Thursday, 13 February 2014

Feminism and the language of abusers

What do you call a man who tells a woman online that she’s a cunt for writing a blog post expressing her opinion? What do you call a man who says a woman should be slapped for something she tweeted? What do you call a man who tells a woman she needs to shut the fuck up and die, needs a good fuck, needs some dick, should be burnt at the stake, for daring to voice an opinion?

I would call a man who says those things a misogynist. I would call him an abusive man.

I have had nearly all of these things said to me by abusive men at one time or another because I have been outspoken, because I have challenged rape culture, because I have dared, as a woman, to have a voice while living in patriarchy.

It hurts. It hurts when men say these things to you. It makes you feel afraid. It knocks your confidence. It happened last week and I shook all over, and wondered if I could carry on writing. It makes you hesitate before checking your @ mentions, before opening your blog dashboard to read your comments. Seven years of abusive men trying to silence me online, and it has never stopped affecting me. It doesn’t stop.

Yesterday, I saw someone online call a woman blogger a cunt, another saying she should be banned from the internet. I saw another person online tell another woman that she should burn in a fire. I saw someone else making “jokes” about how a woman blogger is probably frigid.

Now, because I have had many abusive men say those words to me, I assumed the perpetrator of these insults were abusive men.

But they weren’t abusive men. They were ‘feminists’.

So I ask the question now. Why are feminists using the language of oppression, using the language of misogyny, using the language of abusive men, to attack other feminists? What does that achieve? How is calling a woman a cunt and saying you hope she burns to death – as thousands of women through history have at the hands of patriarchy – compatible with feminism? What are we hoping to achieve by using the words that have oppressed us, silenced us and harmed us for centuries against other women?

I don’t understand it. I truly don’t. However much you disagree with a woman, however much you want to challenge her views, when you decide to silence her with the words of abusive men, you are putting yourself on the side of patriarchy.

When a man who claims to be feminist writes that his hand is itching to slap a woman who is writing online, that ‘feminist’ is using the tactics that abusive men have used for centuries to silence women. When a woman who claims to be a feminist mocks a woman’s sexuality, she is using the tactics that abusive men have used for centuries to shut women the fuck up. When someone claiming feminism calls a woman a cunt and doesn’t mean it in a ‘hey cunts are beautiful and powerful and awesome’ way, that ‘feminist’ is using the tactics of abusive men to intimidate and silence women.

We know that 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse. We know that. And yet we seem willing to ignore it when we use the language of abuse to attack other women. We ignore that it might be triggering, that we might be repeating words used towards them in violence, that it might be happening offline as well as online.

We know this is the case when an abusive man does it. That’s why we argue against online abuse.

I don’t believe that there is ever really a good reason to use a misogynist’s language against other women. After all, there are enough misogynists out there already trying to shut us up.

When I started thinking about this post, I remembered when Nadine Dorries was humiliated by David Cameron in the House of Commons, as he ‘joked’ about her being ‘frustrated’. As feminists, we rose up in her defence. We agreed that her views are abhorrent, that her beliefs on abortion are dangerous. But we also agreed that it wasn’t ok for the most powerful man in the country to use sexism to shut her up in a male-dominated parliament. So we defended her. We said that however much we condemn her views, we would not accept the use of misogyny to silence her.

I guess what I’m asking is for something similar to happen today. Other feminists, other women, might have views that we don’t like. They might say things that we totally disagree with, that we find horrible. But that doesn’t mean we act like abusive men. That doesn’t mean we use the tools of patriarchy to silence one another.

This isn’t about not being angry, or about silencing our own anger. It’s not about tone policing or trying to silence women’s voices. Because patriarchy is always trying to shame women’s anger, or minimise it, or refuse it. We need to be angry, and we need to be able to express our anger freely. We have a right to our anger, always. This isn’t about saying that abusive language is ‘unladylike’ etc. etc. It’s about understanding how as feminists, using the language of abuse, the language of misogyny, to silence other women is colluding with patriarchy’s project.

I know I’m not going to make any friends writing this blogpost. But as feminists, I think we always need to think about how our actions, our words, our language works in patriarchy. How our actions collude with patriarchy and how we confront and challenge it.

Audre Lorde famously said that the ‘master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’.

I am remembering her words, because I believe using patriarchy’s words will never dismantle patriarchy. Adopting the tactics of violent men will never dismantle the structures that enable violence against women and girls.

We need to be angry. We need to fight. We need to shout and scream and yell. But I have had enough of hearing the language of abusive men used to silence women. I don’t care who is using it. Because if you call me a cunt, if you say you hope I get slapped, if you say I need dick, if you say I should die, I will always assume you are an abusive man. Because that’s what abusive men say to me. I don’t put up with it from them. And I won’t put up with it from you.

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