Posted on Thursday, November 17th, 2011 at 10:54 pm
Author: Arwyn Daemyir
C*nt. Bitch. Whore.
Likely you’ve read these and other epithets, and related threats, flying around the internet recently. If you’re not a woman or a feminist-minded blogger, you might not be used to seeing them quite so often, but rather than dealing with them each on her own, women and perceived-women writers have been talking about them publicly, culminating in a cathartic (and often triggering) sharing on Twitter under the hashtag #mencallmethings. As with many other moments in feminist activism, however, the protest has been as revealing about who is welcome and centered in feminist circles as it has been about the abuse and harassment all such writers, centered or not, receive.
But to set the stage:
With stirrings at least as far back as October (by a writer neither feminist nor a woman, but often wrongly perceived as both), the conversation swelled and spread in early November — including, predictably, belittling backlash from a privileged white man, this time Brendan O’Neill, a UK commentator who appears to never have been subject to prolonged psychological abuse.
In rapid refutation of this belittlement, on 8 November feminist blogger (and Global Comment columnist) Sady Doyle started #mencallmethings, which she later explained thusly:
LET US JUST TELL YOU what we put up with, what we’ve been strong enough to endure, and even knowingly court; the given consequences we face for being anti-sexist and/or ladies on the Internet, which we’ve all put up with, without crumbling. And then you can decide whether we’re wimps or not.
(Alyssa Rosenburg put forth a similar call on 5 November, which, for whatever reason, did not take off in the same way.)
In a rare occurrence, I was online within the first hour of #mencallmethings, and shared several quotes from my own Highlights in Douchebaggery folder, from every variation of “moo” and “cow”, to “this chick needs her kid taken away”, to “people like this woman need to be sterilized”. Although the hashtag mostly accumulated contributions from child-free writers, a few other mothers also chimed in. Racialicious’s Twitter account, run by Latoya Peterson, wondered:
Trying to figure out if
#mencallmethings applies to us – most comments are racially derogatory, gender erased. Will check with team…
and later added “MoC [mothers of color] attacked diff[erently]“.
In a sort of anti-serendipity, that night I got my first comment telling me to die and wishing death upon my children — along with an obscene sexual suggestion and an excessive use of epithets and insults. I tweeted about it, again using the hashtag #mencallmethings.
But it is the #mencallmethings commentary that is most pertinent to our topic: over the next few days, many outlets, from Tiger Beatdown to Feministing to Melbourne newspaper The Age and beyond, covered the #mencallmethings phenomenon. None touched on or mentioned mother-specific abuse. None reported the several comments from mother bloggers that the worst abuse they receive is from other women. Few mentioned commentary from individuals/groups such as Racialicious and Questioning Transphobia that their abuse takes particularly racist or transphobic tones in addition to being specifically gendered.
What does it matter? I mean, we’re not talking about mothers, or women of color, or trans women, or any combination thereof, we’re talking about women, right? Allow this author to fervently hope that her readers recognize the logical fallacy in this statement, but just in case: the above implies that mothers, black women, trans women are not really or fully women. It constructs “woman” as white, and cisgender, and childless.
I understand the desire to simplify things, given that the online culture in which this conversation is taking place cannot even agree on whether the examples in #mencallmethings are explicitly sexist or a case of women being whiny and oversensitive. But while the online abuse mothers (and trans women and women of color and all the combinations thereupon) are subject to is different than that childless, white, cisgender women receive, it is, also, specifically gendered, and needs to be a part of this conversation.
In what ways is it different?
For one, in anti-mother bias, the proportion of attackers are not as skewed toward apparent-men as is the case with sexism when children are not in the picture. Rather than being proof that these attacks are, therefore, not sexist, it is a sign of the different ways in which they are gendered. Raising children is most often seen as “women’s work” — and the policing of it, therefore, is also “women’s work”, with the viciousness that comes in all cases of internalized biases. Even though the reasons behind the attacks may differ, the purpose remains the same: to shut up mothers who challenge the status quo.
It is not coincidence that nearly all of my most vicious attacks have come as a result of writing about gender neutral/gender diverse parenting. Feminist bloggers often (though not always) receive worse vitriol — and stalking, and threats — when they discuss rape, and sexism, and cissexism; that is, when they challenge the gender norms of their culture. So too are mother bloggers most attacked when we are explicitly feminist, when we discuss raising our children outside of gender norms, when we lay out ways we and others can resist passing on sexism to our children. And for that, we are mooed at and called cows (both, it seems, as a reference to milk and lactation to bovine docility and stupidity, and mirroring other women-as-animal insults like “chick” and “bitch”), accused of raising the next John Wayne Gacy (or, presented as equally awful a fate, gay or effeminate boys) — as well as called crazy, hysterical, emasculating, and all the epithets which started this piece.
Which brings us back to mothers in #mencallusthings. This should not be something requiring explanation for feminists, but mothers being underrepresented in feminist discourse is a self-propagating lack. That is, when the concerns of women-with-children are pushed aside, mothers are less likely to step up and participate in, eg, #mencallmethings — rather like the chicken-and-egg question of women in science, and politics, and every male-centric social justice movement in history. (And, rather like the ongoing issues with women of color, women with disabilities, and trans women in feminist movements.) Thus, defenses of the extant articles on #mencallmethings that there weren’t enough mother-specific quotes to be worth writing about would be missing the point.
As Hannah Pool says:
It’s neither sexist nor racist to disagree with a black woman, but to do so because of her gender and race is, and to couch your disagreement in terms relating to her gender, race or colour is as juvenile as it is offensive.
My inbox is full of attacks on me for being a mother or which use my motherhood or my children against me. In these I am told, both explicitly and by implication, that I am less-than for being not just a woman, but a woman with children AND opinions. This is a maternity-specific form of misogyny, to be sure, but misogyny nonetheless, yet from the feminists who should support me — not even me specifically, but mothers at all — who purport to speak for “women” as a whole: resounding silence.
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