Recently I blogged about an unfortunate tendency within the online feminist movement to engage in Judean Peoples Front-style feuding, particularly on Twitter. Yesterday that exploded in spectacular fashion. On my lunchbreak from work I checked my Twitter feed to discover that the left-wing Independent columnist Owen Jones and the feminist blogger Zoe Stavri were having an argument. From scrolling back, it became clear that they’d been arguing all morning. When I got home from work that evening, they were still arguing. Not only that, but various left-wing and feminist tweeters were piling in, and things were getting more and more heated. Oh good grief, it just went on and on and on and on…
What on earth produced such a vitriolic and lengthy row? Sadly, the answer is depressingly trivial and pointless.
A couple of days ago, Stavri tweeted this.
The article by Jones is online here. His argument is that George Galloway is an often-unpleasant character, but has a talent for winning over audiences, and that the left should learn from his communication style.
Despite what Stavri suggests, Jones does call out Galloway’s rape apologism and much else besides. In fact he does so in the first paragraph.
He was mocked for a largely disastrous appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. He has made unacceptable comments about rape – “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion” – that repulsed virtually everybody. He has made apparently sympathetic remarks about brutal dictators (although, unlike some of his detractors, he hasn’t sold them arms, funded them or even been paid by them).
Gorgeous George is one of the most charismatic politicians of our time, but also one of the most divisive, and still manages to win over the audience. You don’t have to like him; but, if you want to change the world, you do have to learn from him.
I’ll state my own views on George Galloway. I don’t like him. For all his populist hero-of-the-left image, I’ve always got the impression that his main overriding ideology is himself. There’s plenty to dislike – his aggressive and at times litigious approach towards his critics. His former support for the old Soviet Union. His periodical sucking-up to dictators and demagogues.
And of course, there’s his utterly revolting comments about rape, which were thoroughly condemned and rightly so. I hope this goes without saying, but I also condemn them.
Personally, I’m not sure that I agree with Jones that Galloway is charismatic. Some people seem impressed by him, but personally I’ve always found that his communication style reminds me of Swiss Toni from the Fast Show.
Jones responded to Stavri.
And so it continued. Take a look at the Twitter thread. It just doesn’t stop! In fact, the whole row continued for over two days. Jones tetchily insisted that he had condemned Galloway’s comments, while Stavri and various other feminists more and more stridently claimed that he hadn’t condemned it enough.
The whole thing escalated into something more akin to a Twitter-wide slanging match than a debate between putative allies. At one point I rather cheekily decided to respond by tweeting my joke “Generic Condemnation of This Thing That Person Said on Twitter” blog post. Within minutes I received a tweet asking whether I, as a mental health nurse, would be flippant when talking to a rape survivor.
The NMC social networking guidelines require me to uphold the reputation of my profession when blogging, so I can’t repeat the language that went through my head when I read that. Suffice it to say that as someone who works regularly with young people who have been abused, I took it as an appalling and uncalled-for slur on my character.
At this point it would be tempting to declare both sides as bad as each other, and admonishing the whole of the left and feminist Twitterati to Go To Your Respective Rooms And Have A Think About What You’ve Done. But I don’t actually think both sides were as bad as each other. The various feminist tweeters rushed to form a twitchfork mob not because of what Jones did or didn’t say, but because they felt he didn’t sufficiently emphasise something. As a result they created a totally unnecessary feud.
The depressing thing about all this is, most of the time tweeters like @stavvers, @sazza_jay et al have good and worthwhile things to say. I agree with them more often than I disagree, and I consider myself instinctively sympathetic to feminism. I suspect this post may get dismissed as “mansplaining” but I spoke to women who self-identify as feminists who were equally dismayed by the exchange.
Personally I am, to use a tagline that Stavri uses regularly, not angry just disappointed.
Ultimately, who does this sort of pointless feuding benefit? It certainly doesn’t benefit either the left or feminism.