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Misogyny and me, part three

As previously, this is a work in progress.

I regard reflection on the things I’ve said and done as both a duty and an essential act of self preservation. Make of that what you will, but when I was a practicing Anglican I was taught and understood the general confession, often at the start of services, as an instruction in how to think about life, not just ritual.

In the light of events on Twitter in recent days I’ve reflected on whether the words I said, or any words I have said, might have caused unnecessary offence, either to the people they were directed to, or to anyone reading them.

What’s unnecessary offence? Well sometimes it’s necessary to offend people. If you tell a narcissist that, in your opinion, they’re not as wonderful as they think they are, you will offend them. If you are not to be silenced by their narcissism, then it is necessary to offend them. The work of any sane society involves setting rules round the subject of language and debate, to agree what is and isn’t acceptable.

So it’s acceptable and right that there should be a debate around the question of language, debate and misogyny, and there is a duty that I assume and accept to reflect on language, and my use of it.

This isn’t a debate, or a duty, that is unique to anyone involved in debates around gender. In the month that Nelson Mandela left us it’s appropriate to reflect upon my three decades of involvement in anti racist and anti apartheid groups. The first thing I learned was that the debate around the use of racist language, as opposed to actively being a racist, was a key dividing line. I grew up in a small, almost all white community, where casually racist language was a common place even amongst people who would never countenance discrimination as a practice. There was a tough, vigorous debate within the anti apartheid movement about racist language, about racism and about how you engaged with, or disengaged from, those who used racist language, even while espousing good anti apartheid principles.

The thing I remember most about those debates was the way in which, whilst they were often thought provoking, and challenging, they were also theatres for the internal competition between political factions and sects seeking to recruit the unatttached or disenchanted amongst the periphery of the anti apartheid movement. As a result some of those debates were, to say the least, theatrical, staged and scripted. It was hard, if not impossible, to discern if those disputes were genuine differences of opinion or synthetic excuses for faction A to distinguish itself from faction B.

The key tactic for the extra parliamentary left was to create unique theatres, campaigns that that were theirs and theirs alone. One such campaign was the picket of the South African embassy during the apartheid years, a classic improvised theatre designed to enable one group, the RCG, a febrile and humourless collection of doctrinaire Trots who had no purchase in or relationship to the wider working class movement. It’s arguable, and I remember arguing this at the time, that the Trot left had learned the negative lessons of the Anti Nazi League, when Tony Cliff argued that the weakness of the ANL was that it was so broad the SWP lost control of its own front organization – Cliff told members of the SWP ‘We thought the ANL was our organization, and it turned out to be Tom Robinson’s organization.’ So the RCG chose a form of campaign that only the most eager and committed of activists could take part in, and it wasn’t unique. The sex abuse cult formerly known as the WRP was fond of demanding recruits take part on long distance marches for jobs, in a weird cargo cult re-enactment of the Jarrow Crusade.The SWP would insist that its members sign up for a programme of paper selling and ritual attendance at meetings that would close their lives to all other interests.

The point of this is to illustrate a key principle of understanding political activism. If someone who has no base in existing political movements insists you care passionately about an issue you’ve not heard of before, committing to it in a demanding and exclusive way, when the issue involved isn’t part of the political mainstream and would barely warrant an Early Day Motion, it’s not just right but a duty to question why that issue is being promoted. If the issue is symbolic rather than rooted in reality, be even more wary.

If that sounds like a sideways jibe at banknotes feminism, I apologise, I meant to be more direct. As a socialist, a trade unionist and bi man I don’t really give a fuck about who’s on the back of bank notes. Not when there are more important campaigns about food poverty or hunger or genuine discrimination, here, in the UK. I am not being misogynistic in saying that. Amongst the women I admire in social media campaigning, besides the divine Jem, are a triumvirate of women whose ability to cut to the chase I admire – Stavvers, Laura Lee, and Jack Monroe. None of those three necessarily agree with me, and as Jem knows, her role in my life is as my peer reviewing constantly what I think and helping me get to where I want to be intellectually is not dependent on her gender, self identification or body status. I admire them because they articulate a clear commitment to issues that I care about. If it is misogynistic to suggest that the issues that some women perceive as important to them are not important to me, then all I can do is ask others to keep questioning why some people think it so important to create new political theatres outside the mainstream, and to other those who don’t accept the importance or urgency of the creation of those theatres.

In the process of that othering the very meaning of misogyny has been lost. If I disparage the mouthpieces of banknote feminism I am not disparaging all women, just those women. Dare I mention Margaret Thatcher? Or Teresa May? To disparage them is merely to disparage those who don’t give a shit for the things I care about. That is not misogyny.

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6 comments on “Misogyny and me, part three

  1. jemima2013
    December 21, 2013

    Thinking about the left makes a lot of sense in this context I think, groups were kept pure by name calling, and thus any chance of actual debate and learning were killed off before they could start. Misogyny exists, but to use it against any man who dares disagree is the tactic of stalinism not feminism.

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  2. Zarathustra
    December 22, 2013

    For the past week or two I’ve been reflecting on the circular firing squad that formed around the whole feminist banknote saga. My thoughts are possibly only tangentially-related to yours, but here seems as good a place as any to leave them.

    As half the Internet has discussed by now, Stavvers made a comment on Twitter that when the new banknote comes out she will “stick it up my cunt and livetweet the wank.”

    As comments go, I think it would be fair to say that it was pretty dumb, and certainly tasteless. It might also be thought of as rather spiteful, as there’s more than a whiff of pissing on someone else’s achievement.

    But was it an act of sexual aggression, as some of Stavvers’ detractors have claimed? Clearly not. It was said in the context of a discussion between some of her Twitter friends, and wasn’t sent to CCP or anyone else outside Stavvers’ little circle. In order to be offended by it, people had to go looking for it. Calling it sexual aggression also ignores the very obvious sarcasm.

    Following that, some of Stavvers’ supporters started piling in, claiming that Stavvers was engaged in some sort of valorisation of female sexuality, and of the right of women to enjoy masturbation. Frankly, this is even more ridiculous than suggesting she acted like the cyber equivalent of a flasher in the park. It self-evidently is, and always was, just a dumb tweet. It would be entirely deserving of an eyeroll. But a wave of outrage? Absolutely not.

    But to be perfectly honest, none of this was about feminism, or banknotes, or sexual aggression, or female masturbation. It’s about various personal feuds and factional turf wars, which happened to converge around a stupid tweet. They can dress it up in all kinds of theoretical jargon, but it was basically just a punch-up in a playground.

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    • jemima2013
      December 22, 2013

      Well i found the tweet funny but i do have a purile sense of humour lol i think in many ways you are right, but need to add the fact the turf wars are also over a brand, a brand that gets some people, like glosswitch and CCP publicity and attention, and thus money.

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    • cartertheblogger
      December 22, 2013

      I think that it’s only a dumb tweet if you don’t know the history of Glosswitch’s astonishing ‘smugsexual’ attack on Stavvers and others (including, by implication and association Jem.) In the backwash of that vitriolic debate I was also called an abuser, so I may be biassed, but I think the live wank joke was a very playful and funny response – basically Stavvers parodying what a ‘smugsexual’ might say.

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      • jemima2013
        December 22, 2013

        i think the thing that worried me most about the reaction is we were all riffing on it, but jude me and others (who all said simular stuff) were ignored. Suggesting as phil said people were going looking for something to be offended by. Now that is playground, and frankly there comes a moment when as grown ups you have to be willing to step away from the twitters.

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  3. Pingback: So what was that all about then? | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

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This entry was posted on December 21, 2013 by in Uncategorized.

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