So I was hoping the first time I got some recognition was not going to be for something negative and I failed in that pretty spectacularly.
— Striving Ally (@StrivingAlly) July 31, 2014
See that? That was really not smart, or fair. I really wish I hadn’t said that, but I will own it and happily discuss why it was wrong and what I could have done differently there.
I made some inflammatory Tweets which I probably should have considered much more before posting. And I did something I usually hate seeing others do – launching into a discussion site with views contrary to mine with more emotion than empathy.
So I’m going to lead with the important part:
I unreservedly apologise to the participants of the Shakesville Koolaid blog for direct comparisons to MGTOWs, MRAs and 4chan.
I believe there are people who have genuinely felt upset, angered, saddened and betrayed by the actions of Melissa McEwan and her mod team.
Now for some explanation – not to excuse my behaviour, but so that at least people can understand I wasn’t motivated by malice.
I’ll start by saying the idea of “takedown” sites, or sites devoted to dislike or opposition of one person or small group, have always creeped me out. Defining yourself by negativity has always stuck me as a strange choice and made me personally uncomfortable. I’m aware lots of people disagree, and that’s up to them. But my first gut-level reaction to a site like Shakesville Koolaid is always going to be straight-up cringeing. When a group of people is constantly poring over the actions or words of another person or group they dislike, the hyperfocus can appear unsettling to those observing.
Secondly, I hate seeing bad tactics being used in a good cause. The stated purpose of the SVKA site according to the site’s own “Stop Listening to Melissa McEwan” page is to completely discredit Shakesville’s owner – and those who choose to associate with her – and separate them from mainstream feminism. What I know of social justice movements throughout history doesn’t gel with that idea. When feminism was ignoring the needs of women of colour and queer women, the answer wasn’t to silence prominent feminists, it was to find new and better ways of doing things that took those needs into account. By the same token, if McEwan’s alienating feminists (and she certainly is alienating some) then pointing out what she’s doing that might be harmful is a great idea if the aim is to, in her own words, expect more from her. But that leads into my third point…
During the few days I was reading the site, at least, a lot of what I saw was not constructive criticism but just opportunities to take a shot at McEwan or her associates. Even the mission statement for the page drops into snark several times that just reads as backbiting for the sake of it. The link asking for contributions is labelled “Let me know if she says something dumb”. People are slamming her for trivial things like saying she liked one piece of dancing more than another, or for making statements of inclusivity on her open threads. Now, I understand that SVKA is a lightly moderated forum in contrast to what they portray as a harshly regimented discussion space at SV. From what I’ve seen the commenters pride themselves on being a loose coalition and they appreciate the light touch. That’s a double-edged sword – a multiplicity of opinions is great in some discussions, for some purposes, and terrible for others.
The posters and commenters at SVKA, from what I have seen, are indeed a disparate group with no single unifying goal, save criticising Shakesville. The problem I have with the site is how vastly different the definitions of “criticism” vary. I asked for a different perspective on the fracas from commenters on another feminist blog I respect, and the general opinion echoed my own concerns with the level of zero-sum you’re-with-us-or-against-us animosity and schadenfreude on display at SVKA, but they also agreed with the sentiment that McEwan’s blog can sometimes be unwelcoming and come across as a mutual admiration society where the emphasis on “safe space” is often compromised by those purporting to maintain it.
So taking that into consideration, I read about some harassment affecting a space I care about, noted the language of progressivism being used against a prominent progressive (not all that long after the #EndFathersDay garbage using similar tactics to stir up anti-feminist sentiment), I reacted angrily and without fully fleshing out the backstory, and unfairly maligned a large group. Any sweeping generalisations I made about SVKA are grossly unfair. Once again, I am sorry for criticising the entire SVKA tumblr’s posters and commenters.
One thing I am not going to apologise for is leaving a conversation on that site when I tried to initiate a conversation that quickly turned into a dogpile. After eight or ten responses I just couldn’t handle the deluge of people responding to what they saw as an attack on their community. It was pretty dumb of me to have charged in there the way I did. But I also think that a lot of things are being rationalised away there under the banner of “criticism” which a lot of feminists would find at least disagreeable and at worst horrifically anti-feminist if they were directed at another prominent feminist. Happy to expound on that if people are interested in hearing it.