The recent post The Dark Side of Geek Feminism, authored by the pseudo-anonymous Nice Girl, and the mostly uncritical responses to it concern me for a couple of reasons.
First, it attacks all of geek feminism based on the actions of a few unnamed individuals. I find this problematic because there is no certification for being a geek feminist. Anyone can call themselves such. Certainly, there are those who call themselves feminists and claim to align themselves with our efforts to support women (in tech, geekdom and elsewhere), but then undermine those efforts with their actions. Or support women to the detriment of other oppressed groups. Folks who do this should be called out on their behavior. It’s not an attack or a condemnation to do so, it’s an opportunity for dialog and for social change.
Furthermore, the author discounts the need for accountability, equating it with vigilante justice. She claims that “naming and shaming” means “trying these things in the court of public opinion” and that both are “wrong and dangerous.” I find this conclusion to be flawed. Without question, it is a person’s decision whether or not to name their abuser. There are plenty of good reasons for not doing so. However, it’s clear that the author is withholding such information not to protect herself, but in order to protect potential abusers and derailers: “[Naming people] can completely ruin someone’s life. The internet lynch mob that it inevitably creates can haunt a person for years.”
Another aspect of the post to consider is use of the term “lynch mob” (quoted above) and the author’s response to being called out on its inappropriateness. Rather than reflecting on why it’s inappropriate to use such a phrase, she simply says she was being hyperbolic and accuses the person who called her out of trolling. What this tells me is that the author clearly doesn’t understand intersectionality and how it relates to privilege. For me, this kind of understanding, or at least the willingness to achieve it, is a prerequisite for engaging in feminist dialog in the first place.
Which leads me to wonder, is the author really engaging in a feminist dialog, or is she promoting an anti-feminist agenda?
I ask because Nice Girl’s post feels like an attention-stealing effort and an attack on anti-oppression dialog. Rather than having a productive conversation about specific people’s behavior, we’re discussing unidentified “bad feminists,” whom we have no ability to address because we don’t know who they are or the full content and context of what they said.
Nice Girl says she believes “naming and shaming” to be unfair. However, the approach she took is even more unfair because it attacks everyone associated with geek feminism; any one of us could be the person she’s talking about.
I’d be having a much different response if the author had written factually about her experiences and not given her post the damming title The Dark Side of Geek Feminism.
[Note: Wondering why is it not appropriate to use ‘lynch mob’ in the way the author uses it? Because it is powerful term that evokes institutional violence against oppressed groups.]
More reading on intersectionality includes: the Geek Feminism Wiki and The Angry Black Woman.
She doesn’t have the vocabulary for “feminist dialogue”, but her message is a good one. I have, in the past, been one of the people she’s describing as making her conference experience unpleasant. I have disliked other’s women’s decisions to wear low cut tops and short skirts, and I have written off women in such outfits as not being geeks. I needed calling on this behaviour.
I’m watching “geek feminist” people’s reactions to this post, and hoping we can take it on board, without getting super defensive, and not silence the next person who also wants to talk about these behaviours towards women at conferences.
It’s not just that she “lacks vocabulary” but also that she appears to be unwilling to learn (e.g. getting defensive when called out on her racist use of the term “lynch mob”). I find it very difficult to have a dialogue with someone who is convinced that they’re right and is totally unwilling to learn or change.
you’re right. I hope she listens eventually. Accepting criticism is hard for humans.
Indeed, and I know I’ve had times when I wasn’t able to take criticism before, too (and will have them again!) It’s one thing to not take criticism well when it comes to one’s writing, or code, or artistic productions. It’s another thing to react badly to criticism about one’s oppressive behavior. In the latter case, I think it’s totally okay to say “Sorry, dialogue with you isn’t a thing that can happen right now”, which isn’t the same thing as writing the person off for life. Because people do change, it’s just really slow.
There is no certification for being a geek feminist… except a requirement to understand intersectionality?
The above quote reminded me of Leslie Hawthorn’s take on the situation, which I happened to have read 5 minutes before.
“Certification” implies some central authority that stamps people as geek feminist or not. I can say from someone’s writing that it does or doesn’t sound like they understand intersectionality, but I might be wrong. Nothing makes me more of an authority than the next person about that. Also, personally I would say that it’s hard for me to have a respectful discussion with someone who doesn’t grasp intersectionality (and doesn’t want to), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a geek feminist; just that they and I can’t work together as geek feminists.
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