One Facebook thread commenter who, by his avatar and self-description was hetero, middle-aged, white, and male, wrote: “This [the Maxim piece] is inappropriate, but it does not change the fact that feminism is a sexist movement.” Another commenter made a great rejoinder by putting this statement in perspective. She asked: “And lgb rights is a heterophobic movement? And environmentalism is an antihuman movement? And anticapitalism is an antipeople movement? Wtf are you smokin?” And the fight continued on past a debate about oppression and rights, into name-calling and character attacks.
One of the commenters on this thread linked to an insightful blog post she wrote in response to the article. Unfortunately, part of her analysis of the first-phase “unshaven, militant, protesting vegan’s” speech bubble “There’d be no more wars of all penises were cut off! Argh!” is “Hmmm, that might actually be true.” The blog author ends with a fantastic analysis of the final-phase “actual girl,” whose speech bubble reads: “Your Camaro makes me so HOT!” The author writes: “This [image and speech bubble] sends a disorienting message that is beyond confusing, since women are often the objects of extremely vicious misogyny because supposedly we are ‘materialistic’ and only use men for money. We are also the object of ire for being ‘brainless bubble heads’ and ‘sluts.’ But it looks like that’s what men want. So first they turn us into objects, and then they hate the object they created.” Yes. But then she follows up with this in conclusion: “I hate YOU, Maxim magazine. May all of your penises fall off, so that women may finally have peace on earth.” One of her readers admirably pointed out that two wrongs don’t make a right. This reader commented on the fact that it’s also sexist “to suggest that men are solely to blame for war, and that mass genital mutilation wouldn’t be a bad thing.” But so far, the discussion has been wrapped up by the author and other commenters, who concluded that the above suggestions are “based on FACTS and EVIDENCE, not ideology” and require “a sense of humor” to interpret.
I want to offer some analysis about why online scenarios like this (from individual Facebook threads to Internet Scandals blowing up the blogosphere) so often devolve into a group of commenters having to “prove” that gender-based oppression exists to one or a few typically dude-identified commenters who usually get labeled as “trolls.” I’m fascinated by this pattern because of the way conversations get re-centered around the commenters’ fight to be right while “feminism” becomes a casualty. As various conceptions and misconceptions of feminist ideas, values, and praxis are trotted out, “feminism” ends up being the name given to anti-misogynist positions as well as misandry.
Why the use of violence against violence? Gender-based oppression against gender-based oppression? What accounts for the terrible irony and hypocrisy of using the tactics condemned by feminism in its defense? I don’t want to find a way to give anybody a “pass,” I just want to think about why this happens.
I have a few ideas. We’re already conditioned by a dominant society that loves violence and conflict. Many of us have few other models of making an argument without arguing. The anonymity and access facilitated by electronic communication over the internet is no small part of this. Many popular representations of diversity haven’t become any more sophisticated than promoting a relativist position where discriminatory practices against women in certain spheres are explained away by citing discriminatory practices against men in others. Instead of analyzing the differences between these practices, unequal exercises of power simply negate each other (to borrow a phrase I read in Chandra Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes Revisited” ).
I think sometimes these fights also reflect how steeped in anger we are because of constantly having to deal with new permutations of anti-feminism like Maxim’s violent curriculum, despite assurances that we’re all equal now and we know better.
This should inspire righteous anger in us, but we should still hold ourselves accountable to finding “teachable moments” where we can really expose the heart of misunderstandings about feminism instead of reproducing the violences that would keep it mystified. Previously: Rainbow Health Ontario & the Trans PULSE Project, The Bathroom Debate