Yesterday, The Nation posted an article by Michelle Goldberg entitled “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars.” (H/t: WFB) It’s a bit hard to wade through – it’s kind of a compendium of toxic sludge – but it’s a good reminder of one of those important truths about life.
Ms. Goldberg develops the story:
[E]ven as online feminism has proved itself a real force for change, many of the most avid digital feminists will tell you that it’s become toxic. Indeed, there’s a nascent genre of essays by people who feel emotionally savaged by their involvement in it—not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists. On January 3, for example, Katherine Cross, a Puerto Rican trans woman working on a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center, wrote about how often she hesitates to publish articles or blog posts out of fear of inadvertently stepping on an ideological land mine and bringing down the wrath of the online enforcers. “I fear being cast suddenly as one of the ‘bad guys’ for being insufficiently radical, too nuanced or too forgiving, or for simply writing something whose offensive dimensions would be unknown to me at the time of publication,” she wrote.
Goldberg invokes history:
In “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood,” a 1976 Ms. magazine article, Jo Freeman described how feminists of her generation destroyed one another. Trashing, she wrote, is “accomplished by making you feel that your very existence is inimical to the Movement and that nothing can change this short of ceasing to exist. These feelings are reinforced when you are isolated from your friends as they become convinced that their association with you is similarly inimical to the Movement and to themselves. Any support of you will taint them…. You are reduced to a mere parody of your previous self.”
Goldberg illustrates using individual anecdote (emphasis added):
Mikki Kendall [who coined the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, apparently considered a brilliant rhetorical device] is unmoved by complaints about the repressive climate online. An Army veteran, graduate student and married mother of two in Chicago, Kendall is both famous and feared in Internet feminist circles. Mother Jones declared her one of the “13 Badass Women of 2013”—along with Wendy Davis and Malala Yousafzai—for her creation of the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag. But as Kendall well knows, many consider her a bully, though few want to say so out loud. “I kind of have a reputation for being mean,” she says.
On the phone, Kendall isn’t mean. She seems warm and engaging, but also obsessed—she talks at length about slights made in the comment threads of blogs more than five years ago. As she sees it, feminist elites have been snubbing women with less power for years, and now that their power is being challenged, they’re crying foul. Their complaints, she argues, are yet another assertion of privilege, since they’re unmindful of how much more flak Kendall and her friends take.
There’s more. It’s a fair-sized article. But the crux of it comes between a third and half-way through, in this unemphasized but pivotal passage:
Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor at Rutgers and co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective blog, is one of the black women who participated in #Femfuture, and she has spoken out against the viciousness that dominates Twitter. But she also emphasizes that the resentment expressed online is rooted in something real.
“I want to be clear: I think there’s an actual injury,” Cooper says.
Goldberg follows Cooper’s point for several more paragraphs, but Cooper has said everything that matters in that one sentence. Toxic flame wars – including internecine skirmishes – are the inevitable result of making resentment your lodestone, lifestyle, and reason for living.
Resentment can’t be domesticated and kept as a household pet. Let it into your life, and it will run you. It’s a cruel, greedy slave-driver, never satisfied. You will serve resentment, not the other way around. Nothing will ever change that. It’s not other people’s fault that resentment isn’t working for you. It’s an immutable reality of human existence.
This isn’t a man-woman thing. It’s not a black-white thing. It’s not a gay-straight thing, a rich-poor thing or any other political-divide-and-victimization thing. It’s just the way it is. Dedicating your life to politicizing and romanticizing resentment doesn’t change the world; it just increases the level of toxic sludge in it.