On Wednesday, The Nation published "Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars," a reported piece by Michelle Goldberg about the divide between some women of color feminists and "mainstream" feminists. These two intersecting and not-easily-defined groups debate issues of gender and race privilege in real time on Twitter, and after Goldberg's piece went live, their world blew up. Again. If you aren't glued to TweetDeck, it's almost impossible to keep up with the constantly streaming arguments. Some have argued that the infighting detracts from feminism's ultimate goal of gender equality. The Awl's Choire Sicha joked:
you guys we could probably get the night back from them while the feminists are all mad at each other today— Choire (@Choire) January 29, 2014
But many women think that there are real issues between WOC feminists and Sheryl Sandberg-types that need to be worked out. Goldberg attempted to address the privilege white feminists enjoy in academic and popular spheres, and she quoted many WOC. One quote, in particular, landed with a thud:
I actually think there’s a subset of black women who really do get off on white women being prostrate. It’s about feeling disempowered and always feeling at the mercy of white authority, and wanting to feel like for once the things you’re saying are being given credibility and authority. And to have white folks do that is powerful, particularly in a world where white women often deploy power against black women in ways that are really problematic.
The quote comes from Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor at Rutgers and co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective blog. She's a WOC feminist who acknowledged that no feminist is perfect, and that there is hurt on both sides. So who are these women, and what are they really fighting about? Here's our incomplete guide to feminist infighting:
Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn)
She's a senior contributing writer for The Nation who's produced controversial gems like "Sympathy for Justine Sacco" and "The Absurd Backlash Against Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In." She thinks online feminism is "toxic" and is certainly critical of Hood Feminism editor Mikki Kendall, whom she quotes in the piece. Goldberg writes, "the expectation that feminists should always be ready to berate themselves for even the most minor transgressions ... creates an environment of perpetual psychodrama, particularly when coupled with the refusal to ever question the expression of an oppressed person’s anger." She contends that WOC feminists can be bullies, too, especially on Twitter.
Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia)
Feminist writer, best known for the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag. Kendall and that hashtag are credited with bringing the criticisms of women of color feminists to the forefront. Some think the criticisms are divisive while others think they're necessary, and that offended white feminists should listen instead of being personally offended. Goldberg writes of Kendall, "many consider her a bully, though few want to say so out loud," that she is "both famous and feared in Internet feminist circles." Kendall has admitted to not being nice, but the gist of the article is that Goldberg doesn't mention that there's an equally large number of people — many of whom find her article ridiculous — who don't think Kendall is a bully. There's, surprise, a whole hashtag worth.
Brittney Cooper (@ProfessorCrunk)
Cooper is the founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective, a "space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy." Some have accused Goldberg of pitting her against Kendall, especially with this quote on "black women who really do get off on white women being prostrate." Cooper clarified over Twitter that, while she didn't completely agree with the way her comments were framed, she felt she was accurately represented. She also called the piece an "important story on toxic online feminism."
Still, as feminist author Roxanne Gay pointed out, Cooper also argued that there is real hurt in the WOC community. "Black women are brought into these mainstream feminist websites to bring a little bit of color or a little bit of diversity, but that doesn’t parlay into other career advancement opportunities,” Cooper said. That, of course, hasn't been getting as much attention.
Courtney Martin (@courtwrites) and Vanessa Valenti (@VanessaValenti)
These two held a meeting back in the summer of 2012 about online feminism, which later turned into the #FemFuture report, as Goldberg explains. Goldberg writes that Martin and Valenti were slammed with criticism after holding the online meet-up — it excluded women who didn't live in New York, it excluded women without computers, it didn't address the needs of mothers, veterans, and others. In an attempt to start a discussion about where online feminism could go and who it could represent, the two fell victim to the "Twitter Wars." Martin tells Goldberg, "It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person." Martin and Valenti have not tweeted about Goldberg's piece.
Anna Holmes (@AnnaHolmes)
She founded Gawker’s feminist blog, Jezebel, in 2007, and edited it until 2011. She mainly stays above the fray, but Goldberg quoted her in the piece saying that the women’s blogosphere “feels like a much more insular, protective, brittle environment than it did before. It’s really depressing.” Her beef with (some) white feminists? “I see some of the more intellectually dishonest arguments put forth by women of color being legitimized and performed by white feminists, who seem to be in some sort of competition to exhibit how intersectional they are. There are these Olympian attempts on the part of white feminists to underscore and display their ally-ship in a way that feels gross and dishonest and, yes, patronizing.” After Goldberg’s piece ran, she pointed to Jacob Remes’ thoughts on Twitter: “An observation: nearly everyone Michelle Goldberg quoted was a woman of color. But they seem to be whitened by her having quoted them. … That is, they seem, in the twitter discussion I've seen of the article, not to 'count' as women of color, because Goldberg isn't.”
Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic)
She was one of the first bloggers at the influential Feministe, where she still writes. She's a columnist at The Guardian and has contributed to The Nation. Filipovic hasn't publicly taken a side in the Twitter wars, but she did tweet this:
And then she called out one of the main problems with Twitter feminism: not everyone is reacting to the same thing.
If you're going to criticize a piece, you should probably read the piece. (Apparently this actually needs to be said?).— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) January 29, 2014
Finally, she makes the disturbing charge that some Twitter feminists are trying to get the women quoted in the piece fired: "Disliked that article on twitter feminism? Great! Yay for dissent. But trying to get the women quoted fired is, yes, harassment and bullying."
Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes)
She's the senior political reporter at the reproductive rights blog RH Reality Check. She sides with WOC feminists who criticize the mainstream feminist movement.
I have trouble seeing institutional, widespread, movement-crushing damage done by WOC, critics of "big" feminism.— Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) January 29, 2014
As far as I can tell, "big" feminists are still publishing books, getting speaking gigs, nice bylines.— Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) January 29, 2014
Grimes isn't sure that WOC feminists like Mikki Kendall are damaging the movement, in fact, she thinks they are helping it. She calls out Goldberg directly:
There ARE books gone unpublished, keynotes gone unspoken, conferences quashed, & they are not those of women w access to Nation bylines.— Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) January 29, 2014
And Grimes doesn't care if Goldberg calls her tweets "performative" because she sides with WOC.
Suey Park (@suey_park) & Megan Murphy (@MeghanEMurphy)
One of the weirdest phenomenons sparked by The Nation piece was fighting between people who weren't even mentioned in the piece. Park, the founder of the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag (which focused on the treatment of Asian Americans in feminist and general cultural circles) and Murphy, the founder and editor of Feminist Current represented the two opposite ends of the debate:
(Update: In an email, Murphy — whose December essay "The Trouble with Twitter Feminism" made a very similar argument to Goldberg's — clarified that her following comment was in response to tweets from Park that misrepresented her tweets. "My comments were in response to Suey Park stating 'quotes' that were supposedly my words but were, in fact, not my words," Murphy wrote. "This is called defamation." Murphy and Park emailed and interacted on Twitter prior to the publication of Goldberg's article.) Which escalated into:
Because a mean girl is someone who tries to help white women learn and hold them accountable only to be tone-policed? pic.twitter.com/72Y3lV6s2N— Suey Park (@suey_park) January 29, 2014
Sarah Milstein (@SarahM)
Last fall Milstein wrote a Huffington Post post titled "5 Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism." One of her recommendations is that white feminists should, instead of looking for ways to prove you're not racist (being defensive) look for ways you are racist (be aware of your shortcomings). Milstein also asks that white feminists try to help promote feminists of color. Goldberg acknowledges that sometimes white feminists make mistakes, "but the expectation that feminists should always be ready to berate themselves for even the most minor transgressions ... creates an environment of perpetual psychodrama." Basically, Goldberg disagrees with Milstein's five step plan.
Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones) & Other
Jones is a Blog Her editor and contributor at Ebony and Salon. Like Park, she wasn't mentioned directly in The Nation piece, but is part of the vocal group of feminists of color whose brand of feminism is criticized in the piece. Kendall is the main target of the "bully" labelling, but writers like Jones, Rania Khalek and Roqayah Chamseddine (who started the #NotYourNarrative hashtag to address the absence of Arab and Muslim voices in the media) and others are implicated. Jones, on Twitter, argued that Goldberg was doing the bully by contributing to the silencing of women of color.