Certain caveats beforehand (I don’t want a storm of unhappy responses): I’m a man, so like the English in the Scottish referendum, I honestly get the feeling that I have little right to hold an opinion here; also, I get most of my understanding of the world from social networks these days – and if that’s not an example of mediated media, then I don’t know what is.
Mind you, I stopped tweeting at my previous Twitter account, @eiohel, precisely because the heavy weight of so much of that timeline was just too much for my delicate soul to deal with.
So I reverted to the backwater that is @zebrared. And here I am.
All by-the-by; but also in the way of an explanation for what follows.
A couple of choice phrases from the article linked to above (the bold is mine):
- “The current climate of McCarthyism within some segments of feminism and the left is so ingrained and toxic that there are active attempts to outlaw some views because they cause offence. Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.“
I’d also argue that personalities have taken over almost everything else. I’ll explain this assertion later.
More choice phrases (again, the bold is mine):
- “It would appear we have forgotten how to target institutions. The tactic du jour is to wind up a crowd and shut down any nuanced discussion or debate. Patriarchy is being left to its own devices while bad and unpalatable men are being taken to task one by one.”
And finally (the bold my doing once more):
- “We built this movement on a desire and willingness to question and challenge old assumptions and truisms. We are in danger of becoming autocrats who would rather organise a pile-on than try to change systems. The life blood of feminism is in danger of becoming bile.”
To be honest, I don’t think this is a symptom of decay in feminism. Or, at least, not just feminism. The malaise is infecting far more areas of our society than that. Those of us who affect more than a glancing interest in politics – and as inveterate bloggers, what’s more, a politics which once proudly proclaimed the personal as political – have, paradoxically, long bemoaned the importance of personalities in latterday political discourse to the exclusion of what we variously argue as being the far more relevant matters of policies, the grassroots, party activists, even ordinary voters and their communities. We’ve had plenty of examples too: one clear one from my own party, Labour. Whilst Tony Blair reigned over the movement, most of its incongruences seemed well hidden, papered over, perhaps (at least on a good day) non-existent. As soon as Gordon Brown came to power, the personal contrasts couldn’t have been more marked: almost overnight, the Party started coming apart at the seams of what practically seemed a bogeyman’s sack.
So. That a certain kind of feminism (the type that targets institutions and structures with thought, wit and accuracy) should become contaminated with the celebocracy of generations brought up on reality shows too numerous to mention – and when I say reality shows, I also mean current affairs programmes which prefer to invite the notorious instead of the informed, any ratings-pursuing day – is, actually, hardly surprising. The petition-itis mentioned is but another symptom of such a focus on notoriety. And what in our civilisation is more notorious and worthy of comment than the downfall of an individual – any individual, famous or infamous for whatever it might be – whose misfortune, stupidity or plain rank idiocy allows us to breathe quite relieved that “But for the grace of God, go I …”?
The vicarious thrill of experiencing the fear, riding the rollercoaster and escaping the condemnation was never more apparent.
If the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” article is anywhere on the button (and I revert to my early caveat – I don’t as a relatively privileged upper-middle-aged man even know whether I have a right to type these words), then feminism – the kind that deconstructs a patriarchy which surely incarcerates us all, whether woman or man – has fallen foul of the instincts described in my post this evening. In celebrating the importance of the individual, in underlining that every woman, child and oppressed soul matters, we have slipped slowly, silently, sneakily and ultimately over the no-man’s land that lies between a kind, generous, inclusive individualism on the one hand and, on the other, that starstruck, nasty, almost fascist celebration of media-generated idols which Chris Dillow at “Stumbling and Mumbling” has recently been exposing.
It’s sad, bad and very wearisome. But it’s far far worse, this McCarthyism we perceive, this state of play we experience, this degeneration into lynch-mob behaviours … when perceived, experienced and observed in fields of thought we thought impervious to such influences.
Today, I read with horror that a quarter of all British people questioned want migrants to leave Britain. (That means a quarter of the people I walk past every day want four-fifths of my family to leave the nation I was born in.) Then I see my political party reacting with words of consolation for such philosophers of the human condition, and wonder, really, how on earth we got here.
If the touchstone of early 21st century feminism now believes it’s in crisis and has problems … well, surely it’s time we all believed the same: wherever we stand; whatever gender, belief system or century we feel we occupy; however we look at the world that cruelly fails us.