A space for conversation about “trashing”

I recently posted a link to an article on “Trashing” on this blog’s Tumblr face, and someone asked if I could open up a space for conversation here due to the limiting factors of Tumblr’s conversation/reblogging features.

The comments below this post are that space. Conversation will be moderated according to the normal moderation policy of this blog, though a little more relaxed than usual. 🙂 Please note, though, that this is not a space to complain about how nobody’s allowed to be racist any more or similar arguments. Take that to the Daily Male.

Here’s the original post:

What is “trashing,” this colloquial term that expresses so much, yet explains so little? It is not disagreement; it is not conflict; it is not opposition. These are perfectly ordinary phenomena which, when engaged in mutually, honestly, and not excessively, are necessary to keep an organism or organization healthy and active. Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape. It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy.

(read more…)

I’d like to see more talk about the difference between trashing and what it is that happens when a woman does, for example, something racist, and refuses to be accountable for it.

I’m uncomfortable with Joreen’s use of the term “psychological rape” because while we know as feminists to believe women who say somebody has raped them, I suspect that trashing accusations are more complex.

I have very little sympathy for the various articles that have appeared recently decrying so-called “callout culture”. I think they’re mostly very silencing. I’d prefer to see more talk about “not being racist to people culture”.

In particular, I’m not a fan of analyses of conflict between women which pretend we’re all on a level and that there aren’t power dynamics between us, often massive, institutionalised ones, that amplify some acts and can be used to make others invisible.

But how do we know when someone’s being trashed as opposed to called out? Is it possible to be both trashed and called out? How, as feminists, should we feel about that? What should we do?

10 thoughts on “A space for conversation about “trashing”

  1. I was about to comment on how creepy I find the term “psychological rape” , but then saw you spotted it too. I get the impression that it’s co-opting other people’s horrific experiences to make a metaphor more powerful, which I don’t think is ok. However, I don’t know enough about the writer’s background to tell whether that’s what’s happening – it could be a comparison drawn from their own life, which would make me look at it differently.

  2. As for trashing – I think it definitely is a problem. I wonder if privilege gradients could be used to understand better when it’s happening? I would imagine that women coming from less privileged backgrounds of various sorts would be more of a target. Not that more privileged women wouldn’t perceive themselves as trashed some of the time, but I think there’s a difference.

    While I strongly support the feminist movement and think that it’s doing lots of very worthwhile things, it also often seems to be a really hostile and divisive environment a lot of the time. I’m not sure why this is, and I’d love to figure it out. What I’ve been finding personally is that I enjoy environments that are feminist in spirit (women-led, women-only, etc.), but not necessarily in name – I’ve found some of these to be much more supportive and positive than explicitly identified feminist groups (though this is a generalisation based on limited personal experience).

  3. I imagine it helps a lot to know who’s doing it. Trashing generally proceeds down a power gradient – white trashing PoC, man trashing woman, cis trashing trans, big name trashing no name.

  4. This is really fascinating and ahead of its time. I think what she calls Trashing is similar to bullying, which there is a lot more awareness of now than there would have been in the 70s, since we now know it happens to adults as well as children, and can lead to mental health problems or suicide.

    What Joreen wrote about Sisterhood really struck me. In the past I joined radical groups with the (unexamined) assumption that everyone in the group shared all my beliefs and were my spiritual family, so I took everything anyone in the group did very personally, and tied myself in knots trying to justify it when the group did things I didn’t agree with. She wrote that she grew up in an oppressive environment where she developed a thick skin to protect herself, but (if I’m reading it right) she joined the feminist movement and put down all her barriers, allowing bullies to hurt her very badly. This echoes what I’ve learned in my own life, that every person is an individual, and people can share my ideals and still be petty or or bigoted, or play power games and push others around.

    The question of how to distinguish bullying from calling out is thorny, I have my own wacky little way of thinking about this (which may or may not be useful to anyone else). All of us sometimes act as adults: take responsibility for our own emotions rather than asking others to look after us, and make sure everything we say is constructive. And sometimes we act as children, particularly when we are angry or hurt: simply reacting to our own painful emotions without thinking about how what we say affects others. So the rule of thumb is that you try to take the adult role as often as possible, and when you are coming from the more privileged end of a discussion or the discussion isn’t about you at all, you definitely have to take the adult role, or else not participate.

  5. Wow. Well, in trying to respond to this, a lot of buried feelings of pain and shame dished out to me at the hands of people in organizations came up. I realized there is a lot that I must process before writing too much about Joreen’s original article. I am curious though – was this an organization of white women? Were there race and class divides present? Different sexual orientations?

    I think yes, one can be trashed and called out at the same time. Lena Dunham as an example of this. I have seen a lot of thoughtful, intense, even biting and stinging criticism of her work, particularly her statements on her treatment of POC from her show “Girls,” statements she’s made. There are so many critiques of her that were completely deserved! There were critiques that tore her and the show to shreds, which I think she needed! But then there are people who criticize her and then go on to make statements about her appearance, her body, her attractiveness. And I have really mixed feelings about this.

    On one hand, I think about internalized misogyny. On the other hand, especially when women of color are saying stuff about Lena Dunham and her body shape and type, I can’t help but view that as a necessary response to living in a world where their bodies and beauty are constantly dehumanized, demeaned, and held against an impossible standard.

    And then, on my third hand… I think about patriarchy as a grimy overlay on top of all of this, stating that no matter who the woman is, appearance is always the primary concern that a woman should have, and that it’s always – ALWAYS – okay when you’re criticizing a woman… it’s totally necessary to bring into the equation how sexually appealing she is, or isn’t. And if she’s not sexually appealing to men, then she is almost always a failure no matter what.

    Re: what Julian said about trashing: I think that I am more inclined to describe behavior as “trashing” if the people who are involved are all on the same level. As in, one white feminist “trashing” another white feminist, where both women have about the same level of power or agency or privilege… I don’t know if I consider the behavior that Julian talked about so much as trashing… moreso it seems like if a white woman is doing stuff like that to a woman of color, it is just straight up enforcing white supremacy and moves from being trashing into being dehumanizing… “Trashing” to me, has a connotation that the behavior involved is petty and unwarranted.

    and KM brought up some interesting points too. However I personally want to see feminists, especially white feminists, deal with being called out in a different way. I want to see white feminists remove completely our own emotions from the situation of being “called out” and recognize that, usually, the behavior that we engage in that gets us called out most of the time isn’t just behavior that’s “not nice” – it’s behavior that actively silences other women, often times marginalized women. It’s behavior that is not only hurtful, but harmful also. It’s behavior that enforces white supremacy and adds to the burden of others… it is active oppression, and if you are a privileged person focusing on your emotions when you get called out, instead of focusing on the feelings of the person that you just trampled on… you are actively harming the well-being of another. There’s too much focus on comforting the person who has been called out, and dealing with their feelings, instead of confronting the issues behind the behavior that got them called out, and comforting the people who were hurt by the racist/transphobic/etc behavior.

  6. I really like your concept of childish and adult roles, KM, thanks for the idea!

    I’ve got some ambivalent feelings about this article. On the one hand, I recognise bits of what she says: I’ve sometimes felt very vulnerable in feminist and other like-minded spaces, where I’ve operated from a position of trusting my fellows by default and committed a lot of energy to the movement. By assuming that much similarity. I’m creating a lot of opportunities to be disappointed: I’m calling a lot of people sister when I might only have spent a few minutes talking to them, when I’ve maybe never interacted with them one on one. I can see that there’s a risk there.

    Still, I just don’t recognise the kind of malevolence she talks about: “It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy”. Maybe that’s because I’ve been lucky in the kind of feminists I’ve come across, maybe it’s a generational thing, but either way, the only times I’ve seen a feminist community really unite against an internal threat are when that threat’s speaking from a position of less privilege, and when the threat it’s reacting to is ‘you’re addressing your own problems and leaving mine behind’.

  7. Ugh. This is one of those things that I find so hard to talk about and deal with, and I think it’s wonderful that you’re providing a space to discuss it. (As you do with so many of the things you post, discussing uncomfortable aspects of feminism that often get swept under the rug.) On one hand, I feel that it’s very important to make sure that feminism is a safe and inclusive space, and that often means calling out bad behavior. On the other hand, I’ve experienced “trashing” and experienced being “called out” and those were two very differant experiences. I have been (sometimes harshly) criticized for racist or cissexist things that I’ve said. While it stung, at first, and as a young feminist I made it much worse by getting defensive and arguing, ultimately I am a better person and activist because people took the time to say, “Knock that shit off, you’re being ignorant and offensive.”

    I have also been trashed, on the Feminist Livejournal community. Years ago, when I was a young feminist, barely out of high school, I posted some thoughts about sexual assault, homophobia, and my family. It was very personal, sharing details of my own sexual assault that I had just begun sharing. For reasons I still don’t fully understand (especially because when I posted the exact same thing on Feministing I recieved a universally positive response), I got hundreds of comments attacking me. I tried to explain. Eventually, realizing that at the very least I had communicated my intentions horribly, I tried to apologize. (Community policy said you couldn’t pull a post down.) When apologizing didn’t help, I tried to disengage, basically gave a final apology and stopped responding to the attacking comments (which, as I said, were numbering in the hundreds). People then began to come on my private journal to continue the fight I had said I was finished with, or sent me email. Ultimately, I had to leave the community, because if I ever tried to respond to another post (even the most innocent “I really liked this” comment) I would have people begin to attack me and try to continue the argument. I honestly could not figure out what they wanted from me! So I had to leave. It was a horrible, demoralizing experience. I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t grow as a person. I was just devestated. If the community was trying to teach me something, they failed, miserably. If they were trying to attack and hurt someone, they succeeded. (And I don’t know which was their goal.)

    People, especially young people, especially privileged people, are going to make mistakes. I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t react angrily, because I know that it gets tiring and emotionally difficult to encounter the same ignorance and hate over and over and over. But I do think people should be given the space to acknowledge their bad behavior, educate themselves, and change. Most communities and people do this. A few don’t. I also think that instead of a huge pack attacking and being overly hurtful–and in some cases, trying to full-on destory a person’s life–it would be best to just entirely disengage with an ignorant/hateful person. Don’t sink to their level. Just block them from being able to post, delete any comments or messages that manage to get through, let others know about the individual’s bad behavior so other communities/people can protect themselves, and move on. It bothers me when I see feminists acting like the worst of the anti-feminists, MRA bullies when someone screws up.

    For example: What Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore said and wrote was fucked up. They deserved to be called out, strongly. No question. They should be banned from speaking, people should boycott events where they are featured, and people should talk and write about their transphobic stupidity. What is not okay, however, is the rape and death threats they recieved. And, yet, when a couple people pointed out that, hey, it’s not very feminist to send someone a rape threat, they were also attacked for “defending” what Burchill and Moore said…when they are not in any way defending their words, just their right to not get death threats! But I’ve seen a lot of people conflate the two, or say that they aren’t “worth defending”, as though it’s okay for some women to get rape threats. (But the same thing happens with conservative women…several times on places like Daily Kos I would ask someone to not use gendered/transphobic slurs against Ann Coulter or whoever, and then I was attacked for “supporting” them. Which, no.)

    I hope this makes sense. This is an issue I think about a lot, and I personally struggle with quite a bit. I don’t feel that I have the right to tell marginalized groups how to respond to people that attack them–Lord knows I get SO TIRED of the MRAs who use the tone argument with me or try to say that it’s my responsibility to politely, compassionately, patiently educate and guide sexist men, and if I don’t and get angry, it’s my fault that they are anti-feminist. So I would never want to do that to, say, trans* women or women of color. So, I’m conflicted, but I also feel very strongly (I’m sure based on a lot of past trauma) that we shouldn’t cross the line and bully (or trash) other people we disagree with.

  8. ok some initial thoughts in trashing:

    motives – is a person trying to engage another to challenge them, be angry with them, educate or express disappointment or betrayal? I think this is usually ‘calling out’

    however in (& between)liberation movements motivation can be about showing your political colours, proving your (problematic) ally status by piling on someone in similar power situation to you in order to distance yourself or assuage guilt: for example white anti racists who rant and dehumanise at more obviously racist whites but don’t form deeper solidarity with People of Colour.

    Trashing can be about maintaining groupthink and ideals of purity. It can be about blood feud: for example excessive blaming radical feminism for ‘being anti sex workers’ to score political points for another ‘team’ of feminists rather than making specific, detailed, criticisms.

    I think feminists need to be deeply reflective about how the dynamics of misogyny impact on how women are criticised and our own training to distrust and hate on other women. I think it’s useful to consider: are we attacking an idea or a person? do we leave room to acknowledge we all make mistakes and fuck up? are we leaving room for redemption and change? are we gleeful in our challenges (not a good sign!) Are we acting in solidarity with the targets of the oppression we are criticising? Would it be better to confirm solidarity with ‘critical outriders’ rather than join in a mob attack: for example on twitter in cases like Moore would it have been best for cissexual feminists to write in solidarity with clear responses from trans* feminists rather than make their own attacks?

    What about trashings in relation to feminist leadership? hey, I’m an anarchist so I don’t want to be ‘led’ but trashing can also happen in feminism to women who are seen to be too ‘uppity’. Do women who have a public voice need to be any more wise than an average feminist? does Moran need to be hated because she is a ‘name’ feminist who has some poor ideas? What are others hoping to gain by expressing disgust? are they furthering the debate or just making it harder for feminists to write? Perhaps we shouldn’t put other women on pedestals so we can better aim rocks at their heads?

    hoping to hear more… in sisterhood

  9. “I think feminists need to be deeply reflective about how the dynamics of misogyny impact on how women are criticised and our own training to distrust and hate on other women.”

    I really appreciate this statement, and am going to be reflecting on it for a while.

  10. @normandiewilson, anywavewilldo

    Seconded. That’s a great point, and something I’m just now starting to understand. Women are trained from a very early age (just look at the popular entertainment for tweens and teens, from movies to music to books) to distrust and compete with each other. With a few notable exceptions, girls are shown that their main relationship focus should be on boys/men, and while other women can play a supporting role, they are more likely to be competition/enemies. And (again, with a few exceptions) if you look at male-centered entertainment, quite often relationships with other men are the main focus (from cop shows/movies to supernatural/sci-fi shows to dramas and especially comedies) with women as supporting characters. We just are not shown good examples of women putting each other first and working together; it’s not an expectation that we have. Instead, we expect other women to attack and undermine us, and we see female infighting as normal…so much so that I think often we don’t even realize that there’s a need to guard against this and work to keep it from happening or stop it when it starts, because That’s Just The Way It Is.

    Anyway, sorry to go on and on. Just, great point, anywavewilldo, and it goes along with stuff I’m thinking about myself. Thanks.

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