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In the latest issue of The Nation, Michelle Goldberg attempts to tackle the “toxic” nature of online conversations about feminism. While social media and blogs have been an outlet for many women in the movements, giving marginalized groups  a platform to speak out, others have used the Internet to shut down discussion and strong-arm dissenters into silence for fear they will get dragged through the mud.

Goldberg points to the backlash surrounding the #Femfuture report, which called on greater funding for feminists working in the digital sphere, as proof of the rising toxicity level. After it was released, many criticized the group behind #FemFuture for not being more inclusive of nearly every group of women. The response to #Femfuture shocked its creators who felt like the criticism were unwarranted, and also incredibly stifling.

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, former editor of Feministing, said she felt “backed into a corner” and lately many women are “so scared to speak right now” for fear they will piss off certain groups and be accused of being a bad ally in the movement.

While many feminists have lamented the current seemingly divisive environment, citing unnecessary and unfair critiques, others welcome the discourse. Mikki Kendall, creator of the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag, told Goldberg the alleged bullying and “silencing” that some argue is happening to some White feminists is a result of women of color and other marginalized groups finally having their say.

“If you look at the mentions for me, for @BlackAmazon, for @FeministaJones, for a lot of other black feminists, it’s hard for us to see this other stuff as bullying,” she explained. “Because we are getting so much more than ‘I don’t like your article.’ And we’re getting it all day. I had someone who spent four hours last week dumping porn images into my mentions. I’ve had people send me pictures of lynchings. So then when somebody says, ‘Oh, this article is terrible,’ and a bunch of people talk about how terrible an article was, and you say that’s bullying—I’m going to side-eye your definition of bullying.”

According to Kendall, the real problem is that mainstream feminists are not used to women of color forcing them to listen.

“Feminism has a mammy problem, and mammy doesn’t live here anymore. I know The Help told you you was smart, you was important, you was special. The Help lied. You’re going to have to deal with anger, you’re going to have to deal with hurt.”

Like most of society, feminism is going through definite growing pains. Through the advent of blogs and social media, traditionally marginalized groups now have the ability to broadcast their opinions and needs, and White feminists (along with the rest of us) are just going to have to deal with the changes.

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  • Afrostyling

    White women are having the worst week ever!

  • I agree. It’s not the job of the oppressed to include the oppressors or make them feel comfortable. If oppressors are truly interested in improving the situations for those that are oppressed they need to take a step back and listen and not yell “bullying”. This goes for everyone: white to black, man to woman, straight to gay, able-bodied to disabled etc.

    • I don’t think that’s what this piece is about, or at least that’s not the interesting part. The author talks to/about a number of women of color who have felt frustrated by all the divisiveness and calling out – including Jamia Wilson, one of the black participants at #FemFuture, describing how she ended up in an online conversation with a white woman complaining to her for #FemFuture for not including any women of color. She says, ” Somehow, activists who prided themselves on their racial enlightenment “were whitesplaining me about racism,” she adds, laughing.” There’s a link to some great piece by Quinnae (who I’d never heard of before reading this article) with this quote I especially like:

      “Regrettably, however, we too often forget our own hard-won wisdom and allow a slippage between attacking behaviours and attacking people, allowing “you are an inherently bad person” to be said too often. I hoped to challenge the logic amongst activists that allows this to happen, and the indulgent us-versus-them thinking that seduces us into making caricatures of opponents, entirely in line with a well worn patriarchal and neoliberal playbook. I am not challenging criticism, I am challenging an invidious manifestation of it. When we begin attacking people rather than ideas, that is when we begin to lose ourselves.”

      (apparently I can’t link, but if you do a google search for Quinnae, unicorn, trans, Latina, “beyond niceness”, you’ll find her and the article I’m quoting.)

  • Riddle me this.

    Why it is so difficult for the feminist movement to be built on the principles of inclusion and diversity for the empowerment of ALL women?

    There are always a couple of apples missing from the bunch when it comes to the dimensions of certain voices. And many of these voices lack gravity.

    And this is why I don’t waste my time in subscribing to “labels” and caring about what other people think. Its way more easier to simply live your life and be happy than getting tangled up in other peoples pejoratives.

    • Feminism was never for us. Our problems are different from those of white women so they will invariably leave us out when they are talking about THEIR problems. We need a different discipline or framework to talk about the issues that BLACK women face. Intersectionality is a great start though…..

  • JS

    Sorry if this is redundant but this quote is everything:

    ““Feminism has a mammy problem, and mammy doesn’t live here anymore. I know The Help told you you was smart, you was important, you was special. The Help lied. You’re going to have to deal with anger, you’re going to have to deal with hurt.””

    PREACH.