On what Clementine did

8 Dec

Online Abuse


I’ve read two opinion pieces today on how Clementine Ford handled the online aggression and threats against her by  naming and shaming the individual responsible, and publishing a compilation of the obscenities fired her way over a period of several months.

There’s this one by Helen Razer in the Daily Review, and this one by Jack Kilbride in New Matilda.

Razer argues that the significance of public commentary is lately at risk of being measured by the amount of hate the author is subjected to, rather than the work the author produces.

Kilbride argues that if women only handled it better the nasty trolls would stop trolling, which is roughly the linguistic equivalent of telling us not to dress provocatively because if we do we’re asking for it, and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.

Razer’s perspective on publicly revealing personal trauma is an interesting one. Her piece is titled, Why violent threats don’t make you an important commentator, so obviously she’s working from the premise that there’s an audience daft enough to measure the significance of one’s work by the amounts of threats one receives, and their degree of severity. This makes me absolutely negligible, as I receive practically no threats, and barely any abuse, except I did for a while cop a fair bit of upsetting reprimand, public and private, from Razer.

Razer writes:

The idea is not important. The trauma victim becomes important. The claim that “Clementine Ford is important for women” should be made about the growing body of this writer’s work and not about the threats she has received. The violent attention of barely literate misogynists has become the register of a good thinker. 

Good thinkers have always been the targets of abuse, and injury, and not infrequently death, since long before there were internet trolls. Online attacks are merely the most recent manifestation of hatred for good thinking: with the Internet haters have discovered an opportunity they’ve never had before to globally spew their bile, and so of course there are more visible victims.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t make anyone an important commentator or a good thinker: Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine cop their fair share of threats and abuse and nobody capable of thinking straight could call either of them good, or important, or even really thinkers, to be honest.

Razer links to this interview with Yasmin Nair, titled The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma, in which Nair makes the claim that everyone must identify as a trauma victim to be considered a legitimate subject:

It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say “if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing…There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

Is the narrative of personal trauma obfuscating the bigger discussion of context, policies, and the state? Or are the two narratives  more compatible than Nair (and Razer) argue?  And after thousands of years of silence on the subject of our trauma, who, after a mere couple of decades of public discussion, has the right to suggest that the traumatised are silencing another, more important conversation? Hasn’t this always been said to women?

Does revealing personal trauma make one more authentic? Or does keeping silent about personal trauma add to one’s authenticity? Does revealing personal trauma detract from the value of one’s work? Or add to it because experience complements abstract knowledge?

I am more interested in the fact of those questions than I am in any answers. In speaking and writing about my own traumatic experiences, I’ve never once thought to ask myself, will I seem more authentic if I say this, or if I don’t say it? This could well be a grievous oversight on my part, however, I’m not in the habit of wondering whether or not I seem authentic, and it seems to me a tortuous thing to have to ask oneself before writing and speaking, the kind of core self-doubt that can do little other than reduce me to quivering silence.

Why should a woman have to ask herself before she writes, will writing this make me more or less authentic?

In her piece on Ford, Razer links to this earlier post, written in 2014, in which she writes at length about her own experiences of being stalked, threatened, and extremely frightened, and the long-term effects these experiences have had on her life. It hurt me, I think irreparably, she writes. I don’t think any the less of Razer’s body of work because she reveals this about herself.

Indeed, she has apparently written a book on the subject, and I don’t think any less of her intellect because she’s written a book on her personal trauma. I am, however, more than a little irritated by the apparent double standard at work here. Razer has confessed her suffering and revealed herself as a wounded subject, yet seems to be arguing that others should not.

Thinkers are at times simultaneously wounded subjects. It seems to me an admirable goal to enable us wounded subjects to contextualise our experiences of wounding in terms of the systems and regimes that govern our lives. If we do not speak about our trauma in the first place, we have no hope of contextualising it for ourselves and others.

If you are exasperated by the sheer number of victims using their voices, perhaps it is wiser not to blame them for your exasperation, but rather go to the source, and hold the source accountable. As I noted earlier, women have been silenced for thousands of years, and it is only in the last three decades we have begun to speak. It would seem a little early for exasperation.

As far as I’m aware, there is no guide-book for how a woman should react to trauma. Each of us does it in our own way and nobody has the authority to police that. Ford does it her way, as does Razer, as do I.

Each one of us who confesses herself as a wounded subject does it in a way that can have significance for somebody else, because there is no one way, and there is no right way, and there is no time limit.

The idea is important. The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or.

This is authenticity.




40 Responses to “On what Clementine did”

  1. Wendy Tuohy December 8, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    That is a bloody good piece Jennifer. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Asexblogger December 8, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

    Very well written, Jennifer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Disruptive Noely (@YaThinkN) December 8, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    “The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or” well put Jen.

    Have to say, did not read Razer until I read this piece. Just not a fan of hers. Even as a non writing professional I can appreciate that she is a good writer, though, as my grandmother would say, her “tone” gets up my nose. Whenever I read her work I get the feeling that she is letting me know that she is the smartest person in the room, therefore any queries or thoughts I may have are unnecessary. I like writing to educate or make me ‘think’, not make me feel stupid.

    Having said that – and I don’t know if it is my personal feelings about Razer clouding my judgement – I feel that Razer does not really like anyone else garnering a lot of attention and can’t help herself but be contrary.

    Then again, Crikey has also released a statement telling everyone that is not a fan of the New Matilda piece that they are all wrong too, so guess, lot of stupid people out there.

    To be honest, I do feel for the bloke, he must be in hell at the moment and as Leena https://somethingforleena.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/why-courageous-jack-kilbride-is-not-the-answer/ said, he probably did have his heart in the right place. BUT considering the style of New Matilda, to me, this was akin to having a shiny white old bloke do a piece on how our Indigenous Australians are just doing Reconciliation wrong, and somehow, can’t see that happening?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson December 8, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

      I know, that NM piece was bizarre, I feel sorry for the bloke, what were NM thinking hanging him out to dry like that?
      I haven’t seen Crikey statement.
      I’m cross with Razer over this. I’m no great fan of Clementine’s approach at times, but she’s acting for a lot of us that cop shite on socmed. Thinking of that bloke who attacked me a couple of weeks ago, telling me I was a moron & everything wrong with feminism….LOLOLOLOL
      Love it when a bloke tells you you’re what’s wrong with feminism


      • hudsongodfrey December 9, 2015 at 1:30 am #

        “Love it when a bloke tells you you’re what’s wrong with feminism”

        Yes but where does that conversation lead to? Assuming the bloke in question can reliably be assumed to be wrong, then you either correct the poor bugger and he learns something, or (unless you’re cowed into submission for fear of the very bullying behaviour Ford aims to defy and curtail) then you accept the possibility of having a two sided exchange.

        I will grant that we can make a criticism of social media that for content creators the sheer volume of feedback sometimes exceeds the abilities of any one person to moderate. But if you can and are inclined to then the civilising influence of what Ford is trying to do seems to only be laudable if it stops saying #HowCanIHateMen and entertains the possibility of productive dialog with us.

        For me I think I need look no further for an example of frustrating disengagement with criticism and especially questioning that our old nemesis MTR. Constantly being published by the ABC and being believed by people, when trying to change public policy and have things banned by making nebulous assertions neither you nor I or anyone else could get her to produce any evidence for. She apparently calls that the way a feminist engages with public discourse. She preaches to the converted and you either listen or….. well nothing really. I mean you certainly don’t become persuaded, and nor do some other feminists I’m happy to report…. thanks also to Eva Cox…. Bygones….

        But my frustration with that was how I came to see you on the ABC, and follow your writings. I hope Clementine Ford impresses more often going forward, and can stand a smartarse so don’t mind Razer’s approach to taking risks with her ideas. Most of all I hope they’re trying to be persuasive and engaged where it matters to both men and women.

        We’ve seen what happens when you pick a narrow constituency and preach to the choir and it’s shit!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson December 9, 2015 at 6:35 am #

          HG, I saw MTR on ABC 2 the other night, on a panel about porn. She seemed a bedraggled spectre of her former self, the host was forced to stop her babbling unsubstantiated statistics and when she did, there was nothing left for her to say.
          It was kind of sad to see, and I think their moment has passed, or is in its passing.

          I admire Razer’s work, her writing is inspired, and I often strongly disagree with her. She does not take kindly to disagreement, anymore than MTR, albeit in very different ways.
          Public voices seem to be employed to put a particular point of view, rather than to engage in exchanges.


          • hudsongodfrey December 9, 2015 at 9:57 am #

            As one other poster mentioned I feel like Razer is used to being the smartest person in the room. I wonder if like Wilde she has practiced witticisms and comebacks at the ready. But I think you’re meant to strongly disagree with a good commentator from time to time. It moves the conversation forward to toss around the odd controversial idea. And besides it keeps one from being bored.

            The important thing is to keep doing what you’re doing, and what Razer and many other good writers have always done, which is not necessarily to respond to each and every comment or troll, but at least to one another. That’s partly where my critique of MTR focuses. She has ideas and objections to how the world is, things she wants to change, as do we all, but its not enough to simply pontificate. It lacks intellectual rigor and she does too much of it. I think I’d like to see Clementine Ford do a little less of it too. I definitely feel she’s one of the smarter people in a few rooms, but she can tend to exclude others on occasions where it would, or ought to be, possible for her to persuade.

            Liked by 1 person

    • helvityni December 9, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      DN, totally agree with you, never had time for Helen Razer’s clever-dickery.


  4. hudsongodfrey December 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    I have to love Razer for her sheer unwillingness to put a point more concisely when it takes her fancy to treat us to a prosaic feast. One of her main points however might equate to arguing that you wouldn’t want World Peace to be ignored just because it is uncontroversially agreeable to most people. Okay so what she actually says is that violent threats seem to be the measure of good commentary these days. I’ve simply inferred that this may call to question either a foible of human nature or the readers’ attention span. It could be that the ideas are perfectly serviceable but the way we’re accustomed to looking for colour and movement does social discourse a disservice (and me fresh from Godwining myself in jest)….

    For what its worth Kilbride, (despite his unfortunate sounding surname), echoes my own sentiment in terms of things like the #HowCanIHateMen campaign. Is it I wonder that the point of authenticity is resisted for some who’re more desirous of conformity? I can in the strictest sense only authenticate my own thoughts and feelings (and some philosophers will argue to deny me even that much). So, surely the real question about the merit of certain arguments should address whether we can agree with them. Starting with a few obvious things like not bullying and abusing one another. Wouldn’t that be an improvement? It does get a little like World Peace when you look at it and question why it’s so damn obvious and yet so impossibly unattainable.

    The other thing worth noting here is that Ford and to some extent Kilbride are reflecting upon a most unusual set of circumstances where the person in question attacked a public figure without taking the least care to conceal his identity. She was to my way of thinking confronted with a moral dilemma as to whether to take down an unusually exposed target. I don’t think it took her long to decide, and in the end I agree with her that to do less would have been a desertion of her principles. Whether she went on to make a watertight case that men aren’t similarly abused was doubtful but momentarily irrelevant. Somebody had to dispel the myth that women are willing to be soft targets for chauvinist crap, she had that opportunity and all kudos to her that she took it

    Okay…. So, this isn’t Charlotte Dawson, and some trolls aren’t easily getable. In the, sadly all too likely, course of events that others are faced with similar abuse they may not be particularly empowered to do what Clementine has. If anonymous trolls regularly elude repercussions of other social media users maybe it is as well to remember that anonymous dissent is also an important form of political expression. We’re not all public figures and for various reasons we choose to handle abuse differently. Perhaps the hardest thing to be authentic about is the fact that the thoughts of chairman Hudson won’t bring about world peace, and somebody I don’t know talking shit about me isn’t going to rock the foundations of civilisation as we know it. Context and perspective are for the moment, I think, all we may have with which to self authenticate.

    Liked by 2 people

    • paul walter December 9, 2015 at 6:12 am #

      In the end I agree, if its simply a matter of not putting up with someone giving you a hard time. Even I once swung a punch at a school bully when cornered and I’m a woos. Fight or flight and sometimes better to fight when there is no self respect left to lose.

      It’s an interesting point in your last para, about how the system foists so called experts onto the public, to excoriate them from the various bully pulpits and it’s little wonder the plebs eventually hit back when they think the elites are talking down on them. But in a country already as cognitively debauched as Australia it is true that a bogan would not understand that Clementine Ford is not the final source of his problems, more likely the real enemy is much, much further up the food chain.

      If you have read my posts you’ll realise that we are close on most aspects of this subject, yet I find I fail myself, also, for not being a little more circumspect in considering it bit more closely earlier.

      It’s ok to like or not like columnists and what they write, but to abuse them personally and physically when they can’t fight back is manifestly wrong.

      The only thing you can suggest as to that is that sick blokes come of a sick society and that Clem Ford and the like who have influence ought not to be diverted from social analysis to cheap shots at “men”…it’s very late in the day for society and our troops have to stay focussed, including Clementine Ford.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. flrpwll December 8, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

    Basically one of them is saying “STFU you look weak” and the other one is saying “STFU you look aggressive”.


    We’ve been told to STFU forever, and it hasn’t done jack, so let’s not.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. paul walter December 8, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    I categorically disagree with your reading of Kilbride, it is more about the squandering of an opportunity for progressivist unity and progress or all, for sheer adversariality involving people (Ford et al in this case) with (perhaps real) axes to grind who care not for any impacts for the self indulgence.

    How preppie is an I Hate Men blog?

    The pity is, she has a substantial issue that many men sympathise with women over, as Kilbride clearly states in that take. But like all activists, her Hobbesian paranoia will drive away so many supporters, as dour single issue fanatics do.

    She does her stuff as hyperbole. Women writers can get issues understood well enough through communication rather than rejection and abuse, as people like Kaye Lee and Kellie Tranter have demonstrated

    What people need to do is actually look at the structure of society and the structure of media in a capitalist society, rather than do ad hominem that obscures such analysis.This was done forensically here a while back, concerning the likes of Gail Dines, for example.

    But, whatever I say from here, I am a brute and the thread villain, a bit like DQ on asylum seekers.

    I have forgotten the agonies of women I’ve met who have suffered at the hands of brutal men. I haven’t emphasised the foul Bogan language used by anonymous cowards against Clementine Ford or the monotonous spate of domestic violence.

    Guilty as charged, but I play Devil’s Advocate, if not actual Devil according to some, because if I dont feel all aspects of the whole picture are being put and I know from personal experience that denialism doesn’t work.

    In fact, on waking from a nap, it does occur to me that being a current affairs junky means being over exposed to newspaper columnists who tend to do “broad brush” single issue, who impact differently on readers who read them once or twice a year.

    Ford is actually constrained by the role apportioned her by her employers and the system. In a sea of issues it is fairly small platform and she feels she must holler, to be heard?

    So no, on reflection, I don’t hate her, she is just another poor soul like me, trying to get back home. But no also, the grandstanding. I despair of it and it wastes an opportunity, from the only place left by the system for her ( and perhaps me, in a strange way).

    Society and life are surely more complex than just a simplistic demonising of men would indicate?

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter December 8, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

      BTW, I’m glad you included the Razer piece, at least you made some attempt to balance your article out.

      Would Ford have done that?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson December 8, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

        Probably not!


      • helvityni December 9, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

        paul, I’m no fan of Razer or Ford, both of them too self-obsessed, I once had typed Clementine’s name wrong on the Drum, she snapped at me quick smart….

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson December 8, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

      The hating men thing was awful.
      I don’t think demonising anyone is useful and is usually destructive.
      We’ll have to agree to disagree on the Kilbride thing. I think he’s not thinking straight.


      • paul walter December 8, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

        You don’t think he is advocating for better communication rather that just negatively “going” Clementine Ford.

        Ok, we will agree to disagree.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson December 9, 2015 at 6:08 am #

          Yes I think he is wanting better communication, but he has put the responsibility on women to achieve that, not abusers.


      • doug quixote December 9, 2015 at 12:10 am #

        Kilbride writes “I am a man and I am a feminist.”

        “Not thinking straight” as you put it sounds about right.

        A man cannot be a feminist, by definition.

        But we can agree with his sentiments, and those of Emma Watson which he quotes –

        “I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter December 9, 2015 at 12:35 am #

          That is the same sort of legal narrowist approach you’ve adopted with Chris at the other place.

          Given some of the some times unjustified slag youve copped yourself from the over zealous there on gender, I wonder at that, because I am coming at this conflation of aggression with assertiveness, from diametrically the opposite location.

          After the ladies give you a pat on the head for being a good boy, try inverting that last sentence of yours, a little.


          • doug quixote December 9, 2015 at 10:14 am #

            Narrow legalist if you please!

            I offer no apology for that.

            Overstating the case as many do is a sure way to cast doubt on one’s own credibility.


            • paul walter December 9, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

              So be it, you suppose.


        • flrpwll December 9, 2015 at 12:36 am #

          Why can’t a man be a feminist?

          (Better not tell my sons!)


          • Jennifer Wilson December 9, 2015 at 6:38 am #

            I’ll leave DQ to answer that.
            I can’t anyway, given that most days I don’t even know what a feminist is anymore.


            • hudsongodfrey December 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

              Which is want I also meant in contrasting authenticity and conformity. When somebody seems to tell me I’m not authentically feminist because I’m male then I feel she sometimes narrows the debate to a desire for conformity to her ideals.


          • doug quixote December 9, 2015 at 10:11 am #

            I suppose he can call himself a feminist, rather like an animal rights activist can call herself an animal.

            ‘Pro-feminist’ seems a much better term to me. I support full equality for all adult human beings before the law and in all facets of human life.

            And we are getting there, at least in the West. Any fair survey of the last fifty years will document the progress made towards equality.

            Liked by 1 person

            • hudsongodfrey December 9, 2015 at 11:42 am #

              As a matter of narrow distinctions, if the kind of feminism one advocates as a male concerns itself with equality then calling one another the same thing seems to better fit that purpose.


            • Nick December 9, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

              “I suppose he can call himself a feminist, rather like an animal rights activist can call herself an [animal rights activist]”

              Fixed that for you. The extension -ist doesn’t imply you have to be be the thing, it implies you adhere to a set of principles and beliefs.

              By which definition, a man can be a feminist. He can support and/or actively campaign for increased rights and improved living conditions for women.

              And more broadly speaking, he can adopt and apply a feminist analysis to the power imbalances inherent in any given situation.

              (As distinct from say a class-based analysis, which might easily ignore or miss that power imbalances can and often do exist within the same socio-economic class.)

              But – as a direct result of adhering to the principles of feminism – there’s an obvious limit to how much men can and should attempt to speak ‘for women’.

              A ‘real man’ knows when to keep his mouth shut. He knows when his contributions aren’t helpful or necessary. He knows that words aren’t swords. He displays self-control, rather than a need to ‘take control’.

              I confess to having mastered none of these things! Which personally I find a bit disappointing, considering I’m pushing 40.

              But I do find feminist analysis extremely useful in identifying where I go wrong.

              Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson December 9, 2015 at 6:10 am #

          Men abusing women has to stop, that’s the priority.
          There’s no future in generic hating either.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. paul walter December 9, 2015 at 12:53 am #

    Hmmm.. was going to commend a musical completion for our soiree, but somehow think posting a U tube of Black Dog could be counterproductive in the current atmosphere..I’ve only so many friends I can afford to lose in one day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson December 9, 2015 at 6:37 am #

      Well, PW, I wouldn’t want you to disappear again having only just returned.


  8. Diane Pearton December 9, 2015 at 7:45 am #

    This brilliant, just brilliant writing!

    Even, ‘ and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.’ It is just, just.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Diane Pearton December 9, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    I think that a man can be a feminist, because a feminist is really a humanist, aren’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sketcher December 9, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Thanks Jennifer.

    I think it is important, to those people willing to share – for those people who aren’t able to – to show that abuse in childhood does not make you a lifelong victim of the perpetrator, that you are able to soar above that and life your life to the fullest. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. townsvilleblog December 10, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    Personally I don’t believe that there is a need for online aggression, surely one can get their opinion across without abuse of others.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hudsongodfrey December 10, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

      I’m not sure it’s done needfully. Trolls seem to do what they do for entertainment.



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