Isn’t it awkward when professional bloggers don’t understand how social media works?
A few days ago, widely read conservative white-but-not-straight blogger Andrew Sullivan railed against the new cooperation between Women Action Media and Twitter. The micro-blogging platform and the non-profit will work together
to better report, track, understand, and work against cyber harassment
of users, primarily women. That this harassment is omnipresent should be common (bipartisan!) knowledge to anyone actively engaged with the net these days, at least since #gamergate.
Sullivan sort of supports #gamergate, so it’s no surprise he now fears full-blown censorship at the hands of a radical leftist feminism. But still, this article is problematic and full of terrible arguments:
Sullivan so royally (and probably willfully) misses the point, I almost feel embarrassed for him. The action WAM and Twitter takes isn’t censorship at all, even if you expand the concept from its actual constitutional definition (relationship State – citizen) to the more colloquial use (individual/organisation hindering other individual/organisation from expressing something) It’s not even really censorship in a discursive/Bourdieuian sense in which a field governs itself and has certain rules (explicit and implicit) about what can be said within that field/space, etc.
At least at the start, no one is actually prevented from exercising free speech – it’s just a method of protecting yourself from harassment. The harassment that is supposed to be reported through this new cooperation certainly is “low-level” speech, if not true threats or hate speech, i.e. forms of speech that are usually not protected by even the very wide scope of the U.S. First Amendment. It’s also not about coddling weak women from improper words or from abolishing unpleasentness or dissent or any nonsense like that.
This move by WAM with the support or twitter and numerous other feminists and their allies certainly doesn’t mean that the activists think that women aren’t strong. Women are strong: Most women deal with street, cyber, sexual harassment and sexism on a daily basis and still work and prosper. This is especially true for non-straight, non-cis, non-white women in the USA, online, and around the world. This initiative by WAM and others is actually an example of the resourcefulness of women online: They are creating apps and strategies themselves that allow them to better experience and use the “vast vistas” of the web, that allow them to build their brands and that give them the space to express their ideas “with wit and energy and passion and freedom” and to have constructive discussions with people who disagree with them. Because that is the free speech problem that is pressing here: A constant, daily barrage of hate and harassment like amazing blogger Imani Gandy describes
it not only leads to personal harms (e.g. mental health issues, constant insecurity, further abuse) but also amounts to a “white noise” that drowns out reasonable interaction. Twitter isn’t technically rigged against women, but it is more difficult to interact when part of the interaction is people yelling abuse at you.
Another point: Isn’t finding strategies and technological solutions to enhance your communication possibilities what social media, what the digital revolution is supposed to be about? Reducing the white noise of hate allows women to fully participate as “citizens in our digital age.” (Yang in Citron 2014
Sullivan (of course) invokes the “culture wars.” There is a cultural conflict at play here, but it is not a new one. It is the decades, century-old debate about who is a/the “citizen.” The core problem is this: The individual citizen whose freedom of speech must be protected from the “censorship” of WAM, Block Together
, or ordinary comment moderators, is still very much the citizen the 18th centruy. Those being silenced (or, if you buy in to the other side, doing the censoring) are people not considered citizen (i.e. civil right holders) by the authors of the constitution: Women, people of color. (Even LGBT people, in the present case Sullivan ignores that.) Of course, free speech debates aren’t limited to the U.S., and in the case of speech on the Internet, many of the nation-state based elements of “citizen”-subjects don’t apply. Many individuals arguing the “censorship!” position in this debate aren’t U.S. citizens. But the same hierarchy of “citizen”/subject/individual/user applies: White cis-heterosexual man is the default, it is he who comes to mind when talking about censorship™.
Both the hierarchization of white-male subjectivity and the attack that feminists et.al. are policing the speech of white straight males angers me on a personal level, too. I am a white male speaking on the Internet, but I am also a white male that sees and abhors the abuse others on the Internet face. Women and others protecting themselves from abusive people who share certain labels with me does not quell my free speech possibilities. As far as I can tell Block Together and the new WAM/Twitter tool aren’t even limited to women/poc/lgbtqia people – they just need it the most.
TL;DR: This isn’t about speech, it’s about harassment. Even white dudes can get that.
In her book Feminism and Linguistic Theory Deborah Cameron makes a strong argument in the debate about eliminating sexist language:
“I do think, however, that it would be better if feminists operated with a more hard-headed, political notion of what we are trying to do. In my opinion we should be tampering with language not to tell the truth, but quite openly to shame the devil. It is disingenuous to claim that the conventions we propose are simply “better” than the traditional ones (more accurate, more precise), because really it is a question of political and ideological preferences – the traditional usage embodies one view of the world, the feminist alternative a different one, and we need to make clear that both these views are politically non-neutral. We should therefore be honest enough to defend our tampering not in terms of its purported linguistic merits, but in terms of its political utility for raising consciousness, denouncing sexism and empowering women.”
Cameron, Deborah. Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, 1992. p. 125
This passage of Toril Moi’s great essay on using Pierre Bourdieu’s work for feminist theory touches on why men are affected by sexist structures – without there being such a thing as reverse sexism:
Our habitus is at once produced and expressed through
our movements, gestures, facial expressions, manners, ways of walking, and ways of looking at the world. The socially produced body is thus necessarily also a political body, or rather an embodied politics. Thus even such basic activities as teaching children how to move, dress, and eat are thoroughly political, in that they impose
on them an unspoken understanding of legitimate ways to (re)present their body to themselves and others. The body-and its apparel such as clothing, gestures, make-up and so on-becomes a kind of constant reminder ( of sociosexual power relations.It follows from Bourdieu’s understanding of the social effects of gender divisions that the dominant group -in this case men- do not escape the burdens of their own domination.
…was my first thought when I heard about the “Blurred Lines”-Singer’s new song/album/video/creepy attempt to ‘get his wife back’. Feministing has more:
The crappiest part of this hot mess video are that the images reinforce the cultural norms that say this kind of harassment is actually romantic. Jessica also writes how these narratives fuel the misguided fantasy in film, television, and music that “the boy keeps trying to get the girl until she says yes.” What does he do when she says no? The message in these narratives is that no isn’t a real no. It means try harder! A very logical position from a man who crooned about blurring the lines of consent, taunting barely clothed women by saying, “I know you want it,” and was astonished to discover that many women were outraged.
The resulting behavior manifests in daily unrelenting street harassment in your neighborhood walk to the subway. Or it may end with a boy killing a girl who rejected his request for a prom date–or even a mass shooting. I want to believe that men and women in our culture can be discerning when presented with images like Thicke’s ill-advised “art” project. But we don’t live in that world and supporting work that reinforces stalking behavior doesn’t make anyone safe.
[Tweet by @shakiraevanss: The naked female body is treated so weirdly in society. It’s like people are so constantly begging to see it, but once they do someone’s a hoe.]
NPR’s Code Switch blog has a good write-up of Donald Sterling’s obviously racist and rather delusional statements – and his history of racist bigotry:
It’s not even the ugliest racial controversy he’s been at the center of. If you took all of Donald Sterling’s racial scandals together, you might have a hard time distinguishing him from a villain in a blaxploitation movie. (Critics would complain that the character was too broadly drawn.)
The article doesn’t even include his bizarre, bragging deposition in a case in which he was accused of sexual harassment. The deposition is so inappropriate it’s (almost) funny but adds to the misogyny that is also noticeable in his fight with his mistress of color. The Daily Beast has more.