Random thoughts on an article on feminism

“Feminist writers are so beseiged by online abuse that some have begun to retire”

1. Why would anyone do this in the first place?

What really strikes me about this article is that none of these women actually have any issues that they are interested in—they’re just “feminists.” They are in the media and they are ladies and they do lady stuff. They are famous. Do they want to end female genital mutilation? Are they campaigning for paid maternity leave? Are they running those clinics that try to get women to adopt out their babies because abortions are evil (and yes, I am stretching the usual definition of “feminist” here to include “any social cause that has to do with women in any way, shape, or form”)? Hell, do they have strong opinions on female pubic hair (thanks, third-wave feminism)? Well, I don’t know! But they sure as hell are being harassed on the Internet. That’s the important thing to know about feminists. They get beat up on a lot on the most important space on earth—the Internet.

OK, some of the women mentioned actually have causes, but the article is careful to obscure their work with their victimhood. Joanna Munson is a pro-choice activist who is giving up blogging to go to law school. That may not seem like the world’s worst trade-off. If you want to help support abortion clinic operations, being a lawyer is probably a hell of a lot more useful than being a blogger. However, Munson’s entry into law school is depicted as a defeat—her Twitter account is more important than her professional participation in the public sphere. (Although if you don’t want to deal with a high-pressure environment with the potential for personal abuse, why law school?) Munson is a victim, first and foremost.

Or here’s abortion rights activist Lauren Rankin:

Last year, [Rankin] pulled back from writing online and, for the most part, from Twitter because the threats and insults were becoming so wearying. She continues to serve on the board of the reproductive rights nonprofit A Is For and faces off against antiabortion protesters as a volunteer clinic escort, but she no longer engages publicly.

Wait a second, so she’s serving on an abortion rights nonprofit board and she escorts women to abortion clinics, but she’s not engaged publicly because she’s not fucking around on Twitter. On one hand, this definition of public engagement makes zero sense, but on the other hand it does make me more engaged than Rankin because I published something on the Internet, so I like this definition even though it’s complete mad bullshit.

Rankin makes feminist causes a part of her professional life and volunteers with women in dangerous spaces, but she’s still a victim. Like every other women out there. Why would anyone do something where they were just going to end up a victim, no matter what they did?

2. How does a woman become a victim?

These women receive all sorts of threats. Rape threats, death threats, various threats to various orifices. They also receive a lot of rough criticism in general.

[Jill] Filipovic, the former editor of the blog Feministe, says that, although her skin has thickened over the years, the daily need to brace against the online onslaught has changed her. “I doubt myself a lot more. You read enough times that you’re a terrible person and an idiot, and it’s very hard not to start believing that maybe they see something that you don’t. 

Huh. That’s not really the way somebody with a cause would react… unless the cause is fundamentally yourself.

Anyway, Filipovic is a former blog editor because:

I have not figured out how to spend all day steeling against criticism — not just criticism, but really awful things people say to you and about you — and then go home and 30 minutes later you’re an emotionally available, normal person.

Over and over again, emotions come up.

“In order to work, have a nice family and feel like I was emotionally whole, I could not have one foot planted in a toxic stew.”

“Some young writers have told her, only half-jokingly, that they feel like they have PTSD.”

“It was just becoming really emotionally overwhelming to be on the front lines all the time,” she says.”

I’m not saying that the Internet isn’t a horrible hellhole for women (dudes, too, I don’t forget you). But it is interesting that the main fear that these women have isn’t that their abusers are going to make good on their threats—or at least that’s not the fear that the article focuses on. These women are afraid that the Internet is emotionally warping them out of their roles as human beings. The underlying assumption is that they are to be emotional providers and should present a “normal” face to the world at all times—even after years and years of feminism of varying kinds and strengths, that still holds true. A woman is a victim if she’s out of humor—if she can’t keep that essential balance intact.

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Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Nine

Kelsea is practicing swordplay with her fencing master. It isn’t going very well, mostly because she’s too fat. No, really.

This scene reminds me of Arya’s early swordplay scenes in the Game of Thrones novels, only without the sense of fun. A lot of scenes in Queen of the Tearling remind me of scenes from other novels, actually, only not done as well—if you’re ancient like me and went to school before computers, they remind me of the mimeographed worksheets with the smudgy purple ink. Something readable was there at one point, but with copying it’s just a gross blur. Johansen borrows a lot from Game of Thrones, of course, but also Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon. I’m sure I could find more similarities if I had read Wheel of Time or that one series about the dude with the Objectivist sword, but I’m not about to torture myself.

Kelsea and the Mace chat a bit about her guards, and then Kelsea goes off to take a bath and mull over her excess weight. She’s a bit unhappy because she grew up in the woods and now she can’t go outside as much as she likes.

This is how women are trained to stay indoors, she thought, the idea echoing in her mind like a gravesong. This is how women are trained not to act.

Nice sentiment, but as far as I can tell Kelsea can’t run off to the woods because she’s busy running a country and assassins are after her, not because of any constrictive code of contact. If I were Kelsea, I’d worry more about the cabal of men who refuse to tell me anything, but knowing necessary information isn’t as necessary to a woman’s soul as horseback riding in the woods, I suppose.

Kelsea has learned a bit more about her kingdom; there are too many children, and none of them are properly educated because mandatory schooling has been abolished. I wonder how children even went to school in the first place, as the kingdom is agricultural and there aren’t any books—did they just sit around and stare at the wall while the crops rotted? It seems like Johansen is incapable of worldbuilding outside a very narrow, 21st-century Western concept.

Fortunately, an assassin arrives to liven things up. He puts a knife to Kelsea’s throat—of course, she’s stark naked, because we can’t have a woman killed with her clothes on—and her guards arrive too late. However, Kelsea’s magic jewel saves the day, pulsing out a magic light that kills the assassin.

The normal reaction to this would be “Holy shit, I just killed someone with a fucking piece of jewelry, how the hell did that happen? I’m some sort of motherfucking elf lord!” There also might be some screaming and maybe some “Bow, motherfuckers!” But this is Queen of the Tearling, so Kelsea’s mostly upset that people have seen her naked. The Mace sticks the body of the assassin (who turns out to be a noble) on a pike, vows to find the traitor who let the assassin in to attack Kelsea, and sets off to get him.

The Queen’s guards have retrieved Kelsea’s library, so there’s a short interlude where Kelsea earns her fantasy nerd cred by telling a young girl that you have to read The Hobbit before the Lord of the Rings. Really? You’re a lame, pedantic nerd, Kelsea. Also, out of all the books that Western civilization has to offer, somebody saved all three volumes of Lord of the Motherfucking Rings? Don’t get me wrong, I like Lord of the Rings, but if I had to take just a few books to a new civilization I would—OH WAIT THEY SAVED HARRY POTTER. Fuck this world, bring on the Planet of the Apes.

Kelsea has a vision of Mortmesne. It’s predictably dark and evil, with blood-red flags and heads stuck on pikes (this is the bad sort of sticking body parts on pikes, as opposed to the Mace’s habit of sticking body parts on pikes). Kelsea also sees cannons in her vision. Gunpowder is a new level of weaponry for this world, it turns out. Kelsea discusses this with her generals, who are understandably rather upset about the prospect of invasion by the Mort, gunpowder or no. Kelsea decides to evacuate the border and start guerrilla actions against the invading Mort armies, as there’s no real way to keep the Mort army out altogether.

I suppose this plan would work as a matter of national pride—rather live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees—but these people don’t seem to have anything more than clubs. Also, how are they going to feed all those people who pour in from the border? The Mace asks this question and gets a genius answer:

“So we feed and house them.”

“Where?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Lazarus.”

Well, then. This is going to end up like Culloden, isn’t it?