In Australia, there has been a lot of talk about feminist writer Clementine Ford in the news lately. Personally, I think she’s great! She calls people and organisations out on their bullshit. Her language is colourful but compelling and she is, to me, the epitome of modern, unapologetic, in-your-face, riotgrrl feminism. She also has great style and I love her tattoos. Am I fangirling too much? Meh, don’t care.
Anyway, Clementine is in the news for calling out a man who wrote crude things and threats on her Facebook page and reporting him to his employer. The employer promptly sacked this shining beacon of humanity. A win! But instead of a national bout of fist-pumping, the response has been one of butt-hurt from those who believe he shouldn’t have lost his job for being a twat.
I suppose there are plenty of twats who are gainfully employed but as an employer, would you really want an employee who doesn’t respect 50 percent of your workforce? Would you want to employ someone who threatens people with violence for simply airing their views? Would you really want an employee who doesn’t understand that Facebook is a public platform and that they are, in fact, accountable for their actions?
The critics justify their opposition by pointing out Clem’s use of foul language. The argument is that Clem herself is prone to colourful language therefore she should not object to being harassed and threatened. Wow, writing down makes the argument seem even more obscure. Anyway, the example provided was that Clem called Australian right-wing journalist Miranda Devine a f*cking c*nt on Twitter. Regardless of what you think of that kind of language and of Miranda Devine (I’m kinda with Clem on this one), calling someone names is very different to graphic threats of violence. And is anyone really offended by being called names anymore? Really? If someone called me a bitch I could shrug and move on pretty quickly, potentially with the help of a single-finger gesture. But if someone said they were going to follow me home and rape me? That’s next level name-calling, the kind that has you looking over your shoulder and wondering if you should call the police. Neither is ideal but one is a hell of a lot worse than the other. Apples and oranges.
There are other flimsy, apologist counter-arguments too. “Oh, he lost his job, what about his family?” You expect me to feel sorry for this hate-spewing misogynist? Nope. But maybe they’re right, we need some sort of place where these ignorant, angry people can be rehabilitated while undertaking meaningful work to earn a wage. Perhaps in a secure facility where they can reflect on their actions and undergo counselling to figure out where all this hateful bile is coming from. Between sessions they can make up care packages for women who are homeless due to domestic violence, they can arrange flowers to send to the families of women who have been killed as a result of their gender, they can write thank-you letters to women’s rights activists, particularly to those tackling intersectionality, they can make “Check your privilege” business cards to hand out when necessary. They’d earn a wage for these tasks, one that they could send to whatever family they help support, and when they are suitably rehabilitated, as assessed by a panel of independent experts, they are free to return to the community.
In the course of my reading, I came across a quote by T. Eriksen that goes: “In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them”. It’s talking about democracy but I think it’s relevant it most cases. The example TE uses is the (vocal; why are they always so vocal?) criticism of Islam but those who have never so much as picked up a Quran. The same is true here. Unless you know what it’s like to be a woman, or at least make a concerted effort at empathy, you don’t have the right to criticise, particularly criticisms along the lines of what Clem cops on a daily basis. Of course, the experiences of women are by no means universal, I would never even suggest that. What I experience as a straight, white woman is a world away from the experiences of women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women. But being discriminated against, intimidated, bullied, threatened, excluded or made uncomfortable on account of your gender is experienced by women across the board. If you can’t be empathetic and try to understand what that is like, you don’t get an opinion. You straight-up don’t. That’s not ruling out the participation of men. There are plenty of dudes that are fellow feminists-in-arms and engage in meaningful dialogue about how change can happen. It’s just unfortunate that they’re not the ones doing the majority of posting on Clem’s Facebook.