That is, people criticizing the big offenders who make online feminism look terrible, like Heart, by saying "She claims to be radical, but that's the same old male thinking all over again." I've seen some old school radical feminists distancing themselves from the very fucked up online school by saying things like that. And I'm realizing that, while I get their point ("radical feminism was actually different back in the day"), I'm quite leery of the language.
Any time we can look at other people and call their thinking or their way of thinking oppressive, label it as the thinking of the group's enemies, we're a stone's throw from something like this, if not closer. Any time we can write off someone as "thinking like the oppressor", we're veering into dangerous territory. Because what we say when we say something like that is that that person's thinking can be dismissed offhand without any kind of reasoned examination.
We're using loaded language when we say people think like the oppressors, or when we give their thinking a gender and expect people to understand this as a grave insult. How do we expect anyone who isn't already us to take that even remotely seriously?
I don't mean to call any of us actual cult members, but I do think we need to pay attention to trends in coining and using words, and what that can do to shape people's thinking. Especially since a sea of bewildering terminology is very common in feminist blogland, or even in Left Bloglandia generally.
(This is, incidentally, why I'm beginning to think spelling "woman/women" with different vowels ("womyn/wymyn/womon/wimmin" etc.) is actually a bad idea, rather than simply a cute but outdated second-wave holdover.)
Remapping words insulates us, distances us from an outside world that we see as not getting it, not radical, not good.
And using those "us and them" terms makes me uneasy. Not because I think what people like Heart have to say has merit, or, for that matter, is particularly feminist as I understand feminism. I think she's spouting drivel hoping for influence on others. But it's not some conviction about whether she qualifies as a member of a group I'm in (feminists) that makes this bad. It's her cruelty and selfishness and refusal to listen to others. She doesn't think like a man, even an idealized man in a theory that defines patriarchal thinking as "anything authoritarian." What she does is refuse to listen and to respect others.
This is also why I'm uneasy about totalizing remarks like "if you're not a feminist, you're crazy, particularly if you're a woman."
On one hand, the sentiment makes sense -- yes, it would be (prima facie, at least) irrational for a woman to come out in favor of the wage gap or the rape rate or DV, and it also would be irrational for a woman to write these things off as unimportant once pointed out to her. On the other, however, these facts don't by themselves imply a woman ought to take on a particular identity. That's not something we can decide for her.
And there's no question in my mind that in the circles that I've run in, "feminist" is as much a term of identity as a descriptor of political activism or causes. Perhaps more so. Being a feminist implies certain opinions, theories, and analyses, which are expected to at the very least impact what we do and how we view the world. In the groups I've been a part of, someone who simply said "Okay, so if someone who cares about the wage gap is a feminist, I am one -- but there is no patriarchy/I don't find that term useful" would get talked to (or, in many cases, talked at -- people with "consciousnesses" that haven't yet been "raised" are often talked about as nuisances or as frivolous, ignorant because they're allergic to Google or to thinking for themselves, etc.)
So to say that anyone who doesn't embrace the identity label is a fool at best and at worst an enemy, an "anti-feminist," when one must remember that the only acceptably sane way of looking at the world is a "feminist" one, is to get really creepy.
It's also to write off entire ways of thinking as illegitimate, as things we should not just not accept, but should write off immediately. Certain lines of thinking are deemed invalid because the schools of thought they come from are deemed edifices of oppression. I've mentioned in here before how disturbing I find suspicion of liberal individualism on the grounds that it's not sufficiently feminist. If we're not very careful about exactly what we're critiquing and how, this suspicion can lead to sweeping statements discounting rationality. Or at least to people deeming attempts at objectivity and neutrality impossible. People aiming to speak from neutral perspectives are often told there is no neutral perspective: that you're with the oppressed or with the oppressor, and true objectivity is impossible.
I get that Enlightenment thinkers are, indeed, dead white men, and that their historical situation surely impacted their philosophy. I understand that many if not all of them were racist and sexist, and nowhere near as neutral as they thought they were. Still, I find writing off attempts at neutrality because Descartes was white and male, for example, very dangerous. If we start to believe that there are no neutral tools we can use to actually prove our points in these debates -- that scientific evidence is often tainted, or that we have to privilege "the voice of oppressed people" no matter how inconsistent it might be, simply because it hasn't been privileged in the past, we lose any kind of measuring stick for evaluating arguments.
I also get that there's theory to back up concerns about individualism, some of it quite good. I read quite a bit of it. I almost did my dissertation on it, until I suddenly realized, with a queasy feeling, that I didn't agree with it and would be lying through my teeth. Not all of it is in-group theory, by true feminists for true feminists. I encourage you to look at it and make up your own minds. But it worries me to see it used in groups to justify everything from cavalier attitudes to free speech to beliefs that others are trolling when they don't agree.
People who attempt to be "neutral" are often dismissed as trolls or ignorant. But if it's encoded in the theory itself that we're forever divided into either Us or Them, then no debate is possible. We talk about this as though it's a problem of "education," of "feminism 101" and how difficult it is for everyday people to take the first step in learning about feminism... but it's really beginning to sound creepy to me that we mock and deride people so much for not subscribing to views that we expect people not to understand until they've properly integrated into our group.
We begin to accept what certain people say about their oppression not because we've weighed it and can understand how their viewpoints have been suppressed and why they're valuable, but because they said it. We lose any tools to evaluate the hidden voices we're so focused on bringing to the light. Many of us lose all concern for free speech (except ours), because now our theory tells us that only the speech of the powerful (who are of course Not Us until we feel like privilege-tripping one another) is actually free. And before we know it, we have openings for totalitarians posing as "radicals," presenting "new systems," to get inside our heads.
I'm not arguing against new systems or radical theories or radical change. What I am saying is that when someone comes to us with a radical theory and claims, if we don't understand it or feel suspicious of it, that we just have the wool pulled over our eyes by those in/with power, it's time to be very suspicious. It's time to hone and use our reason, not put reason aside as a tool of the elite, the enemies, the oppressors. It's time to look at claims that oppression affects hearts in ways reason is too cold to understand with deep suspicion.
And any time someone says something about "ways of thinking," suggesting that someone thinks like The Enemy, it's time to pull out that fully-loaded Reason and carefully examine what each "way of thinking" is, and whether what's really going on is debate, or dehumanizing of some group's enemies.