Friday, April 11, 2008

Explaining Feminist Blogosphere Eruptions

You can set your watch to Old Faithful and to dust ups in the Feminist blogosphere.
This is a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, but I find it an interesting to diverge occasionally from civil liberties and media criticism. I'm not going to bother to link to the blog storm in question.

There's nothing quite like a good old fashioned blog storm. What is it about Feminist blogs that makes these eruptions a common occurrence? My theory: accuracy, honesty and critical thinking are not things you can turn on and off. When dishonesty, stubbornness and intellectual laziness are accomodated by a culture it's only natural for internal disputes to display all those ugly attributes.

In this particular dust up Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon is accused of "stealing" from lesser known bloggers. According to her critics (currently centered around Feministe) Amanda is stubborn and marked by a persecution complex, unwilling to admit to the slightest wrongdoing. According to Amanda her detractors are engaged in substance-free attacks on her character. Both of these accusations are true to some degree. Why wouldn't they be? In the Feminist blogosphere substance-free attacks are commonplace and Amanda herself has always been defensive and stubborn.

Amanda is Amanda is Amanda

I should note that I generally like Amanda's writing and Pandagon is in my links on the right.

I first came across Amanda in the Salon piece Why I had to quit the John Edwards campaign. In the piece and in subsequent blog postings and comments Amanda refused to acknowledge that posting inflammatory pieces on her personal blog while working for the Edwards' campaign was poor judgement. Her persecution complex was in full display here, yet the reaction from the Feminist blogosphere was almost total and universal support.

Amanda was one of the bloggers fueling the Duke rape case frenzy. Although the Duke lacrosse players were exonerated Amanda, along with much of the Feminist blogosphere, refused to admit any error whatsoever. Many doubled-down, claiming that the lacrosse players simply had to be guilty by virtue of being white young males of privilege. This stubborn refusal to give an inch was a black-eye on the credibility of Feminist bloggers, but within the Feminist blogosphere Amanda was again applauded for her stubbornness.

Those same supporters are now shocked and outraged over her refusal to give an inch to them.

Outrage Culture Can't Be Switched Off

For her part Amanda complains that her detractors are unreasonable, vicious and outright fabricators but Amanda should expect no less.

Many of the commenters attacking Amanda rely on intellectually lazy sloganeering: "it's not about you" and "your privilege is showing." There's no retort to these claims because the claims themselves are devoid of real meaning. These same slogans are regularly employed against "white dudes" and "Nice Guys" with no objection from Amanda or anyone else in the Feminist blogosphere. It's only now that these catchphrases are turned against Amanda that she sees how vapid they are.

Amanda's detractors continue to make baseless claims, including claims that are provably false. Amanda complains but she is well aware that at Feministe baseless claims are considered acceptable. I've been called a "McCain voter" and "a rapist" by Feministe commenters, and while I'm many things I'm neither of those. Evidenceless accusations have rarely bothered Amanda when the enemy was men's rights activists or right-wingers; it's only now that she is the enemy that she objects to meritless character assassination.

Does This Look Familiar to Anyone Else?

Yes, I'm going there. The shoe fits.

1. A person is accused of something awful and subjected to vicious personal attacks.
2. That person responds with "prove it."
3. The accusers claim that having to prove it unfairly puts the onus on the victimized minority.
4. The accused conclusively proves their innocence.
5. The accusers don't apologize. Instead they argue that because the accused is a white privileged person they must be guilty of...something.
6. And finally they claim that it was never about this specific incident anyway, it was always about the power dynamic between white privileged people and women of color, and anyone harping on this specific incident is guilty of missing the big picture.

I could swear I've seen this before.

The Moral of Our Story

A culture that turns a blind eye towards distortion and dishonesty can not be switched off and will on occasion turn inwards. The stubbornness that Amanda is being bashed for is the exact same stubbornness she's been praised for in the past. The empty reactionary rhetoric that she find herself the target of is the same rhetoric her former allies have always relied on.

A recent popular mocking phrase on blogs is "it's OK if I do it." What we see here is "it's OK if I do it to you." When "you" is "white dudes" or "typical progressives" or MRAs or Republicans it's OK, but now Amanda and her detractors are set against each other and cry bloody murder at tactics they've previously revelled in. Turns out being the "you" isn't as much fun as being the "I."

Blog commenter Pinko Punko, addressing the split between Obama and Clinton Feminist camps, hits the nail right on head:

If we have previously overestimated certain individuals ability to emotionally divest themselves from particular topics, we have no one but ourselves to blame, because back when they were preaching to the choir using similar emotional and incendiary language we all sang in tune. Funny how when we now don’t agree the same tune seems so harsh to our delicate ears.

What This Post is Not About

Sadly I must add disclaimers. This post is not about any of the following things:

That women are stupid.
That feminists are stupid.
That Amanda Marcotte and the people at Feministe are stupid.
That men's rights activists, Republicans, "white dudes", "typical progressives" and Duke Lacrosse players are either awesome or terrible.
That there is some sort of direct moral equivalence between Amanda and the Duke Lacrosse players.
That dishonest rhetoric is monopolized by anyone mentioned in this post.
That anyone mentioned anywhere in this post is getting what they deserve or not getting it.

I could write a very similar post about the clash between Obama and Hillary supporting Democrats, or about the clash between various factions of Republicans split across Ron Paul or John McCain lines, or about the clash between left and right leaning libertarians. The Feminist blogosphere is merely a good example of a behavior that is hardly unique. Online communities encouraging lazy reactionary thinking are commonplace, as are the inevitable blowups when the firing squad turns circular.

Even More Equivocating

In fairness to Amanda being stubborn is hardly a rare failing and not a particularly serious one. (I myself am stubborn to a fault) And in fairness to Feministe commenters it only takes a few bad and overly enthused apples to ruin the bunch. In all these eruptions the same small set of names keeps showing up.


Anonymous said...

I just laugh at the fools who ask me (Lenape heritage) to examine my white privilege. I don't bother to inform them of their error. I fear total protonic reversal* at the interjection of such an offensive contradiction to the meme being reinforced in that angry house of cards. That, and I might have to negotiate the terms of their claim to the territory from which they write and my negotiation schedule is booked solid with volunteers.

I would like to thank the Queen of England and the British people for their work on the English language. I could not have written this post without their contributions.

*A big shout out to Dr. Egon Spengler and protons everywhere.

Margalis said...

Thanks for your comment. I must confess I had to look up what Lenape is.

It's distressing that some people believe they can divine race from a few comments, and that by collalary there is such a thing as "acting white."

It's somewhat similar to the reflexive compulsion to call all war supporters chickenhawks.

Anonymous said...

No.. but this thread does seem to be about how stupid and angry race conscious feminists are and how empty their "white privilege" and "appropriation" rhetoric is. That, you do well.

"Anonymous", please note that your 1/14th Cherokee Sioux heritage doesn't make you nonwhite. It doesn't disgorge your white privilege. If you can pass as white, you are "white" for the purposes of white privilege. You get the privilege that accompanies being able to pass for white. Though I know having your "BUT I'M NOT WHITE I SWEAR" card comes in handy in online debates.

Margalis said...

"White privilege" rhetoric is only "stupid and empty" when it exists in bumper-sticker form.

White privilege certainly does exist. My objection is to sloganeering: "it's not about you" or "your privilege is showing" minus any further argument. Especially in this case "it's not about you" makes no sense whatsoever.

Being white and privileged doesn't automatically make people wrong. In the Feministe thread you have J. Goff, a white male himself, using that as a club to beat people down. He isn't a WOC or a "race conscious feminist", he's just a guy that enjoys fighting.

J. Goff is a prime example of someone who will go berserk and call people racists and rapists and whatever else at the drop of a hat, and rarely if ever have I seen anyone say "c'mon now this is getting ridiculous."

The inability to disown the craziest members of a movement is something hardly unique to the Feminist blogosphere, but those people have a way of defining the conversation. Just as the conservative movement is hard to take seriously when people like Ann Coulter spew their garbage again and again, the fact that people like Goff keep getting let back into the heavily moderated room says some bad things about what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Margalis said...

I would point out once again that in all these blowups the same names come up time and time again. It's clear that 5% of the people are responsible for 95% of the acrimony.

I think most of what has been said on both sides has been reasonable, but the extremes define the conversation. And rarely does a moderator or the general commentariat smack down these extremists and call them out in any way.

That's what I mean by a culture of distortion and dishonesty. I'll edit my original post slightly to make it clear I mean a culture that turns a blind eye towards these things, not a culture that is defined by them.

J. Miklos said...

I understand your point better now, but I don't think being passionate or angry discredits a very valid criticism. Citing one individual who says "it's not about you!" is not an appropriate representation of that side of the debate, at least not from what I've seen in Hugo's post. It's actually quite unfair.

I am not familiar with J. Goff's life history or blogging style, but it's not very relevant to this next point. Even a white male can be a race conscious feminist. He must recognize his own privilege as a white male and work against racism and sexism and the ways in which they intersect. That is all. I am not aware of how J. Goff is using his whiteness and maleness as a club to beat anyone down. If anything, Hugo does that in his rush to protect Amanda and destroy any criticism of her wrongful actions and her disappointing response to the whole debacle.

And please note that I did not and would not say that being white and privileged automatically makes you wrong. That is an incredible strawman, both with regards to my post, and those who fall on that side of the argument. However, being white and privileged, appropriating ideas that you are an admitted regular consumer of and ignoring the ways in which your ability to present these ideas as solely your own without so much as a brief link to a well known online thinker on the topic is an incredible showing of privilege. And that's the thing about privilege; it's really hard to see and admit if you have it.

I think that's all anyone's ever wanted.

Margalis said...

I don't disagree with much of your comment.

I am not attempting to discredit either side. My purpose was to explain these eruptions in the Feminist blogosphere, not to declare a winner in them.

I've seen a lot of blowups that are much more acrimonious than they have any right to be. Every blog community has internal disputes but in the Feminist blogosphere they seem to explode in a way that is somewhat unique. As I said in my post, you can see the same sort of thing happening with Obama/Clinton supporters or in the right-wing blogs with Paul or McCain, but those explosions don't occur on a regular frequency.

Again I would point to PP's quote which is says it very well:

"when they were preaching to the choir using similar emotional and incendiary language we all sang in tune. Funny how when we now don’t agree the same tune seems so harsh to our delicate ears."

When you look at some of the Feminist blogosphere dustups they are just way out of proportion to the offense: a photoshopped sandwhich, a woman on a blog linking to nasty comments with implicit but not explicit contempt for them, etc etc. That last one ended with Zuzu quitting the internet for a while and the woman in question quitting her job, over a reading comprehension issue!

The community has gotten a little too used to fighting the bad guys and doesn't know when to sheathe the knives. Fighting dragons and all that.

Chicken Dance said...


Of course, the next commenter can divine the level of dilution of my heritage through the Internet to reach the conclusion that I look white. So yes, you quite rightly saw my point. Yet, this sort of thing passes for logical thought among certain crowds.

There is no sense in engaging them further. Much like a housewife is cornered and berated into admission of her guilt, they adopt the same practices they claim to despise as if it will go without notice.

The progressive movement is disserviced by these radicals. I suppose it is best to ignore them and continue the discussions and leave them to talk at themselves.

Margalis said...

That certainly was odd. Is it even possible to be 1/14 something? I'd figure the denominator has to be a power of 2. But then I'm not an expert on these things. And yes, that comment did illustrate my point about empty reactionary rhetoric.

That said, there is a little too much "them" and "they" in your comment. I think you are casting the net a little wide.

Chicken Dance said...


Thank you for the reminder.

It is a common use of the language, the words they and them. Yet another way in which simple discussion has to be modified, coded into proper terms so as not offend someone. Another offense to absorb into this list of offenses that begin to have no meaning and perhaps never did.

The radicals are recognizable on their own words and actions. I do not wish to engage in naming people individually or lump them into a group that might not warrant such a designation.

Nonetheless, I've had my moment to explain and will respect your wishes while here. Thank you for sharing your space.

J. Miklos said...

I used the odd fraction intentionally, to further make my point in a satirical fashion about how the majority of people resistant to admitting white privilege cite some minuscule portion of their heritage that is nonwhite as if this immediately destroys any claims of white privilege. "But I couldn't be benefiting from white privilege, see, my great great grandmother's second cousin was Cherokee!". It happens often enough to disgust me. I couldn't care less what the actual percentage is, if it is indeed used as a "Get out of white privilege free card."

"Chicken dance" wrote that he/ she is asked repeatedly by others to examine his/ her white privilege. If this is face to face interaction, then I'd assume people would be judging his/ her appearance as sufficiently white to be a benefactor of white privilege. If it's internet interaction he/ she's referring to, then they should have been more clear. Though, I'd venture to say that internet people are reminding "chicken dance" of white privilege, there's a reason for it.

Throwing "radical" around like it's an insult is in poor taste, and only serves to further homogenize the already exclusivity and conformity of mainstream feminism.

And the housewife jabs are confusing and cryptic. Care to explain your point?

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Can jealous people just leave Amanda alone for 5 minutes?!!

Anonymous said...

“ "your privilege is showing." There's no retort to these claims because the claims themselves are devoid of real meaning.”
It’s fundamentalist thinking specifically intended to close – not open – dialogue. I know the “Truth” – you can either agree or be wrong.
When Obama used the word “periodically” when talking about Clinton it was intentional, demeaning and sexist. You disagree – your privilege is showing.
God said all human life is sacred thus abortion is wrong. You disagree – your path to hell is showing.
Its an argument – no strike that – its not an argument – it’s a cheap rhetorical device used by the intellectually lazy and/or dull.