‘Derailing for Dummies’

// 3 April 2009

DFD.gifSomeone has gifted to the internet Derailing for Dummies, a satirical (and yet, also serious) takedown of silencing tactics commonly used against marginalised groups.

The tagline is “a simple, step-by-step guide to derailing awkward conversations by dismissing and trivialising your opposition’s perspective and experience”.

Fantastic.

Comments From You

Anne Onne // Posted 3 April 2009 at 1:02 pm

I can’t believe we survived without this for so long! I’ll have to add it to Feminism 101 as a stock link to paste in when things go awry!

”The point is they’re trying to tell you they know better than you about their issues and you know that’s just plain wrong.” LOL

Victoria // Posted 3 April 2009 at 2:45 pm

Oh, yes. I’ve encountered every single one of those tactics when talking about disability rights. I’m too emotional, I’m taking things much too personally, not all disabled people are like me (insert a lecture on just how horrible life is for those poor disabled people who don’t have my uncommon luck, delivered by a very patient and understanding non-disabled person), and their cousin’s disabled brother-in-law has such different opinions about disability from my own that mine can’t possibly have any merit to them.

The list misses out one crucial point, though. “Cast serious doubt on the Marginalised Person’s marginalised status.” This is related to ‘you’re not representative’, but it is a much more effective weapon, especially if the conversation is taking place via Internet. If you’re talking to a disabled person who disagrees with you, tell them that they can’t possibly have very severe problems because if they did they wouldn’t be able to communicate. Or think. It works for people who come from Other Countries as well. If they can speak fluent English, they must have received a very special sort of education that has been denied to their peers, meaning that they aren’t qualified to talk about what life in their home country is like. They’re too privileged to know. (Yes, I’ve experienced this one as well…).

JenniferRuth // Posted 3 April 2009 at 3:18 pm

This has prominent place in my bookmarks!

Amy2 // Posted 3 April 2009 at 3:50 pm

“Of course, straw man arguments are critical to any successful derailing of conversation. It’s very important to discount the Marginalised Person’s™ experience at every available opportunity. Apart from being simply outright hurtful and demeaning, it also forces them into a constant position of defence.”

Oh boy is this relevant to EVERY conversation I have about feminism!

I’ve noticed loads see the need to do this. Trying to get us to see their POV, but really distracting us from the point and putting us on the defence. The most annoying, yet effective trick in the book. Effective if you feel the need to reply, that is..

Jennifer Drew // Posted 3 April 2009 at 3:51 pm

Derailing for Dummies provides very clear information on how male supremacist attitudes operate. Case of I’m right and you’re always wrong!’

Alex T // Posted 3 April 2009 at 7:41 pm

I love this. I wish it had existed before I stopped blogging :(

Becky // Posted 4 April 2009 at 12:36 am

And some “feminist” conversations about sex work. Please remember it doesn’t just apply to what you want it to apply to

Derailing for Dummies // Posted 4 April 2009 at 7:13 am

Thank you so much for featuring me on this website – I’m honoured.

Victoria, I would love to release “DfD v.2” including the item you have put here (in my own words, of course). May I please have your permission to incorporate it. Feel free to email me to discuss. Thank you!!

Brinstar // Posted 4 April 2009 at 8:53 am

It’s probably worthwhile to note that one of the reasons Derailing for Dummies was written was because of the massive blow-up _within_ the feminist science fiction community with regard to Elizabeth Bear, her white privilege, pretending to be an ally of POCs (see the last argument in Derailing for Dummies), the white privilege of a massive number of feminist science fiction fans, and the whole “RaceFail 09” debacle that went down earlier this year. Read the “About” page of Derailing for Dummies for more details.

For more on RaceFail ’09: http://snacky.livejournal.com/560654.html?thread=5172494#t5172494

Janey // Posted 4 April 2009 at 10:47 am

I wonder if the feminists sounding D4D’s praises here actually read the appalling section called: ‘You have a false consciousness’. This section really slags feminists as typical derailers, by using some dubious and biased examples of ‘bullying’ online feminist behaviour towards ‘feminine’ women.

The accusation that feminists despise women who live by more traditonally feminine values is a typical anti-feminist derailing tactic in itself, designed to polarise and divide women against one another.

Derailing for Dummies // Posted 4 April 2009 at 1:28 pm

Actually Janey, as a feminist sex worker, and a High Femme queer woman AND a lifestyle submissive kinkster, I have experienced these intensely insulting arguments from fellow feminists MANY a time. Some corners of the feminist movement are virulent, pervasive, hostile, insulting and absolutely unrelenting when it comes to these matters.

I DO speak from personal experience and whilst, yes, RaceFail 09 was a major inspiration, my deeply hurtful experience of being derailed as a sex worker within a feminist community played an equal part – and that was just the most recent one. It has happened before, to both myself and many other sex workers/kinksters/femmes that I know.

So: please do not deny this reality.

Derailing for Dummies // Posted 4 April 2009 at 1:39 pm

And one final thing, Janey? Feminists are not even named as the employers of those arguments in the document.

Kez // Posted 4 April 2009 at 2:36 pm

Janey – I really don’t see where that section says or implies that feminists in general are “typical derailers”, or that all feminists despise women who live by more traditional values. Some feminists do, in fact, do the things described in that section, and that does sometimes serve to alienate other women as a result. Since when were feminists immune to criticism?

Legible Susan // Posted 4 April 2009 at 3:01 pm

Janey,

That section doesn’t even mention ‘feminism’ or ‘feminists’. It says that women who make certain choices are told that they have internalised patriarchal attitudes such that their choices are not really choices. I have certainly seen those belittling accusations made by some feminists on-line; there are a huge diversity of feminists and many feminisms. It would be a bit strange if feminism was magically free of the derailing tactics that are so common everywhere.

Victoria // Posted 4 April 2009 at 3:21 pm

Janey, I don’t think that section is accusing feminists of being typical derailers at all. Here is the paragraph in full:

“This one crops up a lot in issues that affect women: women who enjoy dressing in conventionally feminine ways (they’re engrained in the patriarchal construct of femininity and therefore are incapable of making a choice), women who are kinky, regardless of the gender of the person they play with (they’re engrained in the patriarchal construct of gender roles and therefore are incapable of making a choice) and sex workers who claim to enjoy their work and/or practice it with autonomy (they’re engrained in the patriarchal construct of female sexuality and therefore are incapable of making a choice).”

I recognise what is being described in this paragraph. It doesn’t say that all feminists are out to derail discussions by saying this kind of thing, or even that most feminists are. But we have to remember that as feminists we are not immune to prejudice and some feminists are privileged in ways that others aren’t, which can lead to people who are otherwise very sincere and principled saying things that are extremely prejudicial and damaging, often without even realising the full import of what they’re saying. I get it a lot both as an Arab woman from a Muslim background and as a woman who is classed as severely disabled. Some of the things that have been said to me and about me (and women like me) in feminist circles are very demeaning. It’s not anti-feminist to point that out.

hexy // Posted 4 April 2009 at 4:08 pm

Oh, yes. I’ve encountered every single one of those tactics when talking about disability rights. I’m too emotional, I’m taking things much too personally, not all disabled people are like me (insert a lecture on just how horrible life is for those poor disabled people who don’t have my uncommon luck, delivered by a very patient and understanding non-disabled person), and their cousin’s disabled brother-in-law has such different opinions about disability from my own that mine can’t possibly have any merit to them.

Victoria: I’ve encountered that exact same pattern arguing against ableism just in the last fortnight!

Janey: Yes, some of us have experienced these tactics coming from other women who identify as feminists. The “false consciousness” argument is regularly levied at sex workers and femmes, at the very least.

Jess McCabe // Posted 4 April 2009 at 5:47 pm

In terms of the point about some feminist women arguing that other feminist women have internalised patriarchal ideas if they conform to any kind of mainstream idea of femininity: I think it’s… unhelpful to say the least… but I don’t see that as (in itself) an example of people with privilege silencing/frustrating marginalised people, because it’s usually women saying this to women.

As in, discussing what role femininity has, and if it’s possible to embrace it in a feminist way, is a legitimate debate within a marginalised group. In fact, when women don’t adhere to femininity norms, they’re more likely to find themselves losing privilege than gaining it. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to cross lines (eg insulting other women because they’ve not got the same attitude to femininity as you). But, still, I don’t think it’s an interaction between privileged and marginalised, and it’s not *per se* something that should be shut down for that reason.

There are plenty of other reasons not to do that though, not limited to: criticising and policing the way women look/dress/our gender presentation is oh so patriarchal in itself, so maybe we should avoid replicating that and piling on more pressure; telling someone they’re fooling themselves isn’t a particularly good way to convince them…

Also, there are exceptions, such as when trans women’s attitude to femininity is questioned in a way that cis women’s rarely/never are… Also see straight women criticising queer femme women…

When it comes to sex work, I think it’s a lot more complex, and there are lots of issues about who does the speaking for sex workers, particular women in prostitution. But, well, that’s a whole massive other debate, maybe one better not dragged into this thread!?

janey // Posted 4 April 2009 at 11:18 pm

Those who responded to my previous post did not seem to get the point I was making. If the author of D4D was setting him/herself up as the arbiter of what constitutes derailing of a marginalized group, that’s fine. However, in dealing with such sweeping generalisations, the author needed to be even-handed about what examples he/she focused on.

I don’t believe the author did this. In the section on ‘false consciousness’, the author makes no distinction between whether feminists are routinely guilty of this derailing behavior or whether people are projecting this behavior onto them, in order to derail THEM.

Also, I couldn’t help noticing quite a few derailing tactics being used against me. Here is just a small selection of examples (make of them what you will):

Derailing for dummies – ‘Feminists are not even named as the employers of those arguments in the document.’

Derailing tactic #1: ‘I didn’t use the word “x”, so I didn’t necessarily mean word ‘x’. That’s your interpretation. (Read: I don’t take responsibility for any misrepresentations I might have made of your marginalised group, because I didn’t mention them by name.)

Legible Susan – ‘Some feminists do, in fact, do the things described in that section … ’

Derailing tactic #2: Some feminists somewhere behave badly, therefore I can, if I choose, construe this as a reality of all feminism everywhere. (Read: I’ve got all the behaviour bases covered, so you can’t wiggle out of any unfair claims I might make against your marginalised group.)

Kez – ‘Since when were feminists immune to criticism?’

Derailing tactic #3: No one anywhere is immune to criticism, therefore neither are feminists. (Read: I’ll just keep implying that you expect your marginalised group to be an exception to the normal rules of social discourse, so that I don’t have to address the possibility that my treatment of your marginalised group could actually be contrary to the normal rules of social discourse.)

Fran // Posted 5 April 2009 at 1:28 am

“Derailing tactic #2: Some feminists somewhere behave badly, therefore I can, if I choose, construe this as a reality of all feminism everywhere.”

But that’s just the thing — I don’t see anyone construing this as a reality of all feminism everywhere. No-one arguing with you, as far as I can tell, is criticising feminism in general (I’m pretty sure we’re all feminists!), just something some feminists do sometimes. The author never said “feminists as a homogeneous group do this”, just that “this happens” — which it does, see DfD’s second post in this thread.

Derailing for Dummies // Posted 5 April 2009 at 6:44 am

Jess: As a sex worker, I can tell you right now: calling us “women in prostitution” is not going to earn you ANY points.

Furthermore? You cannot argue mainstream feminism is dominated by the white elite. So yes, there is most definitely a situation of more privileged women marginalising less privileged women within feminism, as any woman of colour will tell you and any sex worker will tell you (and any lower class woman and any disabled woman… etc).

Derailing for Dummies // Posted 5 April 2009 at 6:49 am

Janey: you can either hear me right now, right here AS A SEX WORKER who has faced absolutely grotesque hatred from feminists, that this HAPPENS and is hurtful and damaging, that I have not been heard, that I have been dismissed and my consciousness denied…

or you can continue to do exactly as you are doing and IGNORE MY PRESENCE ENTIRELY as the author of this document and so indicate you think my voice unworthy of consideration.

I do not care if you like it: THE RADICAL FEMINIST MOVEMENT IS ANTI-ME. It is anti-sex workers and therefore it is anti-me and the encounters I have had with these hateful women – who are also anti-trans and anti-kink, two other important aspects of my life (I am cis but am a trans ally in r’ships with trans people) – have been extremely marginalising, hurtful and demeaning.

It is my reality. You denying that? Doesn’t change it.

Jess McCabe // Posted 5 April 2009 at 10:56 am

@Derailing for Dummies:

. Furthermore? You cannot argue mainstream feminism is dominated by the white elite. So yes, there is most definitely a situation of more privileged women marginalising less privileged women within feminism, as any woman of colour will tell you and any sex worker will tell you (and any lower class woman and any disabled woman… etc).

Of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t suggest anything else, and I posted the link because I’ve seen all these tactics used within feminist spaces (as well as towards feminists).

Rosie // Posted 5 April 2009 at 12:13 pm

The one that enraged and hurt me the most came from my boyfriend the first time I tried to talk to him about my feminism. ‘Women in other parts of the world have it so much worse than you’. Followed by a lecture kindly educating me on details of the lives of women in some Muslim countries, for example the fact that they are made to walk behind men in public. As if I wasn’t aware of this. As if no Western feminist has ever given a shit about the treatment of women around the world. As if some countries’ appalling treatment of women makes the discrimination and othering that I experience irrelevant. This response seemed like a tactic that was meant to at once shame me into silence for being a selfish spoilt bitch, and also convey a rather threatening note of ‘at least we’re not making you wear burkas and walk behind us, you could have it a lot worse’.

MariaS // Posted 5 April 2009 at 3:16 pm

Derailing for Dummies is a great resource, thank you DrD and other contributors. I particularly love the articulation of why personal involvement or a personal stake in an issue does not diminish the value of what we have to say about it. And conversely why not being directly affected by something does not make you into some kind of “objective” authority whose voice should take precedence.

However the section on “false-consciousness” was jarring for me too. It seems silly to quibble that feminists were not specifically named in that section, because clearly in this thread we are all recognising that the examples cited are recurring faultlines in discussion about feminism between women.

It jarred because it is not a problem of a privileged group silencing a marginalised group, it is a problem of conflict and contested issues between members of a marginalised group, namely women. Feminists need to talk about things like femininity, sex work, beauty standards, heterosexuality, marriage, motherhood, bdsm. In the process we should not silence the women who identify with these things and we should not silence the women who want to criticise these things (and who are often not talking from a position completely outside of and unaffected by these things either). We don’t always succeed at this, but it’s no reason not to keep trying and aiming for it and discussing why we succeed and why we fail.

Janey’s point here was very true: “The accusation that feminists despise women who live by more traditonally feminine values is a typical anti-feminist derailing tactic in itself, designed to polarise and divide women against one another.”

btw EVERYTHING is dominated by white, (comparatively) wealthy, well-educated people. They have the loudest voices, they get the most respect, they have better access to resources. In progressive movements and in the establishment alike, you can’t move for tripping over white middle/upper class people. Anarchism, socialism, the environmental movement, LGBT rights, whatever. Of course (white) (middle class) feminists can be racist and classist. But racism and classism etc are not inherent in feminism and indeed are patently counter-productive to the goals of feminism (the collective struggle to liberate women as a class from oppression as women) – we cannot effectively fight against one hierarchy while preserving others, or even while validating the very notion of hierarchy. We can both be feminists and put women first in our activism and our discourse, AND put our other marginalised identities first in other struggles we participate in AND still work to be effective and aware allies with regard to other oppressions that we are not directly targeted by.

Anne Onne // Posted 5 April 2009 at 8:06 pm

Janey, the author of the piece (Derailing for Dummies, that is, as well as here), makes it clear in hir aside that zie has drawn on personal experience as a woman, as a feminist, as a sex worker, a kinkster, a femme, etc. In short, the behaviours listed in a fairly brief and therefore evidently not all-encompassing piece, could work in explaining derailing tactics in every movement, and they do, in fact, use examples from many different movements, even in the section you’re complaining about.

Also, are derailing tactics really being used here by a privileged majority to derail an oppressed person? Are you really less privileged in the feminists vs feminists argument than any of us here, especially the writer of DfD?

As far as I see, your point is that feminists are being unfairly tarred with the same brush, and the people replying are likewise feminists. Because the way these arguments are being applied seem to translate into ‘anyone who disagrees with me/phrases things differently is derailing’. Not what you were intending, but equating feminists disagreeing with other feminists as the equivalent of privileged people telling oppressed people about how not-oppressed they are is rather problematic. The lack of actual oppression, for a start.This isn’t a privileged majority telling a minority about their experience. It’s a minority telling the same minority (feminists) about each other’s experiences. In fact, it’s an oppressed minority within feminism telling (assumedly) the majority about their oppression.

You can argue that hir wording should have been more general, which I believe was your original point, this is different to a situation with an innate power imbalance, especially considering you’re asking a less privileged feminist to justify using examples from hir experience in their own webpage. It’s hir writing: if you want to write an encyclopaedia, i’m sure it would be excellent (sincerely meant, if anyone is willing to put time and effort into something like this,they have my respect).

But I don’t believe someone who has been hurt by the inappropriate, othering behaviour of some* feminists needs to justify including that experience in a post about othering. This is talking as a feminist to other feminists: zie shouldn’t have to put in a gazillion qualifiers to stop people derailing, because a reasonable feminist should be able to read ‘some feminists do X’ as reading just that. Some. This is what our trolls do all the time: ignore the point in order to argue about how some men don’t do X (the answer being, if it’s not about you, it’s not about you).

And, BTW, This section really slags feminists as typical derailers, by using some dubious and biased examples of ‘bullying’ online feminist behaviour towards ‘feminine’ women. is pretty much an example of othering and derailing itself. Because the writer’s personal experience as a femme kinkster and sex worker couldn’t give hir any experience, and because you don’t experience this behaviour by other people calling themselves feminist, it’s automatically ‘dubious’. And the whole thing is ‘biased’ because the author of the post shouldn’t draw from their own experience, even when they take the time to write about what their experience/inspiration is.

Also, “Derailing tactic #2: Some feminists somewhere behave badly, therefore I can, if I choose, construe this as a reality of all feminism everywhere.” And assuming that because we’re talking about this being a reality of feminism, just mentioning that some feminists do this, means we all believe all feminists (what, ourselves included) are like this? For someone against generalisations, you make quite a lot yourself. In fact, this generalising has the ‘but you said some men! What about the men that aren’t sexist! You’re making us all look bad’ derailing tactic, which means we have to spend half the time assuring someone that all members of X group aren’t incurably evil, rather than intricately discussing those that are.

I could spend time painting you as oppressing minorities by arguing against anyone here, rather like you did, but that would be pointless, and not all discussion is othering whenever people disagree or read different interpretations. This is, feminist to feminist, a discussion about problems within feminism. It started off being about othering by privileged parties, or amongst different minorities, but then got redirected to othering by some feminists against others. So we could either argue that we’re derailing each other til the cows come home, or actually talk to people about their experiences, and try to examine what is actually happening.

* They do exist. And trying to talk about them/tackling the intricacies and problems within the feminist movement is not the same as declaring all feminists hate girly girls because they’re so girly. That’s an anti-feminist straw-feminist argument, but that’s not the point here. I get why you’re wary, because feminists do draw a lot of ‘but you just hate pretty women because you’re ugly!!’ flak whenever we criticise gender roles.

But, feminists marginalising other women and other feminists exist. I’ve seen it. I’m proud to use the label ‘feminist’, in spite of the othering I’ve witnessed under this guise, because I’d like feminism to be even better, even more inclusive, I’d like us as a whole to work harder to listen to each other’s experiences and work on our privilege.

If you see someone have the nerve to suggest trans people have ‘trans privilege’, or that sexism is totally more acceptable than racism, which nobody does any more, FFS, you see that even feminists can take part in othering. We’re a diverse movement of flawed, human individuals, same as everyone else. And I’ll defend our sisters when the strawfeminist is brought up. But I won’t pretend that people in the movement don’t do bad things in the name of feminism. Because to me, being an ally means calling shit out, and not letting the ones doing the othering think they speak for everyone.

Amy Clare // Posted 5 April 2009 at 8:15 pm

One of the most common derailments I’ve come across re disability is when able-bodied people use their (limited) experience of disabled people to completely contradict what I’m saying… i.e. if I say “my disability stops me from doing X” they’ll come back with “no it doesn’t, disabled people run marathons / stand for public office / climb mountains etc all the time!” showing that they think disabled people are all exactly the same and have the same (dis)abilities. Nice!

Regarding the false consciousness thing, I do think that sometimes women who identify as feminists and then do ‘traditional’ things (such as take their husband’s last name on marriage, for example) aren’t honest with themselves as to why, and make up excuses to hide the fact that they want to conform on certain issues in order to live a quiet life. In terms of feminine dress, clearly many women genuinely find this very attractive on themselves, but we’ll never know whether they still would if it wasn’t the accepted way for females to dress in our culture. Eg if high heels didn’t exist, would women invent them? The answer to these questions would probably only come if all modes of dress were accepted and there was no ‘typical feminine’ dress, and no media messages telling girls to be pretty and wear dresses from age 0.

janey // Posted 5 April 2009 at 10:36 pm

MariaS

Thank you so much. You grasp exactly the point I was making.

Derailing for Dummies

Please read MariaS’s post. She says what I meant much better than I did.

I am neither criticising nor denying your reality. I am criticising the way that you have collated the examples in the section on ‘False consciousness’.

You may consider what I am about to say as a derailing tactic. However, I believe you have allowed your outrage at past hostilities in your dealings with feminists to interfere with your own otherwise objective analysis of typical derailing tactics.

Had you included a balancing example, e.g. of the common derailing tactics used AGAINST feminists (BTW I am constantly being told that my feminist consciousness is ‘false’), I wouldn’t have had any problem. However, I believe that this oversight is a major weakness of the essay.

I believe you mean well, but you have inadvertently done a tremendous disservice to all those feminists who, like myself, care passionately about the devaluation of women in ALL walks of life – stay-at-home mums, traditionally feminine women, sex workers, women in adult entertainment (my niece is a stripper), women of non-mainstream race, disabled women, professional women, women as portrayed in advertising and – yes – feminist women who use irritating sociology terms like ‘patriarchal constructs’.

dodyl // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:34 am

AnneOnne, once again you’ve made a great post and points (your writing is sheer brilliance, thanks for the effort you put in).

Yay flattery! :P But just so you don’t go on thinking your posts aren’t quality.

Appreciate the ‘hir’.. what does it mean?

Anne Onne // Posted 6 April 2009 at 12:30 pm

Hir and Zie are gender-neutral alternatives to his/her and she/he. I was trying out a new way of referring to people.

As to this issue, I think MariaS and Janey’s subsequent comments have clarified things. I think I see the point you’re trying to make.

The thing is, there’s more than one issue here.

First there’s the idea that all of us have ingrained patriarchical conditioning that will affect what we desire and how we view the world. Some more than others. It’s our personal journey to examine and minimise that, to pick our battles and choose what makes us us versus what we feel is conditioning, knowing we will never fully be uninfluenced.

Then there’s how feminists address this: Derailing For Dummies was pointing out that whilst it is possible to have a discussion about choices academically, it’s not the same thing as asking a woman to justify her choices to you, or assume she doesn’t know what she’s talking about because you assume she hasn’t examined the effect of the patriarchy on herself. We’re all in the process of examining how we’re affected, and treating trans women or sex workers like they haven’t given a thought to how the patriarchy influences them is patronising. It’s perfectly fine to analyse choices and opinions, it’s not fine to expect people to justify their lives, or ignore their experience, or seek to minimise their experience.

It jarred because it is not a problem of a privileged group silencing a marginalised group, it is a problem of conflict and contested issues between members of a marginalised group, namely women

Except for where it’s cis women telling transwomen or sex workers their reality. Which is what she was referring to, and is an example of a privileged group telling a minority about their reality rather than having this discussion with them. This discussion may be between equally privileged feminists (cis women who aren’t in sex work) like for example, you and me, in which case it is on more equal footings. But the topic at hand exists because some women are oppressed by other women. A complicated issue which can be approached in many ways, and the point I believe D4D was trying to make is that being a minority doesn’t make us immune from oppressing other minorities, or groups within our minority that society teaches us are less than us.

I can see from where the both of you are coming from (examples of feminists being marginalised would be good, too), but from this side it looks like a defensive reaction to a reality that you don’t experience, but don’t like.

If a man comes here and says ‘but you have inadvertently done a tremendous disservice to all those men who, like myself, care passionately about the devaluation of people in ALL walks of life’, when the topic of how being male means one takes part in oppression, or that some men oppress women, we’d tell him that his defesiveness is a function of his privilege. That we’re discussing how society oppresses women and that if he wants to be an ally, he should try talking about the women, rather than assuming any comment criticising male behaviour is directed at him, or tarring all men with the same brush.

Derailing for dummies is a feminist, as much as anyone else here. By talking about the way feminism, as well as society at large, affects her, personally, on a feminist forum where people are expected to understand that examining the limitations of feminism isn’t to say there aren’t good feminists: she wouldn’t call herself a feminist or be here if she felt that feminism was unsalvageable and unwelcoming as a whole.

She’s not diminishing the good contribution of feminism by not mentioning it each time she talks about feminism (just as feminists shouldn’t have to preface each comment about the patriarchy with ‘not all men are murderous rapists, and we don’t hate all men, and men who are totally cool with feminism or feminist allies are great’) because there are plenty of spaces within the feminist blogosphere where we do.

Maybe this is an example of unfortunate wording, but your last paragraph reads very much like the men who post on a post specific to how some men oppress women demanding that it be duly noted that *they* don’t oppress women, thank you very much. Missing the point that the post in question was never *about them*.

It’s not necessarily the original point being made that was problematic: a quick ‘I just want to clarify that although some feminists do marginalise trans people, sex workers, kinksters etc, there are those of us who don’t, and I, as an ally, want to work to make feminism more inclusive and less divided. I feel it could be even better if you mention an example of derailing against feminists,too’ would have made the point, without implying that less privileged women (trans women, sex workers) talking about their problems makes you look bad as an ally.

The language you have used has sometimes felt dismissive to me as an outsider in this argument, particularly the implication that it’s ‘past’ grievances she’s letting unduly affect her. Would you tell a POC that past instances of racism are affecting them, when it’s their everyday reality? Our past sexism? Past homophobia? Not what you intended, but the wording implies that these are all issues that are over, rather than ones that are continuing. For a feminist sex worker, every time they visit a feminist site is a potential time they will get marginalised and told they’re not feminist. Or for transwomen to get told they’re not ‘real’ women and are privileged and not welcome.

The inclusion of more examples would undoubtedly make any post richer, but it’s how we suggest new ideas, how we add to the conversation that matters as much as what we’re trying to say.

We’re talking at cross purposes here. I think there’s probably a lot all of us agree on, but the way we disagree, and how we deal with that disagreement is important. Given the internet’s ability to make all of us react more violently to (misinterpret, even) written words than we would spoken ones, I have the feeling that this discussion is an example of the limitations of the internet, rather than a divide.

Mary // Posted 6 April 2009 at 2:00 pm

Anne Onne – such a good comment.

I don’t think it’s an interaction between privileged and marginalised

Frequently it is, because within the group “women”, there are white women and women of colour, middle-class women and working-class women, queer women and straight women, trans-women and cis-women, women from the developed world and women from the developing world, women from (locally) majority religions and women from (locally) marginalised religions and so on. Most of the tactics that DrD has described are used by women who are privileged within that group of women against women who are not.

(My favourite example ever: a white radical-feminist poster on the Livejournal Feminist community who repeated told a Black woman that she was wrong and anti-feminist for not minding getting cat-called in the street, until the Black woman gave up and left the community. It was DISGUSTING, and yet the radical feminist poster got a huge amount of kudos from other posters in the community for being so hardcore and persistent. That was the day I got why many Black women don’t like the term feminist.)

I think that anywhere where that those arguments are taking place within feminist communities, we need to sit down and look at what are the power relationships here, and ask ourselves whether feminists are using other forms of privilege to marginalise or silence other women. Speaking for, or claiming to care about a global community of women is actively harmful if it drowns out those women’s voices.

Sophia // Posted 3 July 2009 at 12:55 am

Yup, I recognized one after another of these points – in my own experience, and things that have happened to trans friends, autistic friends and others among my fellow-travellers who just don’t fit the pattern.

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