In Which the Strawfeminist Makes Yet Another Appearance

by Hoyden and Shaker Lauredhel of Hoyden About Town

Here's the thing. And I'm going to start off telling this as my story, and yet, perhaps paradoxically, apologise for that at the outset. Because as much as the protagonist has tried to make this about me—it's not, really. Work with me here.

I'm Lauredhel. I've been Lauredhel in the blogosphere for over four years. I maintain a stable, consistent online identity and am readily contactable via Hoyden About Town. I'm a white, middle-aged, heterosexual, disabled Australian feminist.

Here's the next thing. Monica Dux and Zora Simic know my full name and home address. I gave it to them, feeling safe with it at the time, so that they could send me a complimentary copy of their book "The Great Feminist Denial", after Zora interviewed me for the book. At the start of the interview process, I explained that I would like to maintain my pseudonymity. Not only did it make more sense (who knows that Mary Llewellyn-Jones[1] co-blogs at Hoyden About Town?), but I have real-life reasons to do with freedom from abuse and assault, and the freedom to one day work in my chosen profession again, a profession I have criticised and whistle-blown on repeatedly. These reasons were accepted as reasonable, and on we went.

The book came out. The cover blurb was execrable, but you can't always blame the authors for that. The interview was in there, boxed, oddly out of place and not introduced or integrated into the text, but *yay*! Interview in paper book on feminism!

Then Monica Dux placed her article in the Age, "Feminist is Not a Dirty Word". We're in broad agreement here. "Feminist" is not a dirty word. Where we differ is in that Dux accepts the patriarchal frame that labels unshaven, unattractive, saggy-boobed, radical, lesbian women "dirty". She claims that radical feminism (which she locates in the past) never achieved anything useful, was at base irrelevant, and that all it did achieve was making feminism unattractive. She attempts to use "irony" to characterise the patriarchal standpoint, but fails to at any point actually repudiate it, and instead simply erases us in the process:
We all know what she looks like. She's unwaxed, unattractive and unfeminine (probably with saggy boobs, given her predilection for torching bras). But while most women can describe her characteristics, they can rarely name a woman who personifies the stereotype.
She accepts that the hairy-legged feminist is a negative stereotype, and pleads with the mainstream to realise that some feminists are pretty! Some feminists love men! Some feminists shave and wear makeup and high heels! So feminism isn't all bad! Dux concludes:
Perhaps the word feminism won't be able to shake the unwanted associations it has picked up over the decades. Next time you're asked if you are a feminist, it might be more correct to reply: I am, but not an anachronistic cliche of a narrow version of second wave radical feminism. Bit of a mouthful? Maybe a simple "yes" will do.
We've all seen this before; the car crash was probably inevitable. People with this point of view like to paint themselves as "inclusive" or as "popularisers". Without realising it, they speak only to a particular kind of woman. They automatically assume an audience of white, heterosexual, young-to-middle-aged, able-bodied, educated, beauty-compliant women. Their "inclusion" is only of these people. The people they wish to convince, the "normal" people, the "regular" people, are the people who are already the most privileged of all women. In the process, they erase the existence of people already marginalised; disowning us because they think we make feminism look bad.

So I blogged a response: "Monica Dux thinks I'm bad for feminism's image", in which I pleaded for our existence to be recognised. I linked to Dux's full article.
Here's the thing, Monica Dux. I, a person your co-author Zora interviewed at some length for the book, have hairy legs. I have hairy ampits. I'm fat, which is generally considered "unattractive" in Western patriarchal culture. My breasts sag. Apart from the lesbianism, I am your scary negative cliche. And some of my friends are 100% your scary negative cliche. This person is not a myth. We're out here. And we're feminists.

Would you be aghast if we walked around wearing ‘THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE' T-shirts? [...]

My body, according to you, is feminism's marketing problem.
A long thread ensued. Dux claimed she had been misinterpreted. (Don't take my word for it - read her original piece yourself.) She compared me to a racist who would "reply this way when they're challenged. 'Hey, but I really do know an Asian guy who's fantastic at maths'!" She refused to accept that any critique of her article may have any validity, and persisted in claiming that all of us just didn't recognise her "irony"; that if there was a problem, it probably lay with the reader.

Melissa pointed to the thread, here at Shakesville. Teh Portly Dyke wrote a terrific response, "Honor Your (Radical) Ancestors" (cross-posted at her place).

Rachel Funari wrote a response in The Age, "Feminism depends on hairy choices", in which she argued against ditching hairy-legged lesbians but in favour of slamming and ditching mothering feminists:
"What is the point of attracting young women to feminism if feminists become simply a bunch of waxen, anorexic, botoxed mannequins, with badly-behaved children, complaining their husbands don't do enough housework?"
Great; now I and mine have been ditched by both sparring sides in the Age.

(If anyone's interested, which I doubt: I'm rather pink-faced and fat, botox scares the crap out of me, my son is sometimes badly-behaved and sometimes well-behaved (neither of which is the most important things about him), and the man with which I live in sin does the vast majority of the housework, seeing as I can't and all.)

Things lay quiet for a little while.

Now, Monica Dux has placed a piece in this weekend's Age newspaper calling Hoydens and Shakers (though not by name) a "hysterical" "mob" administering a "virtual lynching". Yes, she actually used the word "lynching". More than once. While attempting to defend herself from a charge of racism.

Despite the fact that she wasn't lynched any more than J.Q.Student was raped on his trigonometry exam. And last time I looked, my uterus was exactly where it should be.

There's more, a lot more, now available here. but it's not available online in a simple-to-access HTML format. Go to PressView, and search for "My nameless, shameless adversary" in the search box at the top. A taste:
The anonymity of the blogosphere can induce a mob mentality. [...]

I'd written an opinion article that riled one of the moderators of a political blog. Who, I do not know because she, like many bloggers, chooses to hide behind a pseudonym. Let's call her "No Name". No Name certainly knew my name. It was there posted in big bold letters for all of cyberspace to see, with an accompanying irate denunciation of my article.

What followed was a "monster thread" — a collection of pseudonymous "posters" mostly intent on joining the howl of condemnation. It was clear that many of them had not actually read my article, as they damned me for failing to say something that I had actually said, something that No Name had conveniently edited out of her account of my argument. [...]

I'd been the subject of blog attacks before but this one displayed the hysterical fury that can so quickly develop in cyberspace, with each outraged comment building on the one before, whipping each other into a frenzy. When the thread lost momentum, No Name would re-enter the fray to suggest another reason why the group should denounce me. Running out of ammunition against my opinion article, she took aim at my book which, by her own admission, she had not read. A long and angry critique of the book's cover promptly ensued.

And so it continued, not just on No Name's blog, but on others that fed off it, including one in the US where not even the person initiating the thread had read my article, though she was furious about it anyway.
The "one in the US"? That's Melissa McEwan, at Shakesville. Real name and all.

Dux goes on to display the profound misunderstanding of blogs and of pseudonymity so common in those who write for paper media. "Unsavoury potential to degenerate"; "freedom from constraints of every day decency and politeness"; "lowering of standards"; "We don't really own our words or arguments until we put our names to them"; "shamelessness is often celebrated"; you've heard it all before from people who aren't involved in blogging. As tigtog commented:
It speaks to a profound disconnect with online conventions, plus a distressing confusion between anonymity and pseudonymity as well. Long-term pseudonyms acquire their own weight - if you left Hoyden and started a new blog under a new pseudonym, how many readers would know where to find you?
Those Hoydenizens who choose are now joining the thread to sign their real name and role/job description to the thread. (You're welcome to join in.)

Most notably, Dux has claimed that the Hoyden thread "misrepresents" her, and she discounts people's opinions based on her assumption that they haven't read her original article. I linked to her article directly, referenced it appropriately, so people could read the source material and make up their own minds.

But Dux doesn't offer either me or her readers that essential courtesy. She identifies me only as "No Name", and refuses to name the blog—so her readers have no opportunity to read the original. They are not given a chance to make up their own minds; they are told what to think by the piece of paper in front of them. Dux deliberately conceals the source material.

(Handily, we're still in the top page of Google hits for her name, so intrepid searchers can find us.)

Dux concludes:
All too often we act as the mob does, nameless and faceless, without responsibility, lost in the anonymity of the crowd. Like the rally I attended so many years ago, this can be intoxicating. But it's also the way people get lynched — and I don't just mean figuratively.
I don't have to tell Shakers just what's wrong with that analogy.

[1] Name has been changed, etc.

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