Tag Archives: Clementine Ford

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.

 

 

 

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Naming and shaming

3 Dec

Naming and shaming

 

I don’t always agree with feminist writer and activist Clementine Ford. I disliked her “Fuck Abbott” t-shirts and wouldn’t be caught dead in one. I disliked even more her “I hate men” hashtag on Twitter.

But Clem Ford has taken on men who are abusive and threatening to women online, and one Michael Nolan has lost his job because the company he works for won’t have its employees publicly abusing women.

Of course Ford has received bucket loads of abuse for complaining about Nolan to his employer because, as she notes, the worst thing you can possibly do is make a man accountable for his actions.

In other words, a male who is so inclined may visit all kinds of abuse upon a woman, but this is secondary to the offence she commits by insisting that he be held accountable for his actions.

Well, fuck that for a joke.

When a man abuses a woman he loses his right to privacy. If he has a family, he also destroys their right to privacy.

Give me one good reason why any woman abused by a man is obliged to remain silent about that abuse in order to protect him, his reputation, his job or his family. He should have thought about all those aspects of his life before he perpetrated the abuse. Maybe if he does think about all those aspects of his life, he will think twice about perpetrating the abuse. And if he doesn’t respect his own life and others in it, why on earth should a woman he’s abused be expected to do it for him?

Actions have consequences. Suck it up, dudes. The shame’s going where it belongs.

If women stay silent about the abuses visited upon us because we’ll be perceived as vengeful bitches if we speak out and the perpetrator loses his reputation, his job, his family, then women are saying to men, abuse me, I won’t say anything because your job, reputation, family are more important than me. It’s ok, abuse me, and I’ll sacrifice my well-being for yours.

Well, fuck that for a joke as well.

I don’t know what else we can do about violence against women, no matter what form it takes. Name the bastards. If that’s what it’s going to take to make them think about what they’re doing, name the bastards, because the consequences of that naming and shaming are down to them, not the women they abuse.

The days of male entitlement are, albeit at a glacial rate, coming to a close. Men who abuse and exploit women are accountable for their actions, and the choices and decisions they make and the risks they take in the making.

It’s not our shame that we name them. It’s their shame that they have to be named.

And for the women in their lives who are collateral damage: take a step back and a good look at the kind of man you’re spending your life with and ask yourself, do I really have to set the bar this low?

We don’t have to stay silent so abusive and exploitative men can stay comfortable.

Fuck that for a joke.

 

 

 

 

Elite feminism. Enough, already.

24 Oct

feminism_small-003

 

Ever since I read this piece by Clementine Ford on this venture by Roxane Gay, I’ve been struggling with the reaction both posts have provoked in me.

Gay is calling for submissions for a collection of essays she’s pulling together written by women who have experienced sexual harassment, assault and abuse. The aim of the collection is to expose the way women are often told it’s not that bad after we’ve experienced one or all of the above, using the survivors’ own words. As Gay puts it:

Not That Bad is an opportunity for those whose voices were stolen from them, to reclaim and tell their stories. This anthology will explore what it is like to navigate rape culture as shaped by the identities we inhabit.

Contributing to this anthology is a chance to own your own narrative with all of the complexity of reality without shame or condescension. Because too many of us have lived this truth, there is no one way to tell this story.

Being told, it’s not that bad after sexual violation of any kind is a way for the culture to minimise the experience, and it’s also, I believe, a way in which others attempt to comfort us, albeit misguided. As a comforter, it’s not that bad is worse than useless, really.

However, my first thought on reading both posts was, this is a very exclusive offer to a relatively small demographic, and will exclude many survivors who aren’t academics or academically inclined.

Here’s a list of suggested topics:

Potential Topics (a brief list, not a prescription)

Testimonies of what “not that bad” looks like
Critical examinations of rape culture
What it’s like to negotiate rape culture as a man
How women diminish the sexual violence and aggression they experience and the effects of doing so
What “not that bad” looks like in popular culture—film, television, and music
Resisting rape culture
Combating sexual harassment, street harassment and cat-calling
How sexual harassment and violence erode women’s privacy

I’m an academic, and used a great deal of my experience of childhood sexual abuse as the basis for an interrogation  of violence and power in my PhD. So I’m not complaining about being excluded from the project by its frames of reference and the language in which they are couched. I’m also very aware of the potential helpfulness of a theoretical framework through which a survivor can view her experience, if she is so inclined.

So why is my reaction to this proposal exasperation and anger?

The women whose essays will be chosen for this anthology are not likely to be women without a voice. Indeed, a woman will need to have found a voice, and an educated one, in order to qualify for inclusion. There is nothing innately wrong with this: women with educated voices suffer sexual violations of all kinds, and there is no argument for silencing us.

Yet I want a qualifier on this anthology. It isn’t simply an opportunity for women whose voices were stolen to reclaim them. It’s an opportunity for a very select group of women, who have voices that fulfil the editor’s criteria, to publicly own their narratives. It ought to be owned as such.

My irritation is with a feminism that speaks of “women” when what is actually meant is a certain category of women, to the inevitable exclusion of others. This feminism, far from challenging the culture actually props it up, in its embrace of social hierarchies rather than its contestation.  So we measure the advancement of women by the number of us who sit on boards, achieve the status of CEO, and succeed in a patriarchal system.

Feminism, for me, is about contesting that system. A feminism that addresses itself to a particular category of women and does not own that, is a feminism that is patriarchal in its performance. It’s based on an assumption that other categories of women aren’t as significant, or that all women are the same.

There’s nothing wrong with Gay’s project in itself. The problem is with its claim to offer “women” a voice and an opportunity for ownership of our narratives. It doesn’t. It offers women who can intellectualise our violations, and write about them, the opportunity to be heard.

When I was sexually assaulted last year I saw a counsellor, and one of the things I said to her repeatedly was that I didn’t understand my reaction to this event, as I had dealt with so much as a consequence of childhood sexual abuse, to the extent that I’d based a PhD on the topic. I expected myself to know what was going on in me, and deal with it far better than I am.

Ah, she said. It’s one thing to understand events intellectually. But your body remembers. Dealing with it intellectually isn’t all there is to do to own the experience. Traumatic memories, ancient and modern, are not seen off by the intellect. It’s but one aspect of the situation.

So, while I could write a piece that would probably qualify for Gay’s anthology on navigating rape culture as shaped by the identity I inhabit (except that I’ve written this and likely disqualified myself) something in me, as a recently raped woman, baulks at this language and this framing.

I think feminists who practise elite feminism ought to expect resistance, because they are likely not respecting the existence of all women. It is, really, quite unacceptable to use the term “women” in such an unqualified manner when what you truthfully mean is: only women who meet the criteria need apply.

 

 

 

 

When will women learn?

28 Jun

see_what_you_made_me_do_postcard-rc8b8f0ec48a84a79bc384bc46d470d0a_vgbaq_8byvr_324

What is it we need to learn this time? Oh, yes, women need to learn not to send intimate photos of ourselves to people we trust. For christ’s sake, this isn’t rocket science, women. We already know you can’t bloody learn that. No, all you have to learn is not to point the camera at your bits and press send. How hard can it be?

And if by chance those photos are used as revenge porn, or hacked, or, as happened in my case, the relationship breaks up and the ill-mannered swine refuses you the reassurance of telling you he’s deleted them, you have only yourselves to blame because if you hadn’t taken them in the first place, nobody could have exploited you.

Actually, it’s worse than that. If you didn’t have a vagina in the first place nobody could have exploited you. If you didn’t have breasts nobody could have exploited you. If you weren’t female, nobody could have exploited you so if we’re being completely honest none of this is about what you do, it is really about who you are. 

Yes, yes, yes I know there are men who are exploited, and they can speak for themselves. I’m currently dealing with the apparently never-ending story, most recently perpetuated afresh by channel 7’s Sunrise Face Book page, that women need to learn we’re asking for trouble if we express our sexuality because men cannot help themselves.

These men who cannot help themselves in the face of female sexuality are, when I last looked, the same gender who are running corporations, governments, intelligence agencies, police forces, universities, the armed forces, the medical profession, the legal profession, media – the planet, actually. Yet they allegedly cannot govern either their own desires, or the desires of their fellows. The sight of a woman’s naked breasts will call forth unmanageable primal instincts, which, if they are expressed as abuse, assault, threats of violence, threats of rape, scorn, disparagement, and unbridled lust will not be the man’s responsibility but yours, woman, for putting your tits and bits out there in the first place. 

You won’t only hear this from men. You’ll hear it, at times ferociously, from the women who enable men in their childish abdication of responsibility, and the self-serving perpetuation of the myth of the male as unable to control his desires in the face of female irresistibility. These women will not hold men accountable, they will hold women accountable. It takes two, they’ll say, when their man sexually assaults another woman. Yes. I’ve actually heard that. It doesn’t get much more sickening.

What is at issue here is a woman’s right to perform her sexuality in any way she chooses without fear of violent repercussion, emotional, physical, and mental. We do not need to learn how not to do this. Men, and the women who enable male ill-treatment of other women need to learn, among other things, about consent. You don’t just take because you want it and if you do, it’s your bad behaviour, nobody else’s. This is what we teach two-year-olds. Why are we still trying to teach it to adult men and enabling women?

Our youngest family members are boys of roughly two and almost four. The two-year-old has recently taken to persecuting his older brother with various types of bodily torment. Archie has learned to say, Stop it, I don’t like it. But Ted hasn’t learned to hear that yet. So he has to be hauled off his brother, taken to another room, and have it explained to him ten times a day that when you’re being physical and somebody says, stop it, I don’t like it, you have to hear that and you have to stop. This instructing is most often done by his dad, backed up by whoever is in charge when dad isn’t. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I know none of us are giving up. These little boys are tomorrow’s men. They are learning about consent. It isn’t rocket science so how come so many men, the gender that rule the damn planet, don’t fucking know it?

I am absolutely fed up with hearing about what women “need to learn” to protect ourselves from men who are dangerous to us, physically, mentally and emotionally. This is an arse-about and spurious load of codswallop. What we are witnessing, as is evidenced by the outrage generated by the Sunrise Face Book question, is that women are learning, and what we are learning is to hold men who hurt us publicly accountable for their actions.

Women are still being held accountable for crimes that are committed against us. Enough already. There’s only one way this will change, and I believe it’s begun. Challenge the myth. Challenge the men and women who are in its thrall. Treat them like two-year-olds who need to be taught ten times a day that when I say stop it, I don’t like it, you fucking well have to hear me, and stop.  

Dear Clementine Ford. How I feel when you talk about me.

15 May

 

us-them

 

The following are extracts from Clementine Ford‘s recent article “What Cleveland tells us about the cycle of abuse,” on the kidnapping and imprisonment of three women and a child in Cleveland, Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the facts of the case are horrific, both those known and those yet to be revealed to the authorities required to know them. (Despite our general fascination with salacious details, even those we find emotionally difficult to bear, this is not our story; the women involved are at last able to shield themselves from invasion, and that includes protecting themselves if they so choose from the world knowing to what depths the humiliation was that they suffered.)

What happened in Cleveland is horrifying, yes. It’s incomprehensible. To imagine the reality of those 10 years would cause too much distress, so we hover around its dark edges, not quite daring to look beyond the borders with anything other than quick glimpses in case our eyes lock on something we can’t unsee. But we should resist the temptation to consider it different somehow to the violence expressed on a daily basis in homes on similar suburban streets occupied by similarly “normal” people, domestic matters in which we imagine we have no obligation to get involved. 

What I am questioning in this piece is Ford’s use of the words “our” and “we.” For whom does she speak? Who is the “we” on behalf of whom, and to whom Ford enunciates? When Ford writes “our,” with what audience does she imagine she is engaging?

As a woman who survived childhood sexual and physical abuse on a scale that I still, and always will find “emotionally difficult” to bear, I do not feel included in Ford’s “we” and “ours.”

For example. I do not share our “general fascination with salacious details.”  Such details would plunge me into places I do not wish to go, because I have lived many of them. Having lived them, I am immediately framed as “not our,” and “not we” in Ford’s narrative, whose point of view, it seems to me, is entirely that of a “we” and “ours” who have not endured monstrous events.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this perspective. Not everybody has to suffer torment. But there is something terribly wrong when it is presented as the perspective, excluding those of us who have a very different experience of life, while simultaneously  making us the centre of the discussion. This inevitably creates a binary of us and them. It positions women like me outside of the centre, as represented by mainstream writing and reporting.

Women such as myself are absent in this piece of writing that is also absolutely about us. Without us, this text would not exist, yet our voices are silenced by Ford’s appropriation of our lived experience , an appropriation in which there is no place for our presence. We can be talked about. We cannot speak.

We are made the object of Ford’s, and her readers’ gaze, no matter how sympathetic and empathic that gaze may be. We are positioned outside the social order, as represented by Ford’s use of “we” and “ours.” Women such as myself cannot possibly envisage ourselves as belonging in, and to this “we” and “ours.” It is against this “we” and “ours” that women such as myself must struggle to find a place for ourselves in a culture that through no fault of our own, casts us as outside its linguistic parameters of belonging.

There is a barrier between those who’ve known violence and those who haven’t. Because of this barrier, we are forever outsiders. Our secrets set us apart. Dark knowledge taints us. We’re sullied, dirtied, spoiled by our knowledge and we struggle to rid ourselves of this legacy. We are not the “we” and “ours” who fear seeing what we can’t unsee. We have seen the unseeable. We have lived the unlivable. We are the aporia, we are that which cannot be contained within the structures and logics of texts such as Ford’s. We are, by our experiences, made other, and we are further othered by hegemonic writings that exclude us, except as objects of the sympathetic gaze.

Feminist thinker  and writer Hélène Cixous suggests that we should not think of women such as myself as “victims,” but rather as “subjects of suffering.” …human beings, she continues, try to live through the worst sufferings. To make humanity of them. To distil them, to understand their lesson. We do this, those of us who can. Many of us can’t. Many of us die. Many of us live lives of unimaginable difficulty. Most of us never have a voice. We must put up with hearing about ourselves and our experiences from others, who shudder at the horror we’ve endured. This serves only to further marginalise us. This makes us spectacle.

What happened in Cleveland is not “incomprehensible” to me, as it is to the “we” Ford addresses. It is all too comprehensible.

Unlike the “we” Ford addresses, there is no temptation for me to consider what happened in Cleveland as “different” from what happened for years in my outwardly “normal” home on an ordinary street, except in some of the specifics.

The call for the “community” to take action to prevent such ruptures as the Cleveland events, or indeed my own sufferings, seems extraordinarily naive to me. How are we to depend on a “community” whose prominent feminist spokespeople see us as other, however empathetically, and exclude us from their discourse?

To imagine the reality of those 10 years would cause too much distress, so we hover around its dark edges, not quite daring to look beyond the borders with anything other than quick glimpses in case our eyes lock on something we can’t unsee.

These are the words of the privileged, who can choose to avoid the distress, who can hover, salaciously, around the dark edges, lacking the courage to cross the borders and walk with those of us who’ve had no choice in the matter, and who can never fully return from that dark country to the land of “we” and “ours.”

Those of us “subjects of suffering” who have survived enough to speak have much to offer, weighted with the authority given to us by our lived experience. We could tell you, for example, that there is a universe of difference between sexual harassment, and the violence we have endured. You may not care to hear that, but we can tell you that is so.

Given the horrific statistics for violence and sexual violence against women in this country, there must be many of our number among Ford’s readers. Yet writing such as this excludes us all. There must be many others who, like me, read this piece and think, I am not of this ‘we.” I am not of this “ours.”  This is not written for and to a woman with a life such as mine has been. It is written about women like me, but it is not written with me. It does not walk with me. It does not take my hand. It does not acknowledge me as an equal. It is writing that distances itself from me, and me from it.

If we are to intervene in the cycles of violence that bring abject horror to the lives of so many of us, we are first going to need a new discourse with which to do it. That discourse will  not create a barrier between those of us who have suffered and those of us who have not. There will be no excluding “we” and “ours.”  We do not need sympathy. We do not need to be isolated in our suffering. We need those who will walk beside us, equals in our shared humanity, no matter how varied our experiences.

If feminism cannot do this for women, it is a failed project.

This is how I feel when you talk about me.

 

Is Fairfax “Daily Life” having a laugh?

5 Apr

I just read this piece by Clementine Ford at the Fairfax “women’s business” Daily Life website. Ford’s piece is called “Stop telling women what to wear.” It’s worth a read.

But just look at what surrounds it. Net-A-Porter.com fashion ads. Advanced style icons. The best style on the street. Stockholm style. The look of the day sizzle reel. Search for all the latest fashions here. Daily style with fifty different fashion looks. The article boldly titled “Stop telling us what to wear” is embedded in more fashion advice than a woman can poke a stick at.

We’ll let them have their whinge, says Fairfax. But everyone knows what’s really important. Everyone knows they LOVE being told what they should wear so when they’ve finished reading the article and getting all riled up about the patriarchy controlling them,  they can just click on to any one of these options and CHOOSE A LOOK. Nobody’s telling them which look, for God’s sake. They have FREE CHOICE.

But wait! There’s more!  “Advanced style icons” features a 72-year-old model! We can look forward to being told what we should wear even into old age! That’s a relief. Even if I can’t remember the name for whatever, at least I’ll know how I should dress when I’m trying.

Truth is, I’m not a subscriber to the “patriarchy makes us do it” theory of victimisation, and there’s plenty of good female role models who don’t appear to be overly concerned about their appearance. We need to find out how they managed that, then teach our girls. However, the disregard for its content demonstrated by situating Ford’s article in the middle of a blitz of fashion advertising is interesting. Is Fairfax having a laugh?

I’m about to take off for a few days, venturing across the border into the cultural wasteland that Queensland has apparently become in the few days since Campbell Newman took office and axed the Premier’s Literary Awards. There’s an interesting piece here in New Matilda, in which Mark Fletcher argues that the axing is no loss.

Happy holidays, may your chocolate be good chocolate, and may you not eat more than is healthy for you. On the other hand, everyone needs to indulge now and again. Just make sure you are fashionably dressed when you throw up.  See you next week!

The Chocolate Shoe

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