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9 July 2012

Why are you feminists always complaining?

My response to Chris Dillow.

By Helen Lewis

Now, Chris Dillow is an interesting blogger, and one I read regularly. So I was a bit surprised to stumble upon this paragraph at the end of a post about economic research which might be interesting to feminists.

It’s rather sad that it takes a sexist old dinosaur like me to point out things like this. But then, when feminists confine themselves to complaining about people being mentally ill, or whining about the frustrations of careerist egomaniacs, someone has to point to proper social science.

That “complaining about people being mentally ill” link went through to the piece I wrote on Friday about the incredible levels of hate dished out to blogger Anita Sarkeesian, which included having her Wikipedia page trashed, her personal information posted online, and a charming man creating a game where you could beat her up. 
A commenter called Susan challenged him about “belitting” feminists here, writing:

When the cost to men and women of talking about sexism on the internet is the same, men and women will talk about sexism the same. Until then, it is incredibly rude to mock feminists for trying to address the violent backlash they are currently facing.

For me (and I realize this might be an idiosyncratic view) the sole purpose of writing is to say something interesting. I just don’t find “threatening behaviour is wrong” a terribly interesting statement. By all means, report it to the police, campaign against it and even fight back personally. But for my tastes, writing about it is boring.  
So I thought I should write him a quick letter. Here it goes:
Hi Chris,
As the author of that post you say is limiting the horizons of feminism, I thought I should respond. 
I found your comment dismissive – because I’m experiencing it in the context of the fact that anything I write about feminist issues attracts a certain subset of comments about how I am “whining” or “complaining”; this is often coupled with helpful advice about the things I *should* be writing about, usually from people who show no apparent interest in those things, except as a metaphorical stick to hit me with.
One of the reasons I write regularly about online abuse/trolling/harassment (or, as I guess you’d have it, “confine myself to” writing about it) is because a staggering amount of people aren’t aware that it exists, and are grateful to be made aware of it. 
If I were to flip your comment round, I’m sure there are lots of people who think that YOU writing “economic inequality is bad” isn’t particularly interesting. But that’s not what I think – I think that you’re outlining interesting phenomena and explaining them to your audience. Which is exactly what I’m trying to do.
I also query your use of the description “mentally ill”. Have a look at the online presence of the man who created the “beat up Anita Sarkeesian” game. His Twitter account, for example, shows an apparently well adjusted young man. The same can be said of many of those arrested over cases of racist Twitter abuse.
Lastly, I really do believe that the type of abuse I’m writing about is an important subject for feminists. Look at Anita Sarkeesian – she wanted to talk about something related to feminism, and there was a concerted attempt to silence her. I get emails from other women who’ve given up writing because of this kind of stuff. 
Hope that explains my reaction.
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