It probably comes as no surprise that I really hate the term “fee-fees.” For those of you more fortunate than I, “fee-fees” is a disparaging term that SJ folks throw around. It means “feelings” and is usually used in the context of “I don’t care about your fee-fees,” or “oh no, your precious fee-fees!” or other statements of obvious merit and discursive might.
So this is bad. Obviously, there’s that whole thing where I don’t think that scorn and derision belong in discourse. I also have more specific objections to this issue.
It erects a dangerous double standard.
First, imagine that you’re new to this whole SJ deal. You read some blog where someone is calling the depiction of people of color, or women, or trans* people problematic, zie is demanding that things be changed, zie is angry, vociferous. And you disagree with zir course of action, finding it problematic or offensive and zie strikes back, “Oh, your precious fee-fees. Go away.”
What can you do but be confused? Why is it the case that the feelings of women, of trans* folks matter, but yours don’t? If I were in this position, I’d probably come to the conclusion that, weirdly, social justice puts the feels of certain groups on pedestals at the expense of others. That it’s this thing that actually generates inequality. Being who I am, I’d disagree with that very strongly, call bullshit, and leave.
I think these attitudes absolutely scare off the uninitiated and likely give them negative ideas about what social justice is.
Secondly, I think that the attitudes embodied by “fee-fees” actuallydo generate inequality. When you repeatedly tell certain groups (ex. straight, white, cis men) that their feelings don’t matter and that their voices aren’t welcome just because of who they are, you silence them and create a space in which they experience something that feels, or at least looks, like oppression. Even when oppression is tiny, it’s still not a good thing.
These double standards are bad news and I think they’re to be avoided at most costs.
It Undermines This Whole SJ Deal
Feminism and social justice are built on notions that feelings and lived experiences matter. They are important and are to be respected. If they weren’t, then then there wouldn’t be a need to eliminate hate speech, slurs, and negative stereotypes so long as they only harmed feelings.
If there is any reason why your feelings unequivocally matter and mine do not, then I actually don’t know why we’re doing this. I can’t wrap my head around the notion that, for reasons beyond their control, anyone matters more than anyone else. I don’t know what the point is unless it’s to make the world a better place for everyone. And, frankly, two wrongs do not and will never make a right.
The attitudes that cause terms like “fee-fees” are pretty much exactly as harmful and problematic as the attitudes that we’re fighting against.
I got called a concern troll last week. I almost laughed aloud. For everyone not priorly familiar with the trendiest terms of disregard in SJ circles, a concern troll is a pretty bad thing to be. I’ll defer to better-curated voices than mine. Rationalwiki states that a concern troll “visits sites of an opposing ideology and offers advice on how they could ‘improve’ things, either in their tactical use of rhetoric, site rules, or with more philosophical consistency.”
In discussions of feminism and gender issues, you can spot them by things like:
-expressing qualified support for feminist goals
-retreating from rather than engaging with answers to questions they post
-using the More Flies with Honey argument
-using the You’re Being Emotional argument
-using the Harming the Community argument
-using the Male Experience Trump Card argument
So, to recap, a concern troll is allegedly someone acting in actual bad faith. They are not just a “person” with some “concerns.” They are someone who is trying to tear down the edifice of feminism, or anti-oppression, and all that is good and right about it. And their dastardly tactic? “Expressing qualified support.” If you want to know what a problematic relationship with dissent looks like, you need look no further than an attitude that can, and sometimes does, view “qualified support” as evidence of actual malice.
I’ll go even one step further. The rest of those arguments you can use to spot a concern troll? The second item is just a natural human reaction to being treated as though your opinions and views were suspect in motive rather than merely content. And sometimes that suspicion stems from nothing more than the assumed gender of the speaker. I probably don’t need to point out how problematic that is. As for “more flies” and “harming the community?” I actually think both of those are real sometimes, too. But that’s an unpopular opinion for another time, so back to the topic!
I want this clear: I’m not here to say that people who call out concern trolls are some sort of witch hunters. Concern trolls that are acting in bad faith exist, and while there’s something pretty paranoid in believing that folks go out of their way to monkeywrench blog discussions in the hopes of getting the commentariat to forget what it was doing… well… I’ve seen MRAs actually propose that. So I guess maybe it happens? Assuming we think that the nefarious schemes of MRAs actually get implemented and they’re infiltrating the righteous corners of feminism and gender equality discussion, COINTELPRO style. I don’t think that much of MRAs, but maybe they’ve tricked me into underestimating them.
Regardless of the hordes of critics masquerading as well-intentioned, I can at the very least stand up and say that this notion of concern trolling really impinges on folks like me. Because, you know what? I very rarely have something more than qualified support that I want to express. Until that day when I meet a perfect theorist who supports only things I support and does so to exactly the degree that I do, I will differ from every person I encounter. And when I talk with them, and we prod at the edges of our beliefs and talk about them, my support is going to be limited or qualified. And if I think they go too far, that is what I am actually going to tell them.
Because that’s what a discussion is.
And every time someone trying to have these discussions about the way that SJ stuff is handled gets called a troll, that person is shoved away. Either as an ally, a discussion partner, or as a co-ideologist. And, frankly, I think the wages of that divisiveness are pretty poor.
With that in mind, I want to state a broad thesis that I expect I’ll probably be arguing until my hands give out: SJ and feminism discussions, in spite of their laudable goals and good ideals, have rigged the game against dissent. And furthermore, their antagonistic attitude towards any dissent (especially, anything even one quick sidestep politically to the right of itself) is the biggest threat to its own efficacy. No one takes an echo chamber seriously except the people inside it.
Someone (you know who you are) showed me and Rake the pretty amazing meme Tumblr this image comes from. I worry it makes us and this post irrelevant and sad, but we’re gonna soldier on.
So, let’s do it. It’s time for Rust to examine feminist and SJ discursive paradigms that are terrible and harmful!
I hate “go do research.” I hate “go educate yourself.” I hate “the reason why you don’t already know that you’re wrong is that you haven’t done research.” I hate “you have access to the internet, why are you still so ignorant?” I hate “It’s not my job to educate you.”
Because, holy shit, y’all. Holy shit. Let’s pretend I’ve just been told to go “do some fucking research” on a subject by someone (in this case, you). These are my reactions, in no particular order:
1) For real, don’t just assign me homework that will make your argument for you. I know I’m frustrating, but withholding information that you totally have from me and forcing me to work for it is incredibly disrespectful and poor form.
2) Where? Where am I going? Should I just Google “die cis scum,” or “feminist issues,” or “privilege” and trust what I get there? Chances are, if I run into any other people, they’ll just tell me the same thing. Can you fucking at least tell me where I ought to go? Don’t you have some nice primers for me on this or… Or anything? No? You’re just going to toss me at the internet blind? Coool.
3) There’s a reason I don’t know this shit and you do. Chances are, it’s because I have what you’d call privilege and you don’t. And so you found a forum to talk in or found people who were saying things that made sense to you. You developed nuanced ideas over time because doing so mattered to you. All of that listening you did? You did that for a reason. Maybe you’re trans* and your life depended on it, even. But I’m not. I’m a rank amateur for a reason and that reason makes total sense and it’s not because I’m some sort of stupid.
4) I thought you wanted me to care, or to see why I’m wrong. Or why you’re right. You think dismissing me like this is going to get me to do so? At all? I don’t know why you think that. Best case scenario, I’ll do the research successfully, come to understand your argument, and think you are really, really terrible.
5) It’s obviously not your job to educate me. You are not getting paid. I am taking your time, and I get that. But I’m not going to magically become educated. Information is not just going to siphon into me from the ether. This means that someone has to educate me, even if that someone is a blog post from 2007. Telling me it’s not your job, is just passing the buck, passing responsibility. It is or looks lazy and rude and if everyone did it, there would be no education. It’s not your job to educate me, but unless you take it upon yourself to at least point me in the right direction, the chances that I will ever learn grow slimmer by the moment.
Can we as feminists and SJ people please, please stop just telling people to do research? Can’t we at least tell them where’s a good place to get started? Please. Education is the way to effect change, and I kinda thought that was our goal.
I love sarcasm. Need to appear witty, urbane, and above-it-all? Sarcasm has your back. Need to indicate amused disdain for something? Call sarcasm! But sarcasm and I are having something of a falling-out right now. And when you love something, you should blog about it. That’s how the saying goes, right?
Seriously, though, sarcasm is alright. I like it as much as the next guy, but I feel like the way it’s used in feminist discourse on the internet is pretty abusive. When I say “abusive,” I don’t mean it in any usual way. I mean it in the policy debate way (Rake did policy in high school, obviously). Sarcasm is used to shift the form of the debate in a way that puts one side at a disadvantage.
Let’s look at an (absurd) example!
Alex: I really, really hate rocky road ice cream. I think it’s super problematic and, frankly, whenever I see someone ordering it in an ice cream parlor, I get really pissed off. Don’t they realize how fucked up what they’re doing is?
Jamie: Wait, wait, wait. Come on. Rocky road isn’t actually that problematic. Like, I know that the ice cream gives the marshmallows a weird texture, but I actually think that’s mostly a matter of personal preference and it’s probably okay when people order it in ice cream shops.
Alex: Oh my gee golly goodness, Jamie! Gosh, you’re so right! Why hadn’t I thought of that before!? There’s really nothing about frosty marshmallow texture—which is definitely not one of the worst textures in food—that’s particularly problematic at all! And the combination of walnuts and chocolate ice cream? I’m sure you think that’s fine, too!
It’s Jamie’s turn to talk. What are zir options about what to say next? In my head, they look something like this.
“No, seriously. Rocky road’s okay. I know that walnuts can be a little dry and bitter and even I’m really not that found of chocolate ice cream. I definitely think it’s weirdly powdery and gross.* But I just don’t think that makes rocky road problematic.”
II. Respond in Kind
“Thanks, Alex! I always knew I was right! I’m so so glad to be talking to a person with whom I just agree about everything! Especially the fact that walnuts and chocolate really don’t go together all of that badly! You’re so great!”
III. Call ‘Em Out
“Your sarcasm is really not good or useful. You’re being a dick.”
From here Alex also has three options. They look roughly like this:
I. Keep Up That Sarcasm!
“Man, you must be the world’s leading expert on the relative problematicness of ice cream flavors! And also being a dickwagon! I’m so provided to talk to you about this! Oh, and by the way, your assertion that the powdery grossness of rocky road in any way means that it can possibly avoid being problematic! Thanks, buttass!”
II. Flame On!
“Dear cockwaggle, please get the fuck off of my blog. You are easily the worst, stupidest person I’ve ever heard talk about ice cream on the internet. Get out of here and get some fucking education, you heinous troll. I hate you.”
III. Trump Card!
“That’s a pathetic tone argument. We don’t use those here. Get out.”
Option three, as you can see, results in a conversation that dies immediately. Option two becomes a flame war. Option one is one-sided and pretty terrible, but I do think that it’s the best option for Jamie, if only because Jamie’s continuing to be reasonable and pleasant might cause people reading later to agree with zir and change their minds on account of the fact that Jamie comes as the only sane person in the conversation. But it’s gonna suck for Jamie. Quite a lot. Alex is gonna continue with the sarcasm until one of them gets sick and buggers off.
We can see, though that regardless of what Jamie does, rational discourse is over. In the first option, Alex shuts it right down with zir sarcasm. In the second, Jamie shuts it down by responding to inflammatory comments with other inflammatory comments. In the third option, Alex simply ends the conversation.
And this is why sarcasm harms rational discourse, kids. Please, please, use it wisely.
I have an important addendum that I completely neglected. Specifically: sarcasm kills the conversation in all cases if and only if Alex’s use of “You’re using a tone argument on me, Jamie,” is a valid tactic. If calling Alex on tone is acceptable, then perhaps Alex will apologize, or at least drop the sarcasm such that rational discussion can continue. Right now, though, calling that’s not something that works. Right now, Alex is safe in cutting down Jamie’s response to zir tone.
Rational discourse is harmed by sarcasm, but it’s also harmed by the fact that Alex can trump Jamie via a claim that Jamie’s making a tone argument. Both of these things are pretty bad for discourse. I hope we’ll knock them off.
*True story. Chocolate ice cream is, by and large, totally gross.