Toxicity, Fear, and Feminism

If feminist space is indeed an actual space, an intentional community in which we create projects, have conversations and have connections. The way in which we behave, and interact has repercussions. While I am an activist in what some might lovingly refer to as ‘the real world’ or ‘meatspace’ online feminist space (listserves, livejournal, twitter) has had a real effect upon me. My closest friends were met online, projects that I love and hold deal were birthed through online interactions (and allowed for collaborations across states and time zones) and I have learned more through the more accessible (and immediate) resources of feminist writing online than my years of gender studies through night school.


There is real toxicity in some places. After all TERFs (trans exclusionary feminists) have been on the internet attempting to sabotage the lives of trans women for merely existing and speaking to the harm that trans exclusionary actions (within and without feminism) have. Another example would be the way in which Hugo Schwyzer was given a platform (a horrible one at that) on numerous feminist spaces and targeted WOC in an attempt to silence their critiques.  She didn’t talk about the long history of WOC’s concerns of racism within feminism being dismissed online (a quick Google search I found posts about feminism and racism here, here, here and here).


Rather than focus on the toxicity of oppression, Michelle Goldberg decided to focus on the feelings of primarily white feminists when confronted with critique. Full disclosure: I own both of Ms. Goldberg’s books on reproductive rights issues. I’ve cited them in my class work, leant them to friends, and have enjoyed her writing. I had stopped following her on twitter a while ago when I found some of her articles were lacking a rigorous analysis that I had thought her more in depth writing had (specifically her wish on giving ‘Lean In’ a pass. I though had chocked up our different analysis to my being a pretty strict ‘capitalism causes a majority of our problems’ kind of feminist that has little patience for a movement invested in helping a few ladies get to the 1%. I follow (on twitter)  @karynthia , @DrJaneChi ) two of the people focused, and critiqued in the article (which I will not be linking – I don’t want to add to the page counts – internet currency as it were).

To be blunt, if a pundit was arguing ‘but what about the feelings of men when you tell exactly how sexism hurts’ I don’t think Ms. Goldberg would be as delicate. I think if male journalists complained that they feared writing at all just in case some woman claimed offense that it would be a score against feminism. The difference is only in where the power dynamics lie. Because this feminist space has provided some paying gigs, TV talking head time, and a sense of authority (in greater number to white women) there is an investment in holding onto that space. Flavia Dzodan outlined this pretty clearly the day before on her blog.


I don’t want to argue about the validity of feelings. At the end of the day what really matters is in what ways we are perpetuating or ending oppression. We don’t need the conversation re-focused to how to make someone feel more comfortable in their fucking up. Yes you are allowed to make mistakes (we all do!) but once the mistake is made – what are you going to focus on? How you feel in that moment, or how to stop fucking up? If someone is curt when they are telling me I am fucking up – they are still spending their time (and resources) to educate me about how I am oppressing them. Again, they are spending their resources (already more limited than mine because of systematic oppression) to teach me. That is a fucking gift.

I don’t think it is bad for anyone to pause before posting out of fear of enforcing a kind of ism. Even this writing – off of the cuff starting at 6 a.m. went through some revisions, some contemplation about inclusion, and language choice. I am sure it isn’t perfect, and if critiques come I’ll read them and take them to heart. If ‘feminism is for everyone’ we can’t just have the same 15 posts about white cis lady experiences. And if a white cis lady is writing about her experiences and is treating them as something universal rather than also situated in her relative privileges the critique must come.

Its vital read the tweets of: @andrea366 , @graceishuman@suey_park , @scATX , @ChiefElk and @redlightvoices (to just name a few) who have on twitter provided excellent critique of the article, feminism and society in general.

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