This Is Not Accountability; This Is Not Feminism

[Content Note: Racism, misogyny, harassment, bullying, silencing, gaslighting.]

I am writing this follow-up with the explicit consent of Emi Koyama.

Last week, Emi Koyama published her account of being silenced and intimidated by members of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) at the Forging Justice conference, along with a list of demands for meaningful accountability, cosigned by HAVEN organizers and other attendees.

Since then, a couple of things have happened. One: Emi, who left the conference early Saturday morning, found out from the rest of us who were still there that NOMAS had read an apology letter that afternoon. NOMAS had written an apology, ostensibly to her, read it aloud at the conference and posted it on their Facebook page, but never actually sent it to Emi until six days later, after we publicly discussed it on Twitter.

An apology is not a meaningful apology if it is a PR stunt primarily concerned with maintaining reputation rather than being accountable to the harmed person. And if the men of NOMAS expected the women of HAVEN to pass along their apology to Emi, that is neither feminism nor accountability. Meaningful apologies are not delivered second-hand.

Two: After Emi's account was published, someone who is not a member of the NOMAS council linked to it on their Facebook page (on which only members can comment) asking for a response. Although the first response from a council member said: "The list on Shakesville is newly released, and NOMAS is taking the list of demands seriously," the very next comment is from another council member, Barry Goldstein, challenging Emi's account of her lived experience:

screen cap of comment reading: 'Barry Goldstein There is a lot of misinformation that I have seen online from people who were at the conference but never heard the full story. As we struggle to create a new world in which sexism, racism and other oppressions are a thing of the past, I hope we can treat each other with respect and dignity and be open to hear the full story in context, warts and all before jumping to conclusions, some of which are false and unfair.'

So, just to be clear: We have failed to treat members of the NOMAS council with "respect and dignity" because we disagree that there is some additional context which could magically make it okay to silence and intimidate a woman of color who was invited to speak at their conference, then fail to keep their fellow council member under control so that he did not harass another woman of color and then return to the conference to corner Emi, even after having been asked to leave.

In response to Barry's comment, Cristy Cardinal, the conference programming chair for HAVEN, who co-sponsored the conference with NOMAS, replied: "Barry, Emi's account is her lived experience and not up for debate. She has demonstrated a great deal of dignity in the face of profound disrespect. Anything that is left out of her post is on the UpRoot blog, and was my story to tell. No one is jumping to conclusions by listening to Emi's lived experience as a woman of color who was targeted and silenced by NOMAS Council members."

To which Barry replied in three successive comments:

screen cap of comments reading: 'Barry Goldstein As Senator Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. There is a ton of information that would cast this in a very different light that I don't believe Emi or the other women were ever told. Perhaps none of them wants the full story and they are not open to hearing it, but I think it is only respectful that they have the opportunity to consider what happened based on all the facts they are missing. / Barry Goldstein I am particularly concerned that issues of oppression have been applied in a one-sided manner. The women who have been involved in the criticism of NOMAS Council Members stand on the backs of other women who have been leaders in the dv and other women's movements. Two of these women have sacrificed enormously on behalf of other women and have repeatedly been viciously attacked for their efforts on behalf of women. Nevertheless these women who deserve honor and appreciation were among those attacked at the conference. Also attacked was a gay black man who just lost his mother. I don't believe this is what feminists are supposed to do. / Barry Goldstein When NOMAS committed offensive actions, we apologized and took responsibility. We avoided making reference to any information that would have been understood to lesson our offense because that would have been unaccountable. And in response we were further criticized because people did not have the full story. For people who want to have a respectful and balanced discussion, we will provide a more complete account. For those who just want to bash men and women it will be an exercise in futility. My understanding of feminism is that men can disagree with women and do so in a respectful manner.'

Barry: Gaslighting women isn't "disagreement." Welcome to Feminism 101.

So, just to be perfectly clear, according to NOMAS council member Barry Goldstein, it is we, Emi Koyama and the women who organized in solidarity against the silencing of Emi, who are not treating them, the people who silenced Emi, with respect and dignity. And it is we, the women who protested NOMAS' kyriarchal silencing of a queer woman of color, who are the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes.

And it is we who are standing on the backs of the two white female members of the NOMAS council, who sat in absolute silence while their male colleagues tried to defend their actions.

And it is we who "bash men and women." We are bashers. We are attackers. We are violent.

I don't know if any of the other signers are survivors of gender-based violence, but Emi publicly identifies as a survivor, and I publicly identify as a survivor, and being survivors is centered in our work. The work for which we were invited to be speakers at this conference. The theme of which was "understanding gender-based violence as a social justice issue."

I cannot begin to express how deeply contemptuous I am to be accused of having "attacked" anyone at that conference. I did not "attack" anyone. I did not see any of the other signatories of that letter "attack" anyone. I absolutely refuse to abide the language of violence being used to describe our attempts to hold accountable the people who silenced and intimidated Emi Koyama.

We sat silently through two hours of NOMAS council members talking about how great their organization is, and one council member using his time to mischaracterize and concern troll Emi's work without even having the decency to name her, before we took the mic and asked them for accountability, during a session that was recorded and clearly documents our addressing the council in a way that could not be described as "an attack" by any reasonable measure.

And while I recognize that Barry Goldstein is but one member of the council, none of the other council members have challenged his public comments. Their silence communicates tacit agreement. If they don't agree with his casting us as "bashers" and "attackers," they aren't saying so, which mirrors their failure to engage in bystander intervention at the conference when another of their members, Bob Brannon, cornered both Emi and Lauren Chief Elk.

Further, as Emi observed in comments, Barry Goldstein "is not just some random dude of the street, but he supervises batterer intervention program and trains judges and advocates about domestic violence." This is a man who knows exactly what it means to accuse someone of being an "attacker."

Does the rest of the NOMAS council agree that we, Emi Koyama and the women who stand in solidarity with her, are "attackers" and "bashers" who have failed to treat the members of the NOMAS council "with respect and dignity"? If they do not agree, why have they not said so?

* * *

I cannot speak, and am not speaking, for any of the other signatories on the list of demands. I can speak, and am speaking, only for myself. That does not mean I intend to center myself; Emi's account is the primary document about what happened to her. I am sharing my experience as a support document only.

This experience has further undermined my trust in men. I was asked to a conference centered on the issue of gendered violence, the title of which was "Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal, and Accountable Communities," and then I watched as male organizers of that conference created an unsafe, unequal, and unaccountable environment. And even after they made the space unsafe, I stayed in that space and spoke to a room full of people which included men who had broken their agreement to me.

I watched these men allow one of their colleagues harass two women of color. I watched them allow him to try to professionally humiliate one of them. I watched them try to evade accountability. I watched them communicate to other presenters yet to present, including me, that they controlled us and controlled the information we were presenting. I watched them hold up their hands while we were speaking and constantly assert physical dominion over the room and invoke their nonwhite and female members as shields against criticism.

And for trying to hold them accountable for their actions, I am now publicly being accused of being disrespectful. Of attacking.

I am being subjected to all manner of antifeminist bullshit by men who call themselves feminists.

Men wonder why I don't trust men. They tell me that I am broken, that I am hateful, that I am crazy, that there's something wrong with me. But this, right here, is why I don't trust men.

I'm not going to apologize for acknowledging the reality of my world. It is not a "small but vocal group" who undermine my trust. It is virtually every man with whom I interact, including the national council members of the National Organization for Men Against Sexism.

And the men I do trust? They understand that. And they don't require evidence of my trust as collateral for making themselves trustworthy in the first place.

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