Fighting Horizontal Hostility

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?


5 thoughts on “Fighting Horizontal Hostility

  1. Yes, some people do decide to just be unfair and even cruel. But so much of it is fueled by privilege. So I don’t think of it as “horizontal hostility” because we are not on the same plane. That’s the problem. When it’s classism, the privileged simply feel superior. Recently, Megan and I were writing about how we were being talked to as if we were inferior. The one doing it translated that as being we felt inferior to her! That was shock and the opposite of the truth. But I learned that when they do not want to know about how they are using their privilege to bully and hurt, they just don’t listen. I mean, if she thinks we’re that inferior to her, why listen to us at all?

    So that is the issue. Some will NOT stop using classism to bully, ridicule, put down, silence, etc. They know they are doing it and they don’t care. They also project wildly and lie. Their arrogance is obvious when there are witnesses to what they are lying about and it’s in print, on blogs and in threads.

    So why are they doing this, really? Some feed on feeling superior. Some are threatened by radical politics, even though they consider themselves the most radical. For some, it’s jealousy, which is especially aimed at the class-oppressed. Some want a clique at the expense of a movement and community. And I think some do want a segregated community, which is not Feminism, let alone Radical Feminism.

    When I talk about classism, it’s about how we grew up — the culture that affects us now in how we look and talk and write. Whether or not someone even understands about classism, the class-oppressed are usually recognizable in person, photos, and in our writing — and usually treated as inferior by the class-privileged.

    I kept bringing up during these arguments, “What about my old Radical Feminist friend who now lives in a fancy neighborhood and hired my undocumented poverty class Radical Feminist lover to clean her toilet (not because of disability, but because of laziness)?” Could you have equality if both were in a group together? NO ONE ever answered me about that.

    The most important start is for us to know that we have cultural differences, with one group having institutionalized power, and to treat each other as equals. It shouldn’t be so hard. But it rarely happens.

  2. And yes, why the extremely unethical attack on Lierre’s beautiful book, that misrepresents her politics and ridicules her? She is literally saving lives. And she’s been physically attacked and gotten death threats because of her courage in speaking out. So women who call themselves “feminists” just attack and ridicule. Why? Jealousy? Or because they enjoy bullying and hurting? These aren’t even all vegans doing this.

  3. Bev Jo, interesting stuff you bring to this table. You’re helping me to clarify tactics.

    I’m still very interested in waging an effective counter against these kinds of attacks. In some ways I could make a case for the attacks being evidence of horizontal hostility (pulling back a bit from the hierarchy, and seeing that we all consider ourselves feminists, and often radical feminists), and in others, I can see the classism and other privileging showing through (requiring a closer examination of rung positions on that hierarchy, made evident by the presumed superiority). I’m not sure it always matters for fighting back, except that we have to be aware of the oppressions in the putdowns, so they can’t divide us. Sometimes it may be tactical to take a close look at the hierarchy in effect; sometimes it might be better to pull back adequate to highlight common ground. In all cases, if we can begin with an attempt to quell the lies and the ongoing discrediting, it’s a great start.

    Tactically, after this, we have a lot of options — we can work to establish common ground among those who are willing to do the same, we can stay in the fight to give counter information so long as we suspect there are others listening and forming their own views, or we can offer links or locations where a more just version of the discussion is going on, or could be.

    I’m also very interested in finding out why these attacks have begun again. Is it a group vying for power, where Lierre is just a convenient target? Is it that vegan idealists are still finding the need to pound Lierre down, to make themselves feel better? And if so, why does that help them? How? In all cases, ridicule needs to be challenged up front. So do 2, 4 and 5 on my list, above, I think.

    Thank you for posting!

  4. Thank you for doing all of this! In our book, we tried to examine how and why women betray each other, and therefore how to stop it in ourselves and recognize it in others. I think the most important thing is a good heart. Trying to be open and loving, regardless of privilege. It doesn’t matter how privileged someone is if they really care. But far too many love their (false) sense of superiority so much that they will not give it up even if that means making a truly inclusive, welcoming Radical Feminist movement impossible.

    And then there are the sadists who just enjoy inflicting pain on other women, in spite of their pretense of feminism. A giveaway is the laughing and ridicule and putdowns. They think they are so clever that they don’t even notice how much they are not.

    • Oh, this is funny — I think I’m so original, and then I realize I got the whole concept from you, and your wonderful book. My 1-5 questions to ask above were distilled from your book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes. And from conversations with you, too. Thank you.

      And, yes, the privileged may be insecure enough to need to bolster self-confidence at someone else’s expense — or just plain sadistic. What I hadn’t realized before is that this is also a case of a het woman, with all the privilege (and entitlement) that entails, absolutely trashing a Lesbian. There’s plenty of oppression out there already; feminism doesn’t need those of us with heterosexual privilege further marginalizing, not to mention verbally brutalizing, Lesbians.

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