Criticism and Obligation

// 26 July 2008

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Regular readers of the F-word will probably be aware that a post about speculated future scientific advances in women’s fertility attracted criticism this week. I’m not about to needlessly parrot what has already been said but, as it happens, I did think the criticisms were justified. As one of a large team of bloggers who do not vet each other’s posts, I caught up with the whole thing quite late into the discussions and, as it turned out, there were plenty of articulate responses to the post in question in the comments for it and also in those for the later apology from Jess, as the editor. Along with this, Anji from Shut up, Sit Down and Joanne from Journalesque very eloquently blogged about the matter.

It’s easy for me to say this now but I think I would have been compelled to add a comment to the entry if I had reached it to find very little had been said in the F-word comments about the ageist references to “dusty wombs” and “prune faced pensioners.” However, criticisms had already been made and I didn’t have anything to add to them. I would assume the same could be said for any other bloggers who didn’t comment. This meant I was a bit riled to find Anji suggesting that we were negligent for not commenting and that even the publication of the post was somehow our collective responsibility:

Ms O’Reilly tried to make excuses for herself with “for those who have said they are using my post as proof of ageism displayed by The F Word – this post was my opinion and my opinion only.” However, it is impossible for her to not be representing the F-Word because she is writing for them. This was not a personal blog, it was a blog for a well-known feminist web site. There is no such thing as subjectiveness when your words are published by a site like that, because by allowing it to be published they are inherently saying “As a site agree with this behaviour.

I also find it interesting that none of the other F-Word writers (with the exception of the wonderful Anne Onne) have commented on the piece to call Abby O’Reilly out on her bigotry and prejudice. I am disappointed – in her, in the other writers, and in the editors of the site for letting such an ugly and sickening piece of blatant misogyny be published under the banner of ‘feminism.’

Hang on a minute. A “site like that“? Are we being mistaken for a national newspaper here? A big powerful corporation with massive funds and therefore massive responsibility? I know the F-word has had a certain amount of media interest, and therefore influence, but let’s get this in perspective! Because the last time I checked, it comprised around 200 voluntary contributors (and counting) with different opinions and backgrounds. As I understand it, Catherine started the site as a place where a variety of feminist viewpoints could be expressed and the blog was an add-on to the features rather than the driving force behind the site. Sure, there have always been some ground rules, in terms of etiquette, for anyone wanting to take part but any feminist is free to contribute and, hopefully, also free to make mistakes without being hounded out of feminism. We should all expect to be called out on any prejudices that, sadly, we might harbour but berating writers who played no part in a post and attempting to persuade us to act like a baying mob, in some effort not to be associated with it is, as far as I’m concerned, totally not on.

The demand to be seen to be doing the right thing (as opposed to being encouraged to genuinely try to do so) seems just plain creepy to me. Is pressuring each other to superficially tick boxes and please the crowd really helpful to the cause? Surely being critical about prejudice stems from a desire for social justice and a belief that we all share a duty to eradicate discrimination? If the feminist movement takes an authoritarian approach and reduces the matter to lip service, hollow posturing and social control, no-one will ever learn anything and nothing will ever really change. We’ll be just as bad as the very structures we fight against and those of us who might have stuff to work on will just end up nodding blandly in order to save face.

And what were we supposed to do anyway? Band together in some pompous show of mud slinging at Abby? Circle round her like vultures? Publicly denounce her so that everyone would know once and for all that we, the F-word, do not agree?

I’m more than willing to risk wounding a friend’s pride for the worthier cause of drawing attention to discrimination but if that necessary wounding seems to have already taken place, I’ll be damned if I’m going to run over and have a go myself.

I think both Anji and Joanne make excellent points about anti-choice arguments and ageism so, in essence, I agree with them. No problem there. The problem is that, on reading them, I have a sense that any defence against the charges made against us as F-word writers, will wrongly be taken as a show of support for ageism! For me, trying to make sure my genuine disagreement with the post is unequivocally clear just makes my words feel phoney and hollow even though I mean every word. Is this how feminist discourse is supposed to be? Because I don’t see that there’s anything liberating about it. (I also think all this is a little frustrating when one considers that, less than a week before chastising us for not ganging up on Abby, Anji herself was understandably somewhat exasperated to find a feminist she loves dearly being “sent to Coventry, Blyton-style” by other radical feminists for a perceived transgression.)

Who has the right to tell a voluntarily run website what stance they should take and when they should “speak out” as representatives? The comments about accountability in the comments for Anji’s post make me wonder if it’s worth anyone bothering to contribute to a collective website at all. What are we supposed to do? Disown any blogger who writes one bad piece? Three strikes and you’re out? People complain our “Contemporary UK Feminism” tag is pompous but then expect us to act like some high and mighty, big branded faceless company. Can’t we just be a collective of individual flawed human beings taking the opportunity to speak out and offering our time for free to be able to do so? Does the success of the site mean we are owned by the readership? I appreciate that influence brings responsibility but penalising people for a bit of recognition in their field just seems churlish. There are so many brilliant feminist blogs out there that deserve exposure. The F-word is just one of them so, rather than punishing the blogs that receive attention, I’d suggest we could instead be putting our energies into getting more and more voices heard. More than those that currently receive attention.

It seems like the politics don’t really matter when it comes to that irresistible urge in us all, as human beings, to find a pariah, somewhere, somehow . We seem to love to have someone to bash or boss around. Even when we’re trying to make a more equal world, it seems we can’t resist the opportunity to try to dominate one another. I always thought feminism was about trying to free ourselves from empty, authoritarianism but it seems we just can’t resist those stuffy conventional moral codes that say we are obliged to react in a specific way when someone behaves badly. Fuck that.

Mob mentality is not the way forward!

Comments From You

Liz // Posted 26 July 2008 at 5:11 pm

It is interesting, because I don’t really think there is any such thing as an objective platform, and in a way when you publish something there is a degree of collective responsibility. I also reckon that one of the problems that feminism has is this notion that there is such a broad mutiplicity of feminisms , really socialist anti racist feminism is the only type that matters, zoe williams pointed out at marxism 08 that anything else is really white middle class women trying to get more pieces of pie for themselvses.

One of the main problems with feminism is that white middle class women tend to create the platforms. Take Fem 08 for example, there were 3 male speakers, but not a single woman of colour. A lot of people had problems with it, and I can see why. I didn’t have a problem with the ‘one type of feminism’ approach, more the nature of the presentation of the event.

The Fword does form a part of this, by being that kind of a platform. I sympathise because I know how difficult it is. Middle class white women tend to have sufficient time and education to get involved in feminism. The problem is that when this group create the platforms then these platforms become ‘contemporary uk feminism’ and somehow normative. Black feminism is othered, socialist feminism is other – white middle class feminism becomes the norm.

I am white and an uncertain floater between working/middle class, so the observations I make apply to me too. I like the Fword and I think you take criticsm well, however there is collective responsibilty for the blog. Feminism and social justice is massively complicated, and finding the method can often be the most difficult part. A continual re-evaluation of what we are doing, and total honesty is absolutely vital.

Anne Onne // Posted 26 July 2008 at 5:37 pm


It’s impossible that a collective site or community with many varied contributors will always have agreement, or never publish something problematic. The big issue is actually what happens afterwards. How the site react once a discussion about it has been started, and how the writer acts as a result. Although the internet is an instant medium for publishing, real life is not. I consider it problematic that the idea is that someone who does not immediately react must be in support of whatever problematic behaviour is being discussed, because there could be many reasons. Not everybody knows what to say, or how to reply. Some people like to marshal their thoughts, or five a chance for the speaker to think abou their actions before pointing it out. Some people want to see if others will point it out, or see what will happen, before weighing into things. maybe they didn’t even read the article, or didn’t read it carefully, or weren’t even on the site at all that day.

Whilst I do believe it vital that we challenge each other over problematic behaviour, and make our different opinions well known, clearly there are reasons why someone may not rush in immediately, all guns blazing. And disagreements between feminists are different to those between feminists and people who have no clue about feminism. The former are hopefully allies, someone supposedly capable and willing enough to have a discussion with, someone that can be talked to rationally.

I would go much further in trying to talk over disagreements with a fellow feminist because I believe that despite our differences and weaknesses, we basically want the same thing. Frank discussion is a good thing, but given the reception we feminists get, and all the in-fighting already happening, is it really necessary to add to that, rather than trying to find common ground and talking it over?

In the case of the F-word, this whole thing happened rather quickly, something that is not easy to achieve. A prompt response is nice, but it’s not always possible, and a lot of the contributors may have only seen the post in question fairly late or not at all.

The commenting issue is also something I find important to clarify. People comment in between all the other stuff going on in their lives. We don’t always have the time or the energy to read all the entries, or even read all of a specific entry. Assuming that someone agrees, or is equally problematic because they have not yet commented is something I try to not do. It’s important that we try to point out problematic things, especially when society teaches us to ignore them, though.

Liz // Posted 26 July 2008 at 5:47 pm

I do think that the Fword reacts very well and did in this case.

Anji // Posted 26 July 2008 at 6:00 pm

Real classy, pulling out my personal relationships and a problem I had with an individual blogger (who had, incidentally, been sending private blackmail-style emails to the blogger I was defending, hence my post) in this. If I wasn’t such an optimist I’d think you were deliberately trying to make me look like a hypocrite. Honestly, you’re just making it obvious you want to have a jab at me and can’t find much to go on so have started pulling things out of your arse. I honestly don’t see the relevance.

Anyway, moving on.

I was a bit riled to find Anji suggesting that we were negligent for not commenting and that even the publication of the post was somehow our collective responsibility.

My blog, thankfully, is *not* a collective blog. It’s a place where I get to say whatever I feel like saying at the time. I particularly don’t appreciate having words put in my mouth. At no point did I state that anyone was ‘negligent’, nor did I say the post was ‘somehow [your] collective responsibility’. I stated that I was disappointed, and pointed out that when you have a collective blog that purports to represent “contemporary UK feminism”, a piece of hateful shock-journalism like that is going to reflect badly upon the other writers.

“Hang on a minute. A “site like that”? Are we being mistaken for a national newspaper here? A big powerful corporation with massive funds and therefore massive responsibility?”

If you don’t understand how big the F-Word is, there is something wrong with you. And regardless of how big or small it is, it does as I said claim to represent “contemporary UK feminism” – and thus yes, I feel it does have a responsibility to actually DO that. There are anti-choice people who consider themselves ‘feminist’ and if I read an anti-choice article on the F-Word I would feel similarly disappointed in the blog as a whole.

“We should all expect to be called out on any prejudices that, sadly, we might harbour but berating writers who played no part in a post and attempting to persuade us to act like a baying mob, in some effort not to be associated with it is, as far as I’m concerned, totally not on.”

You appear to have the same problem with exaggeration and hyperbolic writing for the sake of misrepresentation as your colleague. I would love to see where I was attempting to persuade *anyone* to act like a baying mob. Actually, I didn’t try to persuade anyone to do anything. I am a very small fish in the feminist ‘ocean’ who was expressing my *disappointment*. If I can’t expres my disappointment in something now without being accused of attempting to manipulate people into action, then I might as well stop blogging.

“And what were we supposed to do anyway? Band together in some pompous show of mud slinging at Abby? Circle round her like vultures? Publicly denounce her so that everyone would know once and for all that we, the F-word, do not agree?”

Uh… you would have to be a complete idiot not to be able to see that this is EXACTLY what Jess McCabe did with her apology. You are misrepresenting my words to fit your own agenda. At no point did I incite anybody to ‘band together in some pompous show of mud slinging’, ‘circle round her like vultures’ or ‘publicly denounce’ the writer. I was writing about MY OWN FEELINGS regarding the article, and expressing my concern that it had been posted on a site purporting to represent UK feminism. And then Jess, being endlessly intelligent, made a post to state that Ms O’Reilly’s views were an anomaly and made a public apology on her behalf for the offensive language.

“Who has the right to tell a voluntarily run website what stance they should take and when they should “speak out” as representatives?”

Oh for goodness’ sake, haven’t you already said this? I’ve certainly already said this: I WASN’T TELLING ANYONE TO DO ANYTHING. I was expressing discomfort and disappointment and if you can’t see the difference then perhaps you shouldn’t be writing at all!

Honestly, I am angered and hurt by this post. You have as I already stated, utterly misrepresented my words to make it look like I was saying “Hey F-Word, you must do what I tell you OR ELSE!” Do you seriously think I, as a bottom-level blogger who nobody has heard of, would think I would have ANY clout at all? Am I now not allowed to criticise a website (which until now I have loved very much) without being accused of trying to run the show?

Just bloody THINK. Work on your reading comprehension. Don’t twist my words for your own benefit. THINK before you jump off the deep end.

m Andrea // Posted 26 July 2008 at 6:24 pm

Really, I thought it was handled quite well, and no need to beat it to death. The little comment by Jess was enough.

People who continued to complain after that were out of line.

polly styrene // Posted 26 July 2008 at 8:47 pm

Hi Holly, I’m acutely aware that I’m one of the people who’ve criticised the F word in the past, so I may come across as a bit hypocritical here, but I wrote my post because I did think Abby had some very good points, which were being missed in the general melee. And Heart from womens space made some excellent comments on my piece about reproductive technologies in general and how they can discriminate against poor and third world women, and explains why she is opposed to the whole idea of IVF.

Zenobia // Posted 27 July 2008 at 11:57 am

I also reckon that one of the problems that feminism has is this notion that there is such a broad mutiplicity of feminisms , really socialist anti racist feminism is the only type that matters, zoe williams pointed out at marxism 08 that anything else is really white middle class women trying to get more pieces of pie for themselvses.

Yeah, I’m sure Zoe Williams in 2008 is the first person to ever point that out.

As for the responsibility to comment on Abby’s piece, and how people shouldn’t be that harsh on a voluntarily-run website, well, I can sympathise, especially as you guys all have full-time jobs and busy lives. Although I think presenting yourself as a zine rather than just a blog entails a certain amount of journalistic responsibility. You can’t have it both ways, be an important feminist zine when it’s convenient and then say ‘but we’re just an independent voluntarily-run blog’ when the question of responsibility comes up. I can appreciate it’s difficult to gage that kind of thing, but I can only suggest you either decide that you’re only a bunch of people posting on the internet, or call yourselves a fully-fledged zine and appoint an editor for the blog or at least set out some journalistic standards, because considering the standards you usually set for yourselves, and the standards you set for your commenters also (by the way, might I suggest the addition of ‘ageist’ to that list up there), you should be a little bit more careful about this kind of thing.

As for what Anji said, she didn’t say you should all descend on Abby and disembowl her graphically for the satisfaction of the public, she said someone should have commented. In this case, I think Jess’s comment was probably sufficient, however I can see where Anji is coming from, because sometimes it feels like you guys only comment when you’re afraid people might be offended and you might get into trouble.

I appreciate it must be hard trying to please everyone, I think anything wrong in this instance might be put down to how difficult it is to judge this kind of thing, but all I’m saying is these problems are part and parcel of running a website like the F-Word – which I’m sure you realise you’re very lucky and privileged to be doing in the first place.

Laura // Posted 27 July 2008 at 11:07 pm

On collective responsibility: here’s how blogging here works. I sit down at my desk in Cambridge/Sheffield, log on, waffle, hit publish. Holly logs on at her desk in a different city, does the same. Ditto Abby. Ditto everyone else. I don’t get to know what Abby, or Holly or anyone else is going to publish before the rest of the blog readers, and they don’t get to know what I write.

How exactly, then, am I to be held responsible for what other bloggers write? There have been occasions, and the post in question was one of them, in which I want to bang my head against a brick wall because of what other bloggers have written! No doubt the same goes for them wrt what I write. That’s the nature of a collective blog. Some things drive me mad, but, while I can fire off emails and get involved in discussions, I can’t change what others say. The extreme solution would be to stop writing here, but as Zenobia said, I am privileged in having this platform, and I want to take advantage of it. So, while it occasionally worries me that I may be associated with viewpoints or writing that I disagree with, I hope that the majority of readers can recognise that we are individuals, that in order for this to work we cannot be held responsible for each other’s words, and I hope that my own writing does serve some purpose, be that to entertain, inform, persuade or show solidarity, as the case may be. Should I find myself seriously offended on a regular basis by what’s written here, then of course I would stop being involved, but for the most part I appreciate and enjoy the site – it was my introduction to feminism, after all! – and really value my place here.

Holly Combe // Posted 28 July 2008 at 12:26 am

Apologies for the long comment but I would really like to take the opportunity to offer an explanation to Anji and keep a dialogue going. I would also say that, under the circumstances, it isn’t appropriate for me to keep posting entries about this.

Anji: I certainly didn’t write the post so I could have a jab at you personally (or, for that matter, anyone else). My response was directed at some of the things you and Joanne said and the way they seemed to add to the rather confusing and often contradictory criticism the F-word has received over the past few months. The first reference I made as I linked to your post framed it in a positive light and, as I said, I didn’t actually disagree with most of it. I appreciate that I could have offered some more detailed positive comments before I came to the part that annoyed me but I wanted to get to the point reasonably quickly without merely echoing you out of some sense of obligation first.

I also could have made it clearer that my points were not made in reaction to just your post alone. As Polly indicates above, there has been other criticism directed at the F-word as a whole (as opposed to just individual posts) so I can see it may have been more helpful to the debate if I had opened up a wider dialogue by referencing some other posts as well as yours and Joanne’s. The only problem with doing it this way would be that the piece would have been even longer (i.e definitely too long for the blog). Heaping more work on Jess by sending her a feature would have meant it would potentially take longer to publish so I opted to seize the moment by keeping the piece as current and brief as possible and putting it on the blog.

On further reflection, I can see I was guilty of over-focussing on just one part of what you said and over-reacting by using over-dramatic language to make my point. What I did not do, however, was put words put in your mouth (as you claim above). You say “THINK before you jump off the deep end.” I did. To recap, here’s what I was responding to:

There is no such thing as subjectiveness when your words are published by a site like that, because by allowing it to be published they are inherently saying ‘As a site agree with this behaviour.’

I am disappointed – in (Abby), in the other writers, and in the editors of the site for letting such an ugly and sickening piece of blatant misogyny be published under the banner of ‘feminism’.

I shall be keeping my distance from the F-Word and encouraging others to do the same until both she and the editors take responsibility for what has been done.

I expect Abby O’Reilly will be able to continue posting freely – the f-word doesn’t appear to understand the concept of accountability. (Joanne in the comments for your post)

You say you didn’t “try to persuade anyone to do anything” but I read all of the above to be set in stronger terms than even persuasion. Perhaps I misunderstood you but the comments came across to me as more than just the expression of disappointment you now say they were.

As I said, we don’t vet each other’s blog posts here but it seemed to me that you viewed all the F-word bloggers as collectively responsible for the publication of words that, as Abby said, were one writer’s alone. Saying you would be keeping your distance from the F-Word and “encouraging others to do the same” until we all took responsibility for what had been done sounded to me like a threat to withdraw your support for the F-word unless we all, one by one, spoke out against Abby’s post. Meanwhile, Joanne seemed to be suggesting that Abby should no longer be able to post freely. Was my “reading comprehension” really at fault there? Dramatic as my questions were, was I really “misrepresenting” your words in order to reach them?

I asked if we should “publicly denounce Abby so that everyone would know once and for all that we, the F-word, do not agree” and you say this is “EXACTLY what Jess McCabe did with her apology.” Huh? Jess apologised for the ageist language in Abby’s post but I don’t think she was publicly denouncing Abby. (Again, I was framing it dramatically but Joanne’s apparent irritation that Abby would probably continue to post freely certainly seemed to me like a suggestion that we should publicly denounce Abby.) I would also argue that an apology from the editor is not the same as all the bloggers stepping forward to either repeat it or scrabble about for some other words of condemnation when, as I said, the calling out had already happened.

You mention me “pulling out” your personal relationships and a problem you had with an individual blogger, as if even mentioning that post was an incredibly low tactic for me to take, but this wasn’t a case of me quoting something you said in private. It was written on a public blog. On the basis of what you said in the post, it seemed to me that the difficult situation you described reflected “the irresistible urge in us all, as human beings, to find a pariah, somewhere, somehow.” I was actually making a point about something I think we all need to address and work on but, unfortunately, my tone did not convey that accurately. It simply came across as a snide dig at you personally and I regret that.

You express relief that your blog is not a collective one and assert that you get to say whatever you feel like saying at the time. You are right in as much as it’s true that we do often end up agonising over what to publish in a way we probably wouldn’t if we were writing on blogs that were ours alone. But, really, are only people with small blogs aloud to get angry?

I don’t think the insults you level at me throughout your comment are very fair. (Examples would be comments such as “work on your reading comprehension” and “if you don’t understand how big the F-Word is, there is something wrong with you,” along with the accusation that I am “pulling things” out of my arse and implication that I would have to be a “complete idiot” to not see Jess’s apology as the exact same thing I am objecting to). I may be reading you wrongly but, for me, it seems as if you think we, as F-word bloggers, are accountable for our words, (along with everyone else’s on the site) while you are exempt from even having to avoid insulting someone who has disagreed with you. I don’t buy that.

I also disagree that a so-called “bottom-level blogger who nobody has heard of” does not have any clout. As feminists, we are all blogging as part of something bigger. We are all subject to being noticed, linked to and bookmarked. That makes a difference. You say you are a very small fish in the feminist ocean but, really, aren’t we all? You say the F-word claims to represent “UK Contemporary feminism” but, as far as I know, Catherine and Jess don’t hold any copyright on that term!

That said, I do see what people are saying about the privilege of blogging for the F-word and, when I really think about it, I do feel very lucky to be a part of it. I suppose it’s just hard to always be aware of that when I came to it in such an informal way. I simply discovered a site I immediately knew I wanted to contribute to and sent Catherine a feature idea. (I didn’t know her previously.) I know the F-word is a lot bigger these days but any other feminist is still welcome to do the same. Yes, there are a few stipulations but it’s genuinely not an exclusive club.

secretrebel // Posted 28 July 2008 at 10:23 am

Hi, can I please ask what is up with this blog? As if the ageism in the earlier post wasn’t awful enough now another f-word poster is explaining why she didn’t denounce the earlier post.

The earlier post happened, the earlier poster issued a non-apology apology about her words being deliberately “hyperbolic” and a big old row kicked off. Now there’s this post and again in comments we have a non-apology apology about the words used being deliberately “over-dramatic” and again a row is kicking off.

Seriously, stop spending so many words defending the inexcusable. If you want to talk about how not all feminists agree with each other even when they share a blog, fine. But it’s incredible disingenous to claim that a blog with the word “feminism” labelled all over it doesn’t represent “feminism”. It might not be the biggest or most notable blog, but if it’s calling itself a feminist blog then someone should be checking the articles for anti-woman content and that earlier article about fertility was so many miles off appropriate that any competant editor should have spotted it.

You don’t all need to get out the ash and sackcloth or mount a pitchfork-bearing mob, but please, spare us the self-justification. It does not make you look good. (And by “you” I mean the above poster and anyone else who posts here or is involvement in managing/editing the blog.)

Holly Combe // Posted 28 July 2008 at 11:44 am

Secretrebel: I do take your point about things dragging on but I think this is all stuff that needs to be addressed and, if it takes a few mistakes along the way, so be it. I’m not saying all this just to “look good” either. Should I be?

I don’t think the “non-apology apology” tag is entirely fair. I was trying to accept responsibility for the flaws in my post that may have led to Anji feeling singled out, while also continuing to defend my arguments. I don’t think my arguments could be described as “inexcusable” and, if this is actually a reference to Abby’s post, I didn’t at any point seek to defend what she actually said anyway.

I never claimed that the F-word somehow doesn’t represent feminism at all. I just wanted to point out that no-one here is trying to imply that it is The Final Word or full story on it. Indeed, if we said any such thing, people would quite rightly tell us not to be so arrogant.

Or maybe not. I don’t want to jump to conclusions again but it does seem as if we are being told to stand up and say “Yes! The F-word really IS the final word on contemporary feminism! We accept the full responsibility that brings and surrender our right to speak freely as individuals! Over to you, the readership, to tell us how it’s done.”

Jess IS a competent editor but, as we keep explaining, she does not check our posts. This is because we are trusted not to publish anti-woman content. The post in question was the exception rather than the rule so I would say our track record justifies this.

It might not be the biggest or most notable blog, but if it’s calling itself a feminist blog then someone should be checking the articles for anti-woman content…

So are we to conclude from this that any blog calling itself a feminist one, with writers who have been asked to blog because they have already sufficiently proved themselves to be feminists should, nonetheless, be checked by an editor before anything goes up? Who is going to pay Jess to do that? Because I know she works very hard already. Blogs need to move fast so I reckon she’d probably have to give up her job if she was required to check for urgently pending blog posts all the time as well. (As Zenobia suggested, we all have busy lives.)

Liz // Posted 28 July 2008 at 12:27 pm

‘Yeah, I’m sure Zoe Williams in 2008 is the first person to ever point that out.’

I find that remark quite harsh, like yes I should have referenced soemone else, Bell Hooks in the 80s for example but as I had seen that recently it was at the top of my head. I don’t think that kind of harsh response was necessary , though I appreciate that referencing a white middle class woman did undermine my point.

micearenice // Posted 28 July 2008 at 12:42 pm

I understand that there are many types of feminism and that everyone has differing views so moderating thefword must be a very difficult task. However, the use of such inflammatory discriminatory language in as that in Abby’s post is inexcusable and more consistent with a tabloid newspaper. I thought it scandalous that a reputable blog such as the fword would have a contributor who thinks it is ok to post such horrid language in the first place. I am even more surprised that Holly thinks it ok to publicly criticise Anji and Joanne who stood up to such discrimination. Fine, so Abby’s post may not be the fault of all of the people who post on thefword as a result of the posters being so loosely moderated – if at all, but would a comment on either Anji or Joanne’s blogs have sorted this out rather than highlighting all of the issues here? I thought this was supposed to be a friendly space! It is sad that Anji has had defend herself for criticising thefword contributors when she quite rightly had a point. The problem is that thefword has no way of ensuring that the contributors do not post anything that could be discriminatory or offensive, which is a bit of a surprise for a website that represents UK feminism.

Zenobia // Posted 28 July 2008 at 12:54 pm

About the ‘contemporary UK feminism’ thing, I think we can safely take it to be an indication that this site contains feminism, rather than a claim that the blog is representative of the entirity of contemporary UK feminism. It doesn’t say ‘today this blog, tomorrow the world!’ after all. If there is a problem there, it’s probably to do with the fact that the F-Word is quite a big platform, so to a lot of people it will be representative of feminism – which I’m sure you guys are well aware of.

As for what Laura said about certain opinions making her want to chew her own arms off in frustration, but that’s fine because it’s a group blog – I’d say the offensiveness of the language used by Abby in that post goes beyond opinion. I’m not one to mind offensive language usually, but being derisive of older women’s dusty old wombs isn’t really on. People talk deplorable bullshit on the internet all the time, of course, so it’s not the end of the world.

I think the point is, though, you guys set a certain number of standards for yourselves and for your commenters, and particularly if you have those standards for your commenters, you should find a way to stick to them yourselves.

Also, I think people are keen to find proof that you don’t care about stuff. A little too keen to think ill of the F-Word, maybe, but quite understandable, since you’ve been silent on stuff that you might have been expected to speak up on (Amanda Marcotte in April comes to mind).

And as I said before, you can be either a blog or a respectable zine, if you want to be the latter, busy lives or no, a certain amount of responsibility comes into it and dusty old wombs aren’t really an acceptable part of that.

Although I don’t agree with anyone who says you should have all criticised Abby in turn. After all, we don’t know whether someone had words with her behind the scenes or not – either way, keeping that kind of thing private is good practice. I think it’s wrong to expect a public shaming, which is the kind of thing that goes on in the blogosphere all too often.

Oh yeah and I sympathise with how difficult it is to be recognised as individual voices on a group blog, since I’ve been in that position myself, and it can get pretty annoying.

Holly Combe // Posted 28 July 2008 at 1:31 pm

I think these are fair points and agree that a comment on Anji or Joanne’s blog might have sorted this out. Certainly, that would have been less confrontational. I actually started writing with that as my intention but it got bigger and bigger and, as the issues of who we are at the F-word and responsibility have come up before, I decided to post about it.

I have to say I do think it’s “okay” to publicly criticise something I don’t agree with. (Hopefully, a friendly space can still be a very critical one that gets heated sometimes.) As I said in my own piece, I didn’t disagree with the criticism of Abby’s post. I just resented what I saw as an implication that we should all be wading in to add to it as a matter of principle.

Jess McCabe // Posted 28 July 2008 at 3:13 pm

Zenobia – The F Word is a zine with a blog. Because of the nature of blogging, of course the blog is updated much more frequently than the zine, but the main focus and point of The F Word is still, as always, to publish contributed features and reviews by a wide spectrum of individual feminists.

Perhaps this is not deliniated clearly enough, however.

And I agree, the tagline indicates that the site contains, not defines contemporary UK feminism.

However, I think that the issue from our perspective is not so much about The F Word taking responsibility and apologising for Abby’s ableist language – we did take responsibility, and I apologised as editor. Without wanting to put words in Holly’s mouth, I don’t think that’s what she was objecting to – it’s right that we as bloggers get called out and held accountable for what we post, individually and collectively – within the context of our clearly stated policy:

All blog posts are the views of the individual post author, and not those of The F-Word.

Perhaps it would have been better for Holly to raise the particular issue at Anji or Joanna’s blogs, but I think that the issues these posts raise tap into larger concerns we have about expectations placed upon us, assumptions made about who we are and what we think (often as not wrong), and what we should be doing. In that regard, I think that although Holly was using Anji’s post as an example, her post is fed by discussions we’ve been having between us for months. I think because of that, perhaps she was harder on Anji than she deserved. Anji runs a great blog.

I think Holly was spot on in describing how, from what a variety of bloggers have said over months and months and months, The F Word is being increasingly treated like a big brand, which sits uncomfortably with reality (as in, I’m typing this on a break at work).

What makes me most uncomfortable is that often we seem to be being criticised for not being more like a big brand – a big company, with a paid staff would be able to edit posts before they went up, for example, and pushes one voice, rather than providing a forum.

Again, I am not talking about Abby’s post here, but I think that taking a step back and imagining an F Word where we did try and define what is feminist and what is not, publishing only features which met our politically correct criteria, from among the tangled web of feminisms – well, I wouldn’t want to edit a site like that.

In terms of how we run a blog, I don’t think that a really top-down, edited approach to blogging would fit at all well with The F Word’s role as a forum for a multitude of different voices. Even if it wasn’t completely impossible for me to physically run that kind of blog (it stretches the definition of blogging in my view).

The truth is that we are all flawed individuals. We may well post something stupid or offensive sometimes. No-one can immediately or completely throw off all the bullshit that we are socialised into by our patriarchal, racist, homophobic, and yes, ageist society, and so it shouldn’t be a particular surprise to anyone that we sometimes reflect that in our words and actions. From my point of view, the important thing is not to go through life completely avoided any mistakes, but to deal with it properly when it happens, apologise (as we have done) and change. Ideally it wouldn’t happen on a big public blog like this, but I can’t completely promise that no-one is going to say anything that (quite reasonably) offends anyone ever again on the blog – but, well, that’s not the point is it?

Flo // Posted 28 July 2008 at 3:22 pm

I think one of the great things about the F Word blogs is that the comments section allows for interaction and dialogue between a variety of feminist viewpoints…I don’t want to rehash what has been said above, but even if you looked no further than the comments on these blogs, it is really obvious that there is no one official version of feminism to be represented, so how could we expect the F Word to represent us all at all times? Although I like to read articles and posts on here that affirm my feministy beliefs, I also like to read pieces that challenge my beliefs and provoke new thoughts, so that I know my own beliefs have been thought through, rather than repeating some kind of feminist dogma that dictates what a feminist should and should not think or say.

I think the F Word bloggers do have a responsibility to avoid intentionally giving offense or showing prejudice – because this site is defined as a feminist/woman-friendly public space – and that they appear to take this responsibility very seriously. In the case of Abby’s post I think the F Word did take responsibilty by apologising and allowing there to be discussion of why the language was offensive. However, I think commentators have a responsibilty too: to treat the bloggers and each other with respect and to focus on criticising arguments rather than individuals. I’ve recently noticed several examples of discussions getting decidedly unfriendly and unproductive when commentators have focused on expressing their outrage over each other’s language/opinions and derailed discussion into a slanging match over who is right. Of course people should speak up where they find the language offensive or disagree with arguments made, but it is entirely possible to criticise what is written without launching attacks on the moral integrity or intelligence of the author. I think more consideration should also be given by readers to the fact that it is difficult to gage the tone of what is written in a short comment, so where the meaning is ambiguous people might give each other the benefit of the doubt more often or take the time to clarify what is intended before they mount their high horse! I was really disappointed that the comments on the recent post ‘”Pregnant man” gives birth’, for example, were closed down after one reader’s comments were taken to be offensive, when the post could have lead to a really interesting discussion about what being a ‘woman’ means to any of us.

polly styrene // Posted 28 July 2008 at 4:26 pm

I feel like I’m throwing fuel on a raging fire here but….

I have criticised the F word, both on my own blog and directly to the editor. But I genuinely really feel sympathy for Abby O’Reilly here and I think criticising her WAS justified, but to continue with it, after an apology had been published, as M Andrea says – isn’t. Abby made a mistake. We all do.

It’s interesting that neither I, an actual post menopausal woman, nor another commenter, who gave his age as 60, actually WERE as offended by the supposed ageism as the other commenters. Nor were some of the older women who commented on my blog. In fact we were more annoyed by some of the commenters criticising Abby who were being at least as ageist as she was in their assumptions about older women.

Yes Abby’s language was ageist, but there’s no point in forming a lynch mob. And I think some of the comments were, as Flo says, aimed at Abby personally, which was unnecessary and hurtful. I also agree with Flo about shutting down debate on legitimate areas of contention.

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