I hope Cath Elliott doesn’t mind me stealing one of her blog post titles but it is such a good way of expressing the issue I am about to try and discuss that I couldn’t resist the borrow. If you want to read the original blog post where I found this word then I urge you to visit her excellent blog – www.toomuchtosayformyself.com
And now to my matter…
Once again, I have sworn off Comment is Free. Once again I dared to read the comments on a feminist themed article, was made to feel sick and dizzy in rage, and left a furious comment stating that I would never return to its white and grey pages. And I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss why, and to see how other people feel about the CIF-esque behaviour on web forums when discussing an issue that is close to their heart, which for me is feminism, which for others could be climate change, healthcare, social reform, the war; all things which are close to my heart as well but which I don’t know as much about as feminism. Bearing this in mind, I am going to talk about feminist themed articles.
The last and final article I looked at on CIF was a well written, sympathetic editorial on the pay gap. The article clearly explained where the pay gap was happening in councils, why the pay gap was a problem and how the Leeds Council decision to reduce male wages to meet female wages has somehow made women workers look like the baddies, rather than the council managers who are paying unequal wages.
The comments were the usual barrage of denial of the pay gap’s existence, and my old favourite, that the pay gap is not a gender gap but a “mother gap”. Of course, it is us silly women’s fault for going off and having babies, if we didn’t have babies then we would get equal pay wouldn’t we! (erm, no seeing as the pay gap exists regardless). Oh but wait, if women don’t have babies we women get into trouble for being heartless Lady Macbeth style monsters intent on ruining the human race! What to do! Someone commented that bin collectors deserve more money seeing as it is harder to be a bin collector than be a carer. Having done neither job I can’t comment (although I have my view) but this is the kind of misinformed comment that abounded. (misinformed in that how the fuck does the commenter know which is harder?!)
But my favourite comment came from someone who complained that the Fawcett Society were always talking about how bad everything is, but never actually getting on and doing something about it.
WTF! This statement, coming from someone on a web forum, moaning about how bad everything is, but thinking it is more constructive to sit around on a web forum moaning than doing anything about it. (quickly realising how I was guilty of doing the same thing I shouted that I would no longer sit on CIF as I had better things to do, such as organise the representations of women in the media project, international woman’s day and Reclaim the Night).
I realised that part of the problem with the aggressive people on web forums – and by aggressive I mean those who are shouty and rude, and those who are also snide and patronising, is that they tend to be people who think they know best about a subject, who think they are more expert than the expert, who think they can criticise research and writing on which they know very little, and when someone questions their so called superior knowledge, they have a web tantrum and start criticising you of having an agenda, or being middle class. (surreal).
One area in which this is paramount has been illustrated today by Jess McCabe’s article. (Which I saw on the F Word – I did go on CIF to read the article and read the comments! I am keeping my vow…for now) The debate from CIF has strayed a bit onto the F Word, with CIF commenters calling her use of statistics into question. McCabe rightly points out that she didn’t do the research (the UN etc did the research) but the stats presented stand up in terms of the general patterns presented.
Whenever a feminist article appears on CIF or similar forums and uses statistics, commenters call the stats into question, saying they have been specially selected to serve a feminist agenda. Or that the stats are inaccurate (how the fuck can your average CIF commenter know that the UN stats are inaccurate!!) and are being used to serve a feminist agenda.
I have not noticed this kind of reaction to statistics on any other type of CIF discussion.
Of course I believe strongly we should question statistics. Of course they can be used to serve an agenda – we just need to look at the Iraqi death stats to know that. But when an article supplies a range of statistics that all pretty much point to the same outcome, as McCabe does in hers, as countless articles on rape, DV, pay gaps etc have done, then we can at least take those pieces of research as a base to build our understanding.
It is the arrogance that gets me, and puts me off from visiting the site ever again. The arrogance to assume that you know better than the author of the article which stats are genuine and which ones aren’t. If you have the evidence (which, considering as CIF readers are always demanding more evidence, you would think those complainants would produce themselves) to show that the author is being a liar, then post it. But what I have seen time and time again is this sort of assumption that feminist articles which quote stats are untrustworthy off the bat, with no backing up alternative research or stats.
And, what I don’t get is why, if stats are so untrustworthy, why if the stats produced by the author are fitting an agenda, how should we be expected to trust the commenters reply stats? How can we tell if they are any more trustworthy? It goes round and round and round.
My final point on stats is this. When a feminist article doesn’t use stats, and instead uses anecdotes and stories, the author is accused of not backing up the stories with stats! But if stats are added in, then the stats are untrustworthy! It’s a minefield! You can’t win.
This isn’t just a bloke thing btw (referring back to my bloke-osphere title) but something commenters of all sex and gender do. For example, a recent article on menstruation activists sparked off a crazy set of anger and disgust and lack of understanding about the subject of women’s periods. It was frightening, the sheer horror and disgust expressed by people on this subject. It really showed a degree of terrifying women hating. But that’s by the by. The conversation moved towards mooncups, and I had men and women who had NEVER used a mooncup telling me it was crap/unhygienic/for people living in pixieland/unpractical and a host of other adjectives. Yes, the mooncup isn’t for everyone, but it is a clear example of uniformed commenters thinking they know best and drowning out the voices of those who have an informed opinion or experience. When I explained why their comments were unjust, I was told I was living in pixieland. Nice.
I think there should always be room for debate and argument, for people to disagree and point out differences and flaws in the argument. But the attitude of the anti feminist commenters on CIF doesn’t match this. The volume of those who shout down and disagree and slag off feminist perspectives stifles debate and stifles conversation, as people like me slink off to lick our metaphorical wounds and decide it just isn’t worth a hassle to fight back against people who’s view point will never, ever be changed because they just won’t listen!
From stats and misinformation, I am going to move on to the more gender specific, bloke-osphere nature of this debate, and relates to the de-railers of conversation on an article about a feminist issue by crying out loud and clear “what about the men!”
The clearest example of this is about rape. The crime of rape is generally discussed and framed around a feminist debate, with the recognition that men rape other men too, that men can be a victim of rape and that by working to improve rape sentencing for women and making it easier for women to feel able to report rape, we will simultaneously be breaking down barriers and helping men feel able to report rape too. I am massive believer in the idea that the fight against rape can’t be won separately.
Yet whenever an article on CIF or any feminist forum, including Cath’s blog and the F Word, we have (chiefly male) commenters wanting to discuss false conviction rate.
Now. I am not denying that false accusations of rape do happen. But when the conviction rate for rape hangs between 5-6%, a conviction rate lower than most other violent crimes, and the false accusation rape is, on average, the same as every other crime including insurance fraud etc, I don’t think that false accusations are the issue that should be discussed. I think the issue that needs to be discussed is why the hell, in this day and age, did Amnesty’s recent survey on attitudes suggested that 33% of people think a woman asks for it if drunk/wearing a short skirt. Why are the Daily Mail writing headlines saying women are drunk, not drugged. Why is the conviction rate so low.
A false accusation of rape is devastating I am sure, and can ruin a reputation. But if you read CIF et al you would think that these accusations abound, that they are more prevalent than rape, that the false accusation rate for rape was 95% rather than actually being the same as the false accusation for every other crime.
The same happens in discussions on DV, objectification and street harrassment and even on the pay gap (“well I work in the public sector so earn less than these high flying private sector women who are complaining” kinda thing). A discussion on DV will veer to “what about male victims” – a statement tha does need to be considered but generally ignores the fact that the majority of male victims of DV are the victims of male partners and comparitively the male victims of women partners is very small. Yes we should be fighting to end ALL DV, whether perpetuated against men or women, whether perpetuated by men or women. But when we all know that the majority by a LONG CHALK of DV survivors are women attacked by men, when TWO WOMEN A WEEK are killed by their (ex and current) partners, I think it is ok to approach the DV debate from a female perspective. As with male and female victims of rape, if we can encourage people to believe in the seriousness of DV against women then this simultaneously encourages us to look at the whole DV picture and not place one gender above another. This doesn’t change the facts though, that the majority of victims are women, that the majority of offenders are men.
Please don’t demand statistics. You know that that is true!
Street harrassment, objectification – the same thing again. You talk about street harrassment, or how you don’t like the way women appear in magazines, and you get told that “men get harrassed bty drunk women in clubs” or “men are being objectified too now”. Well, I get harrassed by drunk men in clubs, and in pubs, and on the street, and by sober men on the street, and by sober men in the park, and by sober men in the workplace, and by sober men everywhere I choose to go. There is a growing problem with the objectification of men in the media but it is miniscule compared to the frankly insane objectification of women. And again, if we fight the objectification of women, we can fight the objectification of men! The two go hand in hand! By saying enough to the objectification of women we can nip in the bud the growing problem of male objectification.
Enough of examples. I’m going to try and explain why I think (chiefly male) commenters derail the debate in this way.
Because it is a way of saying that women’s problems aren’t important, aren’t serious, shouldn’t be taken seriously in a serious forum of serious debate, and if we are going to talk about it then surely it would be better to look at the more serious ways in which these non-serious issues could seriously effect men (I am being repetitive on purpose).
It says that an issue is only important if it affects men more than/as much as women. It says that women should stop fighting for their rights and start fighting for men’s rights instead.
By undermining the research and evidence without proof, by saying that talking about women’s issues shouldn’t happen without talking about men as well, the “bloke-osphere” is saying that issues which affect women aren’t worthy of attention, and are only worthy of attention if framed in a way that takes men’s issues into account too.
This is why when there was ONE article about the effect of D-Day on women and dozens about the bravery of the men in D-Day (bravery rightly celebrated), commenters rushed to the site to criticise that the article didn’t mention the male fighters. No one commented on the articles about the male fighter bemoaning the lack of mention about women. It’s why people try to conflate Chippendales with the rise of strip clubs.
Forums like these are becoming a hostile environment for women like me who want to present the female side of the question. Rather than allowing debate, it stifles it, saying as it does that the women question is unimportant, unless constantly backed up by explaining how men suffer too.
The way the patriarchy hurts men is important. We need to tackle male rape and domestic violence against men. But there is nothing wrong about framing these debates through a feminist perspective and by looking at how they affect women, when women are in the majority of those affected. By constantly derailing the debate, the bloke-osphere makes a mockery of debate and of discussion, turning it into a one sided anti feminist squabble, conveniently ignoring the survivors and those affected, who need help, support, law changes and attitude changes. Instead, when these arguments kick off on CIF et al, the reality of the issues are forgotten about in favour of semantics and hypotheses. And I am sick of it.
PS - Tabloid Watch, Daily Quail, Enemies of Reason and other wonderful male written blogs are out there and provide a feminist friendly space so it isn't all bad readers. i think the main offenders know who they are...