Interaction, exploration and reflection in online ‘feminist’ discussion spaces. A continuation of the previous post – feminism-masculinity-and-online-discussion-forums/
I am not assuming that this one forum is representative of feminist ideals online or otherwise, but it’s very active, well established and well contributed to, and offers a broad range of contemporary forum topics.
It is very easy as a ‘white man’ to underestimate or not be exposed to the power of feeling and the extent of women’s experience of oppression in everyday lived experiences. In a broader sense it seems logical to apply this also to other issues such as those of queer and race. We are protected and shielded by the general ignorance of biased media and powerful institutions controlled by mainly white males. This expresses one fundamental tenet of feminism that I am confident in expressing – that large insitutions that control how information is distributed and made available are controlled by predominantly white males – and this matters.
Frequently expressed senitments in-forum involve ideas about culpability, responsibility, oppression, patriarchy, unfairness, ‘pushing back’, priviledge, abuse and objectification, porn culture and a general misunderstanding by men (and the global media in general) of the purpose, aims and tenets of feminism. Perhaps obvious themes to notice but some themes that interested and challenged me is the idea of personal responsibility and culpability and how the post-modern, abstract ideas of discourse might detract from the aims of front line feminism; and also the delicate nature of a positive male interaction with feminism without upsetting the tenets of – or distracting from the aims of – feminism.
The ‘Feminist Ally’
After interacting directly with issues on the forum (which I believe in the long-term to be useful) I have realised that effective engagement has required a working understanding and empathy with feminist issues before the forum is approached. It is a place for informed people to discuss realted issues, the fundaments of which are already agreed upon. Transgression of the boundaries of understood fundaments illicits a distinctly hostile and sometimes personal response. The following post was written after engagement with some of the issues in the forum and recieving, at best, advice to go away and read some more. At worst, I was to take a ‘big dose of Keopectate to help you cut the crap spewing from both ends of your obtuse food tube.’!
On swallowing my pride (and the ‘crap spewing from both ends of my obtuse food tube’) I explicitely stated my ignorance and culpability as a man: I recieved 4 ‘likes’ (most for one of my posts):
‘I have entered this forum with my ignorance of the issues that matter here: I am man and I have to take responsibility for ‘all men’ – I am ‘all men’. There is no ‘they’ when I talk about men. It’s ‘us’. This front-line feminism is challenging and important (I have so far just been looking at academic feminist theory). Yes, I, we, us, need to do more listening and less commenting, less defending. I accept that anger. The rage. And I understand how I am the problem. I understand how It’s important to maintain that and how much harder it is to keep women’s issues in the limelight due to the nature and control of that which is the reason feminism exists – it would be nice to have a world where it didn’t have to – but that‘s not the world we live in.’
I admit to being rather clumsy in my initial forays into the forum – I am not used to interacting in online forums in general. I appear to have eventually made some useful contributions at least. As a researcher – this humility and self-reflexivity I think will be a valuable tool in effectively operating within these interest groups.
It was therefore necessary to take a direct and explicit responsibility for ‘all men’ and to accept and understand why I will be viewed as an embodiment of the ‘things that are wrong with men’ (a phrase I have encountered in the forum). There is a strong theme of men taking responsibility in this way – to be directly culpable for the actions of men that are allowed in society. I believe that this is one of the challenging things to men engaging with feminism: that it requires alot of humility and acceptance of responsibility for things that the individual may be particularly repulsed by or abhor but the expectation is of responsibility – an acceptance of your position and how it has been abused by others and, potentially, you. This obviously requires a knowledge of these issues, a sensitivity to understand and a desire to acknowledge these issues as universally important. I also believe (not seen expressed in the forums) that men need to learn specifically how to take these critisisms (as aggressive and justified as it may be directed to men in general) without a defensive reaction – which I believe may produce an expected but unconstructive outcome. I am not suggesting a change in the approach of feminism (not my remit or expertise) but and idea about how to start preparing men to accept the the tenets and approaches of feminism in a way constructive and positive for them.
The idea of ‘not all men are like this’ is a sentiment particularly abhorrent to the user of this forum (and – looking on the internet, to many other feminists). The campaigns of #NOTALLMEN and the reaction of #YESALLWOMEN are a good example of some core issues and misunderstandings in these areas. Whilst saying that ‘not all men are like xyz’ may seem self evident, it is a sentiment that seems to be seen to undermine the damaging importance of the actions of the men that are ‘like xyz’.
Most users are uncomfortable with men interacting directly with the forum, although this is certainly not restricted. There are identifiable men who frequent the forum (I was given a ‘heads up’ by one ‘stephen m’ after some particularly stinging responses from other users). Instead of me offering my interpretaion – two articles on ‘Male Allies’ in feminism are avilable here: how-to-be-a-male-feminist-ally/ , the-trouble-with-male-allies/ which express the expected conduct of men interacting with feminist issues, in internet forums paticularly.
Theory and Action
Abstract post-modern ideas of discourse seem at least partially incompatible with the humanist view of a direct relationship with our own agency to act. People as enactors of different social arguments or identities at different times – as perfomative of a mixture of archetypes available to us, seems to allow the individual to defer responsibility (‘it wasn’t ‘me’, I was just performing the only gender identity available to me at the time!’). This is interesting to me in highlighting the transition from theory to action – from ideas to how we operate logistically in the ‘real’ experienced world. So interacting effectively in this forum requires a tricky negotiation between forum users, new and established: certainly not an easy one. There seems to be views that are acceptable and views that are not. Any view expressing any kind of sympathy for an essentially male concern is certainly shot out of the sky with short shrift – this is not what the forum is understood to be for.
Is it more useful to engage with a discourse, an idea, than the individuals who express that idea? Or can we trace lines through and link the individulas, their situations and experiences to the discourses we identify? Are there casual links or useful correlations? If we look only at discourse, is there something to say about the groups of individuals we identify expressing these ideas? If we look at the individuals, the discourse may escape into the future, to gestate and grow and finally blossom in the mouths of a new generation – we see it happens in places of cultural and geographical tentions – passed down through generations, Northern Ireland for example.
These idea that pervade society – women ‘asking for it’ if they dress a certain way (or at least a lack of symphathy for a women deemed to have ‘provoked’ male attention) – have been around for centuries. So do we tackle the individuals or the discourse? Or both? Neither?
Here I have highlighted some different, humanistic, positivistic/normative and post-modern approaches that we may take in analysis of this subject and that may affect the orientation of any analysis or observations we make.
See previous: feminism-masculinity-and-online-discussion-forums/