Why is it that Libertarian “feminism” is only expressed as criticism of any kind of feminist activism? Take Cathy Young, for example—please! Here she instructs us that “letting ideologues dictate the boundaries of acceptable speech on a large area of the Internet is a very bad idea.” OK–that’s an interesting point, right? The problem is that the only “ideologues” in her column are feminists who object to online misogyny. She fails to identify online misogyny as ideological commitment, too.
First, she introduces the problem by using language that implies that it’s not online misogyny that threatens violence against actual women, but online feminism threatens violence against free speech, suggesting a false equivalence between the two points of view:
Feminist activists are on the warpath against Facebook, which, they claim, condones woman-hating even as it censors not only other hate speech but “indecent” images of breastfeeding mothers. When I was asked to discuss this initiative on HuffPost Live WebTV, I wasn’t sure where I stood. The examples collected by the activists—such as a photo of a bloodied woman captioned, “She broke my heart. I broke her nose”—are certainly repellent; the First Amendment is not at stake, since it’s a matter of private citizens using speech to pressure a corporation that already restricts content it deems offensive. Yet a closer look suggests that the real agenda in this campaign is to whip up outrage about our culture’s alleged misogyny and flex muscle that could be used to intimidate and curtail legitimate speech.
Got it? One group of people posts a photo of a bloodied woman with a violent caption, but that’s not the side that’s described as “on the warpath” against women. It’s the side critical of this use of Facebook that is “on the warpath” in their attempt to “whip up outrage” and “flex muscle”–to beat up violent misogynists? No, just to get @ssholes stopped from posting misogynist garbage online–but all of that feminist violence “could be used to intimidate and curtail legitimate speech.” Oh–OK. Noting as she does the fact that online feminists do not comprise “the government,” the slight possibility that their activism *could be* used to intimidate “legitimate speech”–that’s just as bad as the reality of physical violence? You betcha!
And that’s just the lede!
Young resorts to more false equivalencies throughout the article, as well as the old Libertarian “feminist” standby, which is to imply that it’s tough, uncomplaining women like her who are the real feminists, not those whiners who can’t take it (“It’s hardly news that the Internet is full of toxic people—attention-seeking trolls, crazies, bigots, or all of the above—posting vile stuff,” and “Of course there is some real, gross misogyny on the Web.”) The next move, of course, is to accuse real feminists of just looking for something to complain about (“[H]ow likely is it that a Facebook user would encounter such content on the site without actively looking for it?”), as well as throw in lots of martial and violent language to describe activities like signing and circulating electronic petitions (“up in arms,” “overzealous in her vigilance toward allegedly misogynistic expression,” etc).
Finally, make sure to portray anyone who angers a feminist as a brave contrarian against extremist orthodoxy (“a male heretic challenged feminist rape statistics and suggested that unwanted drunken sex does not equal violent rape.”) Really? How innovative–I’m sure no one on the internets has ever read a comment of such striking originality!
Libertarianism claims that it’s merely in favor of a judicious role for the state in public and commercial life, but the internet feminism under attack here isn’t coming from “the government,” and represents nothing but individual activists banding together to petition a for-profit corporation and its for-profit corporate advertisers to do the right thing. Those for-profit corporations are free to tell the activists to f^(k off and start their own social networks. There is no undue coercion here. Clearly, Libertarianism is all about justifying the status quo–what is, is right. Power and money go to those who earn it. Libertarianism is just an apologia for the ubermensch. Feminism, like all social justice movements, is for pussies.