We’ve been talking about something behind the scenes for a while here at Hathor. An example of it happens every now and then, and we think, “Wow, that’s a big teaching moment!” Then we get bogged down in how to put the lesson across, get distracted by real life and the necessities blogging doesn’t supply, and never get around to posting. Today begins a series where we’re going to tackle some of those issues.
From the beginning, there’s been a small percentage of our audience that wants to put us down and keep us down. I’m not talking about misogynistic trolls. I’m talking about supposedly “feminist” allies. These people leave comments and send us emails telling us what we’re doing wrong and how we should be doing things – and not in a constructive way (we like constructive criticism, and also disagreement). These remarks all boil down to one thing, even though I suspect their authors would vehemently deny having any such conscious thoughts (but then, privilege works unconsciously). “Your opinions, taste and research are wrong because their results do not tally with my opinions, taste and research. My thoughts are of course vastly superior to yours, so let me help you fix your thoughts so the world of middle class white dudes may then take you seriously.”
It’s a bit like the White Man’s Burden trope playing out in real life, except it’s not a strictly racial dynamic. We’ve had academics try to fix my obviously confused perception of my own life with whatever they were taught in college about poor people and/or abused kids (forget my Actual Life Experience). We’ve had white people try to educate Maria about racism on several occasions, and criticize Maria’s work here by invoking Hispanic stereotypes. We used to have commenters (now banned) who would routinely dogpile on any new writer to show him/her how very, very hideously wrong her writing was and, by the way, link to similar topics on their own blog (if anybody’s wondering why we haven’t added new writers in a while, this is why). We’ve had formerly helpful commenters suddenly turn on us because we stepped on one of their sacred cows, such as Science Is Never Biased or But It’s Just a Joke. We have commenters who only enter threads about particular TV shows to brag about how long it’s been since they let trash like that bounce off their precious eyeballs (and really, those comments should be deleted for irrelevance). We’ve had people threaten to stop reading if we don’t immediately retool the site design or some superficial aspect of it to their liking. And whenever we try to have fun with the site, some people complain that we’re not being funereal enough for their tastes.
Of course, we didn’t recognize all these comments for what they were at the time – that’s why they’re so harmful. They’re often subtle. Or just because they come from a supposed ally, you keep thinking, “I must be misunderstanding. She must have a good point.” It’s taken us a long time to recognize these sorts of comments and emails for what they are – a mirroring of the very power dynamic we’re trying to break down.
In this series, we’re going to explain further why these behaviors are not only assholish when examined one at a time, but are also reinforcing the power dynamics of the status quo when you view them as a whole – keeping the little unpaid women laborers in their place. Is that anybody’s conscious intent? Probably not (possible exception: fellow bloggers who may see us as The Competition). The fact that it’s probably unconscious doesn’t relieve our minds any: it means that even our alleged allies are so unaware of their own entitlement and privilege that they don’t realize they’re just doing to us what the patriarchy’s done to them.
And Hathor certainly isn’t the only place where this happens. This is just a microcosmic sample of the big schisms of second and third wave feminism, in which some women prove to so invested in maintaining their own unexamined privileges that they will undermine, marginalize and otherwise repress the women who shine a light on that privilege merely by speaking up for their own needs. You’ve seen it before; we’ve talked about it before.
These posts are going to explore all that. And then we’re doing to discuss what to do about this stuff. Emails are easy to ignore, and we can always get tougher on comment moderation. But maybe there’s more we can do to educate people. So while you read this series, please be thinking about (constructive!) feedback you can give us.