How to stop abusing women in the name of feminism: A patronising checklist

Women online — they’re always whinging about abuse, aren’t they? And yet it’s so hard to stop abusing them! You might even think they deserve it. After all, a thousand twitter mobs can’t be wrong, can they?

Well, here’s problem. People who abuse women always think they have a good reason for doing it. That’s how abuse works. It’s a function of widespread ignorance and fear. And since when did an abuser really see themselves as such? They always think they are doing it for the victim’s own good, so that she will learn to be better and not make the same “mistakes” again. Corrective abuse, one might call it. Find a space with women in it and trust me, thinks the abuser, some of them will need to be tamed.

You might be a woman yourself, a feminist even, but still find it hard to approach other women as though they are human beings. Perhaps you’ve found some distancing strategy that makes you feel less of a “basic” female. That’s okay. After all, it’s hard to remain a decent person in a highly abusive environment. Tapping into a special vein of misogyny that you’ve decided doesn’t apply to you is a natural reaction. It’s not right but there’s still time to change.

To help you get back on track, I’ve written this handy, deeply patronising checklist for abusive feminists everywhere. Please make the time to read it. After all, what harm can one more passive-aggressive, “stop being such a shit feminist” list do when there are so many out there already?

So, let’s begin:

1. According to the most up-to-date scientific research, women are human beings. And yes, that includes all women, even the ones you don’t like. I know this will make some of you feel a bit icky. That’s fine. It often takes people time to get used to this idea. Give yourself the space to work on your internalised prejudice (it’s hard, I know *sends solidarihugs*).

2. All women have things called “ideas” and “opinions”. It can be difficult when you first encounter this online, at least if a woman’s ideas and opinions differ to yours. A common impulse is to call her a bigot, accuse her of various phobias and invite the rest of the internet to shame her into submission. Don’t panic if that’s what you’ve been doing. You simply need to get to grips with the idea that a person not agreeing with you is okay, even if that person is a woman (I know, a woman! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? But trust me, letting women have opinions won’t be any worse than letting men have them. You just need to overcome your fear of this).

3. For a long time it was believed that only men could have what we call “real emotions”. Nowadays it’s recognised that women have them, too, but it’s still felt that a woman can forfeit them if she steps out of line. For instance, while we know that “die in a fire” or “STFU you shit-for-brains cunt” would upset the average man, a recalcitrant woman is widely held to respond only with “sadfeelz”. This is, alas, bad science. All current indications suggest that even women who lack the #twitterfeminism seal of approval have actual emotional responses to threats and abuse. That’s something to bear in mind next time you start putting a dot before the @ in your tweet.

4. Lots of us believe that older women exist only to make us feel important, stroke our bruised egos and occasionally do the housework. Hence if you encounter an older woman online, it can be terribly disappointing if she doesn’t seem utterly bowled over by your edgy sexual exploits, or has the temerity not to think your self-centred view of gender overwrites her more critical one. The thing to remember is: older women are not your mum. They’re not going to cut you some slack just because they love you. They have their own shit to deal with and don’t owe you approval. It comes back to the “women being people” thing. Keep repeating that to yourself until one day you believe it.

5. One of the oldest forms of misogyny comes in the belief that the female body is corruptive, sinful and repulsive. You might think you have ideas about sex and gender which make you immune to this reaction and if so, that’s cool. However, if your immediate response to someone mentioning words such as period and vagina (but not penis or testes) is to tweet “fuck off, cissexist scum!” it may be that you still have issues.

6. These days most cultures allow women to manage their own relationships and interact socially without the presence of a chaperone, partner or male relative. That’s something to bear in mind if you find yourself regularly checking up on whom a woman is following on twitter, quizzing her over her online “associations,” warning people not to talk to X because she’s been seen talking to Y etc..

7. Making women feel uncertain about themselves — that their views are not authoritative, their thought processes tainted by bigotry, their suffering unverified, their “lived experiences” neither real nor raw enough to count — is a common abuser’s tactic. This may be something you do without even meaning to. You might think you have the lived experiences against which all other women must measure theirs (and that theirs will invariably be found wanting). You might secretly enjoy spreading uncertainty and acquiring obedient followers, desperate not to offend you with their silly woman ideas. All this means is that you are acting like an entitled prick. But don’t worry! There’s always time to change. Read and re-read this list, then resolve to do better.

8. Being a woman isn’t meant to feel modern or cutting edge. Womanhood doesn’t need repackaging or pruning, leaving the embarrassing “waste” behind. All women who speak are women whom, as a feminist, you should feel some responsibility towards. That’s really annoying, isn’t it? But that’s people for you.

It’s okay if all this is new to you. Take your time. In the meantime, here’s a shit, babyish cartoon to help you on your journey:

Am I abusive

Still feeling uncomfortable? Patronised? Offended? Don’t worry. This is how most women feel online all the time. Terrified of saying the wrong thing. Judged simply for existing. Frightened that if they call out abuse, they’ll just be accused of bigotry. Patronised by passive-aggressive lists which outline all of the ways in which they are to blame for all social ills. Blamed for all the bad things that happen to them, tortured by the thought that those accusing them could be right.

If you feel even a tiny bit of that right now, think carefully before you launch in to your next attack. If, on the other hand, you’ve already composed a tweet in which you describe how I’ve written a post all about defending privilege, you’re nothing if not predictable and hopelessly, determinedly wrong.

11 thoughts on “How to stop abusing women in the name of feminism: A patronising checklist

  1. You know this has become more and more of an issue for me in recent weeks. I’m seeing fellow women and feminists get absolutely trashed, left, right, and centre, simply because someone somewhere has deemed them to have said something ‘wrong’. It’s becoming a stifling and poisonous environment to be sharing and discussing ideas in.

    I actually wrote about this exact same thing myself yesterday as I felt no longer comfortable with just keeping my head down and pretending to ignore it in the hopes it would go away. If you want to have a read it’s here: http://www.gappytales.com/2014/02/internet-feminism-call-out-culture-and-cis-white-tears.html

  2. You do realise that with number two in particular you are essentially arguing that women can never be bigots, which is flat out nonsense. That’s never a good starting point for the discussion and building you claim to want.

    The post also implies that those who object to what you and others say aren’t women. As if you think that all women agree with you, if you didn’t intend to imply that, you might want to consider taking the post back to the drawing board for some work.

    Call out culture does have it’s problems, but the folks who are criticising you? Have actual reasons which you are either unable or unwilling to recognise, and as a result, you’re sliding further and further into expressing opinions and ideas that are compounding why people are criticising you. People aren’t criticising you because you’re a cis woman, they’re doing it because you keep coming out with stuff bigots approve of, (generally if a bigot is approving of what you’re doing, you might want to consider why, because often it’s because you’re agreeing with their bigoted worldview), they’re doing it because you regularly pal around with folks who not only abuse minority women but who also routinely decide anyone who disagrees with them is a man by default, even if the disagreeing person is a Cis woman.

    You cannot build a conversation with both fingers in your ears, if you want people to stop criticising you? Perhaps you should listen to their reasons and at least treat those reasons as viable viewpoints from equals, rather than shutting it down by assuming that anyone who calls you out is wrong by default and apparently assuming they’re only doing it because you’re a cis woman. You seem to be scared of being wrong, but when you consider it? The worst it would mean would be you having to apologise, and rethinking your stances. Hardly a terrifying prospect there.

    It’s okay to be wrong btw, nobody can be 100% right and nobody lives their lives without ever saying a single bigoted thing ever. I suggest letting yourself entertain the notion of you not being right. It’s really rather liberating. Women are expected to be perfect at this social shit, to never offend or hurt anyone, but whether we’re Cis, Trans or just presumed, we’re not perfect at it and we do hurt people.

    1. But there is a massive difference between analysing why a point of view may be bigoted and calling women bigots as your first port of call. I’m not saying a woman can’t hold bigoted views, I’m saying that’s now the default assumption unless she is considered to be sufficiently submissive to a small number of self-appointed (and in my view, sexist) morality guardians. I’m very much in favour of women having the space to be wrong – I need it as much as anyone else – but the consequences of not just being wrong, but even risking being wrong, are extreme, unjust and damaging.

      1. Not as wrong or as damaging as letting bigots romp free through our ranks is. The sort of complaints you’re making are tone policing that tries to blame folks for complaining rather than examining why folks complain. You are placing the blame in the wrong quarter, and yes, feeding into the idea that that cis women are never wrong, by pushing what amounts basically to “it’s rude to tell someone off”.

        Quite frankly, the worst I’ve seen you called was TERF, and that was because you keep coming out with TERF ideas of gender that are used to oppress and exclude trans individuals and trans women in particular. If you walk like a duck and quack like a duck, you probably will be seen as a duck. You pal around with TERFS regularly and write articles and blog posts that wouldn’t be out of place on TERF sites, can you see why people think you’re a TERF? You repeat nonsense like claiming TERF is a slur, rather than an accurate acronym for individuals who claim to be radical feminists while being nothing of the sort. There’s nothing radical about the ‘feminism’ displayed by TERFS, it’s gender essentialist outdated nonsense 99% of the time.

        Not to mention often any analysis of why a viewpoint is bigoted gets swept under the floor in favour of “boo hoo, those mean Trans people” because trans individual’s are treated as always “unfairly attacking” women.

        1. Trans women cannot be excluded from the category of women, because they are biological males (no matter how much they alter their bodies, that’s still not the developmental pathway that results in adult biological females, i.e., women). You LOGICALLY cannot “exclude” something from a category it doesn’t belong to in the first place. Oranges and bananas are both fruit, but only oranges are oranges and only bananas are bananas. It’s pure LOGIC. So to use TERF to stigmatize people who disagree that oranges can be bananas (or vice versa), is not accurate labeling, it’s bullying in place of reasoned argument or logic.

    1. My problem with (white women) saying we need to go beyond intersectionality is that, in my experience, people only try to go beyond intersectionality so they can deny the realities of racism.

  3. Well, I agree, if we take this as a general comment: but it does seem to me that you are directing this entirely at trans women, and ignoring the point that “people who abuse women” includes the people abusing trans women.

    1. I’d note, too, that I write “I disagree because…” comments here.
      You ignore them.
      There is no need for you to respond to any comments on your blog, of course – I often don’t – but it has just struck me as interesting that you won’t react to “I disagree because” comments, even while advocating those are how people should respond.

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