Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism

As you know, I’m critical of “social justice warriors”- not actual social justice, mind you, but the hate spewing/tears drinking/new-speak ing variety that has taken hold online. Somewhere along the way liberals decided that adopting the debating tools of the belligerent Tea Party loving Right was really satisfying.
I hope that we, as a society, can step back from this kind of action. And especially as Liberal/Progressives we have so much to lose from alienating people. It’s not going to matter if we’re on the right side of history if people stop listening to us. Our message may be wonderful, but when we present it with a “you’re a fucking bigoted, racist idiot” if you disagree with the minutiae of my position, then people will bypass you. The good work may get done eventually, but why should we waste decades of possible progress bc we’re not interested in conducting civil arguments? This isn’t about being a doormat- if someone tells you to go fuck yourself, you can obviously say the same back. Why is any dissent is handled in the most obnoxious, bullying manner? Why do we display a complete lack of faith in people who we know are allies? Maybe ask for clarification before branding them a bigot. Let’s not have every discussion become an endless series of clarifications so that we never end up having an a discussion about whatever it was that we wanted to talk about- as well as maybe stepping back from making an entire argument about a single word they used while ignoring the rest of what they said.
I recently had a chat with my neighbor. “I don’t really consider myself a feminist” she said. I waited until she was done and then said, “Yeah, I definitely consider myself a feminist bc I can tell you, if I’m doing the same job as a guy, then I better be getting paid the same, you know?” She agreed and we just gently proceeded from there. Turns out she has a feminist sister who, at family get togethers, likes to talk about how any women who gets married & has children, as opposed to putting a career first, is wasting her life. I didn’t dogpile on her sister. All I did was ask, “Ohhhhh, does she have kids?” No, but she’d just gotten married and wants to have one. At that point I laughed, “Well, hmmmm, I guess you’ll see how she feels if that happens. I’ve had a career and now I’m married with kids. I don’t think either is a waste. All feminism is, is if a woman wants to get married or have kids, or both, then society can be set up in a way where it’s safe for her to do so- and if a woman doesn’t want to get married or have kids and instead wants a career, then she gets the chance to do that. It’s all good.”
“Wow, you are the first Feminist I’ve ever talked to that I agreed with,” she told me.

That didn’t make me feel good. All you need to do is connect with people. Take turns talking and listening. You’re not converting people. It isn’t instantaneous. People don’t need to agree with you. You can put the conversation to rest without nuking it. If you start getting heated just let the other person know that it’s a personal issue to you & you don’t feel like you can continue talking about it. And if someone like me can do this, then you can do this. 99% of all the days of my life I have felt like an alien anthropologist, studying humanity without ever feeling like I’m a part of it.

I don’t want the next decade to be a rehash of the 80s where we lost the progress of 70s bc we let our infighting get the better of us until it became our public face. I have friends who are all over the political spectrum. I’m not going to trash them bc they espouse somewhat different ideas from mine- ideas that are often shaped by their life experiences, btw. I’m not going to burn bridges when I’d rather build them. And yes, that means building a bridge to the most privileged members of our society that doesn’t involve discounting anything they say with an off the cuff, “check your privilege.” When I talk to guys who don’t believe in sexism I just tell them a story about my own experience. And I don’t expect the scales to fall from their eyes as they yell, “thank you! thank you! I have seen the light!” Seriously? No. It just goes into the collective pit somewhere and who knows, maybe they’ll experience something or see something and think- “ohhhh, hey that’s like that thing I’ve been hearing about. That really happens? That’s kind of fucked up.” And yes, that has happened to people I know. It’s also happened to me.

I recently came across this post and it’s so good. So right on. It’s kind of long, but I hope you give it a read.

Cross With You

A landscape image of Shodan, a feminine face made up of green digital characters against a black background. Digital Shodan by Chris R (http://twitter.com/offby1)

To all new readers: I’ve written a follow up to this article.

Not long ago my partner and I were seated in her car discussing the arbitrary nature of certain holidays and I opined, perhaps halfheartedly, that New Year’s was a worthwhile holiday simply for it being a useful vantage point for reflection, however arbitrary. It provides an overlook whence one can see a year of one’s life and world. A recent tranche of writing by severalprominentmembersof the trans and queer feminist gaming community has renewed my faith in that idea– with the overleaf of the year we suddenly find a great deal of penetrating insight into activist discourse and the risks incurred by our silence about certain excesses that have come to define us too often.

The wages of rage in our communities, and the often aimless, unchecked anger…

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