Guest post: The same Online Wimmin Mob in hardly-even-different packaging

This post is by @jonanamary, who doesn’t have a blog. She’s ace. You lot will like her.

Content note: this post quotes examples of ableism with uncensored slurs. 

I’m in two minds about writing about Peter’s blog post on call-out culture, because my previous encounters with the author have been… bruising, and very unpleasant. Drawing further attention to the piece also seems counter-productive. However, as he has chosen to write about things I have said, but in a distorted and inaccurate way, I feel I have no choice but to engage to some degree – especially as a comment I left on the article setting out my version of events was not published. The piece is also full of logical fallacies which are worth highlighting, and is more of the same old Online Wimmin Mob shit in a hardly-even-different type of packaging; very, very tedious.

Here we go, then. Peter’s words in red.

 “1) Are teenage girls really a persecuted minority?” - yes, especially in the context of their musical taste. I’ll leave the explanation to the marvellous, fierce Natalie Zed.

 “3) What in general gives you the god-given right to criticise me in this way, and what response do you expect?” - a response that engaged with the issue raised, rather than dismissing it out of hand, maybe?

(Oh, but maybe I’m just bitter; Peter aka @PME2013 was, after all, rather unwarrantedly nasty to me after the Moore-gate episode, after rather a bizarre conversation in which he insisted that “nannying” does not have gendered or sexist overtones – a point he repeats in this blog, for good measure. What can one say in the face of that level of denial, really?)

Sigh. Continuing:

“It is a feature of the medium that people exchange views, argue, and leave more convinced of their own opinions than before. [He's universalising - I have had my mind changed on many issues due to great conversations and arguments on Twitter, and I know I am not alone.] Fine, it’s not for me, but I’ve no issue with it. [Clearly, he does, as this whole blog shows.]

“I’m talking instead about people criticising and sometimes attacking others for their use of language and daring to express themselves in the natural terms that people do every day across the country.  I’ve seen it time and time again: people leaping on others and chastising them as if they were small children who had been naughty for the words they have used.” [My emphasis] – the sheer ignorance involved in describing language of any kind as “natural” boggles the mind. If there is anything more constructed, more socially situated than language, I can’t think of it. Language is anything but “natural”, and to describe it as such is either dishonest or depressingly naïve. Is it “natural” when, for example, schoolkids use the term “that’s so gay!” to express distaste – does the term stem from the “natural” inferiority of gay people? Of course not – it reflects a societal attitude that is hostile to non-heterosexual identities.

His denial that “hysterical” or “nannying” aren’t sometimes used in harmful ways is rather sad. Feminists, even we Online Wimmin Mob types, don’t generally object to “hysterical” being used to mean “funny”; we object when it is used to refer to the behaviour of a woman who is deemed to be acting “excessively”. To state it more clearly, I have little problem with the sentence “that comedian I just saw was hysterically funny!”; I have rather a lot of problems with “that female MP’s argument was shrill and hysterical“. Oddly enough, Peter does not address the second meaning of hysterical. Likewise,“I did a nannying job for a Parisian family last summer” = not objectionable; referring to our hypothetical female MP as acting in a “nannying” way is much more problematic, as it calls upon a long history of tropes of smothering, overbearing women, who can easily be dismissed. How is that not sexist?

I saw one person lecturing another recently about the other’s use of “delusional” and “idiot”” - hand up, I was the person he is referring to here, but I – and the other person involved in the original conversation, the fabulous @TheNatFantastic - utterly reject Peter’s characterisation of our interaction as “lecturing”, here. I know that Nat is anti-disablism, so when she used those words, I gently and (in Twitter terms) privately gave her a heads-up via a direct @ (rather than a .@) that only people who follow us both would have seen. (Incidentally, Peter makes a point of noting that I don’t follow him in reference to the “nannying” incident – IIRC I saw his post because someone retweeted it into my TL. My tweet to Nat re “delusional”/”idiot” was not RT’d, so only by going to my Twitter stream could he have seen it. Slightly creepy, huh?)

Anyway. Nat responded quickly, the issue was settled in minutes, and we both moved on with our lives. Except not, because it’s now being dredged up days later and twisted into an example of LANGUAGE POLICING OMGGGG when it was a more-or-less private, and definitely civil exchange that ended swiftly and with no aggression or aggravation on either side. Peter later added a note to his blog, which said: “One asked me to remove this part of the post, or to make clear she was happy to be lectured to.  Fine: she was happy to be told off in public.  Plenty of people aren’t.” - so why keep it as an example when it manifestly is not an example of the kind of interaction he is describing? It’s dishonest. (He also told us off for using Naughty Words; that kind of language policing is totally fine, it seems. As long as it’s him doing it, of course.)

More:

Interestingly I’ve a real life friend who has been sectioned twice, who has blogged brilliantly on her experiences, in the process no doubt helping and educating many, and who light-heartedly refers to herself as a “loony” on Twitter. I’d love one of the Twaliban to stumble on her by accident one day, and watch her response if they attacked her for her own very deliberate choice of language.” - here Peter shows his ignorance of disablist issues, as well as his ignorance – again – of how language works; he thinks that I, and other “Twitter Twaliban” (not making that up) members, would be upset to see a word that has been used as a slur being reclaimed by a member of the group that it affects. How little he knows; I follow disabled people who happily refer to themselves as “crips” or “mad”, and am not at all shocked by their choice of words. Much as the word “bitch” can be empowering when used by groups of women (e.g. Bitch magazine, or the excellent Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog) or a misogynist slur when shouted at me on the street by a passing stranger, context matters.

 “This is a key thing to remember too: the Twaliban member is frequently taking offence on behalf of unnamed people in a group who might theoretically be hurt if they read the guilty party’s tweet, which contains language that they don’t approve of” - jeeeez, what part of “reinforcing structural forms of oppression” doesn’t he get? The language we use matters; if it didn’t, why bother writing his blog in the first place? Casual use of disablist slurs reinforces society’s constant drumbeat message that disabled people are “less than”; given the demonisation disabled people face from all quarters at the moment, a movement against disablist language seems more vital than ever. How does Peter think societal change is effected, anyway? Oh wait, I forgot; he thinks language choices are “natural” and therefore beyond criticism, but also “a diverse, powerful, creative thing”. :vanishes in a puff of illogic:

 “the point is that intent is highly relevant” - oh lordy. It’s at this point that I think I must throw my hands up in despair. Melissa at Shakesville has a post which could have been tailor-written in response to Peter’s maunderings, so I’ll let her have the last word on that point.

 “I do genuinely think I have the right not to be told off repeatedly for my language, mainly by strangers, when I am hardly tweeting the most offensive content.” - how many times must it be said that “offence” isn’t the problem - oppression is? If Peter tweets in favour of, say, same-sex marriage, this is hugely “offensive” to large numbers of devout religious people who earnestly believe it is against their faith – but I hardly think he’d agree with the idea that he should self-censor his public support for the concept as a result. So why the double standard? “People are scared to speak on a medium that’s all about the free flow of thought and speech.” - well, the free flow of speech that does not challenge Peter or his mates, that is. It all becomes clear!

The final final word goes to my friend Tom, on Peter’s …interesting… use/misuse of logic:

 Was going to go through the whole thing as a logic revision exercise but I lost patience with it. I found:

Naturalistic fallacy (It’s NORMAL for people to use these words so it is OK to do so)

Ad Populum (The majority use these words/are not offended so it is OK to do so)

Fallacy of composition (just because his friend is comfortable with referring to herself as a loony it doesn’t mean that all people with MH issues are going to be comfortable with it)

Poisoning the well/genetic fallacy (Discrediting arguments because they come from twitter)

Ad Hominem (even though he never mentions anyone’s name, the “Twitter Taliban” is nothing more than an attempt at a personal attack)

Improper appeal to authority (his argument that “retard” is a medical term used by WHO doesn’t impact it’s offensiveness/the intent with which it is often used in every day speech)

There are numerous other problems with it, but these are just the fallacies I managed to identify with help from my crib sheet. I probably missed loads because I only skimmed the last half.

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5 responses to “Guest post: The same Online Wimmin Mob in hardly-even-different packaging

  • richb

    Part of the problem is that it is often more attractive (Less personally troubling, less damaging to status) for a person to stick to a position where you’ve done something wrong rather than apologise and admit your mistake.

  • spudman101

    ”the point is that intent is highly relevant”
    Intent is only relevant up to a point, you can intend whatever kind of inclusive message of equality you want but if you’re expressing it by flinging dog shit at people then your intent doesn’t count for much. What’s important is that people understand what you are trying to communicate, so if you accidentally include something that has a meaning you don’t endorse then it should be a pretty easy decision to drop the language that is causing the confusion.

    “Twaliban member is frequently taking offence on behalf of unnamed people in a group who might theoretically be hurt if they read the guilty party’s tweet”
    I like how this line links terrorism with feelings of empathy for people you don’t know personally. Its this kind of genius ass-hattery of the highest order that makes sarcasm and spoofs so difficult on the internet.

    • Boostick

      Not to mention that this particularly nasty quote assumes that marginalised people themselves are incapable of complaining.

      If I’m calling someone out for misogyny/ableism/homophobia/classism it’s because I’m a broke, disabled dyke, not because I’m some bored, mythical, tone terrorist who wants to pick on the poor menz, the beleaguered. able-bodied folks, or the terribly oppressed straight people.

  • jemima101

    This is wonderful, I read the original with my head, metaphorically, in my hands. I couldn’t understand if he was being deliberately disingenuous with the points about words people use to refer to themselves (I am a whore, I will eviscerate anyone civilian who calls me one) or if he really could not see the difference.
    I too have learnt so much from twitter, not just in terms of acceptable, non oppressive language, but about the lives and experiences of others. I suppose in some ways we should feel really sorry for him. If he has truly never come across someone who has changed his view on something, or given him insights which were outwith his experiences then he has a far less rich twitter experince than he could.

  • Jessica Burde

    ”the point is that intent is highly relevant”

    Person A: Excuse me, you’re stepping on my foot.
    Person B: Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your foot.
    Person A: I would accept your apology if you would get off of my foot.
    Person B: Well I don’t see what the big deal is, I SAID it wasn’t intentional.
    Person A: Get off of my foot.
    Person B: Just where do you get off telling me what to do with my feet?!
    Person A: You self-absorbed fuckhead, get off of my foot NOW.
    Person B: Why i never! you have no right to talk to me that way, and you have a serious anger problem. If you don’t stop harassing me right now you will regret it!

    Why do so many people seem to think that the minute you replace ‘stepping on my foot’ with ‘oppressing me’ Person B’s attitude is totally reasonable?

    Thanks for deconstructing this. I don’t have the stomach to read it myself, I’m afraid.

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