Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Criticizing Cis Feminism Does Not Have a Chilling Effect

That's just your hurt ego talking.

This is coming from a post that I came across on Facebook that a white feminist posted on Medium called "Getting it Right by Getting it Wrong: on Pussyhats and the Women’s March."

I read this article, hoping it would address the pussy hat thing. I've kept quiet about the pussy hats in particular, as I was unsure how they would ultimately be taken. I am very aware of the problem with cis feminism being incredibly cissexist and the large number of cis feminists who know next to nothing about trans issues and either believe that genitals = gender (TERFs) or simply have never considered the idea that some men have pussies and some women don't. It was also recently pointed out to me that not all vulvas are pink, which I should have thought of myself.

The only reason I was hesitant to condemn the pussy hat thing was because I get that they and similar things referencing "pussies" are in direct reference to the shit Donald said about how fun it is to sexually assault women, and of course Donald would never for a single second acknowledge the existence of trans people or non-binary genders. I've been trying to generally spread word that genitals do NOT equal gender, and now that articles are coming out by trans and non-binary people about the pussy hats, sharing those.

Anyway, this particular Medium post didn't talk directly about the pussy hats at all. Instead, it addressed a number of classic anti-feminist complaints that were thrown at the Women's March, followed by some serious privileged whining. Also, ableist language:

But here’s the thing: 
Shouting down other women for doing feminism wrong has a chilling effect on feminism. There. I’ve said it. I have hesitated to write about women’s issues not because I’m afraid of trolls, but because I’m afraid of getting it wrong for women: of excluding someone or appropriating something or getting out of my depth or out of my lane. I am doing my best. I am learning. I am a late bloomer. I did not hear the term “intersectional feminism” until I was well into my forties, and it took some time for me to get my head around it. So I try to check my privilege. I read as much as I can. I know I will get it wrong and say stupid stuff on occasion. But isn’t it better to try than to say nothing at all?


People misuse the concept of the "chilling effect" all the time. It's a more complex version of the misuse of "free speech." The chilling effect refers to acts by the government (again, it only applies to the government, not to random civilians) that are meant to intimidate people into keeping quiet about things that could threaten governmental power. Via Wikipedia:

In a legal context, a chilling effect is the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights by the threat of legal sanction. The right that is most often described as being suppressed by a chilling effect is the US constitutional right to free speech. A chilling effect may be caused by legal actions such as the passing of a law, the decision of a court, or the threat of a lawsuit; any legal action that would cause people to hesitate to exercise a legitimate right (freedom of speech or otherwise) for fear of legal repercussions.

Nobody is threatening white, cis feminists with legal action or lawsuits. But again, to the privileged, criticism feels like a significant threat. We need to be able to acknowledge this fear and get past it. Protecting our egos is not more important than protecting the safety and lives of women of color, trans women, and others often left out by mainstream feminism.

What do you do in the meantime? You be careful. You don't speak about things you aren't sure about. There are plenty of things that you can speak on that won't risk hurting people you have privilege over. And if you don't know what those are yet, then you need a lot more education and should probably hold off on actually speaking. You can still share things from more educated feminists. You don't always need to be flapping your mouth.

And if you screw up and get called out, then guess what? It's not the end of the world. Learn to listen and take it with grace. Yeah, it doesn't feel good, but the things that separates uneducated feminists from shitty feminists is the willingness and ability to take criticism. That bad feeling that comes from being called out and the fear of that feeling is not a "chilling effect." It's the effect of having too fragile of an ego and an underlying belief that criticism is a threat to your very self. It's okay if people get mad at you sometimes. If you have privilege over them, consider that your fuck up can at least be an outlet for oppressed persons to express their anger. You can then apologize and learn and be a positive example, showing the oppressed people you hurt that their anger is valid and acceptable and fellow privileged people the correct way to respond.

But if your response is to say that "your criticism hurt me and makes me afraid so you shouldn't criticize at all," then you are being a shitty feminist. You're hurting yourself, the movement, and the people you have privilege over. If a "chilling effect" is defined as "anything that makes that makes me feel bad/afraid to feel bad," then by that logic you're having a chilling effect on those you have privilege over by being a big baby because your negative reaction could easily make them afraid to even try to correct the bad behavior of people like you. And that means that things will never get better for them and the world will continue to be unjust, unequal, and generally shitty.

Is that what you want? No? Then do the work. Stop blaming oppressed people for your wounded ego.

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