Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Dialogue With Cunts

I like arguing on the internet. I like the buzz of righteousness, the “Ha!” of a thrust hit home, the smug parrying of an attack with the perfect put-down. I like it even though I pay the price for participating in ground-down teeth and frankly pretty impotent rage. But it’s a widely agreed-upon truism that arguing on the internet about feminism is the most teeth-grindy experience of all. There’s even a cartoon about it, which itself was triggered by a tweet-war involving a graphic artist who made some mildly irritated remarks about the way male fans reacted to her and which subsequently generated a tangled web-wide meta-conversation about sexism, and finally, with the frantic “What about us poor men!” hysteria raging on its own comments thread, ended up proving its argument that any cyber-debate about the oppression of women becomes an opportunity for men to bleat in outrage about themselves.

My experience of the Great Cyber Sex War is limited, but I can see what the cartoonist (a man, although that was an unpleasant surprise to those who whined about what a beastly, bitter, man-hating lezzer-who-would-never-get-laid the artist must be) was getting at. I threw up my hands in despair and signed out of a music-based forum the day another poster described me as “scary” because I tended to argue back as forcefully as some of the pack-trolls who stomped about in that particular male-dominated little world. Unlike my three or four most shouty opponents, I was very careful not to resort to ad hominem attacks, because I felt (ultimately pointlessly) I had to be on best behaviour to ensure that my points were taken seriously, so the scariness must have been solely down to the fact I, unlike any of the very few other female posters on the forum at that time, had a dogged relish for the arguments that flourished in the politics threads. How fucking sad that a woman who can hold her own in a political debate is seen to be something to be afraid of!

Today I read Suzanne Moore’s "Time To Get Angry?" on the Guardian’s website and felt properly cross enough to throw myself into the ring. Never mind the frustratingly par-boiled examples she gives and the general impression of incoherent rather than righteously focused rage; never mind the lack of clarity in her suggestions for progress; never mind indeed the bizarre fact that she fulminates about the lack of anger in the feminist movement (there are still whole seething Eyjafjallajokulls worth of anger to tap into out there, Suzanne: you don’t need to start your own crusade as you rather touchingly suggest), or the fact that she’d turned up at The Guardian having taken The Mail’s dollar for the past few years (co-option or fighting the enemy from within? Hmm. I can’t bring myself to give her anything like the benefit of the doubt on that one): it was the responses that came after which horrified me. Whatever Moore said and however effectively or otherwise she put her case, nothing reinforces her call to action like the unbridled hatred displayed in the comments section.

What a peculiar, exhausting, frustrating and depressing pile of muddle-headed nastiness it was to wade through. If anyone had any doubt about the depth and intensity of misogyny in society, reading that little lot would have convinced them it is alive and thriving on the Guardian (of all fucking places) website. The utter lack of comprehension about what feminism is sent shivers of despair down my spine: as far as the eye could see were hordes of pissed-off, hard-done-by men, furrowing their collective monobrow over being hated by the horrid wimmin. Hardly a pro-Moore “Yay! Go sister!” to be heard over the squeals of indignation. Depressing stuff. All feminists are apparently female furies, who view every male human being as a rapist or murderer-in-waiting and apparently every last one of them is motivated by bitterness rather than a considered ethical or political desire for justice and equality (though what they are so very bitter about remained elusive to their decriers: perhaps it’s an ineffable womany thing). Most infuriating and ignorant of all were the charges laid against feminism.

Feminism is just female sexism”, says one enlightened soul. Really? Feminism’s project, as far as I am concerned, can still be summed up by the aim of the magazine The Revolution, founded in 1868 by Susan B. Anthony: “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”. How can that be sexist, the definition of which can be broadly agreed upon as being the practice of attitudes and actions which perpetuate the oppression of one gender by another? Women are not in a position to dominate men in this society, as is evidenced by their inferior social status, economic status, cultural, religious and political statuses. It’s a misunderstanding of order to equate women being apparently routinely bitchy or using their gender as some sort of a weapon against men as sexism. (Jesus fucking Christ, fishlike on a bike, being bitchy is the very least they can do, in the face of the relentless, demeaning, heartachingly mundane sexism that women encounter in some form or another EVERY SINGLE DAY.) Denigrating feminism by accusing it of sexism is as absurd as chucking the racism card at the anti-racist movement because people of one race get royally pissed off at being treated as second-class humans - or worse - by people of another and blame them, quite reasonably, for being the agents of their oppression.

Here’s a slightly more rabid comment on Moore’s article, to demonstrate where that dislike or distrust (of feminism in particular but of women in general) can lead:
“When, not if, but when, this country fails, because its men and boys have been so demonized by feminism and women in general, and the invaders move in because there the men are so disinfranchised with how they've been treated, see then how womens lives regress. British men did everything they could do make the lives of women in this country better, and what did they get for it?
Hate and demonization.”
Poor lambs. (I could lay on the “sic”s, but let’s allow him his dignity: love that nicely ironic misuse of “disenfranchised” there.)

Here’s another, from the same spluttering hound, but echoed by many others: “Women in this country have been given rights by men. They are the most looked after women in the whole of human history, and yet they still kick and scream asthough they are 'opressed'. Its simply not true, and I for one, and I know that Im not alone, am developing a hardend attitude toward women. You've been given the best lives of anyone, and yet your totally ungrateful. Men are, in greater and greater numbers, withdrawing our support for women. Lets see how you fair when men we men stop working for you.”

So it really is war, isn’t it? Every word takes great, stonking, black marker-pen strokes and underlines the undeniably concrete effects of sexual inequality, from "women have been given rights by men" and "we men stop working for you" to "your totally ungrateful". Of course we're ungrateful, you patronising fuckwit. What exactly gives people who have cocks the authority to give or take human rights from people who have cunts? Absolutely nothing. You can't squawk about men being used or accused or having horrible things done to them while maintaining a position of superiority over women: it totally negates your - and this is an overly-generous term for it - argument. Work out the difference between structural misogyny in society and general injustice and I might take you seriously. Until that time I say rock on ingratitude!

What I want to bang into every last one of those dull heads (and not just those of the clearly racist-with-it mental cases) is that feminism is not a bunch of indiscriminately-man-hating women, it's a project (undertaken by both men and women) critiquing and seeking to dismantle an oppressive power structure that blights lives the planet over.

Anger about the structure that feeds misogynist practices is, of course, blatantly very much needed and being enraged about what Suzanne Moore calls “the horrible, horrible things” that are done to women by men obviously does not preclude fury over the horrible, horrible things that are done to Muslims just because they are Muslim or to any other group of fellow human beings that is stigmatised, attacked or oppressed simply because they belong to that group. Or indeed the injustices that ordinary men suffer under the current system: here's a neat summation of the privileges of patriarchy, or how getting shat on as a man is still better than being a woman.

I'd like to live in a world where girls could grow up without being regularly belittled or bullied or abused or mutilated or stoned or raped or jeered at or given shit jobs for less pay or imprisoned or beaten or publicly derided just because they were born with the wrong genitalia. Where it doesn't matter which sex a person is. Where freedom applies to all the various shapes and sizes of human. This is far from the case and I cannot get my head around any rational, humane person wanting anything else, which is why, in a way, I find the slightly less spittle-flecked anti-feminist posts the most problematic.

Feminism has an almighty PR problem at the moment, even from the more, er, kindly-disposed, if ragingly paternalistic, critics: “If you do get 'angry' then you are going to lose support from sections of society who can emphasise with your position" Assuming he meant empathise, there’s that argument again, wheeled out against the recent student demonstrators: don’t get angry, because you’ll scare people off. It’s bullshit. Nothing (see my previous blogpost) ever got changed by people being NICE. Disobedience is the only way.

Which brings me to the question of having dialogue with cunts. Or not. The particular cunts referred to by Situationist slogan “No Dialogue With Suspect People. No Dialogue With Cunts” are those wanting to sneak their way into the movement rather than combative interlocutors, but to borrow the words rather than the intention: is it worth arguing about feminism with the knobheads that populate the internet? In my experience these are people with entrenched views, who have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of feminism as well as deep personal resentment and distrust towards women (understandably enough: they’ve grown up in a misogynist culture). The likelihood of anything I or anyone else says being taken seriously and changing their opinion is remote. But I do think that an oblique dialogue with them is necessary: taking every point that is made and deconstructing the nonsense might bring others into the debate and make a dialogue something busier. Might make people think. Might unearth one an opponent who has something opinion-changing of their own to add. Otherwise the argument is already lost. One of the reasons you get such hateful and misinformed crap as I’ve quoted above – I can’t imagine it being stood for two decades ago – is that complacency has won out over anger. Despite the infuriating twattishness of people who don’t read properly and end up arguing against straw Dworkins, it’s very clear that vast swathes of the population have missed out on their Feminism 101 starter-packs. 

Surely it's very simple: if you believe that all human beings, regardless of their gender (or sexual orientation or race or class), should have equal access to justice, financial reward, resources, services, freedom etc., then you agree with the project of feminism and can call yourself a feminist. If you think women should not be treated equally in these areas, then you're a sexist in what is demonstrably a sexist world.

Pick your side. The fact that this battle remains to be won more than two centuries after Mary Wollstonecraft's passionate and rational attack on sexual double standards is a just and reasonable cause of utter fury. The internet is full of hate-spouting idiots who need to be challenged and have their dangerous views demolished piece by piece. Go argue. Viva rage!

(Pictures reblogged from the very cool Anarcho-Feminist)


  1. Nicely argued, with totally valid and appropriate levels of swearing.

    There's another good reason for having these apparently fruitless discussions with arse-witted antiques (the guy in your first two examples comes over like a retired colonel from a 70s sitcom) - lurkers. For every person actively contributing, any discussion is likely to have dozens of silent fence-sitters. These are your real audience. You'll likely never win over sergeant sexist, but dazzle the lurkers with your cunt-edged rationality the battle's as good as won.

  2. With you all the way Lucy... except for your use of the word cunt (in all instances but one) which somewhat undermines your argument about discrimination being based on the genetic accident of the genitalia one is born with.

    Why is it that most beautiful, private, personal and loving part of my anatomy translates into the most damning possible expression of contempt for another human being - even in the mouth (inference entirely intended) of an otherwise righteous and powerful pro-women argument? Why doesn't being called a dickhead or a cock or a wanker have the same impact? Surely not because they all refer to either the male anatomy and/or what males do with them (and no, the word wanker does not apply to female masturbation, that won't fly). No, if you really want to ensure someone knows how much you loathe, despise and revile them, you have to call them a cunt. You have to liken them to that most vile and repellent thing of all, the external female sexual anatomy.

    I don't like it; it hurts me, and it hurts all women to have their sexuality denigrated so freely, so frequently, and so damningly, and it adds a good dose of seasoning to the misogynist soup.

    Otherwise, am loving the righteous hellfire of Luce Let Loose.



  3. You got a point, Kate, but it's a complicated thing. It's ironic that in the use of cunt as an insult it has become more widely used/usable anyway, so that you can call a (anatomical) cunt a cunt without, ah, beating around the bush.
    My use of cunt in the piece other than that one instance all referred to the particular definition of "cunt" in that Situationist slogan. It was deliberately provocative and meant to add to the debate: you're bang on that the insult's origins are deeply misogynist, but you could put a fair case forward that it has lost any connection with genitals, as twat has. But arguing about it is what provokes thinking, so I'm all for it!

  4. Hiya Kate, to me, the use of the word cunt reflects the inequality that feminism describes. It might be worth double thinking the issue. I think the words 'cunt' and 'twat' could do with being normalised as insults. They are seen as the dirtiest and most insulting words because they describe something that in the past has been hidden and feared. If you look at swearing in general, the words that are most acceptable describe the things that are seen as normal, regular and visible, e.g. dick, knob, fuck, shit (they are also used as descriptive words in everyday language too, they are used on TV, some parents use some of these words to help their children describe their bodies/functions). Women often feel hurt when they hear these words because of the filthy, unholiness the words (and women) are associated with, not because of what they are. If 'cunt' and 'twat' (and other female genitalia swear words) became more acceptable as general usage words (rather than the dirtiest insults) it may be suggestive of a more gender equal culture. However, this may not happen any time soon and therefore I say, lets do it from the bottom up (or the cunt up) and let these words out in all their varied uses, both as insults and regular descriptive language. You never know, it might have a positive effect. For me, it's important that they are normalised in this way. By keeping these words hidden we continue to perpetuate the silence, the fear and the unholiness that has been created around them. Fucking Cunting Hell! My cunt is sacred but it is also normal and acceptable - I say, bring the cunts out, let them be visible and audible, let them be normal in all their delicious glory.

  5. I occasionally, when I forget, try and argue with these sort of people online, only to swiftly realise it's like trying to argue with the tides. Like's been said by you and others, the only way we stop these idiots is by changing society, so their ideas are revealed to all for the outdated rubbish they are.

    But you already knew that. Anyway, just one more largely positive voice out there, saying he agrees with you.