Far too much has been written recently on the phenomenon of call-out culture on twitter. I’m rather bored of writing about it and I’m sure most people are bored of reading it. I’ve come to the conclusion that call-out culture, as is practised on twitter rather than anywhere else, is about being badly behaved and rude for the sake of it.
It isn’t about calling out someone on offensive language or being misogynistic, racist, homophobic, classist etc. Frequently, call-out culture is the preserve of middle class white women on twitter desperate to prove that they are cool and, by default, not middle class or white.
Mostly it makes them look like dipsticks.
The most annoying factor of call-out culture is that most people [Z] don’t actually call out the person [X] saying something offensive. Instead, Z takes the chickenshit route of calling out someone X talks too [Y]. Y is then required to call out X as [insert term of oppression here] despite not actually having any evidence that X is in fact [insert term of oppression here]. When Y makes the obvious mistake of pointing this out, Z gets all their mates involved in a pile on of Y, who is in fact innocent of any wrong-doing.
This is clearly the behaviour of bullies but you can’t actually say that to Z or they start screaming about their own oppressions. This will almost inevitably be something like anxiety or depression. Of course, Z doesn’t actually give a shit whether or not Y equally suffers from anxiety or depression or that they are completely triggered by Z’s abusive bullying behaviour. In this, only Z matters and anyone they hurt is irrelevant and the fault of the person they hurt.
Z then gets to swish about twitter rewriting what actually happened in order to continue their narcissistic belief that they are somehow actually nice people.
If you are not willing to call out someone for offensive behaviour yourself, you have NO RIGHT whatsoever to demand that others do it for you. You can ask someone politely but unless you know every intimate detail of that person’s life, you have no right to ask them. If someone refuses, you have no right to ask them why. You have NO RIGHT to know the intimate details of peoples lives. You have no right to know if they suffer from depression or anxiety or are triggered. If someone says no, you have to respect that. If you don’t, well your boundaries are pretty much fucked up and that isn’t the problem of anyone but you.
The use of the theory of intersectionality as a silencing tool has now reached epic proportions of hypocrisy. Oddly, not by anyone who actually seems to understand what intersectionality actually is and hasn’t learned it from one 140 character tweet. In fact, truly intersectional feminists are fairly obvious to spot: they can be angry but they are not abusive. Far too often on twitter, abusive behaviour is ignored and minimised by, frequently white, women claiming to be intersectional. Being oppressed has never been an acceptable reason to be abusive to others. It is that simple.
It’s not enough to add “intersectional feminist” to your twitter bio. You actually have to practise it. And, just to be clear, at no point has Kimberle Crenshaw ever suggested that it’s totally okay to threaten to rape or kill someone who is defined as an “oppressor”. If you believe it’s okay to threaten to burn women at the stake because you think they are oppressing you, then you’ve completely missed the point of intersectionality. Frankly, you’ve completely missed the point of being an adult human being.
In one recent case of the hypocrisy of those claiming to be intersectional, a middle class white woman who self-defines as cis and claims to be intersectional, approached a well-known feminist twitter account and demanded the right to tweet on behalf of sex workers and Trans*women. Despite being neither a sex worker nor a Trans*woman. And, oddly, this particular well-known feminist twitter account already has sex workers and Trans*women tweeting for them. Turns out, actually practising intersectionality by refusing to allow a middle class white woman to tweet on behalf of two oppressed groups that they do NOT belong to is anti-intersectional. You genuinely can’t make this stuff up.
The total lack of self-awareness and the arrogance of assuming you can speak on behalf of a group that you do not belong to is breath-taking and it would be hilariously funny if it weren’t so damaging.
The premise of intersectionality isn’t all that hard to grasp: multiple oppressions are non-hierarchical and exist on praxis wherein relative issues of privilege and oppression are contextualised in specific moments and one instance where an individual is oppressed can be followed by an instance where that person has relative privilege. The obvious example here is that Black-British men are an oppressed group within a white supremacist society but that they also have a position of privilege over Black-British women or Black-British men who are also disabled.** Many people live with multiple oppressions without threatening to set fire to women they disagree with.
The obvious joke about the most oppressed person ever being a disabled, poor lesbian woman of colour and a single mother to boot is trite and meaningless. It has no reflection in the actual lived experiences of women wherein it is perfectly possible to be oppressed in one moment and privileged in another. Trans*women are an oppressed group but within the group there are multiple intersecting oppressions which make some Trans*women more privileged than others: Trans*women with disabilities for instance. A white Trans*woman who transitioned late in life and is financially secure experiences very different oppressions from a very young Trans*woman of colour who is not financially secure and living in an area where transphobic violence is common.
How many times have people had a conversation interrupted on twitter by a woman who identifies as cis calling someone in the conversation transphobic? And, every time an uncomfortable silence lands whilst everyone tries to think of how to politely point out that the person labelled transphobic is in fact trans*? I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen a cis-identified person refuse to back down when accusing a Trans*woman of transphobia with the excuse that they’ve got Trans* friends who totally think the other Trans woman isn’t good enough [whatever that means]. How is this intersectional feminism? Mostly, it makes the cis-identified woman look like a complete nincompoop.
And, let’s be perfectly honest about this: having access to the internet and having the skills to be able to communicate on social media is a position of privilege that the vast majority of the world will simply never experience. So, complaining that your “platform” isn’t good enough is a teensy bit ridiculous. Yes, you may personally not have your own column in the New Statesman or the Guardian but do you really think that editors will commission you to write for them when all you do is shriek at them for being white and middle class.
There is a real problem in the media with the over-representation of white, generally male, middle classes. Racism, homophobia, ageism, misogyny and disablism are issues that huge swathes of the media would like to pretend don’t exist. Jimmy Savile was allowed to run free for decades abusing vulnerable children because he was a white man. The number of people of colour working within the media is conspicuous because of their absence as it is for older women and people with disabilities. These are also issues that people of colour and people with disabilities and older women and Trans* should be leading the conversation on: middle class white women ranting hysterically on twitter and insulting Helen Lewis every ten minutes aren’t engaging in discussion. They are actively silencing the very people they claim to be “speaking for” [and the fact that they don’t see how hypocritical that position is speaks volumes about their lack of self-awareness].
Let’s face it, nobody chooses to be born white and middle class and an accident of birth is hardly something that people should be ashamed of. If said middle class white person is an asshole with no empathy or sense, then by all means call them out. But to dismiss every single white person who is middle class because they are white and middle class is utterly ridiculous; particularly when the “intersectional” feminists screaming about the privilege of white middle class feminists are white middle class feminists themselves. And, no, choosing to squat does not make you a member of the oppressed classes. Having a choice to squat is not the same as being forced to squat because of poverty.
It is also possible to be middle class, white and have a physical disability or suffer from crippling depression. It is equally possible to be a white middle class feminist who was a victim of incest as a child, suffers from PTSD and is living in a violent relationship. These do not make one privileged.
Lesbians get raped for being lesbians. This does not make them privileged even if they also happen to be white and middle class.
There is no shame in being born white and middle class. There is shame in being an asshole. Now, assholes are over-represented in the middle classes because of lack of awareness of privilege but, equally, sometimes people make mistakes. Holding someone accountable for one stupid thing they did ages ago does not challenge privilege. Mostly it makes you look dickhead.
I’ve gotten to the point where I see a white middle class woman claiming to be intersectional and my first instinct is attention seeking, whiny-pants.*
If you actually want to be intersectional, then you need to shut the fuck up and actually listen to intersectional feminists instead of insisting on the right to speak on their behalf.
There is nothing intersectional about speaking on behalf of a group you do not belong to: mostly that’s the same old patriarchal silencing bullshit and it’s incredibly tedious watching the same group of white feminists congratulating themselves of being intersectional all the while demanding the right to speak over the voices of other women.
And, yeah, part of this rant is because I am angry at being called a hypocritical cunt by a badly behaved teenager but mostly I feel sorry for those white, middle class women so desperate to be accepted that all they can do is scream obscenities at any woman who dares to step outside their Rules. And, let’s be completely honest here, if you call another woman a “hypocritical cunt”, you’ve pretty much lost the right to whine about no one being nice to you. Using misogynistic language against another woman is never acceptable.
It comes as no surprise that not only do this group refuse to actually call out anyone themselves, they also never really challenge men, except for celebrities.
These white women who claim to be intersectional feminists spend more time trashing other women than they do fighting the patriarchy. It’s pretty obvious why they don’t support the twitter report button, despite all being on board with the twitter blockbot, the hypocrisy of which never fails to amuse me: it’s because they are afraid. They know that their behaviour is so appalling that they will get banned if twitter ever starts to take bullying behaviour seriously.
All things considered, I’m okay with being a hypocritical cunt if it means I don’t spend my days trashing other women, verbally abusing and bullying vulnerable women and generally having tantrums when other women don’t do exactly what I say.
Being born with lots of privileges doesn’t make you an asshole as much as being born with multiple oppressions makes you a good person. What makes us good people are the fact that we learn from our inevitable mistakes and treat others with kindness and respect. Name-calling fails that on every level.
[This was all inspired by several conversations on twitter over the past few days. I have not credited anyone because I don’t want the inevitable shitstorm to blow back on them].
*Obviously it’s possible to be a white middle class intersectional feminist. It’s just the ones I see on twitter telling everyone that they are intersectional feminists in literally every other tweet are the ones who aren’t. Those white women who are actually intersectional feminists aren’t the ones banging on about it since they are too busy LISTENING to other women rather than demanding the right to shout louder than other women.
** I highly recommend the blog Gradient Lair for their excellent discussions of this.