‘As the struggle intensifies, the oppressor tends to pick more attractive agents–frequently from among the oppressed’ Florynce Kennedy
Recently, there has been interest in the fact that some feminists have been no-platformed by the NUS, disinvited from feminist conferences, branded bigots, and that some feminist events have lost venues due to the idea that radical feminism is ‘hate speech’.
My first reaction was that this was a nonsense. I know that radical feminists do not incite violence against vulnerable groups. This was what I thought hate speech meant.
However, the issue has come up again and I looked at the lay definition of ‘hate speech’ (I was assuming people were referring to the legal term). Actually, I think all feminism is hate speech.
This is a brilliant banner from a woman attending Million Women Rise. It is also hate speech, by the definition I’ve seen used. It may offend. My personal view is that men beating women with belts is offensive, as well as inhuman and horrific.
Either feminism has the temerity to point out that women experience oppression from men, in which case it’s hate speech against men, or it’s de-fanged self-designed feminism that worships male abuse of women such as pornography, and is no threat to women’s oppression whatsoever, in which case it supports hate speech against women.
I want to argue that the working definition of ‘hate speech’ used to silence women is effectively meaningless.
Those who criticise anti-porn or radical feminists on the basis that radical feminism is hate speech are on slippery ground here. Pro-porn hobbies include endlessly droning on about ‘free speech’. FYI, pornsick weirdos, photographs and films of women’s subordination are not speech, and free speech does not mean what you think it means. They often advocate for ‘more speech’ as though infinite kaleidoscopic choices of ways in which women can be subordinated will help matters. Fat women, women with disabilities, gender-non-conforming women already know we can be oppressed although we don’t meet mainstream beauty standards, but nice try.
It’s clear to me that using the lay definition of hate speech, much if not all pornography can clearly be defined as hate speech. Does this mean X Biz will lose their conference venue? Shall I hold my breath?
Possibly, vague, equality-based equal-playing-field-delusion laws and principles invented by men aren’t going to be used to benefit vulnerable or oppressed groups. Possibly, and I’m getting a bit Po Mo here, the subaltern isn’t going to be reaping the benefits of ‘hate speech’ silencing.
I’ve experienced it being used in feminist groups to argue that someone is ‘offending’ another member due to ‘hate speech’, and that said ‘offensive’ member of the group should check herself. In actual fact, I want to argue that the touching of raw nerves that happens when actualfeminists ™ criticise hegemonic power is happening not because you are righteously offended due to all the Hate, but because you have a long way to go (baby).
Actual Hate Speech ™ such as offensive slurs is obviously wrong. Inciting violence is not what facebook groups were set up for. Insulting someone based on their presumed or actual sexuality is awful. Racism is something I would hope not to see in activist discussions. Hurtful, oppressive statements are not always so easy to spot, though, especially when you’re not in the group affected. Personally, I find the ‘If this were said about Black people, there would be uproar’ argument racist in tone. Also facile. But mainly racist. There can often be an anti-lesbian tone or dominant way of thinking in a group which is almost impossible to pinpoint from any one single mildly dismissive statement. It’s the ‘network of forces and barriers’ rather than just one phrase/cage-bar. (from Marilyn Frye’s definition of ActualOppression ™).
‘When the stresses and frustrations of being a man are cited as evidence that oppressors are oppressed by their oppressing, the word “oppression” is being stretched to meaninglessness; it is treated as though its scope includes any and all human experience of limitation or suffering, no matter the cause, degree or consequence.’
‘Something pressed is something caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing’s motion or mobility. Mold. Immobilize. Reduce.’
(from the essay linked above)
Florynce Kennedy’s thoughts on oppression are also relevant. ‘Oppression has at least four dimensions: The personal or psychological–like when you yourself believe that you’re a big zero because society keeps telling you so. The private–like when some employer tries to make out with you when you ask for a job. The public–like when the government takes the money you need for child-care centers, and uses it to kill people in Indochina. And the cultural–like when the history books attribute everything we did and invented to some guy we worked for.’
I often feel like there’s a culture within activism of wanting to develop non-oppressive ways of relating to one another. This is obviously laudible. However in the absence of structural analysis, it will be used to tone-police and shore up hegemonic power bases. Hurt feelings and discomfort are not oppression. One single facebook or real-life group which excludes members of an oppressor group is not oppression. An oppressive act is one which taps into an oppressive system already in existence.
This is one definition of hate speech: Hate speech is, outside the law, speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of e.g. race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.
This is so broad as to be meaningless.
A legal definition will vary from country to country or state to state. It will often exclude gender (but may include gender identity). In order to succeed in court, the speech must be proved to be harmful. It may prove to be a component of a racially motivated assault, for example.
Legislation will be defined fairly rigidly, and will include caveats which are helpfully left out when the lay version is used. For example, Sweden’s legislation reads ‘publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation’. It is clarified: ‘The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere.’ It seems to me that levelling criticism at men is part of a pertinent and responsible debate.
I do not wish to defend or condemn hate speech legislation but to point out that it has a different function than the lay definition.
Outwith a legal framework, it seems less effective. It seems more like ‘unkind speech’, where the effects of the unkindness will work very differently when perpetrated towards a member of an oppressed group than when perpetrated in order to challenge oppression.
‘attacks’ – could be construed as any criticism whatsoever. Malcolm X – anti-White HATE SPEECH!!! Mahatma Ghandi – anti-English HATE SPEECH!!! Brigham Young – anti-male HATE SPEECH!!!
That’s before we even get started on feminists. Wilma Mankiller, first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, why, her actual name fits under the loosey goosey lay definition of hate speech. Let’s look at some quotes and works from notable feminists.
The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas – quotes include ‘The male is a biological accident’ which is HATE SPEECH (also arguably true, but by the same logic organisms above single-cell size are also biological accidents – HATE SPEECH about ALL THE JELLYFISH). Would Valerie Solanas be disinvited from a feminist conference today, following an earnest letter-writing campaign relating to this quote? ‘Since he has no compassion or ability to empathize or identify, proving his manhood is worth an endless amount of mutilation and suffering and an endless number of lives, including his own — his own life being worthless, he would rather go out in a blaze of glory than to plod grimly on for fifty more years.’ Or could we see it for what it was – a heartfelt critique of the patriarchal war machine?
Andrea Dworkin – usually ends up in the ‘look I like some radical feminists’ pile due to her compassion for men, but it was because she is a woman-hater – look- HATE SPEECH – ‘women are sexually manipulative’. Of course, this was part of a critique of gender roles interfering with our ability to relate to one another as human beings and she is also HATEY against MEN in the same sentence but MISOGYNY!!! This quote is the absolute worst hate speech against men in the world, as it names men as perpetrators of violence against women – wait for it – huge trigger warnings for offensiveness – ‘Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us.’
Glasgow Rape Crisis put that quote on their postcards. HATE SPEECH.
Mary Daly – ‘God’s plan’ is often a front for men’s plans and a cover for inadequacy, ignorance, and evil.’ – HATE SPEECH. NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THAT!!!
It strikes me that people, generally, think in generalisations. We notice patterns. We make arguments based on our experience of those patterns. When we, as feminists, say, for example, ‘men oppress women’, we are somewhat limited if we are immediately accused of hate speech.
I notice that the same accusations are not levelled at male stand-up comedians making generalisations about women. It seems to only come up when someone wants a feminist to stop feministing.
The hateiest example above, the SCUM manifesto, was translated into French. The introduction was written by Christiane Rochefort and is titled Definition of the Oppressed.
The original is here but this is my translation, which takes a few liberties with gendered pronouns. I think it’s a good example of a piece of writing that could well be confined to some kind of demonised ‘dark ages’ of feminist thinking, instead of read and debated and engaged with.
I think we need to be very careful of dismissing feminist thinking as ‘hate speech’.
“There is a moment when we have to get the knives out. That’s just a fact. Purely technical.
It is out of the question that the oppressor is going to understand himself that he oppresses, since that does not make him suffer : put yourself in his place. It’s not his journey. Explaining it to him is pointless. The oppressor doesn’t hear from she who is oppressed as language, but rather as noise. That is the definition of oppression.
In particular, the “complaints” of the oppressed have no effect, since they are natural. For the oppressor, there is no oppression, necessarily, but a fact of nature.
Also, it is pointless to position oneself as a victim : all that does is confirm a fact of nature, which fits into the scene set by the oppressor. The oppressor who makes the laudable effort to listen ( liberal intellectual) doesn’t hear any better. Because even through there is a common language, the meanings are radically different. This is because numerous words have connotations of pleasure for the oppressor, and connotations of suffering for the oppressed. Entertainment/chore, pastime/work etc.
Just go ahead and try having a conversation from that starting point.
This is how the general reaction of the oppressor who “hears” his oppressed is, largely, ‘what the fuck is she complaining about? It’s all marvellous.’
On the level of explanation, it’s basically hopeless. When the oppressed realises this, they get out the knives. It is at that point that they realise something is wrong. Not before.
The knife is the only means of identifying as oppressed.
The only audible communication.
The character or personality or current motive of the oppressed are of little importance.
This is the first real step outside the circle.