Why I Go Into Hiding During Feminist Storms

My piece inspired this illustration by Jonathan Swailes.

My piece inspired this illustration by Jonathan Swailes.

Please pardon my unusually long absence – I’ve been so busy geeking out for the past couple of months that I couldn’t find time to blog (Well, that and my life just got super crazy, but I’ll save that for another day, another post). I did, however, manage to do some writing! In fact, I wrote a short piece for the Intersectionality Issue of GEEKED, a feminist magazine entitled, “Intersectionality, Or, Why I Don’t Write for Feminists.” Given all of the internal contradictions wrapped up in this article, it was surprisingly difficult to put together. It didn’t help that the only way I could figure out how to write it was to call myself out as a bad feminist.

Fortunately, as I was preparing to submit my article, I had the opportunity to put together some ideas on bad feminists and intersectionality at the annual Women’s Conference at Colorado State University in my session, “Where Bad Feminists, Hashtags, and Pop Culture (Don’t) Intersect.” This event happened at the start of March, right as a wave of feminist discourse about how feminists interact with one another online was reaching its peak.

Although I managed to start my session all Dead-Poets-Society-style by walking across a row of chairs only to sketch depictions of Miley and Beyoncé up on the white board to highlight the line between white feminists, black feminists, and bad feminists, don’t let my smile fool you. This presentation was also a difficult task to do well.

CSU Women's Conference

At Colorado State’s Annual Women’s Conference, March 2014. Miley is obviously on the left.

It wasn’t difficult just because people hadn’t been following the slew of pieces written about feminism’s “toxic” Twitter wars and the responses and the responses to those responses (although that would have been hugely helpful). Neither was it difficult just because a lot of people in the room were unfamiliar with Suey Park’s defense of Twitter feminism and hashtag activism (or what Stephen Colbert has since deemed “hashtavism” after more recently being targeted by Park’s creation of the hashtag #CancelColbert. In fact, while I was trying to squeeze in time to write this blog post over the past few weeks, the whole controversy over the effectiveness of Colbert’s satire as “social justice” and the impact of his PR team’s out-of-context-tweet created yet another example of the type of responses and responses to those responses that has become so characteristic of how social activism on digital media and in the blogosphere operates these days. If it sounds like I’ve buried some personal judgment in these last few sentences, it’s more related to my concerns about social media whores with an ‘activist’ twist, but I digress…).

The session at the women’s conference was hard because, as I tried to articulate in my piece for GEEKED, I have never been able to situate myself as a feminist along clear lines regarding who is saying what, if what one is saying is actually good (or also peppered with fuck ups along the way that make it hard to fully endorse), or if what I think I might want to contribute is too defensive, too apologetic, too ignorant, or too apathetic. In other words, despite all of my years of passionately reading and writing and teaching feminist values and ideas, my sensitivity to how to be a good feminist has frequently made me too reluctant to speak out as a feminist at all. Which, one could argue, is a very bad move for a feminist (or good, depending on the situation, topic, and who is involved in the conversation. See how complicated it can be? And see how I’ve tried to deal with this before regarding Trayvon Martin’s murder? It’s never easy).

Given my (apparently) frequent silences whenever the latest feminist happenings erupt online, I worry that some might think that I have gotten a little more apathetic with my feminist commitments. Or worse, maybe that I have become a little more mainstream, a little more conservative, or a little less radical. It’s not for lack of interest or caring that I don’t immediately contribute to the online feminist discourse on trending topics; I clearly care enough to write for a feminist magazine on intersectionality and present at conferences to get young feminists amped about these topics. Really, I’m just not engaging in the same ways…I’m not tweeting, I’m not blogging, and I’m not actively pitching to publishing sites. Hell, I’m not even publishing on my own.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of space, how digital spaces are used, and the fact that sometimes it’s just exhausting.

It seems important to note that many of the feminist responses to the “toxicity” of online feminism and its “call-out culture” note how such critiques are often coming from mainstream, white feminists and are frequently charged against women of color, those who exist on the margins and commit themselves to understanding intersecting oppressions, precisely for “calling out” mainstream feminists. Furthermore, it should also be appreciated that there is a difference between where mainstream feminists are encouraged and able to write, like the Nation and the Guardian, versus where the voices of women of color have had to create room for themselves to speak out against white feminists’ problematic behavior, most likely volunteer-run blogs (go ahead, click on some the earlier links I posted earlier if you didn’t already know about this disparity).

All of this raises the important issue of the gentrification of digital space, which has been well-articulated by people like Robin James on resilient labor on social media and challenged by Meredith Clark and her notion of Black Twitter. And while most of the articles and blog posts that I’ve been linking to all along are examples of well-articulated and super important perspectives that should be considered, I’ll be honest about this: they make me think, but they don’t make me want to write and contribute to the conversation from my own perspective.

Immediately, I can imagine how another feminist could call me out for my complacency and privilege, for “sitting back” and letting the other women of color do all of the work. In reality, though, my reason for staying quiet in times like this is because I don’t want to participate in what seldom materializes as an effective dialogue (and I really don’t know how to ensure that this will be read as an observation that applies to both sides and is not just another echoing of white feminists who feel “attacked”). Instead, it more often feels like a yelling match where people only listen to the those with whom they already agree, where almost everyone gets drowned out, and where “outsiders” who only hear pieces of the fights through hashtags get turned off to the issue, disinterested in it, or worse, even more dismissive of feminism.

In a sense, then, I do take issue with the discourse and common practices of how online feminist activism is frequently done. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be done at all, but that we really need to find and create some better examples of how to engage with one another. We also need to keep working to find and create better ways to relate to others who aren’t already privy to the critiques that feminists sling at one another (or why they do it at all).

Fortunately, one of the best examples of a good feminist doing good, solid, intersectional work, which also happens to be targeted at other feminists for their failings at inclusivity, was published right around the time that everyone else was caught up in being so “toxic.” Tina Vasquez’s piece in Bitch Media, “It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women” was a much-needed breath of fresh air on a topic that has long been an issue within feminism. But it was a welcomed breath of fresh air because it opened up a space where learning, critique, and solidarity were made possible, even at a time when so many feminists were losing themselves in the suffocating storm of “infighting,” “toxicity,” and the necessary yet-oh-so-difficult demand of being sufficiently intersectional. Rather than say more about it, I encourage all of you who have read this far to read Vasquez’s piece itself.

But first, one more thing…

I’ve been concerned about how to best work and write as a feminist for years now. I’ve even unabashedly created my own feminist spaces via social media, and yet I still fall silent so much of the time. I guess that’s because I still don’t know how to do it best, or maybe even how to do it well. And so, this is the difficult and tension-filled that space in which I still dwell, from where I wrote my piece for GEEKED magazine, and in which I tried to use a white board and my admission of possibly being a very bad feminist to engage a room full of others who weren’t so familiar with the blurry lines of online feminist discourse.

The history of feminism has never been great, and changing the oppressive and exclusionary norms of feminism, let alone society, has certainly never been easy. But with all of the tensions, with all of the challenges, with all of the “call-outs” and hashtags and utilizations and creations of new spaces, new means, new methods, the worst thing that we can do is fall into the trap where we make feminism too bad for feminists.

In really honest moments with other feminists, I’ve had conversations when we admit that it can just get so exhausting to be on point, on call, and on the defensive all of the time. On one hand, that’s the nature of committing oneself to work against the status quo. But, on the other hand, if we make the climate of feminism so hard on feminists by negating, undermining, and policing ourselves without constructively collaborating together that we feel like we can’t actually do anything to change the status quo, then we’ve been defeated. We’ve been bamboozled. The status quo wins and we really are very bad feminists.

Want a Think for a Change Feminism Throwback? How about this video:

For more stuff on all sorts of things, follow me on Twitter @Cori_Wong, “LIKE” my page on Facebook, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and see pictures of my cat on Instagram.

4 thoughts on “Why I Go Into Hiding During Feminist Storms

  1. Pingback: On Loving Keira Knightley’s Boobs Almost As Much As My Own | Cori Wong, Ph.D.

  2. That Bitch magazine piece was full of untruths and anti-female propaganda. You would have much less of a problem finding your feminist voice if you let go of of the cognitive dissonance queer theory requires of us, embraced the simple truth that sexism is based on sex, realized that intersectionality isn’t about erasing that axis of oppression, and moved on from there.

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