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Be careful what you wish for…

Content note, this post discusses childhood sexual abuse.

So over the past few days a number of people have said they cannot wait to read my responses to Sarah Ditum and Glosswitch, reinventing terms and spewing their dislike of other women onto the internet in the name of clickbait and feminism. The Glosswitch piece which linked to this blog was a classic piece of punching down, a subtweet in 1000 words. It was odd to come from someone who claims to dislike “misogofeminists” or it would be if the need to attack was not a psychic defence.

It came out while I was away in one of those all female spaces Ditum craves, sharing birth stories, life experiences, tears, so many tears. It was a Christian space, so there were prayers too. It seems odd that Ditum suggests that women only spaces only exist in a feminist context, that this is why she needs feminism. From “girls nights out” to mother and toddler group through to the women’s house group my life is a rhythm of women supporting women with love, gentleness and grace. The need to be validated is not a part of these groups though, but more of that later.

It seems the rule of these pieces is to start with an anecdote from childhood to show your humanity and create a sympathetic frame of mind in the readership, so here is mine.

Glosswitch recounted her hatred of her periods, and her habitual fear of blood showing through her clothes. In the words of womens magazines (another all women space Ditum dismisses presumably as it’s too low-class for her) *this happened to me.* On my first day at high school I entered this new world with a crimson rose of blood growing on the back of my skirt. My first introduction to my new classmates as the girl who bled. I had huge issues with the onset of puberty, denying it and my changing body. Like Glosswitch I wanted to keep that childs body, unlike her, as far as her writing shows, I understand why.

My childhood sexual abuse was by someone who liked children, pre pubescents, if you have ever been on the receiving end of one of my rants about misuse of the term pedophilia you now probably know why. I can still remember lying in the bath looking down at my body hoping against hope that my tummy was still bigger than those budding, invading, unwanted lumps. The changes in my body caused the abuse to stop, I was left bereft. This is not the way survivors of abuse are presented, but when you have been abused from early childhood your self-image, and idea of who you are and how you are valued is closely tied up with the abuse. It makes you special and wanted, it may cause pain, but pain is better than nothingness and rejection. In order to cope in such situations children will go through a process called splitting, separating the abuser and the abuse into parts. The hugs and whispered good girl put into the box marked good, the pain and fear put into a box marked bad. And yes, before anyone attempts to suggest an insight about BDSM here, yes I know exactly why I like to be beaten buggered ,broken and then held. Do you know why you like the sex you have?

This is not disassociation or repression, simply a mechanism of coping. Its natural and is done by all children to a degree, anyone who has ever been told by a toddler that they hate you has witnessed splitting. Evil mummy who denies spilt off from Good Mummy who provides. In this way the child copes with the strong emotions and also the power the parent has over them.  Growing up can be seen to be an integration of these black and white divisions into real people. Mother is no longer wholly evil when she denies or wholly good when she provides, abuser is no longer good when they hold and bad when they bugger.

When I started High School I had not reached this point, integration lay many years in the future. To keep the feelings of being wanted and special I had to keep the feelings of my growing and developing body being wrong, and thus my periods were to be denied. Another aspect of splitting is projection and introjection. We cannot cope with certain feelings so put them onto other people. Which brings us back to the start of this essay.

Glosswitch, and to an extent Ditum both see women who like sex as a problem. They also see sex positivity, which has nothing to do with liking sex, as a problem. In the case of Glosswitch it is easy, from her own words to see why. Her desire to be the asexual good child is so deep-rooted that her own sexual desires are seen as bad. Her admitted fears of the world knowing she is a sexual being, and her hatred of her own libidinal impulses causes her to project them onto other women. We must be conservative, or unconcerned with abuse, or merely pretending to like sex as the sexual woman of her psyche is split off as wholly bad. The way she describes sexual adult women who are content is a telling window on her split. This is the defence mechanism she developed as a child and as her writing shows is still dominating. You can be good and accepted or a sexual adult woman, but not both.

Ditum, whilst she clearly has her own issues with non monogamous sex (see her latest piece where she confuses sex and love in quoting Dines) seems more concerned with belonging to something that gives her validation. As I mentioned at the start there are hundreds of ways to experience women only spaces if that is what you desire. For many working class women every work day is a women only space. Her use of the cool girls trope as a strawman to insult is very telling though. Unable to believe other woman can really care about sex workers, or want a world where women are not shamed for their sexual behaviour she declares they are just pretending.

Lets think about that in terms of projection and splitting again. People but into that bad box those parts of themselves they are not able to cope with yet, it is a defence mechanism against the ego fracturing into a million parts. So what is in Ditums bad box? The desire to be cool, to be seen as sexually liberated (not my term of choice) having sex purely for pleasure, seeing sex as OK no matter how you do it, These are all things she for whatever reason has to define s totally evil. The inability to accept people can have these attributes and be caring, compassionate, concerned about other women and authentic suggests very clearly they have been split off from her own self as a defence mechanism. One a very basic level when we see the world in black and white we are still seeing it like that angry child screaming at mummy “I hate you”. This links to her hagiography to woman only feminist spaces, her need to find a place that accepts the good Sarah they reinforces the beliefs about bad Sarah. Its interesting (and of course anti semitic) her reference to work makes you free, and if I did have her on the analysts couch that would probably be the 3 words we would explore. What experience in her past causes her to see women who like sex as Nazis? Would it be a speculation too far to ponder on a child Sarah excluded from the “cool girls” at school and still repressing the hurt and anger that caused?

This probably isn’t the blog you were looking for. The motivations and psychological states of mind of these people interest me far more than their frankly turgid and backward looking arguments. We all know it’s just clickbait, produced by mates network of people who reinforce their belief they are saying something radical when they reproduce the arguments of patriarchy. Whats interesting in that aspect is that Helen Lewis probably wont make out 2015 as editor, since her role of creating controversy wont work by reproducing uncontroversial ideas repackaged as feminism. Imagine if she had the nouce to place the New Statesman as pro decriminalization, its pages would be awash each day with anger and debate. However it is not my job to tell the NS how to be more successful. Its not even my job to tell Sarah Ditum or Glosswitch how to be more content in themsleves, but I cannot help wanting that to be the case



3 comments on “Be careful what you wish for…

  1. sula
    March 14, 2014

    Thank you for writing this. I’m increasingly exasperated by the vituperative responses to each others’ articles that passes for feminist debate at the moment. Every day throws up a new orthodoxy to support/attack, one gets dizzy trying to keep up. We need more confident, uncompromising writers like you who aren’t fearfully looking over their shoulder to see who’s ready to pounce.


    • oh my….Hides from praise….But thank you, and yes, the only reason i cling to a feminist analysis is bcasue of the trans and WoC i read who produce such searing insights into patriarchy. White feminism (and i am of course white, i use that as a catchall term) simply seems to have dissapeared up its own backside!


      • sula
        March 16, 2014

        Agree: and the worst of the clickbait seems driven by the white fem ‘professionalisation’ of feminism as an alternative career choice for journalists. As a Marxist feminist I was already familiar with ideas of intersecting determinants of identity, although I’m not sure what we used to call it back in the day! Sometimes though intersectional feminists don’t seem to go far enough, don’t see the potential for radical transformation that’s possible if you see the process of identity as always in flux, always moving, with multiple possibilities. But for all the twitter rows I think it’s a fascinating time for feminism at the moment.


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This entry was posted on March 11, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

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