Recently, Suzanne Moore closed down her Twitter account after a flood of online comments that probably drove her nuts with anger and frustration. She had written a brilliant piece on women's anger and inequality (see: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/seeing-red-power-female-anger), but made a comment that provoked outrage and the accusation that she had made a transphobic remark. The rest is all over the web, and it has left me feeling incredibly upset and disempowered - I almost cried, in fact.
Having a feminist close her twitter account down isn't a great thing. I've thought about it long and hard (while making sure my clothes aren't going stale in the washing machine)...
Surely the manner of speaking, not just the point of the speaking, is important? It can make things toxic. Suzanne Moore was basically shoved about on Twitter in a way that I find both terrifying and familiar – it’s the sort of thing I got online and in person a lot when I was a campaigner and Vice Chair for Abortion Rights, and it's part of why I haven't had a twitter account or a blog. I find that while "comments" on blogs may have validity to them, they often come in torrents of abuse that uphold a very brutal sort of world.
Being a woman speaking on the web is hard ... a lot harder than being a man. While women writers used to use male names to get published, now anonymous men can shout down women on the web without respect, accountability or conscience.
It's very 'internet' rather than 'real' but also incredibly basic: it's bullying.
Look at Stella Duffy's blog on this (http://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/) - she says "I know that I, for one, will be much less likely to mention trans at all, in any context, because the upset and anger over ‘getting it wrong’ (and it does seem there are some varying reactions, so this too is subjective) is too painful. And so we shut up. And nothing is said. And that’s really depressing."
Shouting women into silence is never the answer. It's too familiar. It's what men have done to us for centuries. It's horrible, outrageous and unfair. Fine, someone might be wrong, there may be more to a debate than has been conceded, but as Duffy says on her fantastic blog, shutting down debate with vitriolic abuse and the constant and insensitive use of language that people DON’T BLOODY UNDERSTAND isn’t the answer…
“I do believe dialogue is the only way forward. Ever… I’m glad I have my Buddhist practice to remind me both to listen and to try to be compassionate – AND to speak from my heart when I feel moved to do so.”
It was great for me to read those words, to find sense amid all the absolute bollocks on the web at the moment. And no, I’m not going to apologise for the use of the work ‘bollocks’. And no, I didn’t know what ‘cis’ meant until the day before yesterday…. I don’t need to in order to feel solidarity with all those who are oppressed and in order to continue supporting the right to self-determination for all people.