Thursday, December 29, 2005

Only "Radical Feminist Women" Need Apply

Well, I nearly managed to avoid blogging throughout this whole vacation. But alas, I have succumbed on what would have been my last ski day. I woke up with a sore throat and aches all over from 4 straight days of almost nothing but black diamond runs. So I decided to take the day off. And here I am, back on the blog--posting away. How sad for me.

One of my favorite feminist blogs, Alas, a Blog, is mulling over having "radical feminist woman only" threads. I am not a fan of the proposal on several grounds. First of all, it strikes me as needlessly exclusionary. Flame wars are frustrating--having participated in a few, I know. But it is always possible to ban trolls. And unlike many of the boards cited by the post author (Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, whom I believe is at this point only guest-blogging), the odds that it will be the feminists being kicked out strikes me as rather slim at this particular site. And this particular group: "radical feminist woman" strikes me as far too narrowly tailored. I consider myself a feminist who occasionally flirts with being radical--though as one might expect, both terms are quite fluid [UPDATE: Immediately upon posting, I realized that the author meant "radical" referring to a specific branch of Feminist Thought, as opposed to a more generic signifier. I don't think I am all that close to a Radical in this respect--I'm too anti-essentialist and too much of a third-waver/intersectionality fan to really fit the category. But by the conventions of ordinary political discourse, I'd be a small "r" radical. It doesn't seem like this oversight really affects the post content--the author mentioned below was definitely a big R Radical, and the denotation of a specific feminist branch is, if anything, more exclusivist than radicals in general.]. Alas, I'm not a woman. And I'll admit that, having taken Feminist Theory last term, there are certain radical feminists whom I find to be appalling creatures (the author who tempered her proposal to bring about the "political suppression of men" by assuring her readers that she meant methods other than "genocide" was my particular anti-hero in that class). But I do believe that I have things to add to the discussion. Perhaps it's my debate background, but discourse and argumentation are fields where I am most leery of even partial exclusion and marginalization. And I think that AAB is first a site about discussing these issues, and only second an activist front. Otherwise, they wouldn't tolerate anti-feminist posters at all. I am fine with AAB's experimentation in limiting explicitly anti-feminist arguments to certain threads--the "sidetracking" problem is a legitimate one. But establishing insider/outsider forums that precede political positioning I find a tad bit scary.

I also worry that such discussions discourage outreach to the very communities that feminists need to dialogue with. Outside a separatist movement (which I, for obvious reasons, don't subscribe to), any effort to dismantle patriarchy has to at some level deal with the patriarchs. Not just them either--the sympathetic but undecided liberal male, the uncertain moderate women--there are many groups whose support is necessary for the feminist project to succeed. I make this same argument with regard to racial hierarchy--yes, it is true that minority discourse and scholarship need to have greater currency in society at large. But that goal can't come at the expense of (and I'd argue, should operate concurrently with) the meta-project of fixing the problem. Making males (or non-radical feminists, for that matter), feel like outsiders or enemies or otherwise unwelcome is antithetical to that project. Marginalization operates in many ways--radical feminists have to recognize that creating this exclusivist forums will exact costs in terms of how much non-radicals are willing to engage them. I am not at all confident that these costs will be outweighed by whatever benefits are accrued from an incestuous mini-circle of political allies. I know that Amp and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything, but I like to think we've learned from each other precisely because we disagree. Bouncing ideas off each other, so long as it is honest and respectful, is a boon to any intellectual movement, not a curse.

Third, these boards strike me as a Siren's Call. Assume that AAB does establish these boards. I predict they will be very popular, for the simple reason that it is far less stressful to chat with one's intellectual allies than it is to hit the trenches and battle with enemies (or negotiate with the moderates, which in some ways may be even harder). So after a suitable period of trial, Amp may ask for feedback on the threads. And the participants will be very happy to have a respite from the muck and grime of political warfare present elsewhere. So they'll give positive feedback. The excluded persons will at this point have already made our reaction to the forums--we'll either have left the site or acceded to their presence. So our response will be muted--and will be generally less compelling because we don't have access to the benefits the threads offer (ironically, because one of their primary reasons for existence is to prevent us from reaping said benefits). So we "just won't get it." In the end then, all the really important things will be said in the exclusivist forums--the discussions, the hashing out of positions, the refinement, the whole shibang. And there will be little incentive to go out into the world (or in this case, the other comment threads) and actually do the hard work of bouncing the ideas off maybe non-allies or non-sympathetic ears. It's too tempting to stay in the cocoon. As I said before, I think an apt analogy is to incest, and it will have the same effect--weakening the movement, isolating its participants, and depriving the whole endeavor of fresh ideas, opinions, and blood.

It might not be fair, given the contemporary political landscape, to apply this standard to AAB. After all, its not like an open policy at AAB will convince mainstream institutions of the error of their sexist ways and bring about an equitable playing field. But again, ultimately the goal isn't "eye for an eye" political justice, it's about laying the framework for real social change. I think exclusionary thread policies are generally opposed to that end.

UPDATE: I also offer my concurrence to Rachel S. and Dorktastic in comments. I'm only part way through, but as usual their comments section is superb.

UPDATE 2x: The updates are coming quick because the more I think about it, the more complex I realize this issue is. I do see the benefit of exclusive discussion groups. I'm not sure AAB is the right place to host them, because I think it has a different role to play. An explicitly activist site strikes me as a better host for such a forum--less likely to fall prey to the problems I outlined above. But I think at AAB, the net effect may be to dilute a rare site that encourages and fosters debate on these critical issues.


Bill Hooker said...

we don't have access to the benefits the threads offer

As an XY-exclusionista from the threads in question, I disagree. We can read 'em and think about the arguments. I suggest you're thinking of men with your level of experience in feminism (formal study, years of familiarity) when you say you won't benefit by being able to read but not comment. It won't hurt a newbie like me to shut up and listen now and then. If I really have to sound off, I have my own webspace.

You make a good point about potential mismatch between A,AB and women-only threads, but I think I'd like to see the experiment run for a while.

Anonymous said...

You're ignoring something rather large; the fact that Amp has a hisotry of favoring civil sexists over exasperated feminists, and that his board has a long history of tolerating male trolls instead of the feminists and feminism it's supposedly all about. Also---making men the enemy? This is just another version of the defensive complaint that one usually sees as, "You just hate all men." That's not what's going on there at all. Women have had it with a supposedly feminist environment that coddles anti feminists and trolls and punishes feminists.

Holly in Cincinnati said...

This was my first visit to AAB. What are MRAs? Although I paid my dues as a lesbian feminist decades ago I have never much cared for separatism.

Bill Hooker said...

Holly -- MRA's are Men's Rights Activists.