Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stuff "Radicals" Do : Use Misogynist Weapons to Make Their Deep and Very Important Points

Exhibit A) Via Professor What If, we see a blogger named Visible referring to the corporate media in the following way:

"The Hydra-Headed, Blood-Sucking Bitch Media"

Exhibit B) Via Fetch Me My Axe, we see a radical queer group calling itself "Bash Back" writing:

"With a Fist Raised high in the cunt of oppression we second the motion for an anti war blac blok."

To begin, I am fairly confident that this criticism, like many feminist critiques, will be chalked up to either (a) Political Correctness Gone Too Far (tm) or (b) Another Example of How Feminists Have No Sense of Humor (tm). That's how misogynists, liberal/conservative doods, and anti-feminists dismiss feminist critiques without actually substantively addressing them. It's an easy way for them to essentially say "It's not us who are wrong for being rude or insensitive, it's feminists who are no fun for being overly-sensitive and humorless!" and then move along to Real and More "Universal" Issues like the bitch media and cunts of oppression.

Because some men view their experience as men as at the center of complete and total objectivity, they often dismiss criticisms of misogyny as unimportant, untrue, and unworthy of consideration. Movie critics do this when they passively mention that "some have called a [insert misogynist's work] misogynist" before moving on to the More Important Business of "objectively" critiquing the movie. Athletic departments and universities do this when they slap star male athletes on the wrist for assaulting women, because winning sports championships is Very Important Real World Stuff especially compared to the safety and well-being of women. And, radical, progressive, liberal, and other men who one would think would be the natural allies of feminists, do this when they use terms like "bitch" and "cunt" to describe and denounce bad things because these bad things are Way More Important than misogyny.

Renee over at Womanist Musings recently wrote an excellent piece which I think is pretty apt here:

"Many so called liberal sites practice a fauxgressive form of activism as a way to soothe white guilt about the continual benefits that they receive on the backs of bodies of colours. Statements are earnestly made, self flagellation begins but real and true constructive conversation is stunted because people are determined to speak rather than listen to others....

If you are a privileged body most of what you will see, read, and hear is already dedicated to you. From mainstream media to every other agent of socialization the message is clear; unless you are necessarily white, cisgender, male, and heterosexual your life is inconsequential.... The what about the mehnz groups continually highjack comment threads once again refocusing conversation on the least marginalized group of all time – white males.

Somehow despite all of the purposeful disruption we are told to stay calm, not whine, or that we are all experiencing some form of mass delusion. To be a social justice blogger is to come face to face on a daily basis with those who wield privilege like a weapon."

Not only do many male so-called radicals, liberals, and progressives embody this entitlement, we have a handy example of it in the comment section of Professor's blog post. (No direct link to comments available). A male anti-feminist commenter by the name of "David" stepped in and became just one of a long line of male anti-feminist commenters in the world whose privileged body "entitles" him to enter feminist blog space, completely dismiss the concerns of women, and attempt to instead refocus the space back onto men and their Very Important concerns. Yielding his invisible-to-him male privilege like a weapon, he concluded without argument that Visible's bitch-hydra metaphor wasn't "meant to symbolize women" and that Professor "mostly just ma[de] [her]self look ignorant and reactionary when [she] tr[ied] to associate it." He then told her to get over herself and tried to focus the conversation onto The Men as though the dominant discourse in society is not already dedicated to them.

The message is clear, as a woman, Professor's concerns were inconsequential. In taking issue with, or even wanting to have a conversation about, the "bitch" terminology, she was being subjective, egocentric, reactionary, and silly. She was detracting from the Way More Important Concern of criticizing the media.

Yet, I share Professor's belief that it is strange for Visible, the author of the "bitch" metaphor, to have gendered the Really Bad Thing he's fighting as female. Simply put, women do not control the media. Men do. And, likewise, in Bash Back's case, the use of the word "cunt" to symbolize the oppression of LGBT people is a complete non-sequitur. It is not at all clear how this "oppression" is like a vagina, or even why it would be a bad thing if it were.

Secondly, I am open to having a conversation in which the authors of these metaphors explain how and why their metaphors were not intended to be offensive to women. Words often have multiple meanings and connotations. So, I will give people the benefit of the doubt when they (a) acknowledge that they can at least see how the word usage might offend women/feminists/gay people/etc. and (b) explain that they were using a different meaning of the word. When a word usage is, at best, ambiguous or open to multiple interpretations, it is not incumbent upon those who find it offensive to just not be offended.

"Bitch" is a loaded word that people use in a gendered way to denigrate women in our culture. Unfortunately, when Professor questioned Visible's gendered "bitch" word choice, he chose not to clarify his usage and, instead, dismissed Professor's criticism in accordance with Method A, above, declaring his blog to be a "PC-free" zone. I do think that political correctness can go too far at times. Often, however, I find that those who invoke special "PC-free" rules for themselves are usually doing nothing more than giving themselves free reign to be offensive. For, by leveling the charge of "political correctness," the offender attempts to contain criticism within certain acceptable bounds, preferably within ones that do not threaten his own male-privilege and the entitlement this gives him to denigrate groups that he is not a part of.

All this being said, I do get the gist of these simplistic misogynistic metaphors. "Bitches" and "cunts" are "bad," and hey guess what, the corporate media and oppression are also bad. This all brings me to my final point, these metaphors just aren't all that creative. They're gimmicks. Their "value" comes mostly from the shock that comes with saying things like cunt cunt cunt bitch bitch cunt cunt bitch. If building alliances with women and feminists mattered to this crowd, they would have used one of the zillion other "bad" things, more apt things, to make the comparison.

Words and language are important. So, as much as I agree that the media perpetuates disinformation, I cannot get behind an author when he simultaneously denigrates women by comparing this Really Bad Thing to the female aspect of humanity. The "Bash Back" group, well, that's not really something I can or would support anyway. So no big loss there.

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