Replicating damaging patriarchal language

If I were to discuss the following, you would assume I was talking about children:

  • If you are friends with her, we can’t be friends
  • I won’t talk to you if you talk to her

Instead, I have seen both of the above stated by feminists of all stripes. I’ve seen monitoring of people’s Facebook friends and monitoring conversations on twitter all used as evidence to discredit other feminists. Failure to conform to rigid rules immediately class a woman as a “bad feminist” who is then shunned, mocked and denigrated.

These are the techniques used:

  • Name calling or insults
  • mocking
  • belittlement
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Ignoring or excluding
  • Isolating
  • Humiliating

There is this assumption that is okay to engage in the above if your cause is ‘right’ or ‘good’. The ‘bad’ feminist must then be reminded daily of their failures and how much they disappoint other women – including ones they have never met for the simple crime of not being unnecessarily rude to someone they disagree with politically.

The resemblance to emotionally abusive behaviour perpetrated by men is so obvious and one that we’re not allowed to talk about. Because it’s apparently worse to point out when someone is mocking and isolating women than it is to engage in such abusive behaviour. Instead, we see insinuations of stupidity and removal of women from Facebook groups for asking questions or having the wrong friend.

I do hold feminists to a higher standard because we should know – whether we are radical, liberal, socialist, materialist or whatever – the statistical likelihood that the woman we are speaking to has experienced male violence and that they are living with trauma. Replicating male patterns of speech and emotionally abusive and bullying behaviour isolates vulnerable women and actively harms others.

We do need to recognise that some of the women who use these patterns are doing so because of the way they have internalised their trauma. We need to be able to challenge these women in a way that will not further traumatise them without allowing this behaviour to continue.

But, we also need to stop accepting this type of bullying as ‘normal’ debate tactics.  Posting private messages on Facebook isn’t appropriate behaviour. It is a silencing tactic: disagree with me and I will publicly shame you. Name calling, mocking and belittlement are extremely damaging to women’s mental health – many of us suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD but that isn’t an excuse to behave abusively to other women.

Isolating women from support networks and their friends is classic behaviour for a perpetrator of domestic violence and yet I see it all the time in online feminist groups: political disagreements used to defend the isolation of women.

We cannot liberate women from male violence if we use the same tactics to attack each other.

* A huge thank you to Cath Andrews who talked through this post with me and raised the issue of ‘failure’

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