in praise of infighting part 2: let’s talk about tone
Let me just lay it out here: I’m a cranky little fucker. At the age of 25 I already have frown lines marking my forehead. Many of the people who’ve met me have told me I’m the most sarcastic person they’ve ever met. My writing voice, as anyone who takes ten minutes to skim here knows, is consistently abrasive. Which is not to say there isn’t anything I like. For example: Reign In Blood, long bike rides, breakfast for dinner, my Schecter (not top of the line, but still a solid little thing..[in a Nigel Tufnel voice] the sustain is incredible). But I find the best fuel for my writing is things that annoy the shit out of me.
Which brings me to something that’s been on my mind a little bit: tone, and tone policing on the bloggernetz, especially when it comes to “women’s issues” and feminism. Three things have made me think of this: the fallout from the Amanda Palmer/Evelyn Evelyn nonsense, the Rejectionist’s review of Maggie Stiefvater’s book Shiver, and this post here, which refers to my drunk-ass shouting about the Jessica Valenti/Nina Power blogfight about a month ago. (Apparently, that post’s fame will never die! Hails!)
What do all three things have in common? Hand-wringing over the mean tone of the critical person(s) in that particular situation. I honestly do not have the stomach to revisit Palmer’s blog right now (I’m also about three beers deep, which may have something to do with it), but pop on over to her Evelyn Evelyn and post and watch all the sycophantic “omg, those mean disabled feminists just don’t understand the delicate flower of art!” comments. That is, until you start projectile vomiting from every orifice.
And here’s some words about the Rejectionist:
1. If this is really your viewpoint, that’s great. However, you titled the post as a review. A real review consists of an overview, as well as high points and low points. This was just a rant. Not only did it come across as a diatribe instead of a helpful review, you managed to push your own brand of censorship.
2. You chose to rant instead of educate and have muddled your message. If you really want the majority of people to hear and listen to what you say, try saying it with a littl grace.
3. Wow. I’d say the books did what they were meant to do — engender conversation. Pity some of it wasn’t more respectful of the authors’ efforts.
1. (in post) Smellen gleefully chimes in that the sort of individual empowerment Valenti advocates is narcissistic crap deserving of a punch in the face…and Sady points out that if we’re to the point of suggesting that face-punching is appropriate, something has gone terribly wrong.
2.. (in comments) Sady is definitely critical of Power’s argument, but that comes from a place of productive discussion. Smellen’s face-punch argument, though, like Power’s belittling of Valenti, makes me shut down and have trouble hearing the other, possibly useful, things that she is arguing.
(I should point out that I’ve never actually advocated violence against anyone – any mention of violent acts is hyperbole born of frustration. But then again, if you’ve got basic reading comprehension skills, you probably know that.)
Okay, so. Let’s talk about the implications, especially in feminist circles, of dismissing your critics as a passel of cranky bitches with chips on their shoulders. Let’s talk about what it means to demand that people who disagree with you play nice with their criticisms. As you may have guessed, I am not OK with that kind of shit.
Why? Well, first, as a history-readin’ kind of girl, I know there’s a long-ass legacy, spread across all sorts of anti-oppression movements, of “well, I’d listen to them, but they’re just so damn harsh…” Usually used to dismiss legitimate criticism that may very well have been couched in less-than-sweet terms. And while I’m not trying to claim an oppressed position vis-a-vis the people chiding me for my cranky ways, it does indeed strike me as an easy way out. Like, why address my actual arguments when you can just grumble about what a meanie-pants I am? Why actually, y’know, think about things when you can shift the focus to how my tone makes you feel?
Don’t think I don’t know what it’s like to see harsh-ass criticism of an assumption, a viewpoint, or some cherished cultural object of mine. (Oh my, the word count just displayed as 666 HAIL SATAN! anyway). I used to see that shit and put on my defensive pants. But now that my skin has gotten a little thicker in that regard, I actually consider the points, and you know what? Since I’ve learned to put my tender feelings aside, I learn a lot more. And I regret how many substantive criticisms I dismissed before, since I thought the author was OMG a meanie. You know what? Sometimes, shit gets frustrating. People get annoyed. They write in ways that reflect that annoyance. Does that mean they have nothing substantial to say? Um, NO.
And can we parse this kind of thing a little, especially when it comes to female writers? I could just be wearing my Paranoia Goggles but I don’t know that the Rejectionist and I would be scolded for our crabbiness quite so much if we weren’t ladies/writing about lady-issues. There’s an imperative in certain folks’ interpretation of feminism along the lines of “if you can’t say anything nice about other women and their literary/political efforts don’t say anything at all.” I saw it in the comments to Valenti’s weak-ass rebuttal to Power; I saw it when I attempted to criticize Zana Briski’s use of missionary rhetoric in Born Into Brothels and the faux-empowerment ad copy of Suicide Girls* in my women’s studies classes; I saw it all over Mary Daly’s eulogies. And you know what? That shit is toxic. As I said in the first post in this (ongoing? probably) series, where would feminism be without internal disagreements? Also, what are the implications of telling female writers to, y’know, just be a little nicer and not quite so strident next time around? What might that have to do with the stereotyping of outspoken, crabby women as shrill harpies who say nothing of substance? Even if you aren’t purposely invoking that stereotype, maybe think about how exhorting someone to play nice in the feminist sandbox might play into that.
So, yes. I’m a crab. I’ve made my peace with it. And here’s Morbid Angel! A NIGHTMARE OF HAIR
*for the record, this is not a simple anti-porn stance. My gripes are with SG’s labor practices and how they market themselves.