Kicked Out of Feminism

The recent hullabaloo that people with nothing better to do in their lives are creating about Hugo Schhwyzer has populated my blogroll with endless posts discussing who should or shouldn’t be “kicked out of feminism.” Here is a prime example of such post:

Is there any other social movement whose members regularly and publicly kick people and all of their ideas out for not being perfectly acceptable to all people all the time? And what about the voices of non-white men that are regularly kicked out of feminism. For instance, how does it help or hurt feminism to cite Mary Daly’s transbigotry, for instance, as a reason to reject her criticisms of the Catholic Church’s misogyny?

In spite of this blogger’s suggestion that Mary Daly was a non-white man and her extremely confusing writing style, she is echoing what seems to be a wide-spread sentiment. Namely, that feminism is some kind of a club where people come together to blab endlessly about whose privilege-itch is the itchiest and who can use more passive voice constructions per each short paragraph of writing. And you can be kicked out of this club if other members find you lacking in how abjectly apologetic you are about your numerous privileges.

This attitude, of course, is completely ridiculous. Feminism is a philosophy that has existed for centuries. It cannot be appropriated by a bunch of self-righteous folks who have appointed themselves the guardians of its ideals on some website or other. One’s feminist worldview belongs to that person and to nobody else, no matter how much some community-worshipers want to transform a philosophy into a clique that grants and denies access at the will of its most vocal screechers.

This is precisely why I flee from any group that start envisioning itself in terms of a community. A collective identity always needs both an external and an internal Other against which those who want to belong can measure themselves. A community cannot exist without conducting such public spectacles of bashing and then banishing transgressors. It cannot exist without scapegoats. There cannot be any “us” unless there are those who are obviously and visibly “not-us.” And there cannot be a greater pleasure for a community than to find “a traitor in our midst” and reaffirm its own identity by persecuting this invented traitor for as long as possible.

Jill at Feministe says that:

There have been calls in the comments here and elsewhere for Feministe to preemptively ban Hugo, and for me to email my internet feminist friends and form a united front against Schwyzer to take him down, and to make sure that he never teaches or writes about feminism again.

This is, of course, a classic definition of bullying. The ideologically pure need to make a public spectacle of their purity because, otherwise, the tenuous fiction of their identity will fall apart. A collective identity is always a myth, an artificial construct with very little basis in reality. In order to convince themselves that their identity actually has some meaning, members of such an artificially created community (be it a nation, a gender, or a sports fan club) constantly need to stage the boringly repetitive spectacle of their identity.

This entire debacle has nothing to do with feminism, of course. I’ve been studying the mechanisms of identity-formation for many years and I can tell you that all collective identities work this way. All of these folks who are now writing passionate diatribes about whether Hugo Schwyzer needs to be “kicked out of feminism” or whether his privilege is too privileged for him to be included into their community have no interest whatsoever in feminism. They just want to belong. And in order to experience the sweet feeling of belonging, they need to protect the borders of their group form being crossed by foreign elements.

Pseudo-Liberal Self-Identification

It seems like pseudo-Liberals try to outdo each other in ridiculous self-representations. Here is the most recent one I encountered:

Coca Colo is a graduate student in economics who researches gender issues and international development.  She has white, cis, hetero and US privilege, but is also a religious and ethnic minority.  She is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

The statement makes me wonder what the blogger would do if she belonged to no minority to compensate for all that nasty privilege she has. It’s possible that the article that is introduced in this manner makes some important points. However, I feel no desire to continue reading it because the way in which its author introduces itself is so artificial, boring and unintelligent that it’s hard to expect anything useful from the article.

Slavoj Zizek tells a story of his encounter with the humorless earnestness of American pseudo-Liberals in one of his books. He was visiting an American university, and the professor who invited him organized a round table with his colleagues.

“First, let me introduce myself,” the host said, “and then everybody can do the same. I’m a heterosexual, cisgendered, middle-class American.”

Then, everybody around the table introduced themselves in the same way.

Zizek says he was petrified. The idea of introducing himself by mentioning his sexual orientation to a group of complete strangers seemed both weird and useless.

In my opinion, people who present themselves with these strings of meaningless collective identifications do so in order to compensate for lack of any individuality. As a blogger, one could choose the road of developing a distinctive personal writing style that readers would immediately recognize. That, of course, is hard and requires a lot of time, energy, and effort. It is much easier to create a pseudo-Liberal persona on the basis of important-sounding terms that create an illusion of a personality where there is none.