Fri 6 Jan 2012
This is not a piece about Ben Pobjie. Nor is it about Justin Shaw, nor Gail Dines nor porn culture. This is a piece about what happens when feminists challenge those who would describe a feminist academic’s work as ‘hysterical screeching’. It is also a recap of a discussion on Twitter two nights ago where this actually happened.
Two nights ago on Twitter, Mike Brull (@mikeb476) challenged Justin Shaw (@juzzytribune) for referring to academic and anti-porn activist Gail Dines’ ‘hysterical screeching’ in an article Shaw wrote for the Kings Tribune. As I watched, the two squared off into what appeared to be pretty aggressive corners. I agreed with Brull’s critique, but admittedly, not with his debating technique, which I thought was a bit inflammatory, and so potentially unproductive.
This is not the beginning, but it’s a good place to start this very long post. These are between Brull and Shaw, with a very helpful interjection from @theriverfed:
@mikeb476: @juzzytribune Calling a woman “hysterical” b/c she’s too angry for you is like calling a woman “slut” b/c you think she’s too promiscuous
@juzzytribune: @mikeb476 Are you saying the word should be banned from use now?
@juzzytribune: @theriverfed yeah I’ll wear that. It’s my style tho. I usually yell about sport, where hyperbole don’t matter so much..
Then @cosmicjester made a contribution:
@mikeb476: @cosmicjester Oh life must be tough under the weight of oppression, someone not liking a few words b/c of their history and connotations.
This is when I joined the debate. What follows are the tweets between me (@tammois), @juzzytribune, @benpobjie and some from @mikestuchbery.
There were many many more contributions from a lot of people, and many were not just uncharitable, they were rude and insulting, while plenty attempted to engage in a civil discussion as well. There are far too many for me to collate here, so I have elected to share those between the primary debaters, and have included some from @mikestuchbery although he never engaged with me or directly in the debate, merely made snarky, ‘gaslighting‘ comments from the sideline.
(NB I think it would be great if someone wrote about what happens when a number of people jump in, especially when the numbers are imbalanced on one side – some call it a ‘mob’ or ‘pile-on’, but I think it’s worth further analysis. And if anyone has tweets they think are essential to this discussion that I’ve missed, please insert them in the comments to round out the picture.)
@juzzytribune: @tammois BTW, my attack was not sexist in any way, other than an extrapolation of my use of the word “hysterical”.
@tammois: @juzzytribunebut I guess my response to calling women you disagree with hysterical has so much historical baggage, I think it’s not okay.
At this stage, @juzzytribune involves @benpobjie:
@juzzytribune: @benpobjie you ready for the hate, big guy? It’s started…
@juzzytribune: @benpobjie our p0rn pieces. I’m a sexist pig, you’re (as usual) making rape jokes..
Then returns to the debate:
@tammois: @juzzytribune ’hysterical’, like ‘shrill’, has been used as a way to be reductive of women’s contributions to debate, so I wouldn’t use it.
@juzzytribune: @tammois conceded. As I said, I used it in a generic sense. could’ve/should’ve used “fevered” or similar instead…
@tammois: @juzzytribune yes, I think it’s just that these words have way too much baggage & *appear* to be a perpetuation of misogyny, hence concerns.
@tammois: @juzzytribune it’s a trigger for social justice folk, when someone calls you out, reckon is best to admit to error of judgment & not repeat
@juzzytribune: @tammois done and done.
@tammois: @juzzytribune apols if I sound a bit schoolmarmish. Not trying to be patronising, just to help.
@tammois: @juzzytribune :-)
And that should have been it, right? @juzzytribune had accepted the feminist critique as valid and it was really not a big stoush. On the sidelines, @mikestuchbery gets involved:
@juzzytribune: @mikestuchbery MB, yeah… t’other?
@mikestuchbery: @juzzytribune Humourless Marxist
Now @benpobjie enters the discussion which had just concluded.
@juzzytribune: @tammois thx. so what word could/should I have used/use in follow-up piece to describe Dines’ screeching?
@tammois: @juzzytribune to be honest, ‘screeching’ is a bit of a cheap shot as well, given, you know, it’s used about women…
@juzzytribune: @tammois seriously? Check my Drum pieces, I use it about men as well, and screeching is what it was..
@benpobjie: My next column will be the words “Lighten the fuck up” repeated 250 times.
@tammois: @benpobjie oh, wow, and you can’t see how calling a woman ‘uncontrollably emotional’ and ‘irrational’ is not okay? really?!
@benpobjie: @tammois are you saying women are never uncontrollably emotional or irrational? They are super-beings immune to these things?
@tammois: @benpobjie I am saying that to discount a woman’s contribution to debate that way is pernicious & unacceptable.
@tammois: @benpobjie I would think such behaviour is more common in the home than in a published piece of work, whether you agree with it or not.
@benpobjie: @tammois it may be more common – but Gail Dines’s work is irretrievably hysterical. It’s a very accurate descriptor of what she does.
@benpobjie: @tammois but it’s not necessarily discounting anything – if anyone’s contribution IS hysterical, why not call them on it?
@tammois: @benpobjie by what judgement do you decree that someone who has a considered (though anathema) position is ‘hysterical’?
@tammois: @benpobjie and you know, if you want to call people stupid and hysterical, I guess you can, but it’s damaging & unproductive.
@benpobjie: It’s a blocky kind of evening. Also an I-hate-you kind of evening.
@benpobjie: @tammois by what judgment do YOU decree that someone’s position is “considered”?
@tammois: @benpobjie no more so than anything I read on the interwebz, really. But like to give the benefit of the doubt. Which I’m doing here x 1000.
@tammois: @benpobjie you know, we have a lot of followers, Ben. We could ask the women how they feel about hysterical.
@benpobjie: @tammois why? Is your opinion dependent on what other people tell you?
@benpobjie: @tammois if you think hysterical is the wrong word, put your case. Don’t pull this “sexist” nonsense to avoid having to.
@tammois: @benpobjieare you kidding? That’s your new approach to say I’ve not built one against hysterical as critique?
@benpobjie: @tammois point is, you say something is considered, I say it’s hysterical. We disagree. But neither of us is being bigoted.
@benpobjie: @tammois no, that you haven’t built one against it being accurate in a particular case. So you just issue a blanket ban on it.
@tammois: @benpobjie okay, Ben, sorry. Here we go. Your long history of white male privilege is totally blinding you here.
@tammois: @benpobjie I read plenty of things I think are very wrong, but still ‘considered’ in their fashion, as in come from a person with thoughts
@tammois: @benpobjie I guess there is a pretty good reason for dropping certain words until power structures change, yes.
@tammois: Wow. I’ve never been blocked before that I know of? And certainly not by someone I don’t even follow. Hope others gained something.
@benpobjie: Anyone else want to be a fucking moron to me tonight? Anyone? Feel free.
@benpobjie: .@tammois it was an opportunity until you posted a tweet so stupid it brought home the futility of engaging you.
@benpobjie: @tammois sadly my twitter won’t let me block you so your idiocy continues to clog my feed.
@tammois: @benpobjie it is really unfortunate that you don’t want to engage with people when they tell you how they exp words, given you have a voice.
@juzzytribune: @tammois is there a parallel between accusing a white man of inherent blindness and accusing a woman of hysteria?
@juzzytribune: @tammois ok then.
@tammois: Nice one by @mikestuchbery there – of course it’s ‘intolerant & pigheaded’ of the left to point out intolerance. Very clever, Mike.
@benpobjie: Protip: don’t bother arguing with someone who decided your gender makes you incapable of being right before you start.
@benpobjie: @tammois I don’t engage with those who predetermined that I have nothing worthwhile to say because I’m male. Because it’s pointless.
@tammois: @benpobjie that’s not very helpful. I engaged w you respectfully at all stages, & don’t remotely think men have nothing to offer.
@tammois: @benpobjie that’s a total cop out. but your total unwillingness to listen indicated that you have *no idea* of your own privilege.
@benpobjie: Don’t call hysterical people hysterical. Don’t call stupid people stupid. Don’t call arseholes arseholes. Fuck that for a laugh.
@tammois: @benpobjie do you realise you have choices her beyond ‘STOP IT I AM NOT SEXIST I SWEAR I AM NICE’? There is also, ‘wow, thx for the input’
@tammois: @benpobjie bc, you know, I didn’t really think you were a terrible sexist. But defending reductive abuse of women isn’t very helpful.
Then people commence with the dismissive jokes about feminism.
@benpobjie:@cyenne40 misogynist album
@benpobjie: @tammois you don’t know me. You don’t know what I do. You don’t know what I think. You don’t have a fucking clue about me. So fuck off.
@tammois: @benpobjie I am not judging you – I’m judging your current words & response to critique *of somebody else’s writing*, btw.
@tammois: @benpobjie I don’t want you to feel bad, or that I think things about you. I just want you to *hear us* when we say don’t call us hysterical
@benpobjie: Twitter has finally allowed me to block @tammois and free my feed of her patronising sexist gibberish, thank Christ
@tammois: For those who follow me, I hope this has been helpful to understand structures of privilege & why it’s not cool to call women hysterical.
@tammois: Nor ‘shrill’, nor ‘sluts’… give me more, everyone, & I’ll RT.
@benpobjie: The world is filled with petty witless fools who’d rather masturbate over their own superiority complex than have an original thought.
As I collected these tweets, I saw a couple where people had asked @juzzytribune what was going on. I’d like to highlight that his responses appear respectful and civil, as they had earlier.
@juzzytribune: @TudorGrrrl I used the “H” word, which started all this…. and I’ve clarified and acknowledged I should have used a non-gender word..
Sadly, @mikestuchbery (and others) chose to continue with dismissive acerbity of the ‘feminism is stupid’ variety:
Though consistency seems not to have been his aim:
@mikestuchbery: @JackieK_ Her initial criticism was fine & cogent. It was the resulting pile on with Brull & others on Ben & Justin I found distasteful.
@mikestuchbery: @benpobjie Some of us admire your persistence in not losing your cool at the bullies, chancers & zealots.
To wrap up:
This all relates to my post on dissent and intellectual honesty (which was cross-posted to the Drum), except that this is specifically around gendered language. The history of hysteria is basically that women’s uteruses make us irrational. There’s more, but brevity is called for here. But let me attempt to articulate concerns around usage in this case.
Dines (or Greer, or any female commentator) says a thing (or things) that someone doesn’t like, in this case, that porn culture is bad. Perhaps she is passionate on the topic, a bit like Tony Abbott wound up about the price on carbon, but these are women. So some people (not just men) say she is being ‘hysterical’, which means ‘uncontrollably emotional’ or ‘irrational’. It is a deeply gendered term – try to imagine it being applied to men, and in most cases you can’t, unless it’s to queer men. In Shaw’s case, he didn’t just say ‘hysterical’, he said ‘hysterical screechings’. So in the first paragraph of his article, he has given us a position on Dines where anything else we read about her, she is a banshee character, so out of control she’s a danger to not only herself, but probably others.
Let’s say Shaw had said, ‘Dines is trying to incite moral panic’. In this example, Dines is a rational actor with an aim, not an out of control woman not to be taken seriously. In the second example, we do take her seriously, but we may just as easily reach a conclusion that we disagree with her position on porn culture as if we thought she was actually hysterical. The key difference is that Shaw hasn’t robbed her of agency and put her back into that female box of irrationality, emotions, tears and hormones.
Calling a male writer hysterical is just as unproductive to civil debate as calling a woman hysterical. But to call a man hysterical doesn’t have the historical baggage that leads to this act of continuing to marginalise women from public debate.
I have been challenged for calling a man out for being ‘blinded by his (white) male privilege’, as I did Pobjie when he grew more and more belligerent and unwilling to enter into productive discourse. Pointing out privilege is not remotely the same thing as calling a woman hysterical. Privilege is about power, being labeled ‘hysterical’ is about usurping power.
It is far too common a position for people who don’t want their privilege contested or acknowledged to insist they are being oppressed. We’ve all heard the undergrads who, upon learning of the ‘women’s room’, start up a culture of ridicule and demand a parallel ‘men’s room’. Because they’re being marginalised by women seeking a place to retreat from masculine aggression.
I looked at the timelines of a number of people yesterday. There has been a long stream of ‘oh, no, we’re sexist’, ‘don’t say gender, bc then we’re acknowledging gender’, and other such witticisms. They’ve even started a #hysteriagate tag – another tactic to silence dissent.
It’s hard to believe that we still live in a world where people feel so comfortable to retreat to (a very public twitter timeline) space where they make a number of sexist jokes to make themselves feel better about dismissing critique.
Ridicule the women who told you we felt ridiculed. Yeah, that’s really grappling with your male privilege.