Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Curious Case of Mr Trotter and the Straw Feminist

Well Chris Trotter is certainly determined to make a splash in the little muddy pool that is the NZ political blogosphere. He's been kicking around in the shallow end for less than a fortnight, and he's already attacked Frogblog for the Greens decision to consult their membership before they decided which way to vote on the ETS, suggested Idiot/Savant is mentally ill for daring to disagree with some of his posts, and now willfully misrepresented the views of the bloggers here at The Hand Mirror because the ex-expat called him on his bizarre use of the term "the political equivalent of gang-rape" to describe what's happening to Winston Peters.

A cynical person might think this was a strategy to get his new blog noticed, and guarantee it some Kiwiblog-driven traffic, as we all know David Farrar will pretty much always cover any perceived disagreement in the red corner. I look forward to Mr Trotter turning his searching torchlight on the bloggers of the right, rather than just irritatingly shining it in the eyes of those who might be his allies in an environment dominated by his enemies.

And when it comes to The Hand Mirror Trotter's flashlight seems to be on the blink. He's created a really quite remarkable Straw Feminist which he then criticises soundly. And I'd probably agree with a lot of his criticisms too, if they applied to any feminist blog that existed outside of his imagination.

Let's take them in turn:

1. That we are third-wave feminists who "take for granted the achievements of the women and men who came before them (somehow assuming that these were won without the expenditure of huge amounts of emotional and material resources) and then skip merrily forward..."
I'm not sure all of the bloggers here would identify as third-wave, but that's up to individuals to nay say or otherwise. For myself I'm don't know enough about the intricacies of third-wave versus second-wave to know for sure where I fit, but I feel like I fall between the two. Second and a half perhaps?

As for taking the hard work of our foremothers and -fathers for granted, perhaps Trotter is not familiar with the Friday Feminist series that Deborah produces, which often highlights the thoughts of feminists who came before, or maybe he missed Maia's post about how we got the abortion law we have now,* or my witterings about the role my father played in making me the feminist I am today. Maybe we could write more about how we got to here and now, maybe we will in the future, but it's a pretty long bow to draw to claim that we take the advances that have already been made for granted and that we all ignore the sacrifices and struggle that have got women this far. Yes there are women out there who do, but I haven't seen any of them around here.

2. That we "have contributed next to nothing to the cause"
Really? Well given that most of our writers used pseudonyms (or don't reveal their full names) I guess Trotter must have an amazing ability to see through those and know with a high level of precision the activist history, or lack thereof, of each one of us.

Amongst our number are women who have stood for Parliament for centre-left parties, who have occupied a radio station to oppose a sexist advertising campaign, who work with other lefites to build links amongst the left through events like Drinking Liberally, who have organised Reclaim the Night marches, who speak up when confronted with the everyday denigration of women (and support men who do so too), who have defended women's institutions such as Women's Rights Officers and women's networks within political parties, who have raised our children to ignore stereotypes based on gender, who have campaigned in support of Louise Nicholas, who have voiced their opposition to advertising which perpetuates rape myths, who work actively within the union movement to improve the lot of women workers, and who have seen the sexist attitudes within the NZ political blogosphere and decided to start an explicitly feminist team blog to start to change that. All that and occasionally one of us manages to be coffee-spitting-all-over-the-computer-screen funny too.

Probably a drop in the bucket in terms of the generations and generations of those who have fought and struggled for the rights of women, but that's what a movement is about - the efforts of many many individuals, over time, working for a common cause, and slowly wearing down the bedrock of sexism in our society. I feel pretty secure that the women blogging at The Hand Mirror are taking their turns with the pick-axes on a regular basis, in a variety of ways of their choosing.

3. That we pronounce "upon the actions of women and men who still have the courage to put themsleves [sic] out there in the political battlefield."
So are we not on that battlefield too? Typing should not be mistaken for activism, if that is what Trotter is getting at here, but given that his main contribution to the cause of the Left is to produce columns and comment on television and radio, perhaps he should look in the mirror (boom boom) before casting around too much with that one. And re-read my second point above.

4. That we claim gang-rape doesn't happen, and/or that it doesn't happen to men.
Where did that one come from? We've written rather a lot about rape here, and I'm yet to see one of our writers express the view that it only happens to XXers, or that it's always a one-on-one occurence.

5. That we reckon it's inappropriate to refer to rape or ever use it as a metaphor, and that any man who uses it thus is doing so in a jovial manner.
The ex-expat wrote recently about why Trotter's use was inappropriate, and I understand she intends to revisit that in the near future. So I'm going to tap this one in her direction, seeing as how she's doing such a good job already. And lazily link, again, to our category about rape. If we didn't think it should be talked about why would we have a whole category about it (37 posts and counting)?

6. Something about being so bereft of compassion and understanding that we couldn't recognise anyone other than a woman as being the victim of attack. (I think that's what Trotter was trying to say, it didn't quite make sense.)
Yes that's right, the ol' Straw Feminist argument that because we write primarily about the difficulties women face we don't give a fig for men (or in this case Winston Peters). Because to write about one thing is to indicate that you don't care at all about anything else but that one thing. I'm sure someone who has studied logic can tell me the flash latin name for that kind of ridiculous argument.

I'll just note for Mr Trotter, who does admit he is rather new to blogging (as indicated by his initial failure to link to the blog post here that he was criticising, and his outing of jafapete), that bloggers will write about what they will write about. Certainly all of us here do our blogging in our spare time, and receive not a cent for it. So if we don't write about something it doesn't mean we don't care, it usually means we didn't have time. Oh and lookie here and here, where Anjum and Anna McM engage in a meaningful blog-discussion about bullying which isn't just about women at all. Or over here where I lamented the absence of fathers from Craig Foss' sexist comments about child-rearing. I'm sure I could dredge up more examples, perhaps my co-bloggers might like to chime in with such? If they choose to prioritise that over other things that are infinitely more important of course.


Trotter labels us "faux feminists" so I'd like to ask him: what do you think a feminist looks like?

If we are not fitting your stereotype of feminism then perhaps you need to re-think your ideas, because The Hand Mirror is mostly definitely what a feminist blogs like. Feminism is a broad church, especially these days, and as Deborah has pointed out to Trotter in his comments, we don't all agree on everything here. What brings us together is a belief that women should be able to make their own decisions, and that we still don't have a society that allows that as often as we would like.

As mentioned above, the Ex-Expat is going to (further) address whether "the political equivalent of gang-rape" is the best or indeed the only way to describe the current swirl of political and media attention around Peters, so I'll leave that to her capable fingers to tip tap type some time soon. Update: I see that she has now written an excellent comment at Trotter's own blog to that effect.

In closing I'd note that although Trotter was provided with links (by moi, here) to the discussion at Public Address about the inappropriateness of his gang-rape analogy**, which was initiated by Russell Brown's criticism of the metaphor, he chose to ignore the men who have expressed concern with his choice of language and reserve his boot for us. Given that Trotter is well known on the Left for being highly critical of identity politics, and the rise of networks for women, Maori, and other marginalised groups within left political organisations, I suppose I shouldn't have been all that surprised.

* Hmmm, maybe he did see it, given that Maia criticises him (and The Standard) for using the abortion debate to try to portray National as evil and Labour as good, when it's much more nuanced than that.
** And especial big-ups to Craig, and also PaulL, for taking on Mr Trotter where he lives, as well as at PA System, and to muerk for voicing her concerns also.


Muerk said...

I really appreciated Deborah's comment.

Trotter's metaphor was offensive and IMHO thoughtless towards those who have suffered rape (whether man or woman).

Because I'm anti-abortion and anti-artificial-contraception I don't feel particularly close to modern feminist thought. However I find much of the language of the blogosphere to be misogynistic and sexist.

So for example I am disturbed at how women are represented as objects for men's gratification, or how women in positions of power are attacked on the basis of their sex.

The treatment of Helen Clark would have to be the obvious example.

I have sons, and I would loathe for them to have such a callous disregard for the personhood of women when they become men.

I would also hate for them to display the offensive insensitivity that Chris Trotter has shown.

Anonymous said...

Great rebuttal Julie. There are so many unsubstantiated assumptions in Trotter's post it's almost unbelievable. I doubt he's even read anything else at The Hand Mirror.

And despite some admin comments in his blog about not making personal attacks, Trotter's post are full of it. Nasty.

Craig Ranapaia's comment is pretty spot on and insightful. Trotter is being a troll, although I suspect he doesn't realise it.

Carol said...

Oh, dear, yes. Good post, with great arguments, Julie.

The sad part is that amongst all the bad stuff from Trotter, he does make a very important point about the way the media has been attacking Peters, Labour and their allies.

I am soooo disgusted by our MSM, and we need as many people as possible to call them on it to as wide an audience as possible, IMO.

Like, this evening both TV One and TV3 focused on how the Peters' saga has overshadowed Labour's announcement of its list. TV One said that the list announcement was overshadowed by questions about the other stuff. Well who were asking the questions? Journos???? geezz.... so why couldn't they have for instance, focused on the positive stuff in the diversity of the Labour list as outlined by Julie here and I/S on No Right Turn?

And why haven't they put as much heat on the National Party for all that stuff in the Hollow Men? And that was much more deeply substantiated than any of the stuff so far made public about Peters, Glenn etc.

And thanks to all this support for the right by our MSM, we are looking likely to get a government that is far less positive for women and diversity.

I think our MSM should officially be designated as a 3rd party in support of right wing parties in the coming election.... unless they take a good hard look at themselves and start taking a more balanced approach to reporting politics.

Faux feminist is such a tired old line. I once had my photo in a Brit tabloid, taken with a couple of other women at a feminist demo, with a caption pretty much saying the same thing.

Stephanie said...

I decided to make a comment on Trotter's blog rather than giving him yet more airtime here.

Since he's been happy to ignore the comment, I'm moving on. Got far more interesting stuff to post about than him.

stargazer said...

well done julie, extremely well written. just to add to point 6, i'm sure mr trotter knows that we some of us have our own blogs as well as us being contributors to this one. i'm damn sure he knows about mine (even though he may have forgotten or just never bothers to read it), because i have the email reply from him to prove it. it's often on those other blogs that we talk about a whole lot of issues that interest us. i know i've blogged about the new men's health policies and plenty of non-gender issues (too tired to look back through it all just now). i'm very sure others have as well.

oh, and as for us pronouncing "upon the actions of women and men who still have the courage to put themsleves [sic] out there in the political battlefield", well i've just been playing on that battlefield. i know exactly how awfully ugly and painful it can be, and i'll thank him to shut up about courage. he has no fucking idea, not about any one of us contributing here.

Russell Brown said...

Eeew. Can't see myself spending time commenting over there.

It's a spiteful post, informed by sentiments I'm sure he didn't just conceive upon disagreeing with criticism here; it's clearly some baggage. In the circumstances, his literary jocularity in the comments below strikes a rather bum note.

Good rebuttal Julie, but at the risk of dignifying the original work.

Anna said...

Like you Muerk, I'm Catholic, so am constantly going about feeling morally conflicted about everything!

I don't see eye to eye with you re abortion and contraception, but I think a crucially important tenet of feminism is that we should work together on what we agree on, and disagree respectfully at other times.

In fact, this is what the left more generally should be doing - something Trotter would do well to learn.

I also feel obliged to add that I don't give a rat's arse about Winston Peters. The guy has, amongst other things, built his career on promoting racism.

Julie said...

muerk, I'd hope that for all that we disagree on some key issues we can be civil about it. You and I certainly seem to have managed that so far, and I hope we can do so in future too.

Thanks for the feedback folks, especially on a lazy Sunday!

Anjum, thanks for making the point about the other blogs, that is well worth raising.

It was disappointing to see that the ex-expat's excellent comment on Trotter's post has been ignored by him while he instead discusses French literature with Cactus Kate on the same thread. He doesn't have a duty to respond of course, just as we don't have a duty to write about anything at all.

My prediction is that the next left blog target Trotter will attack is The Standard. He's yet to get much linkage from them.

Anna said...

My idiot tolerance is running dangerously low at the moment, and Trotter has very nearly pushed me over the edge. I just posted the following at his blog:

Hi Chris

I'm a blogger at The Handmirror. I'm also an unrepentant second wave feminist - apologies if this challenges your prejudices. I have experienced sexual violence, and I don't see it as being particularly similar to what Winston Peters is experiencing - or I didn't, at least, until you explained what real feminism looks like.

I thought that the most crucial value of the left was solidarity. I thought this meant people from all across the left working together when we can, and disagreeing respectfully when we can't. To me, solidarity and respect preclude misrepresenting other's views, or sneering 'In my day we were much more left wing than you are' at them.

I'm particularly bemused at the complete lack of irony with which you tell women how we should be running our movement. Perhaps you can produce for me one of these second wave feminists who find no merit in the vast number of topics which The Handmirror writes about, but think gang rape is a good subject for a glib metaphor?

I could go on, but in the spirit of solidarity I won't - I'd sooner be able to work with you on issues important to the left than trash you in a public forum to make myself feel important.

I look forward to the reasoned response I'm sure you'll give me.

Kind regards
Anna McM

Craig Ranapia said...

while he instead discusses French literature with Cactus Kate

Well, you've got to give him props for calling Cactus Kate a mercenary slut via an allusion to 19th century French literature? (And much as I admire Émile Zola, the guy still had, shall we say, a problematic relationship with the madonna/whore dichotomy.)

Carol said...

I've never liked Peters or his racist policies. But in the current issue, the MSM and pollies on the right, are using attacks on him as part of their systematic and unrelenting attacks on Labour and the left generally.

Consequently, in this context (as in others), as others here have pointed out, the left should be working together.

I must have been participating in the women's movement in London, when Mr Trotter was playing a leading role in the left. I get the impression he longs for the days when the left was strongly dominated by white males.

BTW, can one be both be a second wave and a third wave feminist? Are they, as Mr T. seems to assume, mutually exclusive. 2nd wave feminism was a significant and formative part of my life, even tho, back then, I disagreed with some of its dominant discourses. I am pleased to see the strength of the 3rd wave, as demonstrated on THM, and particularly like the way it has moved feminism on by strongly supporting diversity and inclusiveness.

Am I automatically denied entry to the 3rd wave, based on my age and past as a 2nd waver? As I recall, 2nd waver feminists would have been as equally appalled at Mr T's use of the rape metaphor as feminists and left-wingers are today.

Carol said...

Oh, and it seems Chris Trotter has taken on board some of the criticisms, especially those from Anna McM, apologised for any offence the rape metaphor caused, and somewhat retreated from his original stance, saying he will try not to use such metaphors again.

Well done Anna, and all who held Trotter to account.

Craig Ranapia said...

I've never liked Peters or his racist policies. But in the current issue, the MSM and pollies on the right, are using attacks on him as part of their systematic and unrelenting attacks on Labour and the left generally.

Carol: If I'm going to pay feminists the courtesy of not treating them like Femi-Borg, could you repay that by acknowledging that not everything is about Labour. As I've said elsewhere, I've held Peters in illimitable contempt for the best part of twenty years -- and if both Key and Clark have cashed the reality check on the price of a political marriage of convenience with Peters and his personality cult, I'm not seeing the downside. There's an old proverb about what happens when you lie down with dogs - and I'm a little short of sympathy if Clark finds herself with a dose of the same parasites as Bolger and Shipley before her.

Carol said...

Craig, I'll be more than happy to see Peters disconnected from any left coalition. But the attacks on him seem to me to be part of a wider strategy that continually attack Labour, and with increasing intensity. As someone on Publicaddress pointed out recently, these attacks seem to have started or been ramped up (at least) with the beat up attacks on supposed loooming winter power shortages a couple of months back.

BTW, Craig, have you mistaken me for a Labour Party voter? Didn't vote for them last election, probably won't this election. Don't agree with everything they've done, don't think everything is about them, but am presently greatly pissed off with the total lack of balance in our MSM. And on that I do agree with some of Trotter's comments, even tho I disagree with a lot of his other comments/attitudes.