I’m not familiar with Kat Stoeffel’s previous work, but she just wrote something important: What I Got Wrong About Misogyny. She explains more of what’s behind the Amanda Marcotte problem: actually being smug and insufferable just like conservatives say feminists are, while being worse than useless at achieving the goals of feminism.
The SJW tone often made me cringe, but we shared the goal of gender equality. I wanted to make their arguments legible to people who were put off by their vibe. So rather than joining them in calling aggrieved white guys like Damore misogynists and demanding that they be fired, I thought feminists’ best bet was to coolly rib them, showing how NBD our demands really were. After all, the Google mentorship programs Damore is so worked up about materially cost him nothing. What’s your damage, Damore?
NBD = no big deal.
Why the fuck should anybody care about your problems if they’re no big deal? Contrast the tone with Andrea Dworkin, who wouldn’t be shocked and taken off-guard by current events:
The sex-class system cannot be undone when those whom it exploits and humiliates are unable to face it for what it is, for what it takes from them, for what it does to them. Feminism requires precisely what misogyny destroys in women: unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power. Despite the impossibility of it, there is such bravery: there are such women, in some periods millions upon millions of them. If male supremacy survives every effort of women to overthrow it, it will not be because of biology or God; nor will it be because of the force and power of men per se. It will be because the will to liberation was contaminated, undermined, rendered ineffectual and meaningless, by antifeminism: by specious concepts of equality based on an evasion of what the sex-class system really is. The refusal to recognize the intrinsic despotism of the sex-class system means that the despotism is inevitably incorporated into reform models of that same system: in this, antifeminism triumphs over the will to liberation. The refusal to recognize the unique abuses inherent in sex labor (treating sex labor as if it were sex-neutral, as if it were not intrinsically part of sex oppression and inseparable from it) is a function of antifeminism; the acceptance of sex labor as appropriate labor for women marks the triumph of antifeminism over the will to liberation. The sentimental acceptance of a double standard of human rights, responsibilities, and freedom is also the triumph of antifeminism over the will to liberation; no sexual dichotomy is compatible with real liberation. And, most important, the refusal to demand (with no compromise being possible) one absolute standard of human dignity is the greatest triumph of antifeminism over the will to liberation. Without that one absolute standard, liberation is mush; feminism is frivolous and utterly self-indulgent. Without that one absolute standard as the keystone of revolutionary justice, feminism has no claim to being a liberation movement; it has no revolutionary stance, goal, or potential; it has no basis for a radical reconstruction of society; it has no criteria for action or organization; it has no moral necessity; it has no inescapable claim on the conscience of “mankind”; it has no philosophical seriousness; it has no authentic stature as a human-rights movement; it has nothing to teach. Also, without that one absolute standard, feminism has no chance whatsoever of actually liberating women or destroying the sex-class system…No liberation movement can accept the degradation of those whom it seeks to liberate by accepting a different definition of dignity for them and stay a movement for their freedom at the same time (Apologists for pornography: take note). A universal standard of human dignity is the only principle that completely repudiates sex-class exploitation and also propels all of us into a future where the fundamental political question is the quality of life for all human beings. Are women being subordinated to men? There is insufficient dignity in that. Are men being prostituted too? What is human dignity?…
One other discipline is essential both to the practice of feminism and to its theoretical integrity: the firm, unsentimental, continuous recognition that women are a class having a common condition. This is not some psychological process of identification with women because women are wonderful; nor is it the insupportable assertion that there are no substantive, treacherous differences among women. This is not a liberal mandate to ignore what is cruel, despicable, or stupid in women, nor is it a mandate to ignore dangerous political ideas or allegiances of women. This does not mean women first, women best, women only. It does mean that the fate of every individual woman–no matter what her politics, character, values, qualities–is tied to the fate of all women whether she likes it or not. On one level, it means that every woman’s fate is tied to the fate of women she dislikes personally. On another level, it means that every woman’s fate is tied to the fate of women whom she politically and morally abhors. For instance, it means that rape jeopardizes communist and fascist women, liberal, conservative, Democratic, or Republican women, white women and black women, Nazi women and Jewish women, homophobic women and homosexual women. The crimes committed against women because they are women articulate the condition of women.
This was Stoeffel’s approach, instead:
Truth be told, whether you were an eye-rolling misandrist or a member of an SJW mob, doing internet feminism often required sidestepping the actual issues at hand. It’s not that I couldn’t explain why studies observing differences between the sexes shouldn’t impact Google’s diversity policies.* It’s complicated, though. It would make for bad copy. Right-wingers would willfully misrepresent my argument. (“Feminist ADMITS gender is biological … so WHY are our tax dollars building her gender neutral bathrooms??”) Cis white women would say my analysis erased trans women of color. No level of nuance would spare me days of unpleasant Twitter mentions.
So whether we were talking about workplace sexism, campus sexual assault, abortion rights, or trigger warnings, I took a detached stance toward white-male opposition. I was writing for other educated, feminist-leaning city dwellers, of course. But in the event an anti-PC dude clicked over from another part of the site, I wanted him to see that gender equality was a cool and low-cost project. Yes, we disagree about X issue. But X is abstract for you, and it’s concrete for women. So why not just trust us on Y policy/solution? Especially since Y is no skin off your nose.
This is someone who cares way too much what other people think of them. In politics, you have to accept the existence of enemies. You cannot start by appeasing your enemies. They will think you’re a little bitch, and fuck you up the ass.
The problem is not attacking and humiliating your enemies, who deserve it. The problem is doing so in terms of a value system you care about and they think is a bunch of faggotry.
“Right-wingers would willfully misrepresent my argument” is not a reason to give up on making arguments. Jesus Christ. She’s saying she has no idea of how to respond to such a tactic. Giving up like she is just allows the most willfully stupid people to set the terms of discussion. Even then, they’re still going to say stupid shit about you.
Spoiler: People never came around on SJWs. Around the time I stopped writing about feminism, at the end of 2014, a truly inconsequential debate about politically correct SJWs suppressing dissent in indie video-game reviews—Gamergate—had devolved into a full-blown internet culture war. It felt like a small group of sexist trolls was holding all of online discourse hostage, and it made doing internet feminism really, really unpleasant, if not dangerous.
A year later, that small group of anti-PC sexists turned out to be an electoral majority. We elected a walking trigger warning as president—not in spite of his offensive views but because of them. I’d bent over backward to break down prejudice and insensitivity in terms that wouldn’t make men feel defensive, but prejudice and insensitivity were exactly what Trump’s supporters liked about him.
When Trump says something un-PC—no matter how incoherent or factually inaccurate—people feel like he is speaking eternal truths, ones that liberals like me had suppressed. Charlottesville showed that a terrifying number of these people are unsophisticated bigots—people who want to have their ugliest biases confirmed. I imagine others are interested in paranoia or provocation, drawn to the rhetorical power of the un-PC, not necessarily its content. (I even kind of get it; I have problematic faves like Chelsea Handler and Christopher Hitchens.)
Her “problematic faves” go much deeper than that. She’s submissive to bullies, as trained.
This seems to be a general phenomenon going around liberalism right now: the first confrontation with bullying they can’t escape by laughing along. Suddenly people who were pacifists because they’re afraid of violence are admitting it. For the first time, their masculinity has been called into question by a bully, and this is very confusing for them.
Me?? They hate me??? But I didn’t do anything? Hahaha.
I also notice that she was bothered by white women bringing up the concerns of trans women of color, but it’s the fact of that happening that annoys her. She’s not like, “Well, I read the sources they were pointing to and disagreed.” She’s more concerned about social standing than truth in lots of little ways, just like a normal person.
But to my eye, Damore’s strain of anti-PC represents something different. I don’t think he’s a bigot, at least not consciously. He seemed to sincerely (wrongly) believe his ideas would improve Google’s output. At the same time though, Damore’s style was too affectless to suggest a provocateur or conspiracy theorist. The memo’s earnest, boring thoroughness—and the truth-to-power media tour he’s launched since getting fired—suggests the anti-feminist backlash has a much larger cultural foothold than I’d wanted to believe.
There are sophisticated, socially and economically empowered people (Californians, no less) who truly believe that Google is demanding workplace diversity because liberals have made it taboo to talk about difference. Damore just cannot wrap his head around the fact that there are women who are smarter than he is, that these women still need extra structural support just to get to where he is, and that their presence at Google will improve Google.
WHY is she so invested in refusing to see him as a bigot?
“Too affectless to be a provocateur” means she sucks at reading. She just doesn’t recognize the emotions that go with being a fucking dick and everyone treating you like a martyr while you laugh at your victim. The satisfaction of “I know you are but what am I?”
I’m not saying Damore identifies with the so-called alt-right. But his memo captures the same reactionary sentiment—a belief that when feminists reject certain ideas they are, in fact, suppressing them—wrapped up in a more palatable package. In any case, his rhetoric has led to a distinctly alt-right false equivalence. In a Libertarian subreddit I masochistically read, Damore’s memo was held up as proof that liberals have been denying science about gender—that we are as anti-science as climate-change deniers.
There is a difference between psychology and climate science, just like there’s a difference between Antifas throwing punches and armed neo-Nazis with weapons caches around the city. But who would read an 800-word explainer on the distribution of personality traits between the sexes when a respectable young man is giving you permission to ignore annoying internet feminists forever? Did we feminists set ourselves up for this false equivalence, by talking among ourselves about who should sit down and the taste of male tears, at the expense of addressing the substance of anti-feminist arguments? Because, now, it feels too late to have the substantive conversation. The right has effectively weaponized their supposed victimization at the hands of feminists, to the point that it feels like we’re dealing with a different set of facts.
On 800 words being too long, here’s Matt Taibbi:
We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality, scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell. We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear, self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment.
There isn’t a news executive alive low enough to deny that we use xenophobia and racism to sell ads. Black people on TV for decades were almost always shirtless and chased by cops, and the “rock-throwing Arab” photo was a staple of international news sections even before 9/11. And when all else fails in the media world, just show more cleavage somewhere, and ratings go up, every time.
Donald Trump didn’t just take advantage of these conditions. He was created in part by them. What’s left of Trump’s mind is like a parody of the average American media consumer: credulous, self-centered, manic, sex-obsessed, unfocused, and glued to stories that appeal to his sense of outrage and victimhood.
We’ve created a generation of people like this: anger addicts who can’t read past the first page of a book. This is why the howls of outrage from within the ranks of the news media about Trump’s election ring a little bit false. What the hell did we expect would happen? Who did we think would rise to prominence in our rage-filled, hyper-stimulated media environment? Sensitive geniuses?
We spent years selling the lowest common denominator. Now the lowest common denominator is president. How can it be anything but self-deception to pretend this is an innocent coincidence?
She says it “feels to late to have the substantive conversation.” Ugh. The point of activism is to make that conversation happen. The people fucking up the conversation were never interested in having it. They’re just political enemies…y’know…people who oppose your agenda.
Again, “it feels like we’re dealing with a different set of facts” is enough to mystify her instead of piss her off for being cheap bully tactics.
Her whole motivation seems to be downplaying and denying everything. How feminist to talk about how domestic violenc is exaggerated. Frat guys don’t rape people, either, women just regret having sex with them.
The closest I’ve come to understanding how we got to this up-is-down political discourse is reading Conflict Is Not Abuse, by activist and historian Sarah Schulman. The book’s thesis is that overstating harm leads to more harm. It’s an idea rooted in the observations of a domestic-abuse counselor, who saw people confusing normal relationship conflicts—even those that escalated to violence—with abuse, where “abuse” is defined as one person holding power over another. Sometimes people claimed abuse because they saw no other way to resolve their conflicts—and, to be sure, it is hard to get people to care about your problems if they fall short of criminal victimization. Other times, people claimed abuse in order to enact abuse of their own: to get restraining orders against equally responsible parties, or have them thrown in jail. In either case, they abdicated the role of mediating interpersonal relationships to the police, who aren’t known for their peaceful, therapeutic interventions.
In contrast, Andrea Dworkin’s writing on the topic, What Battery Really Is:
I don’t think Hedda Nussbaum is “innocent.” I don’t know any innocent adult women; life is harder than that for everyone. But adult women who have been battered are especially not innocent. Battery is a forced descent into hell and you don’t get by in hell by moral goodness. You disintegrate. You don’t survive as a discrete personality with a sense of right and wrong. You live in a world of pure pain, in isolation, on the verge of death, in terror; and when you get numb enough not to care whether you live or die you are experiencing the only grace God is going to send your way. Drugs help.
I was battered when I was married, and there are some things I wish people would understand. I thought things had changed, but it is clear from the story of Hedda Nussbaum that nothing much has changed at all.
Your neighbors hear you screaming. They do nothing. The next day they look right through you. If you scream for years they will look right through you for years. Your neighbors, friends, and family see the bruises and injuries and they do nothing They will not intercede. They send you back. They say it’s your fault or that you like it or they deny that it is happening at all. Your family believes you belong with your husband.
If you scream and no one helps and no one acknowledges it and people look right through you, you begin to feel that you don’t exist. If you existed and you screamed, someone would help you. If you existed and you were visibly injured, someone would help you. If you existed and you asked for help in escaping, someone would help you.
When you go to the doctor or to the hospital because you are badly injured and they won’t listen or help you or they give you tranquilizers or threaten to commit you because they say you are disoriented, paranoid, fantasizing, you begin to believe that he can hurt you as much as he wants and no one will help you. When the police refuse to help you, you begin to believe that he can hurt or kill you and it will not matter because you do not exist.
You become unable to use language because it stops meaning anything. If you use regular words and say you have been hurt and by whom and you point to visible injuries and you are treated as if you made it up or as if it doesn’t matter or as if it is your fault or as if you are stupid and worthless, you become afraid to try to say anything. You cannot talk to anyone because they will not help you and if you talk to them, the man who is battering you will hurt you more. Once you lose language, your isolation is absolute.
Eventually I waited to die. I wanted to die. I hoped the next beating would kill me, or the one after that. When I would come to after being beaten unconscious, the first feeling I would have was an overwhelming sorrow that I was alive. I would ask God please to let me die now. My breasts were burned with lit cigarettes. He beat my legs with a heavy wood beam so that I couldn’t walk. I was present when he did immoral things to other people; I was present when he hurt other people. I didn’t help them. Judge me, Susan.
She’s been avoiding life so completely that she’s “rusty as hell as sparring with my Libertarian uncle.” I bet she’s not rusty at pretending he’s not as racist and sexist as he is, though. What else is she making invisible?
The rub is that Schulman doesn’t have any impersonal solutions. Actually, her advice isn’t far off from that of a Democrat with his eye on 2020, explaining how to heal the party: less internet confrontation, more IRL conversations. This all feels true, but it also feels slow. Interpersonal conflict resolution doesn’t transmit as quickly or as amusingly as internet activism. After years of making jokes for other feminists, I’m rusty as hell at sparring with my Libertarian uncle. But the stakes are clearer than they were during the Obama administration. Charlottesville made it plain: This isn’t a game. In the absence of other options, I, for one, am here for it. I’m off Twitter. I’m ready to talk.
So we have a woman, ostensibly opposed to real, live Nazis, who thinks organizing outside complete surveillance is too slow and not it would be easier if the whole thing was a game.
Please just stop and let the adults figure out what we’re going to do about all the Nazis. She probably thinks the endgame looks like this, for fuck’s sake: