When Anger Erupts: The Conundrum of Feminist Infighting

This post is cross-posted from The Canonball Blog as part of a series they have been running on Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Enjoy! – Katrina

“The personal is political”: we feminists love this statement, don’t we? Belief that one’s personal circumstances are what they are because of politics was the basis for a lot of consciousness raising and activism during the Second Wave, when this statement became popularized. I’ve been thinking about it the other way around though, recently. I think it is important to consider the implications here: the political is personal, too. And sometimes the people closest to the scene where the anger Audrey wrote about earlier this week gets ignited are people who, in most other situations, we would consider an ally. I’m thinking girl-on-girl and feminist-on-feminist political anger.

Of course, there is a lot of girl on girl anger out there in the world at large. There is a reason so many people have all seen the movie Mean Girls: it talks about something that is true to life and many of our school experiences. One of my best friends is writing a paper on female beefs in hip-hop culture (Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj, anyone?). Taylor Swift writes slut shaming lyrics. These kinds of conflicts aren’t unusual to us as female identified people, or to popular culture. So what happens when it touches down in our feminist back yard?

That question is mostly rhetorical, because if you’ve been around the feminist blogosphere for more than a few weeks you’ll know that the infighting and ideological bickering can get really, really intense.

Last week in my graduate seminar on Women’s History, one of the assigned readings was Audre Lorde’s Open Letter to Mary Daly. It felt like the grandmother of today’s feminist controversies, in some ways. In this 1979 letter, Lorde addresses Daly about her lack of attention to the heritage of non-european women in the her book Gyn/Ecology, a book Daly wrote about myth and the cultural significance of the Goddess figure. Lorde really does not mince words in this critique of Daly’s work, and the ways she feels black women and culture were left out and misrepresented in her book. Our class was split in two between people who felt this was a timely and well thought out address of problematic issues in Daly’s work, and people who felt it had crossed a line in the personal nature of it. Our own conversation in the classroom got super heated, like they tend to when people are feeling are really invested in the topic.

It made me start thinking about how I deal with political disagreements, and what I would do if I felt, for example, felt like a straight person writing on the Canonball or another feminist website misquoted my own work and brushed over queer people and culture without a second glance. What would I do? How would I address it?

Earlier this week Audrey wrote, “What is the correct way to express anger? How can you express your anger and still have productive conversations? How can we support each other in expressing anger?”

And I want to echo that question, because I don’t really have a good way to answer it yet, and I want it to linger in the air and our thoughts a bit longer. Should we take each other to task publicly? Lorde released this letter to the public after not receiving a response from Daly for four months. I think that feels fair to me. But would it feel fair  if someone called me racist right up front? Conflicts move so much faster and end up so much more public these days, since so much feminist community happens on the internet. But the dynamics, I think it probably depend on personality, feelings, histories, trigger points, etc etc and so on. But what about for you? How would you feel? Or how have you felt, if you have been publicly taken to task about your politics?

One person in my class pointed out that maybe a lot of feminist infighting and bickering happens because it easier for us to be mad at each other and to take out our anger on each other than it is to organize productively together against the forces that oppress us. Do you feel this way? Do you agree with this? What do you feel about the political aggressiveness of feminist culture that you’ve witnessed or participated in? If you don’t identify as a feminist, what do you think about political aggressiveness in general?

I’m going to end this conundrum post with a conundrum quote from Lorde’s Letter to Daly:

“When patriarchy dismisses us, it encourages our murderers. When radical lesbian feminist theory dismisses us, it encourages its own demise. This dismissal stands as a real block of communication between us. This block makes it far easier to turn away from you completely than to attempt to understand the thinking behind your choices. Should the next step be war between us, or separation? Assimilation within a solely western herstory is not acceptable.”

I don’t personally advocate war OR separation. I advocate listening, I guess, like Audrey did: listening with as much compassion and patience as we can muster. It feels like a small answer, but it is really the only answer I can muster up right now. What do you think?

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One thought on “When Anger Erupts: The Conundrum of Feminist Infighting

  1. “One person in my class pointed out that maybe a lot of feminist infighting and bickering happens because it easier for us to be mad at each other and to take out our anger on each other than it is to organize productively together against the forces that oppress us.”

    I definitely believe this is true…and this doesn’t just happen with feminists. In our society, redirecting anger at “safer” targets is pretty common. Just look at the tea party — all that anger they have, redirected from the people and systems that caused their problems onto people who didn’t.

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