Feminist critiques vs charges of criticism

Part of the discussions in the past week or so, especially in the aftermath of The Nation article have been centered on how Women of Color are never “happy” with anything and “attack” work done by white feminists unfairly. One thing I believe is important to further unpack these discussions is how often critique is confused or conflated with criticism. To wit:

Critique

a detailed analysis and assessment of something, esp. a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

Criticism

the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.

A lot of what WoC bloggers, writers, social media analysts and activists do is critique and not necessarily criticism. Events, news, projects, initiatives, etc are used as starting points to analyze and understand broader implications of said events or news. This is closely tied to the issues of epistemic justice I often write about: since we are not considered valid/ legitimate knowledge producers, our critiques are presented as criticism rather than as cultural analysis in their own right. Since criticism is seen as a destructive force (see charges of “trashing”), then what better way to delegitimize our critiques than by presenting them as “mean criticism”?

I attempt critiques. I might not always use academically approved language to do so or coat them in rhetoric of civility and politeness. But make no mistake, everything I speak about and write is intended as an indictment of the culture we live in and the history that positioned us where we are now.

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Next week, Makers is hosting a three-day conference where Sheryl Sandberg {Author of Lean In], Eric Schmidt [CEO of Google], Tim Armstrong [CEO of AOL], and others plan to “reset the agenda for women in the workplace in the 21st century.” Where does one gather to hit the restart on the stagnant wage gap and institutionalized sexism for the next 86 years? At “the picturesque Terranea Resort, located on a breathtaking stretch of Pacific coastline,” of course. The revolution also has time for “Sunrise Yoga” classes in the morning. Work-life balance, ladies and billionaires.

Invite-Only Oceanside Conference Vows to “Reset the Agenda for Women”

Do you have a headache already? No? OK, let’s try this detail then:

Obviously no one’s resetting any kind of agenda without a late night talk show host and the CEO of an accounting firm. That’s just Feminism 101. But Washington Monthly points out that Makers might have missed a spot:

But funnily enough, do you know who was not invited to lollapalooza that’s going to like, totally, revolutionize women’s working lives? Labor unions, that’s who!

Click through to read more details of this “resetting the women’s agenda” event. 

Dame Shirley Bassey and The Propellerheads - History Repeating

If you are somewhere where you can listen to music I invite you to hit play before you continue reading. “It’s just a little bit of history repeating” in the voice of Dame Shirley Bassey is the perfect soundtrack for this post.

The word is about, there’s something evolving

Whatever may come, the world keeps revolving

They say the next big thing is here

That the revolution’s near

But to me it seems quite clear

That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

The newspapers shout a new style is growing

But it don’t know if it’s coming or going

There is fashion, there is fad

Some is good, some is bad

And the joke is rather sad

That its all just a little bit of history repeating

And I’ve seen it before[…]

Some people don’t dance, if they don’t know who’s singing

I am going to go back in recent history to 2008. In order to do that, I am going to quote from Jezebel, of all places. Mostly, I am picking this article as a source because one of the usual charges when Women of Color produce media analysis is that we use “biased” sources or that we “see things” where there are none. So, what better place to quote from than a source that I have pointed out numerous times as problematic (to say the least). This article, from 2008, talks about how brownfemipower had been writing about US immigration issues for a long while (years) when a white feminist, Amanda Marcotte suddenly went mainstream with the exact same topic and focus. Hugo Schwyzer got involved (LOL) to be the “arbiter” of the “harm” done to white women by “mean women of color” who saw through the content appropriation. bfp sustained a consistent attack where she was painted under the most cruel light and eventually closed her blog. 

Jezebel quotes brownfemipower (link to her current blogs can be found here). 

"I never said that it’s important to recognize that I had the idea first. I don’t give a shit who came up with the idea first—even if it WAS me. I don’t give a shit who thought of what first. I don’t fucking want credit for anything outside of existing. (For those who care, what I really said: There’s a lot of women of color (and men of color!) who have talked about immigration. There’s a lot of women of color and men of color who have examined how sexualized violence has been the foremost result of the "strengthening" of borders. There’s been a lot of us who have insisted for a long time now that immigration is a feminist issue, goddamn it, get your head out of your ass."

Fast forward to 2014. Hugo Schwyzer is back on Twitter (LOL x 1 million) endorsing the article at The Nation which yet again, stigmatizes “mean Women of Color” on social media/ Twitter. I blogged about being called “a bully” by the Deputy Editor of New Statesman and about the corporate and financial interests of the publication. And on Thursday evening, this was published at NS “Why we must end the detention of female asylum seekers in the UK” written by a white feminist.

I do not own this topic. However, I will refer to my quote above from bfp:

I never said that it’s important to recognize that I had the idea first. I don’t give a shit who came up with the idea first—even if it WAS me. I don’t give a shit who thought of what first[…] (For those who care, what I really said: There’s a lot of women of color (and men of color!) who have talked about immigration. There’s a lot of women of color and men of color who have examined how sexualized violence has been the foremost result of the “strengthening” of borders. There’s been a lot of us who have insisted for a long time now that immigration is a feminist issue, goddamn it, get your head out of your ass.

If you know what I write about, you’ll know women of color feminists, womanists and mujeristas (myself included) have been writing and talking about immigration in the European Union for years. As Dame Shirley Bassey sings it “it’s just a little bit of [feminist] history repeating”.

In case you need a quick refresher of my approach to immigration policy (or because you don’t feel like reading years of archives), I had a few things to say on Twitter. Here’s the Storify with the gist of it. In the meantime, I’ll just sing along with Dame Shirley Bassey.

Last Sunday the Göteborg International Film Festival and International Writers’ Stage Gothenburg co-hosted a conversation between Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Swedish film critic Jannike Åhlund (JÅ). It got weird quickly.

When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie met Sweden » AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

This is a must read and a must watch (with content warnings and caution of erasing discourses, gaslighting and other assorted tactics of white deflection) for any person interested in European ideas around race, People of Color, colonialism and history (Sweden’s but also the other European Empires). Especially on how these erasure rests on a foundation of exceptionalism and being “better” than those white supremacist masses that do not have “nice things” such as welfare policies, “human rights”, peddled “equality”, etc. 

It’s not clear what people understand when they say Twitter – they think of Twitter as a network and say it’s not representative and compare it to polls, for example. That is the wrong way to look at it – look at it as an information platform and then you start looking at what influential people who create the news are saying. The media, and I do not simply mean mainstream media, does influence public opinion. From a communication and a policy perspective that’s very, very valuable. It’s less about the representativeness of the platform as a whole; it’s more about the representativeness of the expertise and the influences within whichever topic you’re interested in. Because obviously you can’t poll the population from Twitter; but let’s say you want to understand the views surrounding a health issue then you have a great opportunity to gather the opinions of experts on that specific topic by monitoring Twitter data. That can be valuable evidence to inform policy.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND PUBLIC POLICY (Link to PDF)

After you read the article at The Nation about the “mean WoC” on Twitter click the link and read this paper. Then I invite you to chew on how this think tank produced the research, funded by the British government to spell out how social media influences not only policy but public discourses and civic engagement. After you’ve thought about that, consider what all these pieces about “mean people on Twitter” are really about. Especially, keep in mind these points vis a vis who owns the media that publishes them.

“Misogofeminists” and the white men who profit from silencing critiques

Yesterday social media was ablaze with a post making the rounds in feminist/ woman centered spaces. The post in question was about the neologism “misogofeminists”. No idea what that means? No problem, New Statesman Deputy Editor Helen Lewis explains it succinctly:

Brilliant coinage by @Glosswitch: misogofeminists. Women (and allies) whose primary form of feminist activism is trashing other women.

— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis)

January 28, 2014

The link in Lewis’ tweet directs to the personal blog of Glosswitch, another New Statesman contributor. You know, Lewis does her part to promote the house talent’s efforts. In the article, Glosswitch launches a tirade against “critics” and “bullies” who harass white women. She goes on to quote transphobe extraordinaire Catherine McKinnon in what is a template of white supremacist thinking. Glosswitch, never one to miss an opportunity to decree that intersectionality is bad, says: 

Of course, if you think about it for half a second, there is no point in even attempting to analyse intersections of gender, race and class if you’re not prepared to include an examination of your own misogyny

To be clear on who is truly oppressed, she quotes from this McKinnon article

Unlike other women, the white woman who is not poor or working class or lesbian or Jewish or disabled or old or young does not share her oppression with any man. That does not make her condition any more definitive of the meaning of “women” than the condition of any other woman is. But trivializing her oppression, because it is not even potentially racist or class-biased or heterosexist or anti-Semitic, does define the meaning of being “anti-woman” with a special clarity. How the white woman is imagined and constructed and treated becomes a particularly sensitive indicator of the degree to which women, as such, are despised.

Lewis, promoting this analysis is not merely “someone sharing a link among friends”, though. Not even 48 hours have passed since I Storified this genesis of “Flavia is a bully” because I initiated a conversation centered on experiences of Women of Color and hair.

Here we have a Deputy Editor of a mainstream publication equating critiques from Women of Color to bullying, harassment and now codifying all this behavior under a new umbrella term: misogofeminism. Or, to put it in layman terms, when uppity Women of Color and other marginalized minorities complain that mainstream publications contribute to their marginalization. However, this “stirring the pot” of feminism in social media spaces is not neutral. It is not merely “passing time” or “sharing information”. Lewis is a paid employee of New Statesman, working for her employer’s visibility on social media; she is not just “a woman with an opinion”. When she promotes posts like the above, she is also raising the online currency of her own bloggers (since Glosswitch is a contributor as well). And these tactics work. They have finally put New Statesman out of a consistent cycle of financial loss. As reported here in The Independent in April 2013, Ian Burrell: By embracing feminism, the New Statesman beat its old rival. From the article: 

Last Thursday, at Conway Hall in London, it hosted an event called “The Future of Feminism”, at which the magazine’s “crack squad of feminist bloggers” – many of them in their twenties – held forth before a sell-out audience.[…]

Lewis has been integral to growing website traffic to a record 1.4 million unique users last month.

Jason Cowley, the New Statesman’s editor, has observed these developments with some satisfaction.[…]

Today, the New Statesman website comfortably beats that of The Spectator, against which its success has long been measured.[…]

The editor says the magazine, with its compact staff of 15, will come into profit this year, which should please its benefactor, Mike Danson, who bought out former owner and Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson in 2009.

One could argue that Lewis is just doing her job. She is, after all, paid to work social media outrage and generate page clicks. However, I do take issue with the well being of Women of Color, trans women, queer folks, etc, becoming fodder of tabloid tactics for profit. Ms. Lewis job should not come at the expense of our silencing and further marginalization, especially, when said profits are to further fund a multimillionaire white man, Mike Danson, the owner of New Statesman.

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In 2009, Mr. Danson, whose net worth is valued at £310 Million, acquired New Statesman. 

Prior to Mike Danson’s acquisition of New Statesman, when the publication was not profitable, they published features such as this one, None deadlier than the Mail, a blistering indictment of Daily Mail tactics of coercion and silencing of oppressed groups. From the article (emphasis mine): 

A specialist writer with many years at the paper told me: “You become so inculcated with all of the doctrine that you know instantly what you are supposed to write. You forget the extent to which you are blinkered. It is hard to put your finger on it. You probably do get chemically changed by the experience.” One former news reporter said: “On 60-70 per cent of stories, you are not aware of it; but, on touchstone issues, you knew that the headline had been written before the story came in and your job was to make the facts fit.”

The Mail’s quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middle-class readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything that challenges those values.

Lady Brittan, wife of the former Conservative home secretary Leon Brittan, found herself a target when, in August 2002, as chair of the National Lottery’s Community Fund, she approved a grant for the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. The Mail, high on its anti-immigration horse, denounced her as “queen of the loony lotto grants” and “a quango queen”; her husband as a “fat cat”; her colleagues on the Lottery board as “sanctimonious politically correct twits”, “unelected quangocrats” and “politically correct do-gooders”; their decision as “offensive beyond belief “, “a disgrace”, “bizarre”, “outrageous” and “scandalous”.

Four times in ten days, the paper encouraged its readers to “vent their justified anger” by writing to Lady Brittan; and each time, it published her address at the Community Fund’s office. She then received a torrent of what she described as “hate mail”.

I insist on this paragraph:

The Mail’s quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middle-class readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything that challenges those values.

Do these tactics sound familiar already? They should because at the time of this New Statesman article, Helen Lewis was a subeditor of The Daily Mail. There isn’t that much information available of her exact role in the tabloid but, this press release posted at Press Gazette (yet another media industry publication owned by Mike Danson) places her working at The Daily Mail at least as far as August 2007.  And this feature at The World Editors Forum interviews her in her role of Daily Mail subeditor in July 2008.  Back then, New Statesman named these tactics “punitive campaign against anybody who challenges those values”. Any similarities with charges of “misogofeminism”, “bullying” and/ or “harassment” are not a coincidence.

When Danson took over, this supposedly left leaning publication not only started using outrage tabloid tactics but also refused to recognise the National Union of Journalists, the trade union to which almost of all its journalists belonged. 

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In this return to profits at the expense of feminism there is another link worth considering: Jason Cowley, editor of New Statesman. While Lewis role is to generate outrage and attention on behalf of the publication, it is Cowley who is in charge.

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This is the same man who, in 2007, wrote a detailed article at The Guardian expressing his disappointment at “the dirty masses” (not a metaphor). In “This popcorn and burger society is making me sick”, Cowley wrote: 

There are always sullen teenagers hanging around, and when they are not sledging you, you are forced to wade through the trash they carelessly scatter: the cans, the bottles, the burger cartons.

It is little better inside, where you are assaulted by the hard sell of the concession stands, with their popcorn and oversized confectionary bars. Why must everything be so big, overlit and gaudy? Why must the intention always be to rip you off?

Our high streets bring little relief, with their drab uniformity. At night, especially at weekends, inane drunks invariably overrun our town centres.

And then this gem, right at the end of the article:

I have long felt that Margaret Thatcher was misunderstood when she spoke of the supremacy of the individual and the family over the abstraction of society. Thatcher was a stern Victorian moralist, formed by the virtues of Christian nonconformism and the financial probity she learned from her father. She believed in setting us free from government interference. She wanted us to take more responsibility for our destinies.

What she didn’t think hard enough about were the broader social consequences of her reforms, of how too much freedom may be not what we need at all.

She did not believe in the state; she believed in the family, believed that it would restrain our more atavistic and anti-social desires, and show us how properly to behave, in private and public. No doubt she is appalled by how coarse and hedonistic we have become. No, she must say, as she switches on the television or reads the paper, this isn’t right; this isn’t what I had in mind at all when I dreamed the bourgeois dream of the great, good place.

Ah there you have it. A Daily Mail tactician and a Thatcherite sitting in a tree, admonishing misogofeminists, fending off “dirty masses” and “bullies”. What could possibly go wrong?

Trudy at Gradient Lair and Blackamazon have written about the conflation of white women with white men to marginalize women of color. They have both traced the historical roots and patterns that this association has followed throughout centuries. It seems that now, we are to believe that a feminism that reproduces this exact same patterns of marginalization is in our best interest. Any protestations are met with further discipline and silencing. The “dirty masses” should not have a say in how they are represented, after all. We are just to nod silently while white millionaires and the white feminists who assist them make money from our oppression. Media cruelty at our expense is obviously a profitable enterprise.

Pulling my hair - a media strategy

I love how @redlightvoices was having a discussion about Penny Red’s piece, Penny barged in, and now Flavia is the bully. Give me a break.

— Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady)

January 28, 2014

So, this happened last night. Since I write a lot about media analysis and how media represents (or not, as the case might be), our interests, I have storified this whole debacle. The reason I have storified this entire conversation is because it ties down to Sarah Kendzior’s piece from last week about media exclusion and how public discourses are created and promoted. Let me be clear here: I am not documenting this because OMG I WAS SO BADLY TREATED. Fuck that noise. I am interested in how those in charge of platforms and access to publishing in mainstream media build a narrative and how that narrative becomes accepted and the “truth”. Then, in turn, these narratives feed accepted notions of how women of color are “mean” to white feminists and how we “divide” the movement, etc. These myths are then used as excuses to leave people out and erase them as valid knowledge producers, as sources of information, etc.

So, this is a rather long Storify but if you are interested in media production, it might be worth a read.

Open vacancy for “proactive” individuals: cleaner at Buckingham Palace

From Boom time Britain as Buckingham Palace goes on recruiting spree:

Buckingham Palace seems to be on a recruiting spree after advertsing an array of vacancies - including the role of running Her Majesty a bath.[…]

The advertisement, which was posted on the monarchy’s official website, specifies that chores will include “personal maiding/valeting duties for guests as required including packing and unpacking, pressing and preparing clothes, arranging dry cleaning, care of jewellery, running baths, assisting with dressing if required and arranging the service of tea and breakfast trays”.

The potential maid or manservant to take on the role will also “have contact with members of the Royal family” and must, of course, have an “ability to maintain confidentiality”.

For an annual salary of £14,400, the individual must also be willing to make the Royal family’s beds, clean their dirty sheets and possess “a motivated, pro-active attitude”.

An annual salary of 14k. In London. I’m not even going to attempt any kind of analysis on this. Because really, this is all I got:

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An update on my post about the gang rapes of undocumented and refugee women and EU responsibility

On January 15th, I wrote “In the name of European safety: the gang rapes of undocumented and refugee women”. In the post I pointed to the European Union’s responsibility for the situation of migrants crossing through Libya trying to reach Europe with one caveat:

The last available data I could find is from 2009. There is no further information about the funding of these detention facilities in the post Gaddafi regime.

Today Statewatch has released a new batch of data regarding the post Gaddafi situation and the EU’s involvement in stopping undocumented migrants while they are in Libya to avoid dealing with asylum requests once they reach EU territory. From “Italy/Libya: Documents unveil post-Gaddafi cooperation agreement on immigration”:

Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, activities that were previously agreed to build a health centre attached to the “reception” centre in Kufrah will resume to provide first aid services to “illegal” migrants who arrive there from the surrounding areas.[…]

The Italian authorities will be immediately informed, whereas Libya has committed to reinforcing its land and sea borders to counter the departure of migrants from its territory. Italy commits to “immediately enact” its programme to supply Libya with the technical means and equipment that it asked for to improve surveillance of its borders. Activities concerning the project for a border monitoring system in the south of Libya will be resumed, as will the Sah-Med (Sahara and Mediterranean) project, both of which were agreed with support from the European Commission.[…]

As the title of Guido Ruotolo’s article that accompanied publication of the Tripoli Declaration and the official record of the meeting between interior ministers Cancellieri and Al-Taher Abdulali noted, it appears that cooperation will follow the trail beaten when Gaddafi was in charge. It should also be noted that most migrants who arrive in Italy from Libya are not Libyan citizens, thus references to “returns” largely concern migrants who crossed Libya as a transit country en route to Italy, reminiscent of the readmission of third country nationals who have suffered human rights violations in the north African country over the last few years.

In closing, the article states:

The EU and Italy are imposing tight border control regimes abroad in order to enact free movement within the EU. In doing so, they are attempting to cut off largely unregulated and age-old migration flows that are acknowledged as beneficial for the countries concerned, just like freedom of movement was introduced by EU countries for their own benefit. Effectively, the EU is paying countries to impose policies that are detrimental for them and to establish anti-immigration apparatuses that foster racism and lower human rights standards, at a huge expense.

Moreover, the EU is promoting, funding and training a system that results in systematic gang rapes and unspeakable sexual violence for migrants. Since the crimes happen in what is presented as a “non EU regulated” area (though funded through European taxpayers) there need not be any accountability or justice for the victims. As long as they do not reach EU borders, the State can continue claiming they are not “our” responsibility.

Endemol, the production company behind gems such as Big Brother, Fear Factor, Gay Straight or Taken? and I love Money is now producing a documentary about feminism. And who do they enlist for this edifying enterprise? No other than Julie “The Trans cabal are running a witch hunt” Bindel.
Given the propensity of these white mainstream media feminists to equate all critiques of their nonsense to “bullying” and “abuse”, perhaps Endemol should consider a “Last Feminist Standing” format. It will, of course, be an all white and cis cast that fends of “abuse” from mean Women of Color and/ or trans women who do not understand how hard it is to be middle class and educated.

Endemol, the production company behind gems such as Big Brother, Fear Factor, Gay Straight or Taken? and I love Money is now producing a documentary about feminism. And who do they enlist for this edifying enterprise? No other than Julie “The Trans cabal are running a witch hunt” Bindel.

Given the propensity of these white mainstream media feminists to equate all critiques of their nonsense to “bullying” and “abuse”, perhaps Endemol should consider a “Last Feminist Standing” format. It will, of course, be an all white and cis cast that fends of “abuse” from mean Women of Color and/ or trans women who do not understand how hard it is to be middle class and educated.

A quaint domesticity for white girls vs. a life of service for girls of color

The quality of the photos is not excellent because there wasn’t good light at this particular isle in the toy store and because I was in a hurry. Here two sectors of the “girl toys” aisle.

Two little white girls, happy, in what I’d call “A quaint domesticity” retablo. Little ice-cream cones in pastel colors; a pink pie, mini hamburgers, a pink “sweeping set”. A cutified housewife aspiration. I’d say this looks like a kiddie “Pinterest board” of aspirational middle class.

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Then, the girl of color. Alone, no need for her to be in happy, shared friendship. No need to include cute versions of the items on display: a supermarket check out line, a cash register and not one but two versions of industrial type cleaning trolleys.

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Anti white racism taken very seriously in France

Remember when in 2011 I posted about a Black woman convicted of “anti white racism” in France?

It has only gotten worse ever since. This week “Man jailed for ‘anti-white racist’ attack in France”. However, this one is not quite like the other one. If a Black woman could be convicted of “anti white racism”, then the definition of racism had to be stretched even further (reverse racism is not enough of a claim for white supremacy, expansion is required until the word racism loses all meaning and victims are left with absolutely nothing). So… this from the article is a bonafide expansion, once and for all, of what racism actually means or entails:

A man was sentenced this week to four years behind bars for an “anti-white racist” attack on a Frenchman on the platform of a Paris train station. The convicted man was also white.[…]

The victim first laid eyes on his two attackers when they asked him for a cigarette while he was on the platform waiting for a train. When he refused to hand one over he began to be insulted with a second alleged attacker, who has not yet been caught, calling the victim “a dirty white” and “dirty Frenchman”.

He was then set upon by both men and attacked with broken bottles. The victim was left seriously injured.

To French prosecutors, the abuse was not just ordinary insults, the words were a clear sign the beating was racially motivated. The court agreed and followed prosecutors’ recommendations in imposing the four-year sentence, one year of which is suspended.

The article contains gems such as these:

'Anti-white racism is just like any other form of racism - it cannot be ignored'

And

"We are acting just like we would for any kind of racism case, whether it’s anti-Semitic or anti-black," Vice president of LICRA Philippe Schmidt told The Local in an April 2013 interview. "We cannot just pull a blanket over our eyes because this is a case of anti-white racism.

A bit of decontextualized, faux outrage commentary had to be added as well

The issue of anti-white racism is a sensitive subject in France. Up until recently it was a concept invoked mainly by members of France’s far-right organizations.

Because really, how could it possibly be that these ideas trickled down from the extreme right into the mainstream?! it couldn’t possibly be that mainstream media played a role amplifying them uncritically and, in turn, they were picked by “moderate” politicians and public figures to get themselves into the spotlight at the expense of minorities and excluded groups? No, these ideas just “came to be” into the public opinion and “inserted themselves” into mainstream discourses by spontaneous generation. The 2011 conviction of a Black woman couldn’t have possibly played a role in getting to the point we are at now, right? Ah, “reverse racism” is finally institutionalized and given the proper legal framework that white supremacy requires.  

Ralph Lauren winter Olympics uniform

As seen here, Ralph Lauren unveiled the design of the US Team for the winter Olympics. This is the hat he designed for them:

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I had a moment of deja vu. Where had I seen something strikingly similar? Oh right! there’s the Andean chullo

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The chullo has been worn for centuries by the Aymara people in the Andes. But I guess llamas, vicuñas and alpacas are totally not like red moose on a dark blue background.