Tumblr: where if you shout your liberalism in a sufficiently LOUD and MACHO and PERFORMATIVELY CRUEL way it’ll magically transform into radicalism.
Of course this resonated with me. Anyone who’s been a woman on the internet will recognise some of this. But one bit in particular stuck out to me, not (I emphasise) because I consider it any more significant than the horrendous abuse suffered by Ms Richards, but because it clarified something for me that I’d been struggling to put into words for a while.
“Lindsey had incurred the internet’s wrath because she was impudent and playful and foolhardy and outspoken. And now here she was, working with Farukh to reduce herself to safe banalities – to cats and ice-cream and top 40 chart music. We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland.”
Also, I would suggest, a world where it’s unthinkable to say that somebody did something wrong but still didn’t deserve to be harassed by thousands of people or fired from their job. Where you’re for or against the person–and if you’re against what they did, better join the hate mob or risk incurring its wrath. And better never post anything controversial, ever–even something that might turn out to be controversial, later, due to something you don’t know at the moment.
The comparatively few times that it’s a man on the receiving end of this kind of treatment it always seems to be a shy sort of guy, perceived as weak and awkward and unable to defend himself. They go after women, and men who make easy targets. No one with too big a fanbase, no one with too much charisma or eloquence. Rarely truly vile and horrible people–people who might bite back. Nor really powerful people. The perfect targets are anxious and awkward people, people who misspeak and make mistakes–sometimes, outspoken people who are somewhat involved in social justice and feminist movements but take issue with some of the more anti-intellectual, interpersonally violent, performative, inaccessible and abusive strains within the movements.
Personally, I’d rather people say things that are challenging, interesting, worthwhile and enlightening, and yes occasionally say things that are imperfect, than that we all spend all day talking about cats and pizza. But there’s a type of twitter/tumblr activist that thinks no mistake should be forgotten, that it’s better never to speak than to misspeak once, and that we (i.e.people aware of our own fallibility) had better reduce ourselves to bland, harmless bunny rabbits. Unfortunately, people who fit into this “we” and encounter this point of view are mostly women, particularly women who encounter other intersecting forms of oppression as well. We’re the most likely to recognise that we’re fallible, that we’re liable to make a mistake at some point, and that this will make us terrible and irredeemable permanently, so best just post kittens. And this is a trend which plays very well into the desires of people like Richards’ harassers who really don’t want women to speak at all.
In addition to being performatively bland and uncontroversial, we have to make our insecurity public as well–so that they’ll go gentler on us perhaps, so that they know that WE know we’re fallible if we make a mistake.
I don’t want to underemphasise the horrific violence inflicted on Ms Richards by a truly disgusting set of racists and misogynists. I don’t want anybody to think that the problems of internet harassment originated with feminists rather than with men who hate women having opinions in public.
IMO the collective response (not the individual response, which I don’t care to police) to vile misogynists like those is to reject the culture of dehumanising, papping and hounding people altogether, not turn it around and apply it to everyone else–especially since “everyone” still seems to exclude genuinely powerful and cruel people.
“But Cat” I hear you say, “you’re into all this feminist theory stuff! Surely you don’t think women harassing men on the internet, or even women harassing women on the internet, carries as much weight as men harassing women”. Well…exactly. I don’t. When men attack, they will STILL attack with more power. But that’s precisely why we need to stand up against these macho practices of dogpiling rather than participating in them for our own purposes–a cheap hounding of an individual, not even always a man, achieved through a means that harms women as a class.