in praise of infighting

I’m taking a break from playing bass, which I’ve been doing for much of the morning. My boyfriend showed me a part he’s working on for his band (I play with him on occasion to hone my playing-with-other-musicians skills), and I’ve gotten all obsessed with mastering it, because it’s the type of stuff I would want to play when playing with other musicians. It’s more difficult than the kind of thing I usually play, and while I’ve gotten (barely) past the point of constantly flubbing it, it still doesn’t sound as smooth as I like. I blame this partly on my tiny hands, which render it impossible for me to do hammer-ons and pull-offs, at least the way a normal-sized person would do them. Ah well, that’s what practice is for, I suppose.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the word “infighting.” I noticed that my drunken post of a week or so ago is still getting a fair amount of traffic, which gives me a chuckle. I’ve been intermittently following that discussion, and noticed a theme in several comments people made – variations of “aren’t feminists supposed to support each other? Why can’t we all get along?” Which is not unique to this particular blog kerfuffle: I’ve seen it before in feminisms both on and off the internetz. For example: the discussions of Full Frontal Feminism‘s cover, the debate over the racist images in the first printing of Amanda Marcotte’s book, the way race got talked about in riot grrrl (which often reproduced the key failing of the second wave of American feminism: that is, universalizing what weren’t very universal ideas of “women’s experience”), the seemingly-endless Sex Wars/porn debates. And honestly? Hell with it. All of us getting along is overrated.

I should note a couple things: first, I’m not against creating coalitions with people I don’t necessarily agree 100% with. Say you really like books by Inga Muscio. For me, her books induce a multiple orifice purge. HOWEVER: if you want to work with me on (for instance) raising money for legal assistance for domestic violence survivors, I’ll say “of course.” It’s a minor example, obviously, but I hope my point came across: if there’s a pressing issue, I’m OK with putting aside some differences for a little while. Second, while I think attacks on people’s ideological positions/writing style/etc. are completely fair game, I don’t do personal attacks. I remember a while ago witnessing one of the trainwreck debates on porn/sex work that pop up regularly in feminist internetland, and one person’s comeback to another being: “yeah, well, you obviously don’t mind objectification since in that one picture of you on the internet you’re wearing HIGH-HEELED BOOTS.” That kind of ridiculous bullshit (which is actually pretty fucking anti-feminist – hi, you’re judging another woman’s intellect on how she presents her body) has no place in feminist discourse.

That said, I do not take kindly to people imploring that all of us feminists just need to set our differences aside and hold hands or whatever. Seriously? I’d like the people suggesting this to just stop a minute and think about what kind of narratives are privileged by this mentality. Would you suggest to the Combahee River Collective that they should knock it off with their critique of separatism, because it’s OK for white feminist ladies to completely ignore racial politics? Would you suggest to Angela Davis that she shouldn’t critique Susan Brownmiller’s use of “scary black rapist” imagery in Against Our Will? Should working-class feminists have just not said anything about the problematic suggestion (seen in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, among other places) that women “enter the workforce” to empower themselves (like they weren’t already there)? Should feminist sex workers have not said anything to counter the images of sex-worker-as-helpless-victim they saw being circulated?

Of course, there isn’t always such a a power imbalance at work – the Jessica Valenti/Nina Power debate is two people in similar social positions having a disagreement over how to live one’s feminist politics. But does that mean it’s useless “infighting”? I think it’s good to have debates about these kinds of things. I certainly don’t want the “using big words and novel concepts=elitist” assertion to go unchallenged in the name of feminist solidarity. And I don’t want my ideas simply circulating in an echo chamber either. I like having arguments, damn it.

On that note, here’s someone I consider my brother in surly intractability: Lemmy! YEAH!

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~ by Smellen on February 3, 2010.

6 Responses to “in praise of infighting”

  1. This is a wonderful description of the whole situation: we almost literally CAN’T just all get along, and wouldn’t really want to – there would be no grindstones. But we CAN cooperate.

  2. […] from the last post, with less navel-gazing, take a look at Smellen’s latest: “In Praise Of Infighting.” She’s specifically discussing feminist politics, and the privilege that usually motivates […]

  3. Love this.

  4. > ‘…the key failing of the second wave of American feminism: that is, universalizing what weren’t very universal ideas of “women’s experience”)’

    Whoa. You’ve hit upon something really really major, there. Add to that (as you have in other posts) the matter of economic class.

    Plenty more that could be said about all of this. But for now I’ll just say: Thanks for capping it off with some Motorhead. 😀

  5. Ripper post! It’s dissapointing that Australians still aren’t having conversations this thoughtful yet, but we’ll get there…maybe.

  6. […] in praise of infighting « Order of the Gash I do not take kindly to people imploring that all of us feminists just need to set our differences aside and hold hands or whatever. Seriously? I’d like the people suggesting this to just stop a minute and think about what kind of narratives are privileged by this mentality. Would you suggest to the Combahee River Collective that they should knock it off with their critique of separatism, because it’s OK for white feminist ladies to completely ignore racial politics? Would you suggest to Angela Davis that she shouldn’t critique Susan Brownmiller’s use of “scary black rapist” imagery in Against Our Will? Should working-class feminists have just not said anything about the problematic suggestion (seen in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, among other places) that women “enter the workforce” to empower themselves (like they weren’t already there)? Should feminist sex workers have not said anything to counter the images of sex-worker-as-helpless-victim they saw being circulated? (tags: feminism intersectionality privilege) […]

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