Bad Feminist: An Unexpected Case Study

Over the past few months of my blog hiatus, I did a lot of thinking about feminism and gender issues, with particular attention paid to writing, authors and the publishing industry. After all, there has been a lot to provoke such thoughts over the past year: the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge, the announcement of the Stella Prize, the now infamous comments by V.S. Naipaul, published statistics about gender imbalance in book reviewing, and much, much more. I collected links and left a prodigious amount of tabs open in my browser, planning to write a series of posts about this sort of stuff — once I actually did start posting again, of course. Then a couple of weeks ago, I deleted them all. I didn’t have time for it, I admonished myself. It was part of the Catching Up that was actually stopping me from getting back into blogging — which was something that I really did miss.

srsly stfu

Because … oh, just look at it all. All of the research, all of the compiling of supporting evidence and illustrative links, all of the careful balancing acts and fine-tooth-combery which would be required to ensure what I wrote would be taken as a serious and informed contribution to cultural debate, rather than viewed as the subjective and unsubstantiated rants of yet another jealous, whining girl-scribbler who should srsly stfu because men have it hard too … ugh. It was exhausting just to contemplate. And besides, what good would it really do? Who was I to say anything anyway? Srsly, Kirstyn. Just STFU. You have more pressing things to do.

But, lo and behold, over the past week, my briefly pristine browser has once again become a petri dish for open tabs. Tabs which demand more than simply a quick tweet with accompanying snappy or snarky comment. And I started getting that strange, tight, swirly thing happening in my guts again. That self-defeating inner to-and-fro which goes a little something like this:

Interesting! I should blog about that. I have something to contribute!

Hmm, I should gather more information first. What I have to say might not stand up under scrutiny. 

No, screw that. It’s my opinion. I’m allowed to have an opinion. And I’m willing to stand corrected and engage in robust debate!

Hmm, am I willing to stand corrected by Teh Interwebs? Engage in robust debate with Teh Comments of Doom?

Okay, so I need to find several specific examples to illustrate the points I want to make. Plus, I should find some counter examples to show that I’m not making blanket statements and that I acknowledge that the issue is complicated. I might need footnotes and a bibliography. And I really need to think about the tone and wording because I want to be perfectly clear and don’t want to inadvertently step on undeserving toes.  In the meantime, I’ll just leave that tab open so I don’t forget that I want to come back to it. And these couple of tabs next to it as well, because they kind of relate, but actually really deserve some thoughtful commentary one their own. Which would require more gathering of substantiating evidence.

Hmm. That’s gonna end up being a really long post.

I should break it into smaller posts. A series!  A series on a theme!

Sure. Because I HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD.

Which is generally when my good intentions slink away to sulk and what I’ve thought of as my guilty conscience sits her smug self  down to gloat over all those open, unremarked upon tabs. Whatevah, guilty conscience, I’m busy enough as it is and there are heaps of people already talking about this stuff. It doesn’t have to be my fight.

Then yesterday I read this blog post by Cat Valente in which she bounces off the recent Christopher Priest/Clarke Award brouhaha to discuss how men and women commentators are treated oh so very differently when they express their opinions online:

… it’s more than lolz, he’s got balls of brass, I could never get away with those blognanigans. I couldn’t, of course, even if I wanted to. But neither could almost any other woman writer or blogger I can think of. Go after popular SF writers and a respected award? She’d have gotten death threats, rape threats, comments telling her everything from shut up and make [unnamed internet male] a sandwich to wishing she’d be raped to death because that would shut her right up.

shut your whore mouthOffering several links by way of example, she talks at length about the types of double standards, misogyny and false equivalences that were the subject of so very many of the tabs and links I’d been hoarding. Her post echoes much of my own thoughts on these same subjects, including how a female writer might have been treated had she voiced the opinion that Christopher Priest did. “The fact is, to be a woman online is to eventually be threatened with rape and death,” Cat notes bluntly. “On a long enough timeline, the chances of this not occurring drop to zero.” This is, of course, nowhere near the first time I’ve come across such sentiments. Some of the links I jettisoned a couple of weeks ago included food blogger Shawna James Ahern discussing the hateful comments she receives (via  John Scalzi talking about the types of comments he doesn’t get), Seanan McGuire detailing the vile unsolicited emails sent her way when Amazon made the paperback edition of her latest novel available before the kindle version, Helen Lewis and Laurie Penny reporting in the New Statesmen and the Independent respectively — and attracting the precise flavour of commentary with which their articles were concerned. But towards the end of her post, Cat Valente says something that struck me harder than it should have:

That’s the line I walk, and most female authors and commentators walk. On one side of it is a silence which we can’t afford and on the other are the blowback and threats, which come quietly and secretly through email or boldly and baldly in comments.

Walking a line. That’s exactly how I feel. That’s what the strange, tight, swirly thing in my guts is called. It’s not being overwhelmed by the amount of time and effort it would take to write an intelligent, considered and substantiated post on any particular subject. (Because I haven’t done that before.) It’s fear, plain and embarrassingly simple. And it’s really difficult for me to acknowledge, let alone admit, which is possibly why it’s taken this long to work up to it.

Because here’s the thing. In the offline world, I consider myself a  smart, confident, capable woman. A proud feminist. A good feminist. And I’ve worked to get there. I constantly push past my innate introversion and insecurities to make sure I actually engage with people at social gatherings, at conferences, at conventions. I voice my opinions and listen to the opinions of others. I volunteer to be on discussion panels and committees, and I’ve helped run conventions. Hell, I’ve convened a huge — and hugely successful — convention. I have my own small business that I built from scratch. I don’t shy away from controversial discussions. I don’t retreat into the background when Men Are Speaking. I don’t mind expressing disagreement or opposition to what someone has said and I will point out — as diplomatically as the situation requires — if they’re possibly making a dick of themselves. Most of the time, I know how to pick my battles. I’ve verbally defended myself (and occasionally my female friends) in awkward or quasi-threatening situations. More than once, I’ve gotten myself out of an actually threatening physical situation. I get scared — a lot — but I get through it and I try not to let fear put too many barriers around my life and my ambitions. Particularly not that special icky kind of fear that tries to tell me I can’t possibly do something simply because I am female. Fuck that shit, for reals.

sewn shutAnd yet. And yet. Here I am, putting aside and ultimately putting off writing blog posts about Feminist-Issues-Oh-My because … what? I’m scared? Surely not. Me? Really? Really. That put me into a mental tailspin yesterday. Why on earth should I be scared of saying something on my blog that I would be quite happy to say to someone in person? Why? Because it’s not the same. Not by a long shot. In person, the vast majority of us are actually quite civilised. We can have a discussion, even a heated argument, but that’s where it’s generally gonna end — with an exchange of words and both parties going their separate ways at worst believing the other to be an irredeemable moron. It’s not going to end with complete strangers bailing me up en masse and yelling at me for hours about how fucking stupid I am for saying what I said, not to mention how I’m so fat and ugly that no one will listen to me anyway, and making such a noise that passers by come over to yell at me some more and tell me how I have no idea what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t know what real inequality was and maybe I should go live in Afghanistan if I care so much about women’s rights, and how I’m just a frigid bitch and should just get myself laid, or better yet someone should teach me a lesson and rape me. Rape me to death.

(And if you think I’m exaggerating, just go read the comments to some of those articles I mentioned above.)

Because, you know, if all that did happen in the offline world, if I saw it happening to women all the time … I don’t think I’d be game to open my mouth in public nearly as often as I do. I would walk in the silence that Cat Valente talks about, just as I seem to be walking in the silence online. And that realisation scares me more than anything else.

The realisation that, online, I’m a Bad Feminist.

Lately, I find myself intimidated by gendered power structures that, offline, would scarcely faze me, and I allow myself to remain intimidated. I don’t speak about things that bother me, things that I object to, things that I believe should be discussed. I tiptoe around the edges of controversial issues, leaving occasional comments in the safer space of other people’s blogs, or sending brief and ephemeral missives into the twittersphere. Because I don’t need to contribute, not really.  Because, despite the fact that I am a woman and a writer, this doesn’t have to be my fight. Because if I am quiet and polite and accommodating, then I can simply go about my business without risk of bruising or breakage. Subconsciously I’ve managed to internalise a very real chilling effect, all the while believing otherwise.

It’s sobering to step back now and realise that, online, I don’t recognise myself. Or rather, I all too clearly recognise the girl I used to be. A lonely, insecure girl who knew all too well what it was like to be bullied, to have no friends, to be the target of gender-specific mockery, to be always on the outer. A girl who just want to be liked. By everyone. A girl who knew how to keep her mouth shut unless she was making jokes. A girl who, quite honestly, I thought I’d left behind many years ago. The fact that this blog has been one huge swathe of silence for more than half a year, despite my obsessive collecting and collating of Links Relevant To My Interests, speaks volumes to that bit of self-deception. And it’s sickening to think that it really took so little to stitch me back into her skin: I haven’t experienced such brutal online abuse personally; it has been enough to witness it happen to others. To witness and to not speak about it. Because my opinion wouldn’t make a difference; I could let others speak for me. I didn’t pick any battles — because, really, it didn’t have to be my fight.

Bad, Bad Feminist.

All that needs to change. I don’t precisely know how — seems there’s a lot of toxic crap to expel from my overly complacent mind yet again — but pressing the Publish button on this post feels like a good place to start. Because everyone needs to call themselves on their own bullshit from time to time.

And because, yes,  it is my fight.

I am a feminist

27 Comments

  1. Funny enough, I was looking at these photos right here:
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/every-world-press-photo-winner-from-1955-2011 while having this open on another tab.

    And I was thinking of the bravery these people have shown in REALLY TOUGH SHIT, so I kind of wonder – must we be afraid of stupid comments made on the internet? People will disagree with bloggers and threatent to rape or kill in the safe confines of the comment box, but if something must be said than it must be said. How far outside of our comfort zones dare we to go before we are “not liked”? Is there some female mandate that we must be likable? In terms of what we can physically endure as human beings, are fucked up comments on a message board really enough to keep us silent?

    • I think they can be though. As someone who’s been systematically harassed for 3 years, plus socializing that women go through all their lives, it can be enough to silence you. I don’t think people realize that when they tell you to just “get over it” and I dislike the idea that being cowed into silence makes YOU a bad feminist rather than people being vile sacks of flesh.

      That being said, I commend women who can get around it enough to say what they have to say, and the more we talk about it, the more we can get the support and help we need to overcome the overwhelming urge to flee.

      • Yeah, this is what gets me. Intellectually, I can reason this out. I don’t need to be scared, Words shouldn’t hurt me. Those guys are all dicks — why should I care what they think? No one is going to reach through my computer screen and physically do me any damage. The problem though is that, emotionally and psychologically, the damage feels *very* real. My body has a physical reaction to the threat of virtual abuse that *feels* equivalent to the threat of real-world abuse. My stupid reptile brain can’t seem to tell the difference and manage the risk accordingly.

        Claire, I think the Must Be Liked mandate is definitely a part of this and it is definitely gendered, with its roots in traditional power structures. At some level this feels asinine. Intellectually — I can say with absolute honesty — I don’t care if some people don’t like me, especially if I think those people are arseholes. But emotionally, the reflex seems to persist: “Oh no, someone doesn’t like me. Danger, danger Will Robsinson.” Don’t worry, now that I’ve recognised the problem, I am working on it.

  2. Amazing post Kirstyn. I think you are being too harsh on yourself, but I guess that isn’t my call.

    But I really don’t think you are a bad feminist. There are too many non-feminists more than ready to tell us what a bad feminist looks like, (not to mention internal policing about what a ‘good’ feminist is).
    I don’t think there is such a thing as a good feminist or bad feminist. There are always areas where we are not doing enough, fights we don’t have the time, energy or ability to engage in, times when we are just too damn tired to step up once more.

    I work in what is still a very conservative institution where little and not-so-little acts of sexism happen every day. I can’t fight them all. I don’t always step up when I should. I try, most of the time. But I still have to actually teach, and be a mother, and run a house and do research…

    So yes, unless we want to crash and burn we have to pick our fights. But also, as you say, call ourselves on our bullshit when necessary.

    Just remember that its not your fight alone :-)

    • Thanks, Helen.

      Offline, I think I’m a good feminist. What struck me yesterday was the suddenly blindingly obvious dichotomy in my offline/online selves. I need to bring those selves together, to allow my online self to be as forthright and free to speak her mind as my offline self. After all, I seem to be spending a good deal of my life here these days.

      And yeah, I’ll still pick my battles. But the point is, I *will* pick my battles. :-)

  3. I’ve experienced the death threats and etc, but for being publicly Jewish, not for being publicly a feminist. All I’ve had for the latter is occasional bad-mouthing. I’ve been trying to work out why this is so, when I’m pretty public about my feminism (I have those massive series of blogposts for Women’s History Month every year, for instance and used to be on public sector lists of women who needed to be consulted on certain topics – if I never see the committee rooms at Parliament House again, I won’t be entirely miserable) and the only thing I can come up with is that my approach may not be as threatening as some. It’s not my age, for I’ve been public about my views for thirty years now. I get the same slagging face to face as I get online and, to be honest, it’s fairly minor.

    I try not to be confrontational, for that’s just not a big part of who I am as a person, so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s because I’m not very colourful – I’ve noticed that within SF circles very few people know that I was doing those interesting feminist things in Canberra for 20 years. If this is the case, then people might be sending the scary stuff to the colour, not the argument.

    I *do* think it’s worthwhile talking about why some women get attacked for the same views that others publicly talk about. We don’t have to be angry feminists – we just have to do what needs to be done. This means that a brick wall (like the one you’re currently facing) might mean finding another path. It certainly doesn’t mean you should punish yourself for the silence. You hit a brick wall – it’s like a writing block – the more you worry about it the slower you will be to find solutions that work for you.

    If we can find dialogue that doesn’t threaten (which is where many of the threats come from – small people who don’t understand and so have nasty gut reactions), we’re much more likely to get the changes we want for the world, anyhow. When I stopped and thought about the death threats, I startted thinking “What’s going to do what I need it to do?” A lot of silencing comes from assessing the risk against the possible gain and not seeing any possible gain. And then we punish ourselves for the silence because what’s happening out there hurts and we’re not stopping it. We need to find ways of speaking out that don’t produce that level of hurt. Being a feminist doesn’t require hurt.

    Find a way of saying what you need to say, but find a way that’s less unsafe for you. It may not have the immediate satisfaction of a challenging statement, but feminism isn’t about immediate personal satisfaction, it’s about making the world a more equal place. Your capacity to speak and make yourself heard is far more important than your capacity to speak in a way that matches how others speak.

    And now I want to apologise profusely. I tend to speak very strongly about these things. Because SF friends don’t know this side of me, it feels intrusive. But I’ve been where you are and I couldn’t talk in the way I had, so I found ways I could talk. They’re not as satisfying, but I don’t get death threats and I’m not as scared, and the world changes (slowly).

    • There will be no apologising for strongly speaking your mind on my blog, Gillian! :-)

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. The biggest thing for me was to identify the problem. I don’t go out of my way to be confrontational, even in the real world, and I don’t see myself being confrontational just for the sake of it here either. The problem was not wanting to say *anything* and telling myself that it was because I was too busy, or didn’t know enough about the subject, or that there were people who were talking about it anyway and my opinion was unlikely to matter. None of those things were the whole truth, though. I realise that now.

      The weird thing is, you threaten me or my friends verbally in real life, and it’s gonna have the complete opposite effect of making me shut up and run away. You will get what you dished out served right back at you, and then some. I’m still mulling over the ways how this is obviously different for me online. But, as with most things, knowledge is both an asset and a powerful weapon. I’m working on it. It’s just a little frustrating to feel that I’ve gotta go and “relearn” how to be feminist — the kind of feminist that *I* want myself to be — all over again.

      • Is it relearning, though?

        When you react to someone and you’re standing opposite, you get more signals than online. And online, pack behaviour tends to manifest far more quickly, so reactive positions can be more dangerous. This doesn’t mean ‘ don’t react’ but it does mean that we have to learn somewhat different behaviours online to offline, in order to achieve the same outcomes. Additionally, the way the net developed means that a lot of behaviours that actually work against feminism are advatanged, which means not only are the signals poor and the pack behaviour immediate, but certain behaviours are advantaged (which is what started this discussion, isn’t it?).

        It’s new ground. Old bad behaviour, but we need new methods of handling it.

  4. Please add your voice to the mix. Your thoughts and those espoused on Galactic Suburbia, raised my consciousness in regards to feminism.

    I am seeing misogynistic crap everywhere now, not just the blatant gutter worthy stuff you have mentioned, but the highbrow, seemingly innocuous stuff that “neckbeards” spout when wanting to belittle women.

    I am not sure if a campaign against misogyny similar to the White Ribbon initiative isn’t in order. It’s when men like me are silent that we give tacit approval to those who will refer to a best selling novelist as “that woman” rather than giving her basic respect by using her name.

    And while I am conscious of the tendency of some men to act as white knights, rushing to defend a lady’s honour, I also think that sometimes men only pull their neck in when told to by other men ( and even then…checkout the guy on Cat’s page that was pulled up by Cat, then Scalzi and still didn’t GET IT) REPEATEDLY, until they get over their “man-hurt”.

    This is a long battle fighting against blatant misogyny in the first place, and a more insidious and spectral enemy in implicit cultural biases. You are entitled to step back from the fight, or to pick your battles or go on R&R.

    Lead on Captain.

    BTW I am reading Cordelia Fine at the moment and it is blowing me away, ashamed that South Australia has not one copy of this book in any library.

    • That was an exquisite piece of meta performance in the comments on Cat’s blog. I’m not sure it could have been planned better. Way to illustrate a point, oh Manly Nerd-Rights-Now Man.

      In a way, the belittling highbrow stuff — much of which was in evidence after the announcement of the AWWC and Stella Prize — is harder to fight. When the bias is not as vile, not as obviously misogynistic, then it requires more nuanced teasing out. And, as we all now, the internet is often anathema to nuance.

      P.S. Take Cordelia Fine’s book with a grain of salt. There is much good stuff in it, and her broad-strokes philosophy is on the right path, but she has a tendency to skew some of the studies she is talking about to her own purpose — as, unfortunately, seems to be the way with most polemical texts.

  5. There’s no such thing as the perfect feminist! We do what we can do, and what we want to do. There’s nothing wrong with deciding to do things differently, or to try harder at some angles. Just like there’s nothing wrong with deciding what your limits are…

    But it’s certainly worthwhile to stop every now and then & check the invisible barriers in your head that are stopping you from doing what you most WANT to do.

    This is a brilliant post, and a great illustration about the kinds of thought processes so many women end up having to work through before we do anything we perceive as risky. It’s a wonder we get anything done at all!

  6. Great post, Kirstyn! It mirrors my thoughts exactly. Thank you for your honest post, it really made me stop and think about some things. I’m a ‘feminist’ and have been for as far back as I can remember – a child feminist? – well yeah, that’s certainly when it began for reasons I won’t discuss here :)

    Your honesty in this post is fantastic because it not only highlights a major problem in our society but like you, I feel like a ‘bad feminist’ too – at least online not in real time. I’m trying to embrace it again and forget about the whole online persona and stop being a perfectionist or at least trying to put it aside as I want to blog and write my stories with the true heart and honesty and not the one that pulls back for fear of being judged or worse the backlash as described by other authors mentioned in your post. Despicable behaviour and fucking unbelievable!

    I gather you heard all the about the ‘Gob2012′ video spoof that went horribly wrong. It went viral before YouTube removed it although there are alternative links out there. If you haven’t heard about it – basically three teenage girls from Mitcham High School in SA put this video together attempting to send up the Coney 2012 video – it was totally inappropriate, their humour fell flat, and they made the big mistake of wearing their school uniform.

    Yes, this video was BAD on so many levels but the thing that really struck a chord with me wasn’t about the stupidity and inappropriateness of the girl’s – it was when I tuned into Hack on Triple J – http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/hack/podcast/ and the question was asked: ‘If these had been teenage boys, would they have received the same kind of backlash?”

    Simple answer: ‘NO!’

    This example is probably insignificant in light of this post but it was a point that pressed my buttons. Not because I agreed with the video, but how if it had been boys, it would have been considered humorous and the outcome nowhere near as dramatic.

    Yes, – I’m indeed a ‘Bad feminist’ – the real me went away and kept quiet for a few years. A far cry from the passionate teenager who held a placade every other weekend protesting about something I considered important – usually women’s rights at that time. I even got physical when I attempted to stop male patrons into a cinema to see a film that objectified and degraded women. How I talked to the patrons in the long queue to the ticket office on why they should not attend this film and why it should be boycotted and banned.

    In retrospect – that may have been the wrong way to go about it. Art is Art and perhaps censorship is a whole other debate and perhaps telling these people what they can see or not see was the wrong way to go about it. We were trying to educate as well, but of course with placades and angry women shouting I guess we looked a little intimidating and slightly crazy :) but in my defence I was an angry seventeen year old who was tired of the injustice and the disrespect I saw for women on a daily basis including myself being abused verbally in the street by strangers and that’s just one example (don’t get me started)…

    Today, I tend to not think of myself as that ‘angry feminist’ but I do see myself as a ‘passionate feminist’. And I’m proud to hear voices like yourself take the plunge and be honest and report the truth.

    The online community can be a crazy circus of harsh and cruel people where the nutcases come out from under the rock and yell abuse from the safety of their houses over a computer. But I also think the online community is also a place where your voice can reach millions of ‘sane level headed’ people and if what you have to say strikes a chord with them that in turn puts positive action and change into the world then this is a good thing.

    You have reminded me to let go of ‘the fear’ and be exactly who we were born to be regardless of gender and others opinions – good or bad.

    It’s time to stand strong in our own ‘power’ online and offline, for we are all goddesses ♥

    • Thanks so much for this, Michele. Letting of the fear is not easy but, I think, essential in order to keep moving forward in life. All facets of life — not just feminism!

      • Yes, Kirstyn – totally agree – letting go of fear in all facets of life – ultra important x

  7. I’ve had this open for a couple of days trying to compose a useful comment. My brain is a bit scrambled right now from fatigue, but I know that if I leave it open for longer without replying, I know I’m far more likely not to say anything.

    And I think the fact that I started this comment with an explanation says a lot about me and how much I silence myself. Hm.

    Anyway, I think making these kinds of posts are just as important as all of the posts you had listed in your mind to make. Just being vocal and visible about the thought processes is a huge thing. And I think the fact that it is an issue doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad” feminist – I think it just highlights how many complex issues there are involved with feminism and the internet. I often wonder how many people who make threatening comments to women online would actually say the same thing to their face, stripped of their internet mask. And honestly, it kind of scares me to think that some people would.

    You are a good feminist and pushing past the fear to post this and be honest is a demonstration of that.

    • I just wanted to give you a thumbs up for everything in your comment. Thank you for so succinctly and thoughtfully summarizing the issue.

  8. [...] Kirstyn McDermott has written a piece in partial response to Cat Valente’s essay that is also well worth a read, where she talks about her own experiences of feminism and internet responses to women with opinions. [...]

  9. love your work, kirstyn. you’ve articulated so many things i’ve thought through lately. i recently started contributing to mamamia, and on every single post i’ve been flayed alive in the comments section. i have been called a bad mother, told that i don’t love my children, called stupid and a bad writer. my humorous article on why women shouldn’t get botox (basically arguing it makes you look weird) resulted in nasty emails and threats sent to my blog (i guess they had to write down their displeasure as their faces couldn’t move). i was really shaken and decided i wouldn’t publish with mm anymore. and then i changed my mind the next day and decided they were all cunts and i could say what i liked. Especially as I was putting my fucking name on it and most of the bumwank was coming from people either called anonymous or some lame internet handle.

    This is what they call the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (http://www.recreatingtampa.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/giftheorypennyarcade.jpg). I’m not going to shut up for cunts. Not because I’m a feminist, but because what I say is okay.

    kim

    • Oh gods, mamamia has some of the most toxic comment threads I’ve come across. It’s particularly disheartening because, a lot of the time, it seems to be mostly women slamming other women in the most shaming and vindictive ways possible. :-(

  10. [...] Jim Hines works through his privileged dumbassery Kirstyn McDermott works through whether her feminism is good enough [...]

  11. [...] reading this, I came across another post in a similar vein by Kirstyn McDermott, where she says: Because here’s the thing. In the offline [...]

  12. [...] is back to posting on her blog again.  This blog entry, posted shortly after Cat Valente’s post on Chris Priest and gender, just reminded me of how [...]

  13. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there with this post. I can relate on so many levels. FWIW, I think examining your actions like you have here is what prevents you from becoming a “bad feminist.” The same way that questioning our personal ethical standards and behaviors is a sign of someone with good character. I think it’s important for more women to ask themselves these questions, so we don’t fall into the habit of using the one outspoken voice as a human shield. But it’s also important that we don’t expect women to self-sacrifice, in place of expecting others to show them basic respect.

    I’m grateful that you addressed a topic few people want to admit: self-censoring due to fear of gender-based backlash. People who dismiss online harassment, gender-based bullying and gender-based threats because these are “just words” display such myopic ignorance it makes me want to slam my head into the desk. As do people who suggest that women need to express themselves in a less straightforward, bold, or angry manner if they don’t want men to make gender-based comments. (Which sounds a whole lot like, “if you don’t want to get raped, don’t dress like a slut.”)

    First of all, words are important, as your post here expresses. Words are often the first tool of self-actualization and self-defense. There’s a reason why countries known for significant oppression are also known for severe censorship.

    Second, the kinds of comments you’re talking about (which I myself have seen countless times) are not just a case of anonymous strangers spouting off. These comments are actual abuse. Threatening to rape someone until they die is psychological abuse, plain and simple. Telling someone they are worthless because they are “fat,” “ugly,” or “gay” is psychological abuse, plain and simple.

    Whether the act is conscious or subconscious, it’s word warfare. Word warfare directed at half the population to limit their power and representation. That’s an ugly truth that makes many people too uncomfortable to acknowledge, so rather than address the issue they dismiss it as not “real” — and women who are upset by such comments as “having issues” and being “oversensitive.”

    It’s classic victim blaming: put the focus on the recipient of the act instead of the perpetrator. We should be asking the individuals who make these kinds of gender- and threat-based comments to change *their* behavior, not the other way around.

  14. As an aside, I wanted to say that on a personal level these kinds of comments do have a very real physiological effect on some of us, in addition to the psychological stress.

    As a survivor of rape and a victim of decades of abuse, gender-hate and rape comments are *triggering.* Which means that not only do I have to *emotionally* deal with reminders of past traumas, I also have to *physically* deal with the increased heart rate and shakiness that results from the involuntary adrenaline surge. As well as the exhaustion of the physical fallout later.

    Most importantly: given the high number of girls/women who face sexual threats or have been sexually assaulted, my experience is unfortunately not uncommon. In fact, it is far *too* common. This isn’t a case of one person assuming that a singular experience illustrates a larger social pattern. Statistically, *many* women who are posting, or reading comments, will experience something similar.

    So the effects of these words are indeed very real: they are physically measurable.

    They turn a previously neutral environment into something very unsafe. And that makes people, myself included, less likely to want to speak up. Pain and fear are very powerful demotivators. We should not accept that as the price women have to pay to express themselves with the same freedom many men are granted. We should not allow the problem to chip away at feminism.

  15. P.S. – you rock.

  16. “Bad Feminist: An Unexpected Case Study Kirstyn McDermott” seriously causes myself imagine a small bit further.
    I actually appreciated each and every particular part of it.

    Thanks for your effort ,Glory

  17. […] Kirstyn McDermott has written a piece in partial response to Cat Valente’s essay that is also well worth a read, where she talks about her own experiences of feminism and internet responses to women with opinions. […]


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