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Feminism Beyond the Hashtag, Or, Follow the Money

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January 29, 2014

On a recent piece by Michelle Goldberg, about “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars"


A recent piece by Michelle Goldberg, about “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars,” has been garnering some attention (I’m reluctant to hyperbolise and assume that my Facebook and Twitter feeds indicate any substantial trends in the real world).


On the face of it, it should be something I agree with.  I’ve identified as a feminist from a very young age, long before my teens, and it’s not a title I intend to ever give up.  I have little patience with those who insist that they can’t be feminist because, for instance, of feminists who are racist or transphobic - the fact that several Marxists I know are sexist and racist does not prevent me from identifying as a Marxist or reading Marx.  The fact that the Occupy movement is filled with a lot of white hipsters who have no structural analysis of capitalism and just think it’s really cool to dress up in masks, or that meetings are often filled with people bemoaning the fact that they lost their “middle class lives” and just want capitalism to work for them, does not persuade me to abandon my critique of capitalism’s exploitations.  And so on.  


Anyway, my point is that my interest in feminism and identifying as a feminist has nothing to do with the pallid, gynocentric twaddle that’s often trotted out these days, washed out in a lot of talk about “sisterhood” (I loathe the term, which I’ve always viewed, with great suspicion, as way to enforce solidarity with people I often can’t stand) and a vaguely essentialist idea about how gender works.  


For me, a feminism that’s not rooted in a systemic analysis of capitalism, and neoliberalism in particular, is pretty useless.  

So, it’s no surprise that reading Michelle Goldberg as well as much of the fulsome praise being showered upon it only makes me go, “Ehhhh….”  Which is to say: I’m left with a distinct feeling of discomfort and a sense that something is off, but I’m not quite, yet, able to pinpoint my thoughts as precisely...Oh, what the fuck, I’m lying.


Here goes:  I’m not happy with the Twitter wars.  I don’t think hashtags are any kind of feminism, frankly, because I don’t see them achieving any kind of structural change.  That’s not to say that real-time life meetings are somehow inherently better.  In my first and upcoming podcast with Liza Featherstone, we discuss the complexities of the issues of contemporary feminism, as well as the new and exciting activism and writing that’s being produced.  


Feminism is not dead, it’s being misidentified in terms as what Liza aptly refers to as “outrage porn.”


So, yes, I’m sick of the toxicity of call-out culture but, as my friend and fellow-traveller Mariame Kaba reminds me, that’s only an indication of the toxicity of life as we know it, and not particular to online life.  

So why am I not cheering on Goldberg’s piece?  Well, to start with: Mariame and I have been discussing this a bit, and I’m going to suggest that you make sure to take a look at the post she’s working on.  Her twitter feed will give you some hints of what’s to come.  You should also look out for
Toshio Meronek’s upcoming piece on twitter activism.


But for myself:  What makes me leery about Goldberg’s piece is that it is in many ways disingenuously framed as if all of this discussion isn’t also about massive amounts of cultural capital.  Reading Goldberg’s piece, I’m struck by the fact that all of this is also about people on all sides fighting for bits of influence which translate into cold, hard cash in the form of future assignments and writing gigs.


Talking to Mariame has made me think harder about how the power dynamics in all this is still very racialised as well as gendered and, again, I encourage you to read her piece on all this.


For now, I’m unsympathetic to all sides.  I’m struck by how Goldberg pretends to be merely an aloof commentator and whose position as one of the very female columnists who is, presumably, well-paid, is obscured by her narration.  That’s not to say that women don’t deserve to be well-paid columnists, and we certainly don’t ask Paul Krugman to step away from his presumably massively well-paid post at the Times.  But something feels off about Goldberg’s positioning in this piece; it would have been more honest on her part to admit that she is part of this world, of women who need to figure out how to carve out a name for themselves in a highly contentious, competitive, and sexist publishing world.


I’m also unsympathetic to the women referenced by Goldberg even though, again, Mariame has pointed out aspects of their careers I hadn’t known about (again, look to her forthcoming piece).  I think everyone around this article here has been engaging in a kind of landgrab for influence.  Goldberg can be more aloof because of her paid position, and the rest are mostly desperately trying to maintain a foothold in a landscape littered with the landmines of clicks and  likes.


I know that people will criticise this insisting that I'm implying we should be happy if women and/or women of colour gain a larger piece of the capitalist pie. Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that a better world will only emerge if all of us garner large pieces of the capitalist pie.  I’m arguing against pie, period (unless it’s a deliciously tart berry pie).


At the end of the day, feminism, which is a necessary lens through which to understand and dismantle the exploitation of people, many of whom are gendered in particular ways, is not at the centre of either Goldberg’s piece or, really, even the work of those whom she criticises.  At the end of the day, feminism disappears from the picture as everyone tries to figure out how best to get recognised for their names and their Twitter handles. At the end of the day, nothing is about feminism if it isn’t also about dismantling the exploitation of capitalism.  And that’s not happening here.

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