Do I have a fucked up feminism?
I've been asking myself that. I hate putting swear words in writing. I have no problem saying them, but there's something "different" about almost needlessly aggressive about writing them in a sentence. Right now, however, that's the question I've been asking and as of today, there's really no other language I find appropriate and here's why.
I tell my students that they can fight patriarchy in small and large ways. "If you see or hear something, say something," I always say. But when it comes to being feminist enough, who am I to decide the appropriate way someone chooses to do that? And at what point does vocal-ness on the matter become bullying? How many times have I turned a blind eye while someone bullies someone else in the name of feminism?
About a month or so ago, I posted an article on Facebook about domestic violence. One of my friends, speaking from personal experience as a defense attorney and as a public defender, posted a short, one-sentence response. I'm paraphrasing, but he basically said that sometimes pushing for jail time for an offender is complicated if the victim no longer wants to press charges because she forgives her attacker.
There are MANY issues I took with this post. But keeping in mind that I have been having spirited debates and conversations with him for 20 years, I didn't think to respond publicly or immediately. After all, Facebook is something I check while I'm taking a break from my job. It, unfortunately, is not my job. My friend is a very white, very gahy and very Republican attorney and while we disagree on many topics and ways to understand the world, speaking with him helps me A) articulate myself and be able to explain patriarchy and misogyny better to a person that doesn't have a PhD in cultural studies and B) allows me to understand someone else's vantage point and sharpen my argumentation skills, which is very useful in my line of work. I don't have to agree with everyone and actively engage in conversations where I am forced to explain things like race, class, and gender issues to someone who thinks Foucault might be a fancy cheese, is better than saying nothing at all and talking shit about them after the fact.
In the span of minutes (minutes I tell you!!) another Facebook friend, who happened to also be a very white, very male, and also an attorney, took it upon himself to respond. And by respond I mean calling him names, accusing him of being a terrible attorney, a terrible human, and being a sorry excuse for a member of the male species. An extremely proud Feminist, he then proceeded to manslplain everything he thought was wrong to the rest of us, including domestic violence.
What struck me was how quickly this escalated into name calling and bullying. There was no conversation and no attempt to ask for clarification. This wasn't exactly a public forum, it was MY Facebook page and therefore MY virtual space. I kind of felt like someone was stepping into my home and starting a fight. This might sound silly, but it upset me that even though these two men didn't know each other, have never met, and live on opposite ends of the country, in the name of intersectional feminism, one guy proceeded to bully the other.
Is cyberbullying or any bullying justified if you're confident the other person is wrong? Is it justified if you're doing it in the name of Feminism? I'm not saying that my friend's initial assessment of domestic violence was something I agreed with, but I am saying that choosing how one should respond to misogyny is more complicated than simply saying "if you see something, say something." I mean, it's easy to jump in and call someone names and call someone out when you'll never see that person again. It's much harder to ask meaningful questions and get that person to engage in dialogue with you.
The thing is, I know I've been "that guy" before. Not online, but in person. I've definitely been guilty of getting angry with complete strangresm particularly in the last 8 months. I have not hestitated to call someone an asshole to their face for voting for Trump or supporting policies that hurt women. But, this tiny moment in a sea of social media posts caused me to pause, take a step back, and rethink how I engage people in the name of Feminism and/or social justice.
My friend Kari - an activist, executive, and actress -- and pretty much an all-around badass Feminist -- posted this repsonse to someone else who had similar issues the other day:
Facebook is a house party - your page - your house. If a guest doesn't like the conversation, they should be encouraged to go to another room. If they insist on behaving poorly, they need to leave. If they continue to behave poorly, they are no longer a guest in your house. Do not lose home. Now is the time to make people uncomfortable. Now is the time to engage. We must have dialogue. Even if it goes off the rails occassionally.
Deciding how and when to leverage my privilege and the appropriate ways to assert myself will be a lifelong learning curve. I am learning when civility is important, and when it is not. That threshold, I am realizing, is different for everyone.
In this situation, I kicked the bully off my account, but not before writing him a very honest message as to why. I decided while I can disagree with comments posted, but ultimately, my online space is an extension of me and I won't tolerate anyone being bullied, particularly in the name of Feminism, and particularly by a man attempting to perform what a "good" white, male, Feminist is.
Kari is correct. Now is the time to make people uncomfortable. Now is the time to engage. But not all engagement has to rise to the level of screaming and name calling. I can get angry. But I will (hopefully) let my anger be the catalyst for a thoughtful approach. If my attempt at civility fails, well then it's game on. I will not become the bully that I, and countless others, have worked so hard to suppress.
Ambitious AF is written for women, and about women who work, with a little feminism, politics and pop culture thrown in to make things fun. It's a space to discuss complicated issues that women in the workplace face and talk about the very real complexities and nuances that make being a woman who works challenging.