Part of the reason Lierre wrote The Vegetarian Myth is to help women evade, she has written, the “ideological purity that’s directed at and destroys female bodies in particular”; she has said, “I write about how female hunger is a huge part of women’s oppression, from preferential male feeding to American anorexia, and the latter’s connection to veganism. If anything is oppression, it’s women denying themselves food to meet patriarchal, body-hating norms.”
That’s feminism, radical feminism, and an ethic of care. We need more of this, not less. Yesterday I posted about yet another incident of Lierre being attacked in writing, an obsessive though ill-informed critique of The Vegetarian Myth, and this attack, a blog post by a radical feminist, was widely circulated among feminists on Facebook. The writing was used to discredit Lierre, and undermine readership of her book. Is this really what we want? We need to ask ourselves what effect we wish to have. As feminists. And within feminism.
There is no need within feminism to avoid challenging one another. Challenges help us to grow, to define better our own values and to refine our belief systems so that they are internally consistent, effective, useful to us. But challenges and horizontal hostility are very different. Challenges move us to look together to examine a topic. Horizontal hostility attacks, negates, distances, and defines the other as the enemy; one winner and one loser is the only possible outcome.
This is interesting to me, because I’ve never seen it so clearly before. If I am honorable, I invite you to sit down tho the table with me to discuss. I have a belief that we can talk this through, and it’s there that I begin. Or I hold the belief that we might be able to process this difference to a reasonable level of comfort, and that I am not in danger sitting with you to discuss it. (If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety.)
Think about that: If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety. If I name you the enemy, then I have to approach you oppositionally, I have to be on guard, and I am not under the impression that we can resolve our differences; either you win or I win. I might immediately bow out to fight another day (I lose); I might stay in long enough to conclude futility, and then concede this battle and move on (I lose); I might plot to force you into showing your true allegiances publicly in spaces you don’t want to do that (I could win, with time and effort), or I might overtly discredit you so that others stop listening to you — destroy your credibility in circles we share, circles that are of vital importance to you (I could win, and likely with the least time and effort).
If I’m in danger, there is no concern for honor, only for safety; I must be concerned with safety. If I name you the enemy, then most likely I will be asked to defend that naming. The easiest way to defend myself is to discredit you. The focus moves off me, and onto you. And I can exploit that focus: I have the arena, and you in the distance as my target. This happens so often as feminists step in and ask for more information, for clarification, for facts. The answers they are given offer more in the way of discrediting the target than addressing the actual questions.
Watch for this the next time a text argument ensues — I know I’m going to.
1. Does the challenger invite in order to share? Or does the challenger begin with discounting, negation, a hostile attack?
2. Does the initial wording address the challenged one by name and with respect? Or does the text open with talk about someone, the targeted one?
3. If this is a two-person confrontation, what happens next? Bowing out, manipulation toward revealing hidden alliances, or direct confrontation?
4. If it’s direct confrontation, is an attempt to destroy credibility begun?
5. When others ask question, seeking clarification and voicing their concerns, are their questions and concerns addressed directly? Or are the “answers” mostly further discrediting of the target?
Presuming that coalition is to be encouraged, how do we handle this, as feminists? There are a number of roles than can be taken up, and probably need to be. There are the voices of reason who remain uncommitted to a ‘side’ and simply serve to introduce reasonable questions (A). There are the voices of support who address the charges, and counter them. also remaining calm and reasonable if adamant (B). There are the voices of passion who make very clear how troubling this is for feminism and for the women involved –they are still reasonable but are more adamant (C). Negotiations would continue until space enough was claimed to allow for reason. The idea isn’t to shape the conversation, only to block the false charges from going uncontested. Anyway, these are the roles I’ve seen taken on; support, for some of us, is really only felt at the (C) level, and some of this may be class-related. Often women will leave the conflict and not play their chosen role out to its logical conclusion — or even resolution. And that’s sad because I think this or something like it might actually work.
What if we were to do this, to be available for calling when someone was engaging in yet another attack on Lierre, and The Vegetarian Myth?