Is It Worth the Fight?

Let me start this out with a disclaimer: I don’t watch local news. Like, ever. My parents watched it somewhat regularly when I was growing up, and I’ve often found shows like 60 Minutes interesting, but I’ve never been a news-watcher. I also don’t regularly read any newspapers or news publications. I very selectively read the Times and the Boston Globe online, mostly for technology and education stories, and I occasionally read an article or two from Time or Newsweek when they come in at work, but they’re not really on my radar most of the time.

I get the vast majority of my news from blogs I frequent and, perhaps most importantly, from Twitter. (And I now try to share alike–anything that I read that strikes me as interesting or important gets tweeted.)

So it was sort of like major culture shock to look at the recent local news coverage of various proposed non-discrimination legislation.

Now, I don’t make the mistake of thinking that online comment threads are representative of the general population. But it’s still pretty hard to read some of the venom that gets hurled toward queer folks, trans* folks, people of color, women–basically any minority group gets its share (and then some) of online hatred when it comes to these kinds of comments boards.

Queer Today (a site I have some problems with, but that’s pretty much neither here nor there) put out a call to the community to respond to local news coverage of the New Hampshire non-discrimination vote–widely misrepresented and maligned as the “bathroom bill”–and sent out a list of links to local stories, many of which have comment threads. I went to the first one, read maybe three comments, and decided I just couldn’t keep going.

But it begs the question–if I don’t have the stomach to respond to people who believe I and those I love are perverts and criminals, who will? And is it even worth it? Is there value in continuing to engage people who are only engaging in bad faith?

On a related note, voz_latina has a post up calling for a boycott of Feministe and Feministing:

Both blogs have a history of mistreating and disrespecting trans women, and exploiting us for their own ends.

We tried reason. We tried engaging. We tried talking. We went off to r own spaces to heal.

Nothing worked.

I’m very torn on this.

I’ve taken breaks from reading both blogs (indeed, blogs in general) because of major hostility in comment threads. I’ve since stopped reading Pandagon entirely for the same reason (and because I’ve always found the comments there to be very in-jokey and members only, and because Amanda Marcotte’s responses to criticism of her latest books went from bad to awful).

And I’d be foolish, and just plain wrong, to try to argue that either blog has been just peachy on trans* issues. (Or, for that matter, race issues, queer issues, class issues… the list goes on.)

But I do get the feeling, even in the most frustrating and painful of threads, that there is still a glimmer of hope there. And I can’t tell how much of that hope is real, and how much is just my own privilege talking.

It’s far too easy (and way too common) for folks to say, “Well, we can’t get mad at our allies.” Or, “At least they’re talking about us–everyone else is ignoring us.” Or, “They’re not as bad as our enemies.” I want to make it clear that I’m not saying this. (And, as voz_latina and others have pointed out, allies aren’t really allies if they’re actually consistently mistreating and disrespecting you.)

But I do think it’s important to tie this into my larger question–who’s worth the fight? With whom do we engage, and when do we decide to sever ties? Do we try to educate those who seem like they may have potential to learn? Do we make it clear we won’t engage with the ignorant until they’ve done their homework?

12 Responses to Is It Worth the Fight?

  1. Renee says:

    You ask some really tough questions in this post. I believe that an ally is someone who is going to make mistakes because they are not intimately familiar with the “ism” in question but they must display a true desire to learn. What I detest is the phony support on some blogs. Linking to a trans site and rarely to never writing about trans issues is not the work of an ally, it is covering your ass so that you don’t get called out for your lack of activity. I do know that bloggers to some degree play to their audience however you create the audience by what you choose to prioritize in the first place.

    There are many blogs that I simply read and rarely to never comment because their comment threads are simply not a safe environment. I know that we cannot hold the blogger accountable for their comment section however it does not inspire one to want to engage. As a marginalized body I have to deal with enough nonsense IRL without dealing with people who believe that online is an excuse to let out their inner idiot.

    I am still working my way through this but I do believe that if we sense that someone is trying to learn and engage in good faith we should support them. If we can see that that a person practices “bono activism” we need to move on. Our time is way to short for that.

  2. pandanose says:

    I really like including mistakes in the definition of an ally. I agree that phony support is no support at all, but it’s also really frustrating to see people who are genuinely well-intentioned (and willing to do the work) get lumped in with those who have genuinely ill will.

    The question of accountability when it comes to comment sections is an interesting one. I’ve seen a really wide range of moderation on some of the major blogs, which really makes me wonder about priorities. I know bloggers are people with lives, and I don’t expect that every moderator is going to be able to respond to every comment the second it comes in–but when certain kinds of threads are consistently overrun by derails and bad faith arguments, I think it’s entirely fair to ask why original authors aren’t participating more in a thread.

  3. belledame222 says:

    I gave up on feministing long ago for a number of reasons. feministe I have a more complicated relationship to. overall I’ve found them more responsible, although that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep being called out as an entity (spaces take on a life of their own that’s larger than the sum of the hosts/parts) as well as individual fuckups. as should we all.

  4. belledame222 says:

    The other thing is–I dunno, at least from the “ally” side (I tend to avoid the word as a self-descriptor in general, except in very limited contexts, i.e. this post/meeting is for ___ and allies only. and even then, asking specifically for desired behavior rather than desired self-identity seems more helpful frankly), i also figure–look, you pays your money and you make your choice. You just have to live with the response and the results, that’s all. Sometimes some people are just gonna stay angry; it’s their prerogative. You do what seems to need to be done to meet accountability, make your peace with the people who -want- to make peace, and then let it go. sit with whatever residual bad feelings are left, because some of them just aren’t gonna get resolved right away (or at all), alas. But you do the right thing for its own sake, and hope–and it usually does–that it’ll at least help.

  5. belledame222 says:

    from the other side, when it’s me who’s the injured party (in some other context, obviously, i.e. homophobia w/straight “allies” or “nice, well meaning people), I just do what I need to do to protect my own boundaries; that includes anger, but there’s a point at which I know it’s better to just disengage altogether, because it’s more energy than -I- want to spare. If they want to take it as a “punishment” or suchlike, it’s their problem. It’s harder than it should be, this, I often find; there’s a part of me that keeps getting hooked back in, even when 99% of me firmly believes that this particular person/situation is a hopeless cause. still it’s been a slow but steady learning process.

  6. belledame222 says:

    also, there’s this: getting “mad” implies some level of engagement. Ceasing to have any real feelings at all usually means I’ve gone -beyond- mad; that I’ve just given up on so and so. Which might paradoxically mean my being more formally cordial when circumstances dictate; but really it’s: I’ve given up.

    there’s this one guy in one of my classes I feel that way about (who told me point blank he voted for Prop 8 but wanted to process it on account of he likes me and wants to resolve our “mutually difficult” something or other) First response was a blistering email back telling him exactly why that wasn’t going to happen. Now? I don’t have any visceral feelings toward him most of the time. It wasn’t intentional, I just…he’s not that interesting. So I deal with him when I have to, but it’s like: dude: we’re not friends. And whatever your process is, sincerely, good luck with it, hope that was a learning experience for you in some way, but either way, it’s Not My Table at this point.

  7. belledame222 says:

    I liked this post, btw

    in general I think it’s not unreasonable to expect from an ally or comrade that sometimes, when wading into a particular fight is -too- painful or triggering, that someone else can pick up the slack.

    but I also think everyone has the right to define their own boundaries, know what their own limits are. and the responsibility is to get better at figuring out the difference between “this is just going to feel too overwhelming for me right now,” “this I might be okay with but I honestly don’t believe taking this particular action is going to be helpful” and “I could do this, but I’m afraid of the consequences.”

    nuance is all. :/

  8. belledame222 says:

    per guy: and of course I speak up in a general way wrt queer and related issues in class whenever it’s relevant. which I’d do anyway. but it’s like, he can hear it or not: there’s nothing I could say to him in private that would be any different from what I’m saying in public, except for possibly some swearing.

  9. pandanose says:

    Heh. I thought you were on vacation!

    I like your point about emotion being a form of engagement, because I don’t think I’d really thought about it that way before. Although sometimes anger comes right before dismissal…

    Anyway. I’m not sure my post (nor subsequent comments) are super coherent, but lately I’ve just been noticing all these trends I see as intersecting–some people claiming that the very use of the word “privilege” has become a way to shut down discussion, would-be allies showing some massive FAIL, etc…

  10. belledame222 says:

    oh yah, those trends have been…trendy… yeah.

    ‘s why I’m theoretically on vacay, or part of it.

    also my attention span just -sucks-. either hyperfocused or can’t even pay attention. so, trying to just…wean off. but inevitably i just shifted to twitter instead…well, I’m working on it…

  11. pandanose says:

    I hear that. All of my internet vacations have come from wondering if blogs (and comments, largely) were worth the hassle.

  12. […] On a related note, MK asks when is comment-thread engagement worth the fight? […]

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