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Come one, come all! Feminist and Social Justice blogging as performance and bloodshed

Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings
Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams
Blinded by me, you can’t see a thing
Just call my name, ’cause I’ll hear you scream
Master
Master

Metallica, Master of Puppets

Introduction: in which I walk into the stage, with dimmed lights, and I explain my love of performance in a hushed and agreeable tone to create an intimate rapport with the audience

I started going to music concerts when I was fourteen. It was popular music, of course. My first concert was an Argentinian pop band which you most likely never heard of. But I was a fan. Oh yes, what a fan! I wrote a letter to the front man even! AND HE RESPONDED! and later, much later, as a matter of fact after he had already passed away (one of our first well known AIDS related fatalities), I found out that it was indeed his handwriting and that he had indeed responded personally. I suspect he responded personally because when I wrote to him, they weren’t yet as massively famous as they would later become. And I was fourteen and in love with this guy. He was also the sweetest, and much older than me (already in his late 30s); he had been in exile in Spain because of the dictatorship and he took the time to write to this wide eyed teen with nice and thoughtful words of encouragement. I had sent him a poem; laugh at me if you will, but I had been inspired by his lyrics which, in turn, were inspired by very well known Latin American poets that I had also been reading. And since I had struggled with words since I was eight, when I remember scribbling my first poem, I felt a kinship towards this musician, or so I thought at the time. (Incidentally, for some weird reason I still remember the first few lines of that first poem; it was horrible, don’t ask). This guy was also, at the time, a very original performer. I remember seeing him on stage, wondering what that performance was all about. His moves, his way of articulating words, the way he would sometimes stare at the audience. It was the first time I consciously noticed performance.

And I fell in love with it. So much so that later on I went to school to learn how to write for theater. I wanted to see my words on stage. I wanted to see words, not just in text form but performed, in movement. To me, words were actions. Then life happened and I did not pursue a career as a playwright, but that’s another post, this one is about performance. Which to this day is something I still love. Theater, dance, music. I go to as many events as my budget permits. I love music and particularly live music, with passion. If I can afford it, on a given weekend I can be found at a hiphop/breakdance opera and on the next day, at a concert by a Jazz Fusion Quartet, or Prince (talk about performance!). I guess you can say I am a big fan of the performing arts.

First Act: in which I introduce seemingly disparate characters that might make the audience uncomfortable and wonder if they should, instead, be devoting their time and resources to something more meaningful and perhaps more coherent

Have you ever heard of Bart Spring in ‘t Veld? No? Well, neither would have I if it wasn’t that he won the first Big Brother ever. Which by the way, took place in my adopted home country, The Netherlands. The first Big Brother ever started on September 16th, 1999. It was a creation of Dutch media tycoon John de Mol. And many years after winning this stepping stone in reality television; I would dare say, many years after winning the TV show that changed pop culture as we knew it, Bart stated:

“If it’s true that I helped to create that mindless monster, I’m not too proud of it…Big Brother took away the need to make inspiring programs and replaced them with mindless chatter. It’s time to put it in a museum for weird artifacts of television history.”

Big Brother did change TV. Or perhaps, what it changed is the way we watch TV. It was the first time we were allowed to see regular folks, people supposedly like us, in front of a camera, for long periods of time, as the center focal point. Doing nothing. Pretty much nothing. It is said that:

From a sociological and demographic perspective, this format allows the opportunity for analysis of how people react when forced into close confinement with people who lay outside their comfort zone, since they may hold different opinions or ideals from other contestants, or simply belong to a different group of people than a contestant normally interacts with. Indeed, the format is ideally suited to such analysis because the viewer is afforded the opportunity to see how a person reacts on the outside through the constant recording of their actions and also what they feel on the inside through the Diary Room/Confession Room. The results can range from violent or angry confrontations to genuine and tender connections (often including romantic interludes), providing entertainment to the public.

Not unlike blogging.

Because, oh yes, I almost forgot this one other detail: the very first free and widely available blogging platform, Blogger, was launched a mere three weeks prior to the debut of Big Brother, on August 23rd, 1999.

“Regular folks interacting with people who lay outside their comfort zone”. Just like blogging.

I suppose that if John de Mol would have known the impact of Blogger’s release back when he created Big Brother, he would have let out a yelp of joy (and subsequently he would have bought shares in the company).

Second Act: in which I stand real close to the edge of the stage, floodlight washing over me and as I stare intently into the audience, I ask “What does ‘the personal is political’ mean in the era of Reality TV?” 

I contend that Big Brother did not just change TV by giving way to spin offs, copy cats and expanding the concept of “Reality TV” even further. I suspect Big Brother and the whole phenomenon behind it changed the way we consume pop culture as a whole. There is a word I really dislike because it has been abused at the deepest pits of marketing jargon but I think reflects the phenomenon I am trying to get at quite well: we became prosumers; at once producers and consumers of cultural products. Marshall McLuhan predicted this in the ‘70’s, but it would take almost 30 years to materialize and it was in no small part, due to the simultaneous advent of Reality TV, blogging platforms and later on Social Media.

In 1969, Carol Hanisch wrote the seminal essay that would become one of the dogmas of Feminism. She wrote: The personal is political. And this simple statement took off like wildfire. It spread into not just feminism but Social Justice and activism in general, and into practically every Social related struggle. Because it is true, the personal IS political. However, if I can concern troll this accepted truism for a second, in the blogging world, I am afraid, this postulate is also used to justify all kinds of nonsense, to the point that more often than not, we can no longer draw meaningful connections that examine many “personals” to draw the patterns that identify them as “a collective” and, as such, a general problem affecting many that needs to be addressed and solved.

On Thursday evening, Sady, Emily, s.e. smith and myself were on Twitter discussing this new, contemporarily redefined meaning of “the personal is political”, in the context of this very piece that I was writing. Sady said something poignant:

Personal Is Political used to mean “tell story, listen to stories, find common elements, act. Here’s my experience. It connects to social structures. Those are lived.” Not “meeee, my paaaain.”

Because sadly, that’s what’s happening nowadays. As Emily put it, we are expected to create “pity porn”, more and more grief for shock value. Or as I like to call it, “the pornification of Social Justice Blogging”. Bloggers are expected to exhibit the personal and the political for your amusement. We flail ourselves open. We bleed for your entertainment. We tell the stories of our struggles, we write about our daily lives, about our encounters with oppression, we harangue you to take our side. And the reader, the audience receives this as a performance. Yes, for the benefit of our readership, we are perceived as performers of the political, not unlike the kind of performance expected from Reality TV. We play a part, we tell this or that side of the story, using this or that word and seeking such or such effect. But make no mistake. Every blogger, no matter how obscure or how popular, has chosen their words to the best of their abilities. They wish to convey a message, so they will carefully pick those words that better reflect both the personal and the political. However, for the audience, what they are projecting into the world is as “real” as Big Brother. A performance.

Which is not to say that bloggers lie or that the audience believes them to be liars; that is not what I am suggesting here. I am saying that, because bloggers put content out for a live audience, and with a live audience in mind, there is a strong performative aspect to it. And in turn, this audience, more often than not, is also part of the production cycle, not only commenting on the blog in question, but creating spin off content as well. Hence, the prosumers.

I’ll use an example from a very recent post of mine to illustrate what I am referring to. After I wrote the piece about Feminism and intersectionality, I had people message me in private with real concerns about the anger I described. Was I OK? Why was I so angry? Had I been yelling a lot? To which I have to say: it’s called literary artifice. Of course I wasn’t actually yelling all the time while I was writing that piece. Of course I wasn’t spitting fire while I drafted those words; sure, those words were used to convey a sentiment but if I had literally been screaming like I described every step of the way, I wouldn’t have been able to produce a text of such attempted depth. It’s not necessarily that I was lying or even embellishing what was going on, it is that writing requires a different mindset than just yelling. And that’s where the artifice comes into play. However, just like audiences are led to believe that everything going on in Big Brother is “natural, unscripted and organic”, people have taken to gaze at blogging in the same fashion: raw entertainment, with feelings! with political engagement! bloggers bare their souls!

This, in time, becomes a trap. In order to audition for the “BIG STARRING ROLE AS MEDIA FIGURE”, bloggers are required to constantly up their game. The audience demands MORE FEELINGS! MORE LIVED EXPERIENCE! MORE SOUL! MORE OPPRESSION! And so, to be perceived as a “genuine” performer in this “live entertainment” show, the blogger needs to outperform her peers. MORE PAIN, MORE SUFFERING! But in turn, this pain and suffering need to be perceived as authentic, the blogger should be wary of any artifice dripping into her “products”. So, that’s when the privilege checklist game begins, wherein the blogger needs to qualify every opinion by opening up with disclaimers to constantly prove her situational lived experience to the point that they can sometimes acquire parody proportions: “As a White, cis gender, right handed, myopic only from my left eye, gluten intolerant, middle class double income home owner, left leaning but politically independent woman, I believe Mercedes’ performance in Glee was vastly superior to Rachel’s”. Since for so many in the audience this is live entertainment, any potential end message is lost. The personal is no longer political, it is barely an amusement ride in your small town’s funfair. Now the audience can either embrace or reject the blogger’s opinion of Glee, not based on the weight of the opinion itself but on the plot points the blogger is required to constantly re-enact for the audience.

Third Act: in which the audience reacts strongly to my message and pelts me with tomatoes and other assorted rotten vegetables

And this performative aspect can take on a whole cruel turn as well. We are supposed to “stay in character” all the time, play the role that was assigned to us and perform it well, with soul, with passion. If you were lucky enough to get the role of “recognized feminist blogger” or “recognized name within Social Justice”, you should not deviate from the scripts that “feminist and/ or Social Justice blogging” are supposed to entail. Your opinions should be carefully weighted because if you say something wrong, the pelting of rotten vegetables begins. That is, if the blogger makes a mistake, the audience of prosumers will begin the collective dance commonly known in blogging as the “call outs”.

Call out culture, a phenomenon that casual readers might not even notice, is to me, the most toxic aspect of blogging. Not because it is set to correct wrongs and engage in meaningful ways to actually enact change. No, call out culture is toxic because it has developed as a tool to legitimize aggression and rhetoric violence. Its intent, at the root, is seemingly positive. Constructive even. It works more or less like this: I say something ignorant. Perhaps I make a statement that can be constructed as bigoted or maybe “problematic”. A favorite word in call out culture, problematic is more often than not, used to mean “I didn’t like it” or alternatively, “I disagree with you”. But instead of saying you, the audience disagrees with me, you will call my statement “problematic”. And because we have established that we are at once consumers and producers of media content, you create a blog post or a tweet or a Facebook update “calling me out”. And more often than not, in your post, you tell your readers, other prosumers, to please join you in this call out. BECAUSE THIS IS A SERIOUS WRONG THAT NEEDS TO BE CORRECTED! Unbeknown to me, there are now ten posts in ten different blogs and social media platforms calling me a “BIGOT AND THE WORST PERSON EVER”. Each time, every one of these posts escalating in rhetoric and volume. Each new post trying to outperform the previous one in outrage, in anger, in righteousness. This performance of acrimony and reproach turns into the “pile on”. And I will have to apologize for what I said. At this point, since I am nervous and probably anxious because I am being called THE WORST PERSON EVER, my apology will not be stellar. I might dig a deeper hole even, because hey, I cannot properly articulate when I feel that I am under duress. I might, at this point, say something that is truly, really “problematic”, not just perceived as such, but, to put it in plain words, I might say something shitty. AND OMG at this point the “call out” will escalate out of proportion. Now I am not just THE WORST PERSON EVER but since we have established that I was “a known feminist blogger” (and if I wasn’t up to that moment, I am now because my name is all over the internet!), then, it will be known that I, on my own, HAVE RUINED FEMINISM FOR EVER. And I, alone, will be proof of ALL OF FEMINISM’S PAST FAILURES. FOR EVER.

Call out culture might, at times, dangerously resemble bullying. However, it is not exactly the same. It certainly shares its outcome, however, unlike bullying, call out culture is part of the performative aspect of blogging. Unlike bullying, a call out is intended for an audience.

And here’s the thing, on the surface, call outs are done “for good”. Of course shitty statements need to be challenged, nobody would deny that. Of course those who are hurt by shitty statements deserve to be recognized in their grief and deserve a sincere apology. But that’s not at the root of “call out culture”. The intent behind it, more often than not, is just to make the one initiating the call out feel good, more righteous, more indignant, a “better person”. In the end, the call out is not done for the benefit of a collective goal, it is done for entertainment and shocking value. Call outs are to blogging what Big Brother voting rounds are to reality TV: you have been found wanting and you are now expelled from the house. Because, of course, this is what is rarely mentioned, someone might be attempting to audition for your seat. Someone who thinks they are more righteous, better, more politically engaged than you.

And oh, how the audience loves these moments! They amplify them because at their root, they are perceived as “drama”, a word often used to described these situations. Someone will jump in and say it “There is so much drama going on with [person who blogs] right now!”. I find it telling that we use a word so deeply connected to performance, drama, to define the central repercussion of call out culture.

At its deepest, call out culture is unquestionably reductionist. It forces us to “take sides”, to pick a side and stick to it, or else, to be “called out” as traitors. Say I, as a Latina, an essential focus of my political identity, am also interested in Health Care rights, more specifically, in Mental Health issues. A blogger who focuses on Mental Health and disability rights made a bigoted statement about Latin@s. I generally love this blogger, but this one statement was really bigoted. Now, I will be forced to “pick a side”. I either stand with my fellow Latin@s (how could I not?) or I stand with the other Health Care activists who are not necessarily defending the shitty statement but trying to bring some much needed perspective into the whole affair. But no, I *must* pick a side and stick to it. Within the context of call out culture, I *must* show my allegiance to one cause and one cause only. Nuance and intersectionality be damned. Because, as we have established above, the person being called out is obviously “the worst person ever” and nothing they have ever said and nothing they will say from this point forward has any value whatsoever.

There is this taboo behind call out culture as well. Because those who have been at the receiving end of a call out and its most visible consequence, the pile-on, will not speak of what happened to them in the aftermath. They will silently hope that the “audience” moves on and forgets the whole affair, which has usually been painful and emotional. But to say something of the phenomenon might trigger a whole new round of abuse. It might initiate a new round of pile ons, and further call outs, and further re-enactment of outrage in a never ending cycle. And I suspect one of the reasons it is taboo to speak of what happened is because “call out culture” is perceived as being “owned” by the oppressed, in the sense that the people initiating these call outs will, of course, do so because “they are being oppressed” by the “problematic” statements. That, right there, obturates any possible discussion: who would deny that a person who is oppressed has the right to react to their oppression in an expeditious manner? Who will point at an oppressed person and say “you have no right to react to your oppression”? A “call out” is like the Godwin Law of Social Justice blogging, once it is initiated, there is no further discussion, engagement can only come in the form of some deep self flagellation and profuse apologies. And of course, I have seen some recurring names in regular and persistent call out episodes ALSO make truly shitty statements on unrelated occasions. Sometimes even bigoted and deeply prejudiced statements. And those will remain unchallenged because who would want to trigger a possible backlash? Thus, the taboo and silence behind the phenomenon. We call it “drama”, the prosumer audience amplifying it because hey, who doesn’t want to stand by the oppressed?! Who doesn’t want to be one of the good guys?!!

What is rarely pointed out is that a person can be at once oppressed and an abuser.

Human beings are complex creatures, not these receptacles of “goodORevil”. At once good in some aspects and gross in others. Simultaneously oppressed and oppressors. However, in this performative culture of blogging all of this subtlety is often obscured. You are either “one of the good guys” or “you are the worst person ever”. You play the role of “hero” or you play “the villain”. However, I must question this dichotomy because call outs, and the modus operandi behind them, the pile-on, can potentially kill people. The most virulent call outs can exacerbate existing PTSD. They can drive a person to severe episodes of anxiety and/ or depression, they can lead someone to feel isolated and suicidal. It is a toxic and destructive phenomenon, wherein blog post after blog post are made, each escalating in virulence. And Social Media amplifies the episode, with Tweets and Facebook status and comments left on the person’s blog and eventually emails. Private emails (more often than not anonymous) with further abuse and further diminishing and denigrating language, with invitations to kill yourself, to stop “polluting the world” with your presence If the blogger in question is queer, they will be purposefully misgendered; if they are non White, they will be de-racialized to erase their context and background; if they speak English as a second language (which might sometimes explain the reason why they used some icky words to begin with), that tidbit will be downplayed or just plain ignored; if they are working class or poor, their class struggles deliberately obscured or just completely obliterated (even in cases when the very same class and educational background could explain the originally “problematic” statement that triggered the call out to begin with). And again, I must insist on the insidious nature of this culture: who would dare say a thing about it when it is supposedly done against oppression? So the recipient of a call out is isolated (remember what I mentioned about being forced to take sides?), told by a crowd of prosumers who are fascinated by this “drama” that they are worthless, not even deserving of the air they breath.

And we, in the blogging community, cheer and applaud this behavior. Moreover, we actively take part in it. And if not, we remain silent because well, AGAIN, who would speak up against “fighting oppression”?

Fourth Act: in which there is no Deus ex Machina but the ultimate artifice is revealed and we all lose but the kyriarchy, as usual, remains triumphant over all of us

No. Really. We all lose. Because all of this performance and the cycles of abuse and the outdoing each other for entertainment get us nowhere. They are distractions and, more often than not, they obscure most structural analysis. And what is worse, they end up silencing valuable and meaningful people who burn out from participating in this, our culture.

I do not write because I have hopes of changing the world at large. I write to overcome loneliness. Yours, mine, ours. I put out these words every day hoping that we will see each other for whom we truly are: difficult, fucked up, monstrous, generous, brilliant, capable of immense good and capable of unspeakable evil. I write because I know that I am inhabited by all of these potentials. And I know that so are you. Each and every one of you is capable of all the goodness and of all the awfulness. But words are all I have to exorcise the possible hurtful outcomes. My words which have always been actions, a call to act. A DEMAND to action. However, just like each and everyone of you, I am not the one pulling the strings of this performance. Or, if you prefer, neither of us is the Puppet Master. Instead, we are part of a bigger, much bigger stage where we are set to play our parts, not just as bloggers but as human beings. But we do have some degree of control. We can choose the part we will play today, we can pick the words that we will say and the actions that those words will entail. And that’s what lays at the bottom of my blogging and writing: a desire to unmask the ultimate artifice, or, better said, I write to unmask how the kyriarchy makes us active and necessary participants, how each and every one of us is a necessarily complicit actor to perpetuate it.

Be it patriarchal heteronormativity, or racism or anti queer hatred, or transphobia, xenophobia, misogyny, sexism, ageism, bigotry, fatphobia, misandry, or any of the hundreds of possible prejudices: all of them are potentially within me. And within you. Because we cannot escape the structures we are part of, we cannot avoid being at once oppressed and oppressors. But it is not all doom and gloom, there IS a way out of it and it is by remaining actively aware of these potentials within us. By being conscious of them. However, I contend that this performative culture that has taken hold of us, be it in blogging or participating in Social Media at large has also obscured this awareness of our potentials. Because we are supposedly “the good guys”. We are the ones “fighting oppression!” So common wisdom dictates that we are “the heros!” in this narrative and the villains, the “bad guys”, are the ones who stand against us. And we buy into this narrative because it is comforting, it is reassuring, it makes us feel good about ourselves. However, the perversity of it is not readily apparent: while we position ourselves as “the good guys”, we necessarily need an antagonist, someone who needs to be positioned as “the villain”. And herein lays the perversity: more often than not, this same oppressive structure places our antagonist within Feminism and/or Social Justice. And you know why I think we are constantly positioned against each other? Because we all care. In our own ways, sometimes completely unaware of our potential for prejudice but we do care, and we respond and we engage, in a never ending cycle that is simultaneously our collective strength and the root of some of the most abusive and vile aspects of our culture.

Before I exit for today, I would like to leave one final thought, which is neither a demand, nor a plead but a reflection: I would like to believe that amidst all of these cries for performances of grief, amidst the intra community abuses and the dilution of the bigger pictures in the name of a constant requirement to outperform each other as a form of entertainment, we can do better. We need to be the change we demand in others. We cannot claim to be against these injustices while, at the same time, we either unknowingly perpetuate them or remain silent while others do so. Change, after all, can only start from within, and, without a deep examination of how our own actions are part of this, there will not be any significant shift. There will only be more seasons of reality TV blogging and media engagements. And there is nothing revolutionary or radical in Reality TV by now, there is just voyeurism and inane navel gazing.

38 Comments

  1. Creatrix Tiara wrote:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

    OMG YES. This is why I’m moving away from Tumblr (and when I see this elsewhere I call it the Tumblr effect just because I spot it on Tumblr so often). Nuance is totally lost on people. As you said, everything is black and white; even your choice of pop culture/fandom make you a GOOD or BAD person. Not everyone’s politics can be 100% pure, and what does that even *mean* anyhow?

    Thank you for bringing up people whose English is not their first language. I remember writing something about that and having someone tell me I’m just being a transphobe apologist. Just because I said some people don’t always get the idea of English pronouns and so aren’t meaning to misgender you on purpose. SERIOUSLY. Who decides what is “Right” and “wrong” language anyway? Who is this mysterious Tumblr cabal that sets the rules for language policing and decides that something’s xyz-ist? As it is, those rules are often so centered on a particular national political experience – one that most of the world doesn’t share just by circumstance.

    So much effort on saying or not saying the right things. So little time on actually *doing* anything useful. I highly doubt that many people that go on about “YOU SAID ‘CRAZY’ THAT’S ABLEIST!!!” actually give more of a damn about mental health issues than the Crazy-Sayers. Sometimes I see it as the other way around.

    bah.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  2. anarres wrote:

    Really useful post. I think one thing we can do is encourage each-other to make sure our constructive feedback is really constructive. I like the concept of a ‘feedback sandwich’: if you want to offer someone a criticism, sandwich it between two compliments. That shows that you value the person’s work as well as wanting to offer criticism, and it makes it more likely that the person will be able to hear the criticism instead of becoming defensive.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink
  3. I, too, hate “call out culture” as much as I kinda love it and participate in it. Behind the keyboard, I assume strength due in no small part to the fact that in many other aspects of my life I am weak. Oppressed, oppressor, oppressed, oppressor…. et cetera, ad infinitum.

    Ugh.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  4. Kaz wrote:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for writing this.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  5. Caitlin wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing this. You’ve eloquently laid out the ways in which social justice blogging can go terribly, terribly wrong, and why it is so important we try to get this right. We can and should be willing to point out flaws in others thinking, but we should not lose sight of our common humanity.

    Also, your point about the “call out” often being performed for the sake of the audience is spot-on. I’ve seen way too much peacocking disguised as constructive criticism in the world of social justice blogging, and it’s just sad, really.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    @Anarres: Yeah. I recently read four “rules of critique” that make more sense to me than anything else, in this regard:

    1) Negative feedback has to be specific. Not “OMG you’re the worst,” or “that post sucked,” but “I think your statement that Roman Polanski has ‘suffered enough’ reflects the common belief that to accuse a man of sexual assault is somehow more traumatic than an assault itself, which is harmful,” or “when you make jokes about Brooklyn as ‘white,’ I see that you’re talking about some specific subcultures, but you’re also ignoring Brooklyn’s long history of communities of color, which makes me feel invisible.”

    2) Positive feedback also has to be specific. Not “I love you,” or “you’re the best,” but “I really appreciated your points about intersectionality in call-out culture,” or, “it was good that you stressed how reproductive rights can be a trans* issue and is related to the state control of the gendered functions of people’s bodies.”

    3) The intent has to be to improve the work. This is, I think, where some “call-out culture” flounders — sometimes it really can be about “drama” or prosumer entertainment, or just about positioning Team A as superior to Team B; one real easy way to show that you are The Best Social Justice Person is to spend a lot of time talking about how other people are Less Good Social Justice People, or to echo popular “critiques,” or to shun everybody who’s ever been called “problematic.” Which I know, because I’ve done that. This is not to say that call-outs aren’t often also legitimate expressions of anger and pain; they are. But when you level a critique, your ultimate goal should be to show somebody how a certain weakness or problem detracts from their work, not to damn them to Hell.

    4) If it is possible, and if it is safe for you, level the critique directly before you level it publicly. If you don’t feel that it’s safe to do this, that’s fine. I’ve been warned not to engage with certain people in the SJ sphere because they had a pattern of abusive behavior, such as using personal details from private communications to shame people publicly, or creating an abusive “I hate you/don’t leave me” dynamic, where intense verbal abuse is alternated with seemingly loving and friendly behavior. But if it is possible and safe, try talking to someone before you talk about someone — this is complicated, on the Internet, where there are less clear boundaries between people you “know” and people you don’t know — because that can create the difference between an actual “call-out,” and actual conflict resolution, and “drama” or intentional public humiliation.

    This might not be perfect, and probably it is not, so I encourage people to tell me what’s not perfect about it. But all of this made sense to me, as a guideline for making critique possible within a social justice “community.”

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Servalbear wrote:

    I wanted to thank you for writing this article. I look forward to reading what you write and agree on most points. The crushing call outs and “The Worst Person Ever” is something I see a lot in comments and the pile-on in other blogs. You are right: We can do better.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady wrote:

    AND ALSO! On the specific-goods tip, I imagine this post’s discussion of call-out culture (which I too have come to think of as “the Tumblr effect,” maybe just because the way that platform is structured makes it more visible — it’s typically about conversations among networks, not so much about individual essays, and that amplifies what “call-outs” look like) will be most picked-up on, as it’s something everybody has some experience and strong feelings about, on both sides.

    BUT. I have to say, I resonated really strongly with the talk about “showing scars” and constantly performing the pain of your own oppression, in order to be a credible voice. Like, I feel that sometimes to be heard, I have to say “as a survivor of sexual assault, and a survivor of emotional abuse, and a survivor of domestic violence, and a person with depression and social anxiety, and a person with a complicated class background, and this, and that, and the other.” And sometimes, that frankly feels unsafe to me. Because a lot of the hate-blogging I get is about how I’m too “fucked up” to be a credible voice, or how I’m only a feminist because I hate men or have a “pathological victim complex” or whatever, and this isn’t just random MRAs and scary dudes; some people who could loosely be considered “colleagues” have done this. Any personal detail I expose can later be used against me — one hate-blogger’s whole thesis is that I turned evil because my father abused me, and am now Taking It Out On The Mens, and have these very specific and highly stigmatized forms of mental illness that he’s diagnosed for me, and etc — and so having to list every traumatic experience of my life in order to establish that I have the right to talk feels really harmful. And there are some experiences and details about my life I’m not going to talk about on the Internet. There are some very specific things about my life that I regret talking about publicly, or that I don’t wish to talk about yet, and there are steps I take to make sure I’m not flaying myself open every time I write something, because I know I have a tendency to do that, and I know the results have been unhealthy for me.

    I also, for whatever reason, have a really strong reaction against portraying myself as a “victim.” That could be healthy, it could be a defense mechanism, but I know that it feels manipulative and uncool, for me, to write something if I feel like the end result is getting sympathy or claiming that my pain is somehow special or important or unique. But I also know that I have used my “victimhood” to manipulate people, and I have seen people disingenuously manipulate others with “pain,” which is something that disempowered people learn how to do, often women especially — when we can’t exercise real power, or seem to want power openly, we get it by passive-aggressiveness or guilt-tripping or other forms of manipulation. The urge to have to identify every scar you have all too easily turns into a competition over whose scars are “real,” whose wounds hurt the most, who is the biggest victim. Which is not to say that some people aren’t more oppressed than others, or that some people haven’t actually had harder lives than others; it only seems to me that a competition over who’s the biggest victim turns really easily into a way of disavowing our own power, or painting anyone we disagree with as far more powerful and less in pain than we are. Which is not good, and connects back to call-out culture again, because once you’ve denied someone else’s capacity to experience pain, or established your own pain as greater, or painted them as “powerful” and thus not fully human, you then get to do whatever you want.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  9. Jane wrote:

    This is a pretty great article (post?), so I thank you for writing it. I definitely have chosen to distance myself from certain blogs that are deeply involved in “call out culture,” because the anxiety it causes me to read them sort of negates whatever good I might get out of them. I also think that continually exposing myself to call-out culture primed me to be in that kind of combative, attack-ready mindset almost constantly, which was exhausting and not very helpful. I don’t know. It’s sort of hard to balance impulses — no one owes anyone explanations and education, and everyone has a right to voice their anger, but yet! It’s the call outs that seem more intent on declaring someone not worth anyone’s time or consideration that discourage me. I agree that Tumblr can be a haven for this kind of behavior. I was almost glad when Sady dropped off of Tumblr — not because I didn’t like to read her more quickly composed thoughts on pop culture and music and things, because I did, but because she sort of became a lightning rod for anger and aggression — some legitimate, but often seemingly displaced from other causes — to strike. And yeah, it was kind of frightening, especially because I am the sort of person who gets sick to my stomach when people tell me I’m wrong and foolish, so watching someone else put forward a strong opinion and then be verbally battered against it is . . . . not my worst nightmare, but close.

    (Though! Some people are really good at furthering discussion in a format that could be called a “call out,” and I’ve seen a lot of good discussion happen on Tumblr in this way. Though it often takes the form of “hey here’s something you missed, now I am going to discuss it” rather than “you fucked up you stupid fucker.”)

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  10. In addition to the harmful effects you mentioned, @Sady, I’d like to add another one. Say there is a teacher or a civil servant who has struggled all their lives with a specific issue, like mental health issues or addiction or what have you. Now, this person writes a generic blog post about the topic because of some current event. If this person is pushed to “qualify” their opinion from personal experience, they could risk some serious backlash. Backlash that could potentially involve loss of jobs, being ostracized in their own community, etc, etc. There is this general demand, within the performative culture I tried to touch upon where everyone should be “outed” in order to be allowed to participate in discussions. There is little room for hushed tones, or understated approaches. In order to have your opinion considered as “authentic” and “valid”, you MUST bear it all out. That is dangerous and potentially very harmful.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  11. Jane wrote:

    Another thought on the (perhaps unintended?) repercussions of blogging performativity/call-out culture:

    I have never identified myself as a feminist. The reason is not because of feminism’s history of fucking up with race, trans, and class issues, but more or less because I come from a conservative family who I love and respect, even when I don’t agree with their politics. It’s hard to reconcile my love for and, yes, pride in, my family (who often embody everything that progressive activists criticize) with a social justice blogging culture (most/all of my exposure has been online) that says “you are either with us or against us,” and “you cannot associate with people who do not have impeccable social justice credentials.” I can’t and won’t disassociate myself from my background, which I always figured made me sort of a hypocrite if I tried to claim feminism — not the idea of women’s equality, but all of the status quo-rejecting culture that comes with it — as my own.

    That being said, I know I also perform a certain kind of dishonest dance where I can criticize my family/my area online, thus making myself LOOK like I am concerned with matters of social justice, while I know that I need the emotional and monetary support of my family too much to ever take those performances into the “real world.” So I am often very conscious of presenting what I think of as an “acceptable progressive commentator” facade on my tumblr, while my actual opinions are often far more ambiguous and difficult to explain, especially because I’m scared of being attacked if I fuck it up.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  12. Kaz wrote:

    Actually havng the spoons to contribute to the discussion now…

    In addition, it feels as if – as a result of this, there’s a feeling that identities have to be cast in stone and that there are no shades of grey, no questioning, no in-betweens. You must submit your laundry list o’oppressions and privileges upon demand (no, “still sorting things through” or “too painful” or any other reason for “unwilling to talk about this stuff with other people” isn’t allowed), and those must fit perfectly into the categories that the people expect and must never ever change!

    Which – identity doesn’t work that way. People don’t work that way. Four years ago, I identified much differently to how I do now. And that can make it difficult for people who aren’t secure in or are unwilling to talk about certain things to engage in dialogue.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink
  13. Thanks for this post, Flavia, I especially agree with what you said about saying “that’s problematic” vs. “I don’t like it/I disagree.” If you disagree with someone, just be direct! “I disagree with your assertion that _____, because ________.” And don’t apologize for why you disagree or make it about your feelings, just disagree! Argue! Make your points!

    Also, I appreciate what Sady said here! As someone who teaches at an art school it’s a nice summation of what critique is supposed to do – you approach it from a standpoint of trying to make the work better (and make future work better).

    Assuming we’re talking about conversations in social justice spaces where most of the readers share at least some of each other’s opinions/concerns/priorities about life and we want to keep talking to each other, what I’d add Sady’s list is: WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK A QUESTION. It’s not always possible to take issue with something in private/via email for the reasons Sady outlined (you can’t assume email conversations are actually private, also, blogs do have comment sections for a reason). But if you strongly disagree with something a blogger wrote, and it seems really out of character with other work of theirs you like, just say:

    “I disagree with your statement about _____, because ________. What makes you think that is true?” or “Are you aware of ______ that disproves ______?” Or “I used to think ______, too, but then I experienced ________, and it changed my perspective in _________ way.”

    You can disagree violently with people, or think they fucked up, but there is a way to point that out that absolutely registers your disagreement/disappointment/anger but keeps the lines of conversation open.

    Other manners things:

    -Actually READ the post and the comments before you jump in to call people out?

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  14. of making many books wrote:

    This conversation– particularly Flavia’s discussion of performance and Sady’s contribution to the comments– is spookily reminiscent of something I’ve been struggling with. I recently embarked on the perhaps-quite-foolish adventure of re-establishing contact with an ex-boyfriend who had acted abusively to me in the past. Part of my feminist journey was 1. first recognizing that this was abuse, and that I could re-claim myself, and that this shit didn’t take place in a vacuum apart from kyriarchy; then later 2. realizing that he and I are human beings with deep struggles that are not black and white and that, although what happened to me was still fucked up, victimhood did not really suit me very well either.

    I had tried to articulate my experiences with this into a long memoirish piece of writing, but have not been able to even open the file for about eight months because it feels *so manipulative*. Despite how honestly I tried to represent what happened, it absolutely felt like a performance of victimhood/hero vs. villain that I was using to garner sympathy. (On top of it, it’s not lost on me that I am white and he is a POC, although I didn’t factor this into my representation.) So now the question I struggle with is, how CAN I represent my own experiences without falling into this trap of performative oppression? I don’t know the answer, but will keep trying to find my voice in it.

    Yesterday, as we began to realize over the phone that re-established contact was a really bad idea, I found myself teetering the extremely blurry line between saying “Hey! You can’t disregard my worldview, that would be oppressive! You must listen!!!” (that’s what SJ blogs kind of say, right?) and wondering if I was using my previous victimhood/status as a woman to manipulate his current behavior in light of our fucked up history… i.e. exactly what Flavia said about being both oppressed and oppressor at the same time. These questions are really difficult and complicated and messy (I guess kind of like… LIFE!?), and I appreciate you bringing them to light here with the nuance that is necessarily to our survival as full-fledged human beings.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  15. nktw wrote:

    Thanks for this – I think it’s an important discussion, as seems to be par for the course for Flavia (and TBD in general, TBH).

    I’ve always liked the idea of call-outs; I like knowing where I’ve gone wrong and I like learning. However, I’ve been in situations where the call out ‘goes bad’ as above, and I have wanted to explain or enter into a discussion about it and I’ve known that it’s Not Done, and it wouldn’t be taken well – probably dismissed as ‘X-splaining’ or whatever. I’ve also been around those situations as well, and felt badly for people who seemed to really just want to explain a different (or even controversial) viewpoint that’s valid but ‘problematic’ to the larger group discussing it.

    Every time I look at these sorts of discussions, I feel like it is indeed important to talk about language and nuance, and people need to be educated, but at the same time, I wonder how much it hurts communities to jump all over people who have good intentions. It’s one of those messy arguments, but I don’t think calling out people publicly and bashing them while they’re not even around to type back is all that fair. If you’re even just ‘social media friends’, I’d think it’d be nice to say ‘hey, y u so x-ist today?’ rather than tell your whole timeline someone’s an asshole.

    I’m not usually one to hide behind names and shit, but I have recently partially due what we’re talking about here.

    Also the point about PTSD and other mental difficulties are well taken. Here’s my qualifier: as a diagnosed and medicated depressive, I can tell you that some of the shit I’ve seen would drive me into my bed for days if it had happened to me in the wrong mood. It’s not okay to pick on people, whatever the reason. It’s ALWAYS okay to try to make them better people.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  16. Sady wrote:

    @of making: Well, yeah. But I have to add — I AM NOT A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, necessary disclaimer — that doing this within a context of a relationship that’s been abusive can be really difficult, because so much of an abusive dynamic is about taking away your ability to see the truth of what happened. Especially if that truth leads you to the conclusion that you were victimized.

    I’ve been in some situations with people wherein every known instance of contact reduced me to tears, and I kept trying to “resolve” this. And I was this strong feminist woman, who clearly knew what abuse was, but every single person in my life was telling me that these people — it wasn’t just one instance, I had a pattern of being attracted to certain relationships for a while, both platonic (often female!) friends or people I dated, probably because of my background — were abusive to me, and that contact with these people turned me into, quite literally, a different woman, a very unhealthy woman. They could spotlight specific changes in my behavior over time, when I was exposed to these people, and they could also spotlight how I became healthier, happier and more confident when we did not have contact for a few days or for a longer period of time. They could isolate and specify instances in which they had quite literally witnessed the abuse as it occurred; sometimes, with less careful or more confident abusers, they would slip and do it right in front of my family or my friends. (Telling me stories about how “no-one liked me, they were the only people I could count on,” or whispering into my ear that my mother was “trying to turn me against them” — in front of my mother, that happened! — or just straight-up yelling at me for things I clearly hadn’t done wrong, like if a dish broke and it was my fault for not buying better dishes.) They could also point me to stories I had told them, about what was going on, that I had presented as “just normal conflict,” or the people “having a bad day,” and which were clearly instances of abuse. And I would keep going, because an essential part of some abuse is that it makes you unable to identify what’s actually happening.

    And I had to get help to identify that. I had to see that the strategic silencing and denial and double-binds or double-talk continued, so that I would begin the conversation all strong and ready to resolve the conflict and ask for some accountability, and end it promising complete “absolution” or begging for forgiveness. I had to learn to identify the silencing. (“I don’t mean to shut you down, but hearing about how I hurt you makes me really guilty, so I can’t talk to you.”) The clearly contradictory and untrue statements. (“I can’t recall whether I ever really liked you — I don’t trust my memory that much — but here’s what you ate for lunch and what you were wearing on the day that you pissed me off three years ago.”) The double-binds. (“I really want to be your friend, because I care about you, but when you ask me for support, or for a specific kind of treatment, that makes me not want to be your friend.”) The specific denials of accountability, and warnings against asking for accountability, framed as guilt-trips. (“I hear what you’re saying about how I hurt you, but it always really hurts my feelings when you claim the moral high ground by pointing out my behaviors and acting as if I’m hurting you; it’s like you don’t want me to be happy or feel good about myself.”) The blaming. (“I’m not saying you deserved it, but can’t you think of how you were actually way worse, and sort of made me do that to you?”) The gradual progression toward telling me outright what I thought or felt, and what to think or do next. (“I think what we both want here is to be forgiven, absolutely, with no conditions, and with a promise never to bring up what we both did again. Why don’t you go first, and ask me to forgive you?”)

    This isn’t the stuff that specifically takes the form of yelling at you for not wearing a bra, or making you quit your job, or calling you names, or hitting you. What it is, is the groundwork that prepares the way for those overt acts of abuse, and which makes you unable to identify the other person’s behavior as wrong over time — what makes you ready to blame yourself when the abuse occurs. Because honestly, if all of this didn’t happen first, you would notice that this person treats you like crap and you would respond. But when the narrative is re-written, and you’re being systematically gaslighted, there’s no way to know what is actually going on.

    So this is my long-winded way of saying that right now, it’s probably not good to write about this publicly, for a whole lot of reasons — you might want to avoid retaliation, you might not trust what you’re feeling right now, you might just need more time to have your experience and sort through it. But I would also caution against shaming yourself for feeling like a “victim” in regard to a person who’s treated you abusively in the past. I’m not saying you’re being gaslighted, I’m saying that interactions with previous abusers often still contain the subtle groundwork for abuse. Right now, trusting your feelings — that what this person did was not OK, and that you can feel mad about it for as long as you want without that being inappropriate, and that you are only responsible for handling your anger without being abusive yourself — is the best way forward. If you’re worried about your behavior, you can run it by a trusted therapist, preferably one who works with abuse survivors, and he or she can tell you whether or not it’s OK. But don’t give this person the power to decide whether your feelings are OK right now. They’ve probably shown that they will abuse that power, if given the chance.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  17. @Of Making Many Books, I’m sorry you’re going through that. You describe it so, so well.

    I’m also not a mental health professional, but one thing I suggest doing is writing down the story of what happened with your ex in a notebook, in a series of stories. Give yourself prompts and a title. “The story of the time ___ happened.”

    Write it down for yourself, as it occurs to you, completely without judgment. Then read it out loud – to the walls, to the cat, to a trusted friend.

    Do this for a while, until you’ve collected a few stories. Go back and read the earlier ones. Look for truths and patterns. Look for blind spots, wishful thinking, rose-colored glasses. But be really easy on yourself – all that matters in this is YOUR subjective experience.

    Then, once you’ve gotten some things out and sat with it for a while, think about reshaping it for an audience.

    This works really well for me in making art. I need the step where I just vomit out material with no judgment, preconception, or “shape” – it will be what it will be. And then I need the step where I shape it into something that I want to say. If I try to do both at the same time, the cycle of qualifying every statement (tedious) or second-guessing every emotion (tedious and depressing) swallows the work.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink
  18. Tablesaw wrote:

    When Kaz mentioned things being set in stone, it got me thinking about something that undergirds the OP, but isn’t explicitly mentioned. When it comes to Big Brother and blogging, the performance isn’t just public, it’s also recorded, whether it’s on the videotape of reality television or the archives of the internet. So we don’t get the chance to quietly revise how we perform, or change our performances for different people, because there’s *one* performance that’s public and documented that everyone can see at any time when they want to find out about you.

    I keep thinking aout the Jay Smooth video about the difference between talking about what someone *did* and who they *are*. When a person is defined (and to some extent self-defined, because blogging reflects back on us to) by their documented performance, then the line between what you did and who you are can be hard to find, if it even exists sometimes.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  19. Rich wrote:

    This is a great piece and points to the problem of American/Modern culture. When we hate someone, whether in our minds or online, we take away their humanity. This is sooo dangerous and has happened time and time again throughout history. Keep writing!

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  20. of making many books wrote:

    Wow! Thank you for your responses. I don’t mean to hijack the thread here so I will try to stay on topic-ish.

    What’s even more complicated about the situation is that the abuse itself was not black and white either. It wasn’t textbook– he was never physical, he never undermined me, etc. But for various reasons (both of us had troubled backgrounds) a lot of boundaries were blurred, and I was too young to know what to do about it (he was 8 years older). I have invested a lot over these past few years in inscribing those boundaries, hence me thinking that I could handle interacting with him again (we still care about each other as people blah etc.)… but for the exact reasons that you outline, Sady, I’m beginning to realize that it’s a LOT more complicated than that in practice. It is really fucking tricky to navigate the waters of acknowledging that binary-style victimhood can be used disingenuously (and that I have done it), while not, y’know, victim-blaming myself over it, or cutting someone who acted abusively in the past unnecessary slack.

    What sucks is that, prior to first extricating myself from this situation 3 years ago, I was a pretty prolific artist and writer. I have not had a steady creative practice since. It’s really hard when you’ve already been silenced (and I think here’s where I can bring this back to Flavia’s post) to give in to taking an indefinite amount of time to not say anything, without feeling like you’re “letting them win”… especially when your identity is wrapped up in expressing yourself, and especially given that we are pretty much trained by our culture to equate having a public voice with success.

    Yet like you say Captain Awkward, if we try to speak out when our subjectivities have been totally destabilized, it’s like an echo chamber of second guesses and attempts at justification (which I imagine is also why people don’t talk much about their call-out experiences). At least that’s how it felt in my own writing, anyway. Rather than having a firm grounding in myself, I kept seeing what I was doing through the eyes of an audience that would potentially validate me– not unlike the camera in Big Brother, or theories of the male gaze/double consciousness. I imagine some bloggers can relate?

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  21. samanthab wrote:

    I wouldn’t mention if I thought it was nothing more than petty details, but I would not Big Brother is generally regarded by entertainment types as having evolved out of MTV’s “Real World,” and that “Real World’s” prototype came out of public television, from the series “Seven Up” that started in 1964. I’m saying this because it’s important to recognize that this was something percolating for some time, that the disconnection that mass media promotes in contemporary society come out the other end in some fashion. A highly disingenuous fashion, of course, but one that exploits are need to feel intimately connected to our fellow human beings. We reached a point where overtly fictional characters didn’t satisfy that need anymore; we became to cynical and informed to believe that Jennifer Aniston is really our friend, or someone we could plausibly identify with. Clearly “reality tv” creates a highly manufactured understanding of our fellow human beings, but, at least for now, it works better than overtly manufactured characters to satisfy that need to connect.

    I tend to think Andy Warhol was absolutely correct to suggest that this was late capitalism’s next step, to ask us to keep with our neighbors the Jonses, who are really nothing more than scripted salespeople. How much crap do the Kardashians et al. foist upon the world? How many magazines do they sell? They’re just this side of being happy meal characters that come with your Big Mac. It’s sad to see our basic empathy for other human beings exploited and fucked with to this extent, but I think, given this, it’s not surprising that people have lost the sense that there’s a real goddamned human behind a blog post. Do we even know what a “real” human being is anymore? I’m not saying that we return to the days of carrier pigeon, but I do think it’s important to be mindful of and interrogate the impacts of mass media on our freaky, frail human psyches.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  22. Mary wrote:

    Thank you for the article Flavia. I have been part of the odd private discussion about aspects of this dynamic for a long time with people it’s affected.

    I was immediately reminded also of danah boyd’s article for the NYT, about how some teenagers reframe bullying using the same word “drama” and thus apparently diminish to themselves what they are doing and what is being done to them. This dynamic seems related although perhaps more complex: perhaps both enhancing abusive behaviour as fighting oppression, and diminishing it as silly online fights at the same time.

    Monday, October 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  23. Story wrote:

    Eloquently stated, and I thank you for it.

    It gets me thinking about the ideas that underlie that either/or, black/white, good/bad mentality is something which permeates American culture, and I think you’ve laid bare how it functions in this community. What you said about it being a comfort is a pattern I’ve noticed– it’s easy to fall into the either/or mentality because it’s simple, and simple things are digestible when the world is often scary, complicated, and quite honestly, dangerous. That simplification seems to be a fallback mechanism of the overwhelmed in this culture, and I’ve been attempting over time to delve into how and why people do just that. Again, thank you.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink
  24. k wrote:

    As Ta-Nehisi Coates says about oppression, that boot on your neck isn’t ennobling, it’s a boot.

    Why would being treated like shit purify us of abusive potential? We all need to be vigilant of the ways this world has warped us. Because we all have the ability to hurt each other.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink
  25. Robin Turner wrote:

    A very perceptive analysis. Like Captain Awkward, I particularly liked the callout part and the way weasel words like “problematic” are used to attack people without actually engaging them in argument. Back in the 1980s, when I was a lot more active than I am now, the word was “offensive.: A claasic line was “I find that offensive.” This is a very clever use of presupposition: your claim is not that you have been offended but that you have FOUND that the statement is offensive, a pre-existing fact which is not up for debate.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink
  26. slutego wrote:

    This is a valuable fucking thing.
    Props on managing a nuanced breakdown of how “call-outs” can go toxic; it’s something I’ve been struggling to articulate in my own life recently, so this came at a very timely moment.

    I do, however, hate the idea of call-outs becoming seen as a bad thing in and of themselves, or rather, the term coming to mean “back-biting drama stirring + one-upmanship” by defaul, rather than ConCrit as I’ve always understood it’s prime use to be. The silencing is a definite problem, though.

    Anyway, I’ll probably be linking this a lot in the future. More than I’d like to, as this is way too frequent a happening.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  27. scien wrote:

    Thank you, this post really coherently described a few exchanges I’ve seen that have stuck in my mind for some time. It disturbs me that to this day when I hear the names of certain bloggers/writers/artists the first thing that I associate them with isn’t their main body of work, it’s some ‘drama’ or ‘fail’ they were involved in. Sometimes serious, but sometimes over one word they used thoughtlessly, which then escalated every time they attempted to defend themselves. And it disturbs me even more to realise that in my mind I’ve often firmly picked a side, just based on who out-wrote who in those exchanges. What even is that? I really wish I wouldn’t do that.

    I’ve had to step away from a lot of blogs I used to read and stick to just a couple I particularly admire (such as this one!) because I found being immersed in the back and forth, constantly amplifying exchanges between multiple social justice blogs when they were talking about each other just wore me out while having very little effect on anything that I could see – except to make me absolutely determined to never, ever get involved in this particular area as a contributor.

    Like the first commenter on this page, I’ve also found that some words are lightning rods for criticism and instant righteousness. People just can’t jump in there fast enough when they see them, even if their own positions on the issues aren’t all that well thought out. My favourite example of this is from a sex advice community on LiveJournal, where I once saw a commenter smugly ‘call out’ another commenter for using the word ‘clean’ in the context of STI test results (because that implies by its opposite that having an STI is in some way ‘dirty’, which is not cool) but then proceeded to give their advice to the original poster in the following way: ‘[you should definitely continue to use condoms because] you won’t be thinking quite this casually if you end up contracting some kind of nasty-ass infection from her.’. And yes, that is verbatim, I just looked up the original.

    That comment is four years old if it’s a day but it still sticks in my head as encapsulating everything that’s wrong with reflexive responses to words or phrases that you know are Just Wrong, and the need to examine whether your position on these terms is something you truly understand and agree with, or whether it’s functioning as more of a signal for who’s in the enlightened in-group at the moment and providing an opportunity to one-up someone to feed your own self image.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  28. anon fangirl wrote:

    [Sorry for the double-post, I cleaned up the punctuation and I also had a random "there" where it shouldn't have been. Pretty please delete the other one?]

    I think this isn’t so much a “call-out culture” problem as a “human nature” problem. I agree with Slutego and Scien — on the one hand, people need to be able to say, “Hey, I think that was racist/sexist/etc.” And marginalized people are so often slapped with “the tone argument.” And we all know that anger is very important, especially to people most often told to swallow that anger. So, what do you do about that? Sady’s rules make a lot of sense if Blogger A, calling out Blogger B, wants a dialogue with Blogger B, wants Blogger B to change. But what if Blogger A doesn’t want that? *Should* Blogger A want that?

    On the other hand, as everyone’s been saying, this stuff can get so toxic, so fast, and sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re adding to the toxicity until after the brouhaha’s over. The social pressure to be on the “right” side is intense, the rush of self-righteousness is seductive, as is the idea that there are black & white rules that make you Good or Bad.

    I think some of the issues goes back to that saying about how the lower the stakes, the higher the drama. Here’s where I may get called out: I think blogging is really important (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend my time glued to these blogs and communities), but there’s only so much blogging can do. Blogging is awesome, the internet is awesome, Twitter and Tahir Square, I know, I know, but c’mon — there are limits to internet activism. We know this. There are limits to the efficacy of writing stuff for people that mainly agree with you. I wonder if that’s part of why these fights get so toxic. I mean, the same dynamic happens in the fandom spaces on Livejournal — I get all bent out of shape about the way people write about Shawn from “Psych” boning Lassiter instead of Gus because yet again, fans ignore the hot black guy due to racism. But at the end of the day… yeah, I’m mad about subconscious racism, but the issue is still… which fictional dude another fictional dude fucks up the ass. Really, really low stakes. Comically low.

    Also, it’s easier for fangirls to “clean up” fandom then to “clean up” 4Chan. It’s easier for feminist bloggers to go after each other than, idk, Drudge, or Rush Limbaugh — to hurt them, *really* hurt them, the way we hurt each other.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  29. Sady wrote:

    Okay, this was initially a message on the Tiger Beatdown Back Channel! But due to requests, I have published an edited version of it here.

    Has anyone here read “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls” by Rachel J. Simmons? Because it blew my mind, for real. I have to show you how much it blew my mind, by playing — for you — a game. A game I like to call, “SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGER OR SIXTH-GRADER?????”

    On why it’s preferable to call someone out publicly rather than speaking to them privately:

    “If I’m mad at someone, it’s just a lot easier to tell everyone else and turn them against the person because then I’m the one who’s right. If you just tell the person, one-on-one, then the two of you are out there to be judged… you can’t know if you are the one who’s going to be considered right by the others.”

    SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGER OR SIXTH-GRADER????

    On the ultimate goal of conflict:

    Were people planning on talking with Erin, even forgiving her and moving on?

    “Oh, no!” Michelle said, surprised. “Nobody wanted to be friends with her any more. They just wanted to see her suffer… she was suffering, but she was getting friends. We wanted her to see what it was like. I mean, subconsciously, we wanted her to see what it was like to not have anybody there.”

    SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGER OR SIXTH-GRADER????

    On what makes a girl unlikable, and thus a likely target:

    There is one bottom line. There are rules, and the girl who thinks she’s all that breaks them. They are the rules of femininity: girls must be modest, self-abnegating and demure; girls must be nice and put others before themselves; girls get power by who likes them, who approves, who they know, but not by their own hand… The girl who thinks she’s all that is the girl who projects an aura of assertiveness or self-confidence.

    SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGERS OR SIXTH-GRADERS???

    On the methods:

    The sight of Erin eluding the isolation they had used to punish her enraged them. That, Michelle says, is when it “really started.”

    …The girls flooded Erin’s e-mail account with angry messages. It seemed that everyone was in on it; even [people] who had no connection to the incident were volunteering reasons for shunning Erin. Some called her a bitch. Ashley wrote that it made her sick to look at Erin.

    On the rewards for the participants:

    “It was amazing to be able to let it go when everybody else was so you weren’t by yourself. It was like you had control over her which was just the best feeling.” She added, “I know it had something to do with having a sense of power that I’d never felt before… I think it was mostly just like, nobody can get mad at me for something. I was the good friend. I wasn’t the problem… I have everything that she thought she had. It was just like a sense of empowerment.”

    And on the consequences for the target:

    “I’m such a scared person now… I’m always worried about what people think about me. I’m always worried what people are going to say about me behind my back. I never used to care! Because people talked about me all the time, and I just didn’t care. I’m always worried about why people hate me… They made me like this now.”

    SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGERS OR SIXTH-GRADERS????

    And on how to avoid it, or move past it:

    “If you do one stupid thing,” she explained, “people will never forget that. Then they know you could not ever be a cool person. If you change, they don’t realize it because they think of that stupid thing you did before.”

    SOCIAL JUSTICE BLOGGER OR SIXTH-GRADER????

    Actually, that last one was a trick question. That one was a FIFTH-GRADER.

    And here’s the rest of her comment:

    “It’s just weird,” she explained, hugging a Beanie Baby, “because the quieter you are, the better off you are, because no one’s going to find out or have rumors about you or anything. And the quieter you are, no one’s gonna find out who you like and everything. And then you’re better off because you’re quiet and no one’s going to find anything out about you. You don’t tell. So no rumors about you and they only think about you as a quiet, nice person.”

    “She explained, HUGGING A BEANIE BABY.” That’s my lesson for us all today, on the dynamics of Internet call-out culture.

    “Call-out culture” is real, and a thing. But I wonder how often, for women who blog (and it’s not just apparently-cis women like the ones interviewed in this book who do this, obviously; people of all genders do it, including cis men, and when we were talking Emily pointed out that you don’t have to be cis and/or perceived as female during your childhood to internalize all this stuff about “how girls fight,” or the “stay quiet and unnoticeable and no-one will have to hurt you” thing), it’s actually just also internalized sexism or a fairly gendered way of handling conflict.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  30. Nice post, but I wanted to comment specifically because I love the comments … especially those from Sady and Of Making … about how we are actually negotiating these tricky grounds in the real world and trying to find various middle paths that acknowledge that we can’t be Gracious Perfectly Aware Always Apologetic Superwomen.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  31. STRATO wrote:

    On an unrelated note… I cannot help but noticing we are analyzing a post that analyzes a post that analyzed a a previous post. This overanalytical nature of the social sciences, always questioning their own aprioris, makes me wonder if it could be possible to prove they simply don’t exist, by reductio ad absurdum. (Please take it as the joke it was meant to be).

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  32. genesis wrote:

    Excellent writeup. I also find that call outs are extremely aggressive in feminist circles.

    Aggression is yet another tool of the patriarchy that is being used to tear feminism apart. “Can’t show emotion! I won’t tell the person that what they said hurt me – I’m just going to lash out in anger and reduce their humanity!”

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  33. I just wanted to boost the signal on this AWESOME comment that saurus left on Feministe, where we are discussing this post:
    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/10/17/call-out-culture-and-blogging-as-performance/

    Here’s the comment:

    saurus 10.17.2011 at 5:04 pm

    On one hand, call-out culture is a problem. I think it’s partially a product and/or symptom of other problems (read: the career-izing of feminism, feminism growing from theory instead of vice versa, academic feminism, feminism growing from identity labels instead of lived experience, feminism as proving one’s self-worth and integrity instead of being rooted in practical action and needs, feminism as a reproduction of achievement/power/value hierarchies) but nevertheless, it does constitute its own problem.

    What worries me is when people use critiques of call-out culture as some kind of exoneration. I’m not saying that’s what Jill or anyone else is doing, but every once in a while a post like this is written and then everyone is all “omigod, being called out is SO traumatic” and then suddenly there’s a confessional-style outburst of people who are still feeling hurt about whatever, with absolutely zero space for the people who may have been validly hurt by their words or actions.

    Again, not to say that there isn’t a lot to critique about call-out culture, but sometimes it ends up as “being called racist hurts more than being a victim of racism” type territory.

    I do think we need to find ways of communicating – both in creating content and in responding to it and in transcending that whole producer/consumer dichotomy altogether – that cause each other less pain. Which means I see improving call-out culture as a goal that must operate in tandem with improving all the shit we say that leads to call-outs in the first place.

    Which means, in a big way, that I think the whole structure of this shit is fucked…that until we start seeing each other as people and lives instead of “issues” and ideas, we will still be cavalier towards each other because our feminism is grounded about six inches above where our lives are.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  34. Rich wrote:

    Thank you for writing this! I feel that our media culture of “navel gazing” has really lost sight of the most important thing a human can possess: EMPATHY. Empathy for everyone regardless of their gender, sexuality, appearance, race, religion, etc. Keep writing!

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink
  35. Amory wrote:

    This was so valuable for me to read, as it absolutely applies to “call out” culture in the self-identified “radical” community I am a part of, outside the blogosphere, connected to tumblr. Thank you so, so much for writing it. I will be thinking about the ways I see this playing out in my community and our interactions with each other. This article is such a useful tool– the dynamic you describe has really derailed a lot of local organizing efforts and become a kind of macho “radical” dogma. I think something that really has a lot to do with it is the individualization of large-scale social norms. It forgets that everyone does not spring from Zeus’ forehead fully formed and perfectly “radical”. It mystifies the process of becoming radical, and creates an elitism and cliquishness that makes a lot of ideas applicable to the vast majority of people seem inaccessible at best.

    Friday, October 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink
  36. Creatrix Tiara wrote:

    Wow, Sady’s comment about Odd Girl Out made things way too apparently clear. I’ve had people recently flame me for *writing a post mourning my deceased friend* because we ended on not-so-great terms – and these were people who knew NOTHING ABOUT ME except their only engagement with me was to argue with me about some random post or another. Just from one blog post, people feel the right to assume your politics, relationships, the right to judge. Urgh.

    Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink
  37. Happened to me at Womanist Musings, pretty amazing bloodletting. The subject was what whites could do about racism, which was an ongoing set of posts. Mine was offered in the spirit of, hey, here are a few things I’ve noticed. The way people might be eating at a potluck and one person says, hey, here is a bag of Cheetos to add.

    Instead, it was as if I had set myself up as Smart White Woman Who Knows (not my intention, certainly) and therefore a horrific bitch. It went to tumblr, Twitter and beyond. I am sure I made it worse, since nothing pushes my buttons like kids who blog about finals (are you serious? Really?) deciding that someone with 40 years of activism is the scourge of the universe, when they have not even left mommy’s basement yet. I demanded creds, which they don’t have (and shame on me for asking such a thing! They MEAN well!) and then I made fun of them for not having. Come back when you have something to talk about!

    But I think what got me the most? The call out kids were mostly white… the tumblr crew was virtually ALL white. These white girls who have done NOTHING, feel like they can “call out” people who actually took on the kkk in the 70s? I am amazed by that… in such a climate, nobody is really safe. That’s when I realized how out-of-hand it was.

    I stopped participating in the pile-ons (sometimes you don’t realize its a pile on until it gets really long and hostile) and stopped calling out. I decided I didn’t want to be part of the problem.

    I regret it took me being a victim to finally get it.

    Monday, October 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  38. Annamove wrote:

    Lots of posts, I’ll read them in a mo’ as I’m sure there’s good stuff here but, yes, this is it utterly. It’s something inherent across the net really now, not just blogging, in fact I remember how it used to happen against satire websites when people didn’t realise it was satire and would all angrily get their friends worked up into a frenzy of ‘this person is the most stupid hateful person ever!!!11!!’

    Actually no, it’s not just the net it’s everywhere.
    eg. The prices of train tickets don’t go up to inflation and increasing cost of workers and services, oh no, according to one ticket conductor I met they go up due to ‘ticket dodgers’ ignoring the fact that lots of people have year passes they don’t even use.
    eg2. How often are relationships (Both platonic and otherwise) seemingly turned into ‘drama’ for those surrounding it, constantly sharing information in ways that incite arguments and loss of trust.

    Due to this I tend to be very private about how I think and feel about my relationships at any one time, no matter how good natured a friend may be there is such a desire for many of them to ‘air’ things or ‘seek another point of view’ that before long everyone has an opinion where in many cases only the one really mattered at that time. My friends and acquaintances who are most irresponsible in this kind of behaviour are either Soap Opera and Girly Mag addicts. (Think ”My Boyfriend Bought an Alligator and it ATE MY DOG” Kind of magazines.) or the kind who seem to enjoy putting themselves in the middle of every conflict they can possibly find. (They generally find me not a good target for this, due to generally not encouraging conflict to exist in my proximity, as much as possible! (Hopefully I’ll learn eventually not to rise to it at all, that would be nice, to keep a calm head!))

    It’s a system of perpetuating hate, finding someone to blame for everything, instead of realising that MOST (I’m not going to say all, I’m not that at one with humanity yet, maybe one day :3) people are inherently good, generally law abiding, hard working, honest and doing the best they can. But the more we are encouraged to fight instead of discuss and reconcile the more we alienate each other. Pushing boundaries between neighbours and friends alike.

    Monday, October 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink