch lesbians too – basically because they don’t agree (Zoe Brain is everything but hostile, I wonder how come she can remain so civil given the pile-on of vitriol aimed at her over there on Michfest boards).

    As a side note, I’m still member of the boards there apparently, even the forum shift preserved member info. Got much thicker skin than 3 years ago – when I was only about a year into transition.

  24. 24
    Mandolin says:

    Yes, the assholes abound. I just feel like there can be more to those arguments. Not the transphobic ones which are amazingly stupid.

  25. 25
    Schala says:

    Well, even outside the transphobic arguments, I’ve also seen what Elusis said about everyone who is not strictly anti-porn anti-sex work and anti-PIV is a “fun-fem” who is supporting patriarchy.

    Some even said that 3rd wave feminism is ‘men’s feminism’ (because it apparently only caters to their wants/needs, re: sex).

    Any critique of the value of choice, without the rejection outright of certain choices, is seen as being brainwashed.

    If you value make-up, wearing heels, corsets for some times you want (events or whatever) or anything that might have or have had patriarchal value in the past (staying home as a mother) – you’re an agent of patriarchy, and not a feminist.

    And if you don’t put women’s (meaning non-trans women only) issues first and foremost at all times, not racism, classism or helping non-1st-world countries, well, you’re not doing feminism according to them.

    I’d really love to see writings from the rare ones who are more nuanced and have more intelligent arguments.

    If the hater ones even have good arguments at all (about anything), it gets buried under their hate – much like MRA’s ideas.

  26. 26
    Elusis says:

    Mandolin – I am, without a doubt, paraphrasing. But I seriously spent the better part of a decade with feminism as my primary stomping grounds and sex work, femme gender, queer female-ness, and third wave/sex positive feminism as my primary areas of interest, and at the end of the day, after all the works were cited and the logic unpicked and quotations summarized, it really was my experience that the radical feminist argument against all of those things was “well if that’s really what you think, then you just don’t get it.” When the dust settles, from a radical feminist perspective, you either agree with them or you are mistaken, misled, lying to yourself, cravenly lying to others, unenlightened, or otherwise missing the forest for the trees. I spent hundreds of pages attempting to unpack the second wave radical feminist arguments about sex work and sexual performance, and that was their Q.E.D. : those who don’t agree with us have not been enlightened as we have. You’re either with us or you’re against us (and against women).

    I am willing to allow that some kind of more nuanced stance may have appeared here and there among individual radical feminists and their work, but all the comment moderating in the world would not make me feel like it was a good idea for me to go spend time in radical feminist space looking for signs of it. I mean honestly, I kind of wonder, in the way you kind of wonder a thing you thought of just this second at 1:20am which may not be entirely thought through, if I don’t feel as though radical feminism owes a lot of women a big old apology before it starts getting any credit for redeeming itself. Radical feminism has felt to me every bit as dehumanizing and abusive toward women who do their woman-ness “wrong” as any man acting out of misogyny. Radical feminism has made a great deal of hay out of the bodies of women it disapproves of for decades, and I think reparations are called for, or at least responsibility-taking, before we start negotiating doing couples therapy. (is that the worst metaphor ever? Possibly. I am a very tired third wave queer family systems therapist tonight who talked way too much about sexual and gender minorities all evening after sitting up until 3 in the morning getting prepared.)

    Schala: I would not agree with your characterization of the radical feminist perspective as “hatred.”

  27. 27
    Elusis says:

    And to return to the topic of the original post: I have found myself becoming more and more useless at online 101 discussions, with less and less ability to stop myself from becoming an insta-Nuker, to the point that I probably need Nukers Anonymous, particularly given the level of rage I frequently experience at people whom I think are being over-Appeasing when I believe they should know better (i.e. act differently).

    I haven’t been able to do the Fatosphere in a couple of years now, which is sad, and I’m getting to the point where I’m practically useless in 101s about race, gender, and homophobia, because someone says something stupid and I just want to go all Dalek on them. EXTERMINATE.

  28. 28
    Maia says:

    So this post made me think a lot. Partly because I can’t place myself in any of those categories. But thinking about where I fit made me really think about the different roles I play, and the validity of different roles, and that I often feel conflicted about what roles I want to play.

    But I’ve found the comment thread even more interesting – I want to throw a few ideas in here.

    Elusis – Just before I say anything else that was super shit that you got fired. And anyone who doesn’t side with you in that situation is a bad feminist and has an even worse analysis of structural power in our society.

    I don’t think, give your experience, you have any reason to be generous, but I do think that the arguments you describe having in the 1990s and later doesn’t necessarily reflect radical feminism ideas as they were originally developed. If we define radical feminism with the reasonably standard definition that sexism is the original source of oppression (a belief I personally think is unsupportable, improveable and irrelevant) – I don’t think that alone leads to the conversation you out-lined. It’s the combination of that belief and that individualism is a key part of political change.

    For me the problematic part of this: “Wearing makeup is a tool of the patriarchy.” is the ‘wearing’. Makeup is a tool of the patriarchy in our society (I find the concept ‘patriarchy’ unspecific and unuseful, but I’m willing to use it as short-hand). But you don’t change that by wearing a lot of makeup, a little makeup, no makeup, or even by having . Individual decisions about makeup don’t change the role makeup plays in society.

    Me? I think the best way of resolving these issues was set out by Carol Hanisch in 1969.

    The relationship between individualism and radical feminist ideas is a complex one, as individualism played an increasing role in so-called radical politics over the last forty years, but for different reasons. I basically think it’s a scourge of meaningful left-wing politics. I guess I don’t disagree with you about the ridiculousness of those arguments, just where the ridiculousness comes from.

    ********

    I think there’s a good argument for both, and I think Maia and Ampersand were having it in another thread. Maia was talking about the fact that revolution can occur at unexpected moments, that great movements for social change can happen any time, and are worth working for. I would say, it would be great if lightning would strike, but in the meantime, let’s make the incremental change we can. Let’s imagine great policy ideas that would fix everything, but bear in mind that we also need to know what policy ideas that won’t fix everything, but will improve things, we can actually use in the meantime. In my experience, most radicals would say, sure, yes, absolutely, go for the incremental changes, make those happen, that’s good, but keep your eye on the real goal, help be the conductor, help make lightning strike.

    To me that argument wasn’t really reform or revolution – but where to orient ourselves in the struggle. It seemed to me (and I may be wrong) that Amp was suggesting an orientation towards power structures. Asking “what will make them change” and take it from there. Whereas I think that’s a very limiting orientation, and there is so much more potential if you orient yourself towards people, and building resistance.

    Here’s the thing – I’m a historian who focuses on studying left-wing political movements. Reform is as likely (if not more likely) to be brought about by those who are orienting themselves towards organising people, than those who are orienting themselves towards power structures. Or (and this is counter-intuative) trying to achieve reform isn’t necessarily any more successful at achieving reform than trying to achieve radical fundamental change.

    Personally I dislike the lightning striking metaphor. Every single one of the examples I used were about people trying to create change and it being much more amazing in many ways than they expected. Massive social movements don’t just happen, they’s something people make happen, and something that can be made sense of afterwards. It’s just that we can’t see the future so we can’t make sense, or predict them, before they happen.

  29. 29
    Mandolin says:

    Schala, as I suspected, Twisty has made clear in her latest post that people who didn’t see their comments posted weren’t banned, but caught in auto-moderation. So you’re not banned.

    It happens here, too, though we try to catch the comments that get filtered for no good reason. Generally we can do this, but there are several of us who collaborate to do it, and so if one of us finds the blog disgusting/uninteresting for a few days or a few weeks other people can pick up the slack; that’s not the case at IBTP and I know Twisty has basically said she hates moderating, which makes sense, since it sucks. I do think it contributes to clusterfuckism, though.

    Interestingly, the debate about whether radical feminism necessitates binary, unnuanced views seems to be raging over there, as some people have demanded Twisty’s radfem card because she maintains that trans women are women. (FWIW, she said, “Fine, then I’m not a radical feminist.”)

  30. 30
    Schala says:

    Well, something about her filters is weird to me. You’d think mention of gender wouldn’t be caught in moderation on a feminist site. Or even just quoting someone who did manage to get past the filters.

    No links, nothing obscene, no wall of text even. A sentence or two, with innocuous language…so yeah. I can’t really participate with such filters on.

  31. 31
    Myca says:

    Interestingly, the debate about whether radical feminism necessitates binary, unnuanced views seems to be raging over there, as some people have demanded Twisty’s radfem card because she maintains that trans women are women. (FWIW, she said, “Fine, then I’m not a radical feminist.”)

    Wow, good for her.

    —Myca

  32. 32
    Mandolin says:

    Eh, I get filtered out at feministe periodically for no reason I can discern; filters are odd beasties. Twisty’s may be exceptionally weird. I’m just saying it’s not personal.

  33. 33
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Hey, Mandolin. I just realized that I never responded to this post — I think it’s because at the time, I felt overwhelmed by the comments on the OP, and also the comments over here seemed focused on transphobia, which is a topic I rarely feel qualified to comment on.

    But I just wanted to leave a comment letting you know that I found this post very valuable, and I still do, and I just linked some friends to it again. :)