Feminist Aspie

Angry Feminists Are Not Your Playthings

on November 19, 2014

(Content note: Discussion of anti-choice rhetoric, general abuser dynamics, and brief references to rape, abuse and harassment)

Here’s something I’ve seen in literally every online feminist discussion space I’ve ever been in:

  1. Someone (almost invariably a man; sometimes, but not always, an actively malicious troll from the start) says something problematic.
  2. The issue with what they’ve just said is pointed out to them, directly but politely.
  3. Because there’s this general idea that accusing someone of an -ism is worse than the thing that led to the accusation (and it isn’t: only one of those things promotes a real, harmful power structure), the person takes this as a personal attack, and becomes defensive rather than maybe consider that they need to change their behaviour/language/viewpoint.
  4. They continue this until a long, unnecessary, derailing comment thread develops.
  5. They paint the people who called them out as the problem for “making such a big deal of it”, and are often believed, because feminists are so angry and aggressive and argumentative amirite? This is called gaslighting. Google it.
  6. The majority of threads, in which genuinely-well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake are nudged in the right direction without major drama and discussion remains civil because there’s nobody deliberately trying to aggravate it, is disregarded, either deliberately or just because it isn’t as memorable or likely to repeatedly show up on the news feed.
  7. Suddenly, the whole group is criticised for being too argumentative, hostile, full of personal attacks (which on further inspection boil down to “pointing out something problematic”) and silencing “different opinions” (often code for sexist/transphobic/homophobic etc. views which literally cost lives). Nobody considers who actually started the arguments.
  8. People become scared to contribute because they don’t want to get caught up in arguments; with the actual cause of the conflicts long forgotten, this eventually becomes “scared to contribute because they don’t want to get called out” because of the aforementioned gaslighting.
  9. The conversation becomes one about how to avoid hurting the feelings of well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake, which was never the problem, rather than the actual problem of how to deal with the trolls.
  10. The confirmation bias phenomenon kicks in; feminists are seen as irrational and overly aggressive, so when the next man-starting-shit comes along, they’re more likely to be able to paint feminists as the aggressors.

Seriously. It’s the same thing in Every. Single. Forum. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was something similar going on in offline spaces, too.

Telling a man that maybe he might need to re-consider is eventually exaggerated into aggression and some angry-mob-of-irrational-feminists-with-pitchforks. Dale Splender once noted “The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence” and I think the same might be true more specifically when a woman confronts someone; her level of assertiveness is not compared to what is expected of men, it’s compared to what is expected of a silent, compliant, smiling background decoration. I know that personally, offline at least, I spend a lot of time being that “polite” silent woman because I’m too scared to confront people, and consequently I have certain male friends/relatives/etc who see me as some sort of “acceptable feminist” because I’m not like those feminists they see online. (Oh, if only they knew…) This really saddens me, because although they might not know it, the message I get from this is “women who stand up for themselves are okay, as long as they only do it in their own heads because of huge underlying anxiety issues” (stay tuned next week for more on that, by the way) and hopefully I don’t need to explain all the different levels of why that’s not okay.

Anyway, enough about me – let’s look at the bigger picture. 1 in 3 women will be abused by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and 1 in 5 women will suffer rape or attempted rape. Too often, these women are then blamed for the violence against them. We live in a world where men feel entitled to our lives and our bodies; we’re harassed in the street, in the workplace, everywhere, coerced into just-giving-in, or risking literally being killed for saying no. We’re paid less for equal work outside the home, and often still left to do virtually all the unpaid and undervalued work within it. We’re criticised for having children and going to work, for having children and not going to work, and for not having children. In media, we’re an afterthought, reduced to archetypes, and the structural violence against us is sometimes glorified. We’re underrepresented in politics, in law, in science, in virtually all positions of power. As noted above, we’re talked over. We’re shouted down. In many cases, we’re literally silenced. It’s normal. It’s something we’re used to. It usually goes completely unnoticed.

And you’re outraged because a woman disagreed with you on the internet?!

Yes, feminists are often angry – there’s a lot to be angry about. As we’ve seen this week, certain cis men think they can have a say in what those of us with a uterus should do with it. Even if we ignore the fact that this “debate” was organised by a pro-life group, frankly, our healthcare rights should not be up for debate, at least not between people that can only see it as an intellectual exercise – a sport, even. And no, they’re not “objective”, because nobody can be. After opposition and a planned protest, the college due to host the event pulled out.

“Students are killing freedom of speech!” the men declared to the world, from their fucking newspaper columns. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up.

“But why wouldn’t you allow a debate?” Maybe because to us, this is not a game. We might be seen as argumentative, but I for one don’t enjoy having to “debate” my own human rights. It’s demeaning to be constantly asked to justify why we deserve to be seen as full humans. Or maybe it’s because we know how this “debate” is going to end before it even starts; we’re not silent, complaint background decorations, so we’ll be seen as an aggressive irrational mob compared to the calm and rational cis men – who, of course, are calm because they’re not the ones who constantly have to put up with such constant policing of their bodies and life choices. We’d be laughed off.

Which brings me back to those men who like to deliberately stir up arguments on online feminist discussion groups. Because to them, it’s funny.

It’s funny when feminists get angry.

It’s funny when women get angry.

And I am so, so fucking tired of being seen as a wind-up toy.

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17 responses to “Angry Feminists Are Not Your Playthings

  1. cambriaj1977 says:

    I am also tired of being seen as a wind-up toy, or as a toy in general. Good article.

  2. The most insidious comments, I found, were demeaning in an inverted way, from other women actually, reminding me how *sad* my situation, or how terrible they felt for me, but how it was really “unhealthy” foor me to “cry” all over the net, etc, ending always with an unsolicited diagnosis of some DSM category—and all that in response to my poetry! Or I would find a comment accusing me of “implicitly” writing something negative about them…so, I would think and think, and eventually write a long grovelling apology for whatever the person thought they could mind read about my “secret” motives. ..Argh…it isn’t exactly “gaslighting” given their profoundly professed deep empathy for me….but whatever that distorted rhetoric is called, the harmful effect was the same. Like a big old shame bomb…Plus, I could not CALL them on the B.S., because other readers might then say how unfair and ungracious I was treating my poor “victim”… I felt more and more damaged and disordered as time went on, feeling like it had to be true…and I was as blind and “narcissistic” as suggested.. I gradually lost my strong authentic “voice” and started putting on appearances, acting compliant, etc. I believe that this kind of gaslighting is a kind of social domination and alienation that is not intentional, simply ubiquitous. It is the kind of harmful, symbolic violence that mostly goes unnoticed. I think it is more damaging than the obvious isms..because framed as helping or caring. The more I tried to explain myself, the worse the crazymaking grew. After I decided to write my professional paper, and close my blog, in angst, I read through the comments again and saw a lot of similar patterns, where I had not wanted to accept the distortions…I wanted to have my blog “friends”. The twisted discourse should not have been mine to carry like a personal burden of…? It was only later that I was able to see the B.S. as social domination, and removed most of it. It seems like blogging can be very sickening (it was for me) when the blogging culture norms suggest that we shy away from requesting reasoned discourse when meanings seem “off”…i hope my comment is relevant although very long, again. I really need to start my paper…and get this stuff OUT. I will be one happy woman when my computer finally arrives… These language problems are not inside individuals, I believe,, as much as they are hidden inside the dominant discourses we learn to not call out. I call this the Fight Club theory of blogging.(As in “Do not talk about……) My own participation in it has painful to face. 😦

  3. Thanks. I am ok now, but it was a dillemma until recently.

    More to your main point… I used to have a list of readings that i suggested to men when confronting that kind of domination in face to face exchanges— the online circumstances you describe so succinctly. (Yep the list, is on my broken laptop, Lol.) But at the top of the list, i recall, was Refusing to be a Man, by John Stoltenberg (?sp). More recent essays by men who identify as radical feminists could also be potentally helpful…one essay in particular, with dreaming in the title…oh well. 🙂

    ANYWAY, I never had a comment from a man, when i was blogging about domination/rape culture, but i had a tentative plan for that scenario, as follows…

    Although it wasn’t my job to educate or enlighten, my thought process was like so: if i provided a link to the list of readings, say, starting with “Refusing…” , well, then, my part in that exchange was done. If the person wanted to understand, I could spare myself and others the endless explaining…and in the slim chance the person was sincere and bothered to read…well, then maybe some good could come,…like planting a seed and walking away…?

    As I said, I never actually got to try that option, but i still like it in theory…

  4. As for you point about the Screaming people vs. The calm, uber-rational ones… OMG, yes. I have no choice in those conditions but to resort to art. A poem i wrote about Mr. Calm and Mrs. Normal…comes to mind. It reminded me to listen with my body and trust its truth, rather than appearances, ive heard it referred to as intuitive sensitivity…now, i trust the “mad woman” screaming at the top of her lungs even though her words seem fragmented, if my body is calm around her…but the calm rational fellow whose words/body are at odds, i.e. if my inner allarms are going off even though others seem to trust…in that case, I move toward the screamer. But on the net…im just starting to get a sense of who/what to trust…quite an adventure..potentially emancipatory…any way, yeh, i reread your essay, and the lines describing the weird, creepy contrast (screaming vs calm) jolted me nicely. That. That is what i call embodied discourse. It can literally save our lives, i believe, if we learn to understand and trust it…

    Your essay has a lot of layers for me. I appreciate that. immensely.

  5. The antichoice crowd has appropriated symbolic violence with their obscene posters and images of fetuses, etc…why not use symbolic violence with a twist—women’s choice to not inflict this current culture of grotesque nightmares on humans that do not ask to be thrust into this mess..and humans that this culture cannot protect…use images of whatever horrors which continue to kill innocent people…filthy waterways, insane wars, poverty, prisons overflowing with victims of alienation, domination (many who simply tried for relief through non big pharma endorsed drugs, for instance), clearcut forests, unsafe communities and schools, contaminated drinking water, mass hoarding of lands, beach fronts, equipment, money, etc by the hoarder elites,…whatever cultural evils/conditions continue to makes it next to impossible for many in our generations to survive…no real help or restitution for most survivors of violence, trauma, rape, etc….inequities and social determinants of sckness/health…

    Graphic? UGLY? Hell yes.

    Their pathetic little fetus photos….not scary. A very effective distraction and distortion sleight of hand, however.

    A few thousand images of a dangerous country /world in chaos and peril and unpredictable danger for those without a gold baby spoon at birth.

    Of course, women should not HAVE TO shove the truth in others’ faces…with profound art and photos…but why should we be the only ones who are priviledged to notice the suffering and injustice and oppression all aroubd us? I believe in sharing that privilege with those who still will not see…but that’s one of my preferred approaches…..certainly not everyone’s cuppa…

  6. Hey, my laptop arrives tomorrow and then I am leaving my spouse of nearly 40 years, and basically am headed for a mystery/adventure which will consist of this last chapter of my life. I’m a tiny bit scared but more exited…

    All this kinda stuff has been swirling around my consciousness while I’ve been killing time, waiting to go…Anyway, I’ve enjoyed hearing your unique spirit, which, to my ears, seems to sing out–

    ” Dammit, these issues matter! And here’s why…”

    I don’t tend to hear a lot of that kind of willingness, these days, to take a strong moral stand.

    Anyway, I’ll be on the road, looking for a place to settle in and write my book. (The ideas wont fit in an article, i realize now) So, I chose a piece to share as a parting gesture of good will— I hope you will enjoy this piece (link below)–since, more than once, I thought of Mary Daly when hearing the power in your words. Starhawk comes to mind too, but she doesn’t illustrate my point. Communication between women can be unnervingly problematic, at times, even though that seems like a cruel burden we should be able to easily brush aside in a celebration of sistahood…

    If only. So this essay, “An Open Letter from Audre Lorde to Mary Daly”” suggests some of the tensions that may simmer and/or surface between two feminists struggling to find recognition. I hope you like its layers as much as I have enjoyed the layers in your writing. Good luck with school and life…and of course I hope you will keep writing!

    http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/lordeopenlettertomarydaly.html

  7. Ruby says:

    Clearly, reviewing today, I am able to note that my comments, here, reflect my own lack of appropriately acknowledged empathy and my flippant non-concern directed toward your eloquently expressed feelings of distress (over being treated like a thing—rather than a person). No excuses. However, I wish to apologize for my self serving attitude—of delusional grandiosity— and to express my regret for my narcissistic bullshit comments (masquerading as communication). I’m sorry I have nothing more substantial to offer as an amends. You deserved my respect. I hope you understand that my comments reflect badly on my own flawed character and inadequacies. They say nothing about anyone else.

  8. Alex says:

    “Someone (almost invariably a man; sometimes, but not always, an actively malicious troll from the start) says something problematic.
    The issue with what they’ve just said is pointed out to them, directly but politely.
    Because there’s this general idea that accusing someone of an -ism is worse than the thing that led to the accusation (and it isn’t: only one of those things promotes a real, harmful power structure), the person takes this as a personal attack, and becomes defensive rather than maybe consider that they need to change their behaviour/language/viewpoint.”

    They may well need to change their language or behaviour, but just because something sounds problematic to some people doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid different opinion. I’ll probably come across as one of those same trolls, but if there’s anything autistic people like us seem to be good at, it’s offending people by accident. Which also, inconveniently for someone like me, is what happens when someone is privileged and/or ignorant, and when someone is a) bad at expressing themselves (as autistic people can be) b) privileged in certain respects (as I am) and c) ignorant in certain respects (as men are when discussing women, for example), it’s hard for their viewpoint to be taken seriously as an alternative, rather than just a bigoted or problematic response.

    “They paint the people who called them out as the problem for “making such a big deal of it”, and are often believed, because feminists are so angry and aggressive and argumentative amirite? This is called gaslighting. Google it.”

    Because if someone makes a big deal of something and appears to fit an existing stereotype, that automatically makes it gaslighting. Apparently.

    “The majority of threads, in which genuinely-well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake are nudged in the right direction without major drama and discussion remains civil because there’s nobody deliberately trying to aggravate it, is disregarded, either deliberately or just because it isn’t as memorable or likely to repeatedly show up on the news feed.”

    Agreed, and then it’s used for some bigot with a large following of ignorant people as fodder for their arguments. Although sometimes a well-intentioned person can come across as rude, disrespectful or bigoted in the heat of the moment.

    “Suddenly, the whole group is criticised for being too argumentative, hostile, full of personal attacks (which on further inspection boil down to “pointing out something problematic”) and silencing “different opinions” (often code for sexist/transphobic/homophobic etc. views which literally cost lives). Nobody considers who actually started the arguments.”

    Not sure why different opinions necessarily translates to being bigoted, or that these arguments always literally cost lives. Someone isn’t bigoted just because they disagree with one’s viewpoints, and arguments can be around anything. Do some bigoted opinions literally cost lives? Yes, if someone who is prone to taking being especially violent or suicidal in the first place reads them, or if someone is prone to devoting themselves to a particular ideology without forming their own questions and debates in their mind (but this is indirect). And the opinion one person views as bigoted might be the alternative to a view that is equally bigoted in another respect and just as likely to cost lives. If someone is expressing a bigoted opinion, (not insults, but an actual viewpoint) then it still deserves discussion, because it suggests there is something unconvincing about the arguments they’ve heard made by progressive people, and this makes them more likely to remain bigots (although one does need to be intelligent/knowledgeable enough to come up with a clever response, or else the bigot will win the argument).

    “People become scared to contribute because they don’t want to get caught up in arguments; with the actual cause of the conflicts long forgotten, this eventually becomes “scared to contribute because they don’t want to get called out” because of the aforementioned gaslighting.”

    Agreed, except for the gaslighting issue, and also, they may be afraid of the one who starts the argument in the first place for failing to recognise alternative viewpoints.

    “The conversation becomes one about how to avoid hurting the feelings of well-intentioned-people-who-made-a-mistake, which was never the problem, rather than the actual problem of how to deal with the trolls.
    The confirmation bias phenomenon kicks in; feminists are seen as irrational and overly aggressive, so when the next man-starting-shit comes along, they’re more likely to be able to paint feminists as the aggressors.”

    Agreed, and this stops people from getting into arguments too.

    “Telling a man that maybe he might need to re-consider is eventually exaggerated into aggression and some angry-mob-of-irrational-feminists-with-pitchforks.”

    Have you ever been seen as creepy because of your autism? Because even non-autistic men get seen this way. It isn’t the fault of women (it’s the fault of really horrible men), but it nevertheless makes men fearful of being demonised by women.

    “I think the same might be true more specifically when a woman confronts someone; her level of assertiveness is not compared to what is expected of men, it’s compared to what is expected of a silent, compliant, smiling background decoration. I know that personally, offline at least, I spend a lot of time being that “polite” silent woman because I’m too scared to confront people, and consequently I have certain male friends/relatives/etc who see me as some sort of “acceptable feminist” because I’m not like those feminists they see online. (Oh, if only they knew…) This really saddens me, because although they might not know it, the message I get from this is “women who stand up for themselves are okay, as long as they only do it in their own heads because of huge underlying anxiety issues”.”

    “And you’re outraged because a woman disagreed with you on the internet?!”

    It saddens me when men who have clearly picked up misogynistic attitudes think like this, just as it does to you. However, it also saddens me (and no doubt others too) when the people they thought agreed with them because they were friends clearly have much less in common when it comes to discussing controversial, politically-charged subjects such as feminism, and are afraid their own views will be dismissed for not being politically correct.

    “Yes, feminists are often angry – there’s a lot to be angry about. As we’ve seen this week, certain cis men think they can have a say in what those of us with a uterus should do with it. Even if we ignore the fact that this “debate” was organised by a pro-life group, frankly, our healthcare rights should not be up for debate, at least not between people that can only see it as an intellectual exercise – a sport, even. And no, they’re not “objective”, because nobody can be. After opposition and a planned protest, the college due to host the event pulled out.

    “Students are killing freedom of speech!” the men declared to the world, from their fucking newspaper columns. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up.

    “But why wouldn’t you allow a debate?” Maybe because to us, this is not a game. We might be seen as argumentative, but I for one don’t enjoy having to “debate” my own human rights. It’s demeaning to be constantly asked to justify why we deserve to be seen as full humans. Or maybe it’s because we know how this “debate” is going to end before it even starts; we’re not silent, complaint background decorations, so we’ll be seen as an aggressive irrational mob compared to the calm and rational cis men – who, of course, are calm because they’re not the ones who constantly have to put up with such constant policing of their bodies and life choices. We’d be laughed off.

    I don’t believe people are unable to express any sort of an opinion on something just because they haven’t experienced it directly, but I will agree with you that for these people, it’s a debate rather than their own life.I think in a controversial area, such as abortion, it should be open up for debate, but the parameters of the debate need to be set up according to common sense. Should people who have no direct engagement with the issue be given top priority when it comes to deciding on laws and forming public opinion? Of course not. But they shouldn’t be stopped from expressing their views either. Should a debate be formed, privately, between people in a hospital, or publicly, in a court of law? Yes.

    “Which brings me back to those men who like to deliberately stir up arguments on online feminist discussion groups. Because to them, it’s funny.

    It’s funny when feminists get angry.

    It’s funny when women get angry.

    And I am so, so fucking tired of being seen as a wind-up toy.”

    Because to a man, it’s winding up one woman. To a woman, it’s making fun of Women.

  9. Alex says:

    “They paint the people who called them out as the problem for “making such a big deal of it”, and are often believed, because feminists are so angry and aggressive and argumentative amirite? This is called gaslighting. Google it.”

    Note: I don’t believe people who bring up a topic they take issue with as “making such a big deal of it”. I do believe someone who gets offended when someone takes a wildly different viewpoint to them as “making such a big deal of it” because however fundamental someone’s ideology is, that doesn’t make them any more right or wrong on their own or immune to criticism.

  10. Alex says:

    Someone who brings up a topic they take issue with is not “making a big deal of it” – they brought it up for a reason. Especially if it directly relates to them.

  11. Alex says:

    The debate around how much women talk was interesting. It made me realise how many of what I would say would sound contradictory because I hadn’t bothered to consider the nuances. If someone quoted a phrase that said women talked too much, I’d probably agree with them, because I’d be thinking about how often women talk in social contexts, and how they’ve been taught to be social from a young age. But if I was asked who talked more in a formal debate, I’d say it was probably men, because a lot of women (though by no means all of them) tend to be less willing to engage in a kind of male contest and also because sometimes women’s opinions are ignored by men who don’t notice their misogyny. If someone asked who tended to listen more, I’d say women, because they tend to actually listen, whereas men are sometimes quiet when confronted with a woman who talks a lot but tend to zone out rather than actually listen to what is being said.

  12. Alex says:

    Personally, I’ve noticed I always seem to infodump people. It means people don’t seem to listen to what I’m saying. I suspect this has something to do with my autism, but what’s frustrating is that if I’m in a group context driven by speech-based communication (in which you can interrupt people in order to get out what you want to say, which becomes irrelevant in written communication because it’s recorded).

    people think I’m hogging the conversation, and since I’m male, I keep worrying that in a conversation with women, people will assume I’m using my male privilege. And then I think, what am I supposed to do about it? Reveal my autism to a bunch of neurotypical people who no nothing about autism and allow them to form their own prejudices around it, while the lack of information on autism allows them to be hypocrites? Or keep it hidden and let everyone assume I’m an arrogant male who likes to talk over women?

    Luckily for me, I underestimated the empathy of other students in my university class. Unfortunately, I worry that the real world will be less forgiving.

  13. Alex says:

    NB: Can someone please explain to me how to edit these posts?

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