a bad thing you can do to someone is put them on a pedestal. a worse thing you can do to someone is put someone who hurt them on a pedestal.
my partner and i were manipulated and hurt by an abusive person who’s popular on “social justice” twitter. (not going to go into too much detail here, you can look through my twitter feed for more information.) when your abuser is a social justice favorite, you can expect your attempts at talking about your abuse to be silenced, ignored, and inevitably compared to the prison system – even though all you’ve done is tarnished their brand slightly. their brand is the root of their powers, though – it’s what enables them to dodge accountability for any of their destructive actions.
on twitter this week, yukio strachan has been talking about dr. jennifer freyd, who coined the acronym “DARVO” to describe what abusers do when confronted: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. abusers deflect, they flip the script, they tell everyone YOU’RE the one who abused THEM. abusers in social justice culture are particularly good at this: they know the language, they’re friends with all the pillars of the community who will rally around them if they use it. within days of victims going public about the person who hurt me and my partner, she had published a letter saying the situation was actually my fault – i had convinced everyone into speaking out (about seven people, including someone i had never spoken to before folks went public, who was convinced she was the only victim) as an act of petty vengeance on her. i had more privilege than her – “privilege” here meaning twitter follower count – so it was an easy play.
it is very very easy to hide on social justice twitter as an abuser. social justice culture builds celebrities, and these celebrities are above accountability. after all, if you’ve built your entire brand around advocating for consent, how can someone claim you’ve been sexually coercive? our abuser put it best herself when she tweeted “i own consent.” people invested in someone’s social justice brand are uninterested in examining their behavior: all it takes is a little deflection, a little bit of light-hearted redemption narrative, to make the entire situation go away for the abuser. for the victim, it means what you’ve suffered will be continuously minimized as you bear witness to voice after voice calling the person who hurt you a hero.
the feminist deck is a deck of illustrated trading cards by kiva bay (who i’m sure is a very nice person with only the best intentions) of her personal feminist heroes. whether she got consent before using these people’s images to raise over $20,000 of kickstarter funds is questionable.
who would you put on a list of feminist heroes in 2015? alicia garza, one of the co-founders of the #blacklivesmatter movement? not on the list, but skimming it i see some names (not saying who) who have said and done some problematic stuff. it soon becomes clear what issue many of these people are on the list for: gamergate. many of them are illustrated as sword-and-shield-bearing “social justice warriors,” ready to go toe-to-toe with gaming’s number one bad guy.
allow me to suggest the following: it is easy to be anti-gamergate. i don’t want to minimize the danger of being visible as a gamergate target. orchestrated harassment and doxxing is violence, can be terrifying, i know from experience. but a horde of blatant misogynists harassing women for being women isn’t exactly a nuanced issue. yes, of course they’re bad!
what are more thorny are issues within feminist communities themselves: abuse and abuse apologism in the social justice community, racism among white feminists (disclaimer: i am a white woman), feminism that further marginalizes and steals the agency of sex workers, class as a liberal tool of exploitation, yes, even among “social justice” advocates! those conversations require nuance and a willingness to take a hard look at the communities we participate in and the behavior and values of ourselves and our peers. it’s in many ways easier – and less dangerous for your standing in the community – to say “misogynist harassers are bad.” everyone agrees with that! everyone in social justice culture, at least. it’s a good platform to build a pedestal on.
the celebritizing and pedestalling of “social justice activists” could not be more dangerous. social justice culture exists nominally to advocate for the powerless and to demand accountability for harmful, oppressive behavior. when we elevate someone to the position of hero of social justice, who is left to hold them accountable? no more social justice warriors, no more icons. it’s so easy to imagine the person who hurt me and my partner as another face in the feminist deck.
the feminist deck, i’m sure, was created with only the best intentions. but intent – as social justice folks like to say – is not magic. i’ve talked to friends who are featured in the deck (not naming names again – it shouldn’t matter who, anyway) who have authorized me to say that they feel trapped there: they were not asked if the deck could feature their images until after the kickstarter blew up, and now don’t feel like they can refuse without bringing heat on themselves for sabotaging a feminist project thousands of dollars have been spent on – a social justice success story. this, to me, is “social justice” culture in a nutshell: an audience-pleasing political brand that masks the kind of coercion we’re all too eager to call out in any other context.