The real toxicity of online feminism
By NicoleFroio on January 30, 2014
[TW: Transphobia, online harassment]
Infighting within the feminist movement has been rampant for decades. It is not, as one would assume, something new to the age of social media where everyone has a space to speak out their opinions. Disagreements on sexual liberation, objectification, slut-shaming, safe spaces and personal choices have always been present, but never in such a way that exposes the real exclusionary nature of mainstream feminism.
Writing for The Nation, Michelle Goldberg criticised the nature of online feminism that supposedly stifles feminist discourse because of its political correctness nature - seemingly, many feminists are afraid of posting their ideas online lest they be criticised by other feminists. As feminist blogger Katherine Cross, a trans woman from Puerto Rico, put it: “I fear being cast suddenly as one of the ‘bad guys’ for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to me at the time of publication,”
It is hard to see your personal effort and work be deconstructed and destroyed by people online. By all accounts, being told you're wrong is a difficult thing to hear and it rarely ever results in an apology or a deeper exploration of that subject. When Jessica Valenti and Courtney Martin published their arduously written "#FemFuture: Online Revolution" report and received heavy criticism, it probably wasn't an easy thing to deal with. But that is the nature of being a public figure and releasing your work into the community, where, whether you like it or not, your work will be discussed.
While Goldberg has delved into this particular side of mainstream feminism she has failed to probe the real bullying in the online community. In a disingenuous reference to Jo Freeman's 1976 Ms magazine article “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,” Goldberg alludes to isolation and being reduced 'to a parody of yourself' as your sister discuss whether or not you have earned you feminist credentials. This is a curious way to go when mainstream feminism is constantly, obsessively criticising self-identified feminist Beyoncé, trying to strip her of her new-found feminism and - how fitting - make her into a parody of herself.
Perhaps a valuable thing to take away from Goldberg's piece is that discussion in feminism should not be a matter of personal criticism but a conversation where clear arguments are laid out without name-calling. This is no doubt a valuable and valid point to take in, but what Golberg fails to acknowledge is that the alleged 'bullies' also get bullied in a much greater, life-threatening way.
Caitlin Moran, a prominent and famous feminist columnist, has equated being a woman to having a vagina and used the word tr*nny in her book How to Be a Woman. To the trans* community (and trans* inclusive feminism) this rightly translated to transphobia and Moran was widely criticised online. The result was an apology and an edit of her book, which seems a pretty tame result to 'bullying'. But that's what happens when you are a white middle class famous feminist.
But if we look to the other side, to the marginalized feminists, it is pretty obvious they only wish they could be so lucky as Moran. Trans* activist Sophia Banks has been repeatedly harassed by trans* exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) since she came out as a trans* woman, and it has completely ruined her life. Cathy Brennan, a prominent and controversial feminist, has led a vendetta against Banks, inciting transphobes to post fake reviews of her photography business on Yelp! Banks will be homeless this week and hasn't eaten in two days because of this harassment. It seems very privileged of mainstream feminists to cry about being bullied when stories like Banks' are hadly ever covered in the media. As with everything in mainstream feminism, the only bullying that is exposed and discussed is that of the most prominent feminists, who are mostly cis, straight and white and have been protected by this wide privilege their whole lives.
It is undeniable that Twitter has opened the door to millions of mouthy critics, but as daunting as that can be to a writer, excluding blatant abuse, this is a good thing. Being reachable and being held accountable is an important, even if completely upsetting, part of being a public voice. I have been told I am a 'dumb f*ck', that I will never 'get a man' because I am so opinionated, that I am a 'man-hater' but I have yet to become afraid for my life or lose my livelihood for the person that I am.
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