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Friday, June 7, 2013

Bully for You - A Critique of Feminism, Part II

In a movement where the main thrust is equality, you wouldn't think that bullying would be a problem. But it is. As feminism fights the dominant ideology, those within the movement sometimes forget to put down their dukes when they turn around and face each other.

This isn't new. Jo Freeman wrote about it in great detail for Ms. Magazine all the way back in 1976. She calls it "trashing."

"Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape. It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised as rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy."

But this is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Both sides of the conflict surrounding the Equality for Women Page run by Charles Clymer, for instance, feel as if they are being "trashed." Neither feel as if they are "trashing."

What's clear, though, inside this vacuum and outside of it (I can't tell you how many times I've been told I'm a detriment to the feminist cause because I'm a housewife / stay at home mom. And I witnessed a friend of mine get dressed down because she dared get married. Which apparently oppresses women. Except she's one of the most vehement feminists I know.) is that feminism is confused. What constitutes an attack, and what constitutes defense? Is retribution ever okay? Can we move forward if we're busy sticking our swords into each other? And more importantly, why are we doing this?

Jill Filipovic argues that we do it because feminists are fighting for crumbs on the larger stage. That the movement itself is so confined and so marginalized that we compete with each other to get our one true version of feminism out there.

She rightly says:

"It's time we learned lessons that are now decades old, and have been faced by many other political movements. Feminism must be more genuinely egalitarian and representative. We need to understand that womanhood means very different things to the billions of different women on this planet. We must work against perpetuating the same inequalities we fight against.

And we need to do that not in competition with each other, but with the shared goal of improving the movement and world. We need to do it with the recognition that no perspective or solution will be universal, and no single woman will be anywhere near a perfect feminist."

The question is, how?

How do we take a movement that is so personal in its very definition and make it a coherent front? How do we take what we need from a solid movement pushing for equal rights while also championing individual choice (one of those rights)? We're at a crossroads, and no one quite knows which way to turn.

In my research, I've seen two large issues. 1) No one knows which battles are important and which are frivolous. 2) In choosing which of those battles to fight, most individual players end up fighting each other to defend their choices as opposed to fighting the establishment currently oppressing them. As an outcropping of these issues, people get personal, people get mean, and people get scared. And suddenly feminism goes from a lofty goal toward which we are all working to a he-said, she-said, smear campaign full of internet drama and unimportant fluff. The egos, as it were, inflate, until any outsiders looking at the points that were trying to be made have to put the stuff down for fear of losing their eyes in the back of their heads. Let me provide for you an example.

When I was researching my original piece on men as feminist leaders and whether or not the policy of banning people and deleting their comments off a personal page meant to forward the feminist movement was censorship, I came across many pitchforks, many witch hunts, and many vendettas.

Everyone, it seemed, had something to say.

I had no fewer than half a dozen women, and maybe closer to a dozen, try to tell me that Charles Clymer was a sexual predator.

Spoiler alert: He's not. Let me say that again so you don't miss it. I have researched and interviewed this man and those close to him for months now. He is not a sexual predator.

What's interesting about this is when I told the women that I would not be labeling him as such, they were outraged. What about the overwhelming evidence, they asked. What about such and such screenshot. These feminists threw everything they could at me to attack Clymer. The truth was there were two women who had actual screen shots of conversations that were completely consensual and in which these women were enthusiastic participants. The other complaints were either fabricated, hearsay or blind anger. They were looking for a vehicle to effectively express their rage.

Charles says, "Making these unfounded accusations gave them a way to get back at me for banning them, after I called them out for not upholding feminist ideals in which they purportedly believed."

They were really mad. And I get that. He silenced them, many times for no discernible reason. (Clymer and I disagree about what constitutes an abusive comment. He knows this.)

But in their personal anger, they gave me screen shots lacking in context. Some 'forgot' to mention that it was consensual at the time, and, honestly, none of the stuff said, when put into the big picture, was harassment.

"These people, they're like a cult in a way," says Clymer. "They've kind of banded together and gone to any post I make or any time I'm mentioned, and they'll shove comments into the comments section. This isn't just me ranting about being bullied with something I did wrong. This is about my reputation being destroyed by accusations for which they refuse to provide proof. It's completely unfair that my banning them for saying things I didn't believe were feminist has resulted in a deliberate campaign to accuse me of sexual harassment. I will readily apologize for things that I've done wrong, but I will not apologize for things I didn't do."

I asked them to come forward with their name, but despite all the vitriol they had for this man, very few of them were willing to step forward to say they'd been involved in any way with him. As the skeletons fell out, and those on all sides realized they weren't, perhaps as virtuous or innocent as they had thought they were, many calling for a public thrashing suddenly pulled back. "Don't use my name, I take back what I said, I didn't realize you were going to use this part of the story." These were just some of the statements I heard.

Many claimed fear of bullying for their cold feet, which brings us back to the original point. They were sure Clymer would come after them with all of his followers frothing at the mouth, trying to defame and ruin them.

A legitimate concern, since Clymer has been known to make statements on EFW denouncing those who go against him in the heat of the moment.

But, on the other hand, isn't throwing stones from the shadows (and hefty ones at that: harassment? Embezzlement?) then scurrying away bullying? Isn't planting seeds of doubt without context and trying to unravel someone's work because you're mad at them and pretending it's about real issues bullying?

Charles Clymer did not embezzle donation funds, and he did not prey on women.

He did ask for donations, which does rankle some people, and he did flirt with some of the women. End.

The problem with Clymer is the same problem a lot of feminists have and the same problem a lot of internet users have: he's sensitive. Very sensitive. Too sensitive, in my opinion.

Let's address some micro issues in point form for those interested. For those not interested, take this information and apply it to specific scenarios in your own feminist circles; I bet you can find some that fit.

In March, EFW shut down operation. Clymer says his mod team banned more than 100 people, his mod teams says it was him. I can't find out for sure. No one has the records. So who banned and silenced those people?

The mod team disbanded, many upset at Clymer's leadership and ego at the time. Rightfully so. Some left with wounded pride. This team, which at first stood up for Clymer, and participated in shutting members with disagreements down, turned with vengeance on him because during discussions he'd played divide-and-conquer--and so would they. You see? It's all a bunch of inane miscommunication, manipulation and silliness. After their ire was mostly spent, and after they realized I wasn't going to come out and libel him, they backed off. Some have rejoined him, at least in private. Some now respectfully keep their distance. Almost none of them are willing to come forward with their previous complaints.

Former moderator Zoe Katherine now labels the ordeal as a "huge mistake" and says many involved are "sorry for the hurt they caused."

"I believe a lot of people genuinely thought they were speaking the truth at the time, so I am not willing to state that I or anyone else lied. I think that those who agree with me will say they no longer believe what they said to be true. They made a huge mistake and are sorry for the hurt it caused. It was not my intention to smear Charles or tarnish his reputation. I believed I was doing the right thing, and everything I said was in the public interest. I now accept that I maybe didn't think it through, but no one was thinking rationally. It was like a mass hysteria. I never deliberately lied. I never said anything I did not believe to be true at the time."

Now, this isn't to say it's all puppies and roses. There were two groups started after commenters got banned. EFW Blacklisted was headed by Eric Holodnak after he was banned by Clymer. Holodnak says he participated in the "I need feminism because..." picture series and his photo became popular. Clymer messaged him about it, and asked for advice about the page. After giving advice, Holodnak found himself banned. Clymer says the message about the picture was a pretext. He was actually putting out feelers to see if Holodnak was acting in an inappropriate manner with some of his mod team. Even though the mods, Clymer and Holodnak all agree that nothing overtly untoward went on, Holodnak was still banned. Someone on Team Holodnak was supposedly fired from their real-life job, though the name was not provided. EFW and EFW Blacklisted went back and forth trading insults, digging up personal information and posting it, and etc. Until they finally decided on a truce. EFW took down the posts and EFW Blacklisted dissolved.

I received this story from Holodnak on the record who later told me to disregard it, citing fear of Clymer backlash. I received this story from one of the mods on the record who later told me to disregard it. She feared retaliation from Clymer and from Holodnak. I received this story from Clymer who told me to use it. Are you starting to understand? I just do not have time for this. Either tell me or don't.

This is where bullying plays a large role in feminism. All this he-said-she-said, back-and-forth, and the point of the movement gets lost as former feminists wade around the murky waters of their own egos and trivial bickering. This happens on the internet, on the street and in academia too.

There was another group against Clymer, "People Banned by Charles Clymer (and their close friends)." It was started by Kathleen Ellis after a comment she left on EFW got her banned.

One of the mods posted about going out in a sexy dress, getting drunk, and still not being raped or harassed. Kathleen commented that perhaps she should be careful even so.

"I was attacked by Clymer and others," says Ellis, "accused of victim blaming and slut shaming. I proceeded to post that I believed any person should be aware and alert in their surroundings, and that suggesting that a person be aware of their own personal safety was not equal to victim blaming. I never inferred that anyone who acted as stated above 'deserved it' or any such thing. I never would."

It's a muddy bank there. Where does caution end and victim blaming begin? It's something a feminist page would perhaps do well to discuss. Still, with Clymer's delete-and-ban policy, she was gone. And not without private words between the two, during which they both became very heated.

Fans of Equality for Women ended up getting Ellis' group shut down as a hate group, which according to my research, it was not.

Even now, months later, tempers on both sides flare over this group and the banning policy. While some of the criticism is legitimate (from both ends), a lot of it is boring, ego-stroking mania. So many times I wanted to throw up my hands and say, "but, guys, really, who cares?"

I wrote about it not because of the specifics, but because of what they say about the greater picture. The bullies, the wounded, the sensitive, the blowhardy, the movement itself, they all get wound up in these very personal dumpings that are totally beside the point. And it's happening everywhere.

In the end, you've got a whole handful of no-one-cares, and two people supposedly on opposite sides of a battle calling for the same thing.

Clymer says:

"When people see feminists trying to tear each other down, or fight in public, that makes feminism look like shit. It makes it look like we are fighting for crumbs. And that’s not true. They’re trying to be honest, to be genuine, but what happens is they perpetuate the stereotypes and that’s not good."

And Kathleen says:

"My advice to those looking to forward the feminist cause is to step back and take a look and realize that we are all sisters and brothers. Although we may see things a little differently due to our personal background, ethics, age, etc., we do have a common goal. There is no 'one way' to accomplish equality for all. We need to stop being so quick to label people and instead listen to what others have to say. We don't all have to agree with each other. Feminism is not only a movement, it is a lifestyle. Do not accept abuse ever, but be careful to avoid falling into mob mentality and becoming an abuser yourself."

Good advice, both of you.

Just saying.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. "This comment has been removed by the author." whoever the author is, MUST be Clymer!

  2. If feminists can't get themselves (ourselves) under control enough to behave toward one another in a civil manner and conduct in a dignified, adult manner, how will anything be accomplished?

  3. "In the end, you've got a whole handful of no-one-cares, and two people supposedly on opposite sides of a battle calling for the same thing." Yes.

    I left the second group after seeing the tide turn to harassment and bullying (of CC). The behavior of many of the members (mostly ex-mods) was ridiculous.

    I do not like this man. I think his vision of feminism is problematic at best. He LOVES to have his E-go stroked and I find him creepy. But this article is spot-on, thanks, D.


  4. A good read/think about how ideologically driven movements tend to break down on purity issues. Purges, in-fighting, and circular firing squads are all far older than feminism, and I don't think feminists are *especially* vulnerable to them; but neither are we immune, though many think that the purity of their intentions will see them through the tough turbulent bits to smooth sailing in the future when all squabblers have seen the error of their ways.

    Also a shout out to guaparella, a fabulous cunt sloshing with genius and tintos.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. you gave an interview. on the record. do you even know how journalism works.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Do you mean these?

      Because that's the closest we ever got to whatever it is you are saying here. You'll notice that you asked me to check with Zoe first, which I said I would, and I did. You then did request, quite brusquely, for me to disregard your emails. I did not reply. You are an adult, and you sent a story to an on-the-record email address set up specifically for this purpose, and the meaning of the address was made clear at the beginning of this research. That said, I *did* disregard most of what you said, and I completely glossed over the details that others came forward with out of respect for your request. You are a very minor piece of this story, and other than your comments here, no one would have even noticed you.

      As far as any legal action you are involved in, that has nothing to do with me, as nothing I posted here, nor anything in our email exchanges, nor, in fact, anything in my exchanges with Charles or Zoe could be used as grounds for slander against you. So whatever that is has no bearing here. In addition, I have been in extensive talks with most members of your angle of the story and at no point was a lawsuit brought up, even when asked about specifically. This is the first I've heard of it. I will, of course, gladly hand over all my notes to any legal arm subpoenaing them.

      In terms of hate mail, that's simply odd as there is nothing in this piece about you to hate, and as of your comments, it hadn't gotten that much traction, though I expect it (the piece) will. Also, there's nothing in here that would have even implied that you were married, so why your wife would be receiving messages is beyond me.

      I'm sorry to have upset you, but I think if you take a closer look at your one paragraph in this piece, you will find that there is nothing controversial about it.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Our group, "People Banned by Charles Clymer (and their close friends)", was established for the purpose of allowing people who had been silenced by CC to finish what they had to say. CC frequently banned and then continued to berate people after they had no venue by which to respond. It left many folks angry, frustrated and needing a place to vent. Our group also became a place for people to come together and to learn that they were not alone in what had happened to them. It is a very painful thing to be scolded and told that you are not a feminist because you do not fit into one man's vision of feminism. People were deeply hurt by being victims of these mean spirited attacks. Our group provided a place for them to heal. Did it sometimes get a little ugly? Yes, of course it did. That is human nature when a group of victims who have all been victimized by the same person/persons come together with hurt, frustration and anger. Make no mistake, these people were bullied. Bullying sometimes begets bullying, or should we call it revenge? Our members were not provocateurs. The were the provoked.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Why are all these comments being removed? Clymer must be here! Come on man, this is ridiculous! Please stop removing comments, I want to know what everyone said! SERIOUSLY uuughhhh

  7. This was a fantastic article. I have never, and likely will never, label myself a feminist. I'm for equality when it comes to race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, at least in general terms. I think men and women should be treated equally in any situation where the biological differences do not matter. Unless I'm very mistaken (possible, and if I am I'm sure someone will correct me), this was the idea behind the original feminist movement. It seems to me that when feminism was tackling the large, broad stroke issues like women being allowed into the workplace, voting, or wearing whatever the hell they would like to, there weren't the types of issues described in this article. There were simply larger issues to fight. I could be wrong, of course, as I'm far to young to have been there. But now that things are closer to equal (NOT equal, just closer to) the direction of feminism seems to be more debatable.

    It makes me wonder if the GLBT movement is going to have similar issues to the ones described in this article once things get closer to equal in that arena. I sort of think they will, and I tend to think that once that happens I'll have to start considering myself vaguely in favor of the movement much like I suppose I consider myself vaguely feminist. Which clearly means that my first sentence was vaguely wrong and I only have a vague idea of what I'm talking about.

    1. There have always been issues in the feminist movement. In the very early days of the fight for women's voting rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony split off from the mainstream American Equal Rights Association (open to all) to form the woman-only National Woman Suffrage Association (for women only) because they didn't want to support the 15th Amendment if it would grant voting rights to black men, but not to women. The two groups later reconciled. Later in the suffrage movement, Alice Paul broke away from the reconciled group in order to form the more radical National Woman's Party. As for women being allowed into the workplace (generally considered a second-wave issue, though it's a bit more complicated than that since some groups of women have always had to work)...well, second-wave infighting is mentioned in this very article. "Wearing whatever the hell we want to" is a fight that's still going on, to one degree or another depending on where you live. (I can wear pants all I want, but I can't go shirtless in public.)

      None of which means I'm not a feminist; I am. There will always be infighting in any social justice movement, personalities will clash, people will step on each other's toes (and faces), and people will use movements for their own personal gain. But what I am trying to say is that despite all of the infighting, the 19th amendment still passed, women still became far more accepted in the workplace than we once were, abortion was legalized, issues like sexual harassment and breast cancer are now talked about instead of being pushed under the rug...etc. And there's still large issues to be figured out (ending rape, for instance)...and I don't think that having these arguments is going to destroy the movement.

  8. I give you props for putting up with all the BS. And I like the article.

    1. But I will also add, Clymer is a creepy motherfucker.



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