Pissers vs Wankers: The state of left-wing feminist debate?

Are you a pisser or a wanker? When it comes to the latest lefty spat, are you part of the privileged journalist circle-jerk or the intersectional pissing contest? Are you more clever than thou or more righteous? Let’s be clear – I’m not interested in what you actually think. I just want to second-guess your motivations in the least charitable way possible.

Today I tweeted a link to a post that I thought was really, really good, but then I worried that in doing so, I’d look really, really bad. It was about how white feminists behave around black feminists, and I couldn’t help thinking that since I’m a white feminist, it might have looked like I was saying “look at me, everyone! I’m totally not racist – but you might be!” I don’t want people to think this. I care about these issues, but I also care about being liked. I don’t want to be seen as a pissing contest lefty. I thought it was a great post (read it!) but alas, I can’t really say that without being viewed as having an ostentatious intersectional moment. Ho-hum.

It’s a problem, isn’t it, knowing what someone else’s priorities are when they’re making a public statement. Subjective, highly personal assumptions shape so much of the debate that surrounds whatever was originally said. For instance, the big thing of the day in my timeline as been Suzanne Moore’s departure from twitter, following her New Statesman piece on anger (featuring the infamous “Brazilian transsexual” quip), the subsequent Guardian defence and her response on twitter. I’ve always quite liked Suzanne Moore. Unlike other “professional” feminists, to me she seems like someone who genuinely gives a shit and is willing to lay herself on the line. Hence I look at her most offensive tweets and think “well, she was upset and feeling under attack – she doesn’t mean it. Doesn’t everyone lash out at times?” But then again, I’m not someone who’s really damaged by tweets regarding “this fucking lopping bits of your body” being prioritised “over all else that is happening to women”. I’m a white, cis, heterosexual Oxbridge-educated woman with a job in publishing. Into the circle-jerk I go.

It becomes like a parable. The pissers vs the wankers. Once upon a time there were some very bad people, known variously as the Tories, the Daily Mail and Jeremy Clarkson. Some good people rose up against them, but then they split into two factions, known as the Pissers and the Wankers. The Pisser and Wanker leaders fought viciously whilst everyone else threw the odd missile, grumbled about Clarkson and occasionally changed sides. Eventually both factions disappeared up their own arses. The bad people cackled and were victorious. Only it’s not quite like that. I don’t buy into the idea that “in-fighting” is necessarily bad. It’s human. The good people aren’t always good (and saying “he/she’s one of the good guys!” can’t always make things right). But even if those at the centre of the storm are defensive till the end, those who are watching can learn (which is just as well, since at no point in this parable have I mentioned what people were originally fighting about, those who were excluded and hurt to begin with. Those battles get dismissed as mere pedantry set against the clash of those who speak louder).

I wouldn’t have known the word “transsexual” alone could offend. I might have used it – I probably have – in a different context. Now I won’t. But if I were called out on it, I might have thrown a strop. Years ago, someone told me not to use the word “insane” to describe policies on the basis that it was ablist. I thought “WTF? I’m the one who’s had MH issues here. Surely it’s MY word?” So I said “that’s insane”. Ha bloody ha. I try to use the word less now. I don’t expect to be flamed for forgetting but still – why not just follow suggestions if it is of no loss to you? Why is being corrected such a fucking issue? Is it shameful? If so, then it shouldn’t be.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I have, in effect, just disappeared up my own arse. But perhaps even that is progress. I think most people’s hearts are in the right place. It’s just a pity that sometimes we’re accused of having to find them via our own rectums.


3 thoughts on “Pissers vs Wankers: The state of left-wing feminist debate?

  1. I think you nailed it with this bit:

    “Why is being corrected such a fucking issue? Is it shameful? If so, then it shouldn’t be.”

    Learning to take criticism, and even better learning to apologise, are, I think, extremely underrated skills.

  2. I think this is one of the most helpful comments I’ve seen on the Suzanne Moore thing.

    I also like Suzanne Moore very much on Twitter, but ISTM it’s her ‘so what?’ response to criticism of her original comment that has fuelled a lot of the subsequent upset. In fact this ‘So what?’ response from her (and a similar one from Caitlin Moran about the lack of ethnic diversity in ‘Girls’) isn’t a million miles from ‘It’s political correctness gone mad!’.

    Unfortunately this sort of row shows up a strong streak of tribalism in a group of commentators on Twitter, made up of well known, lesser known and aspiring journalists. They respond just like an elite group being criticised by those who are ‘beneath’ them. They also pile into fights on each other’s behalf, just as if they were a gang. It’s arguable that it’s this behaviour, rather than the behaviour of those outside the gang who dare to post adverse comments, which actually escalates and fuels the ‘Twitterstorms’ they deplore so much.

  3. I think some intermediate labels would be useful as well. If you’re currently a pisser, but moving towards becoming a wanker, I suggest ‘pissanker’; for people moving in the other direction, ‘wankisser’.

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