A little background -- this week Renee, Numa and I ranted a bit on tumblr, a P.S. to #mencallmethings if you can call it as #otherpeoplecallusthingstoo and by the time we finished, we realised we had so much more to say. The following post is a collaborative post by Renee and I. Post contains mentions of rape, rape threats, trans*misogyny and many other --isms. Tread carefully.
Renee: I was talking to a friend tonight about #otherpeoplecallmethingstoo. Now this friend…well, I’m unsure how much or how little to say about other peoples’ intersections, but I think it’s safe to say he has a real depth of experience with race, gender identity, sexuality, and so on. He’s also a bit my senior, which means he was old enough to actively identify as a feminist when second wave feminism was a happening thing, and still has many friends and acquaintances for whom THAT feminism is still THE feminism. And he’s a creative person who has sometimes channeled his energy into critiquing the sins of the feminist past…and felt the sting for doing so. Point being, he’s savvy to this sort of stuff, and it’s something we commiserate around often.
And he was with me while I bemoaned my frustration with the mainstream feminist community. He gets my anger about how abortion and reproductive health are framed as “women’s issues”. He recognizes my pain when the Amanda Marcotte’s of the world reduce misogyny and sexism to the existence of “gonads hang[ing] on the outside” of certain people. But, of course, it’s easy to empathize with my position on that stuff…it’s not shocking, because it happened and we know who these people are and it wasn’t personal, even if I take it personally.
But when I told him about some of the other stuff - the personal attacks ,especially the ones Jaded wrote about, which I quoted some of verbatim - he drew back a bit. I’m not really sure why, because he’s certainly seen a lot of vitriol and hate, much of it from within the feminist community. But for whatever reason, he offered an explanation.
“Well keep in mind, it’s the internet. Those are the worst of the worst,” he said.
When Sady Doyle creates #mencallmethings, feminists (which I often consider myself) don’t question it. It means something! It’s representative of what women have to deal with. It reveals the depths to which misogyny is ingrained in our culture. But when we do #otherpeoplecallmethings, at best we’ve revealed an anomaly…a few outlying pieces of data. “Oh, they’re not real feminists” or “that’s just the radical fringe” or “ignore the trolls” or whatever. You know, handwaving.
And I’m not bashing my friend - not at all - because I’ve done the same thing. For me, it was the radfems…”angry out-of-touch asshats who no one pays any attention to anymore,” I’d say. Except then there’s Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford, bending the ears of the United Nations. And the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival attendees who thought it was a good idea to post pictures of and out trans women on the internet (and received the tacit support of Wordpress in doing so). And those are just two from this year alone.
Look at the posts we’ve done about this already. These are people who self-identify as feminists, with enough pride in their convictions to attach their names to their comments (which they wrote knowing full well they could be made public). These are people who know enough to drop the Hudood Ordinance into conversation (even if they somehow don’t know the difference between India and Pakistan). Perhaps not these individuals in particular (although maybe!), but these are the people enrolled in Women’s Studies courses in big universities, organizing Slutwalks, and traveling abroad for “humanitarian efforts”. Who is going to be the next academician presenting their findings to the UN? Or the founder of the next big women’s solidarity event? Meeghan? Janice? Jenny? Point being, #otherpeoplecallmethings is not an anomaly or an outlier at all. And from the merely flawed to the truly foul, from the personal to the impersonal, the only real question is when do #otherpeople start giving a shit?
Me: When Renee first showed this draft to me, I was stunned into silence — mainly because I identified the same handwaving too, with my latest hatemail even! I told my partner about these e-mails and comments, she likes to play the devil’s advocate and said, maybe these people are just fucking around, they don’t really *mean* it, or that not all were white (who had seen them, right?) and at worst they could be people who wanted entertainment and not “legit feminists who really believe it” to quote her. It was just what I wanted to hear, placated I went to bed, thinking these were reactions from gits who wanted to piss people off.
I wake up, I have to leave to get some tests done and leave my computer at her house. When I come back after eight hours, she’s crying, she has been unable to finish any work she wanted to do and she called in sick at work — there was an extremely graphic rape threat in my inbox from another white feminist that triggered her so. If I hadn’t left my account when I gave the computer, this could have very well been me — the person it was intended for. She has no defenses today, she doesn’t want to believe any of my rationalisations, just that these people are not joking, they are not making light — and I reassure her I will never put my name out there. Half a year ago, travelling by the Mumbai local trains, someone in the general compartment recognised me as “Jaded” and for a minute I froze, convinced something bad would happen. When she told me she loved my column in Stone Telling and that she liked my blog, I felt a little relieved, but I only felt safe when she got off at her destination. This person is a good friend now, we often e-mail and chat and I feel safe around her *now*. That moment I remember clearly, I was convinced she was the person who liked to send me long e-mails about how she’d like to cut me up. I promised my partner earlier today that my name would never go “out there”, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true. These things happen all the time online, no?
Rape threats from self-identified feminists? Just yesterday thenakedsamba and I were discussing the shambles that is the third season of Veronica Mars, where a bunch of feminists FAKE a rape to get some frat boys arrested — that *which* feminist could do such a thing and the writers of Veronica Mars just twisted that around so Veronica could, in no way, be confused as a feminist. Today, I would not make such a statement. There are feminists who think rape should be used to subdue, teach a lesson to people they don’t agree with — I have met a few feminists like this last year and I waved them off, as Renee did the trans*misogynist feminists, that these were silly white women from their Ivy League women’s studies programs, their opinions don’t hold much value, they just wanted to ooh and aah over the Dalit women we volunteered with, in return for a little funding and publicity within academia, a decision that we at the center are responsible for.
Since I’ve moved to [city], I am no longer actively engaged with the Centre, but I am still in touch with my supervisors and some volunteers, last month we were dealing with some funding problem again — we’d like to be as autonomous as possible but none of us can fund the centre without these donors, so we were deciding on the “least harmful” donor, laughing (to keep from crying and giving up) at their definitions of femininity, hygiene and of course, feminism. With S*’s phone credit dwindling out, she said, “I hope in the long run none of these people ever do something with their feminism” and we laughed it off again.
Why talk of some esoteric feminists I can’t name — the women’s movement of the 80’s in West India supported the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka, they did not take responsibility for the rapes of Tamil and Sinhala people at the hands of IPKF. Or the feminists today who are not actively against the wars on “terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan — what do you think US troops are doing there? Are they not endorsing rape as a weapon of subordination too?
Feminism as a legacy has violence, exclusion, erasure, blood, handwaving, why are we — you and I — so surprised and ready to rationalise when it shows up in our inboxes, in our lives? #Otherpeoplecallusthingstoo is just the tip of that iceberg.
- Why Are You In Such A Bad Mood? #MenCallMeThings Responds!
- More of #otherpeoplecallusthingstoo Part 1 & Part 2.