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On what Clementine did

I’ve read two opinion pieces today on how Clementine Ford handled the online aggression and threats against her by naming and shaming the individual responsible, and publishing a compilation of the obscenities fired her way over a period of several months.

There’s this one by Helen Razer in the Daily Review, and one by Jack Kilbride in New Matilda.

Razer argues that the significance of public commentary is lately at risk of being measured by the amount of hate the author is subjected to, rather than the work the author produces.

Kilbride argues that if women only handled it better the nasty trolls would stop trolling, which is roughly the linguistic equivalent of telling us not to dress provocatively because if we do we’re asking for it, and I can’t be bothered with the man just now.

Razer’s perspective on publicly revealing personal trauma is an interesting one. Her piece is titled, Why violent threats don’t make you an important commentator, so obviously she’s working from the premise that there’s an audience daft enough to measure the significance of one’s work by the amounts of threats one receives, and their degree of severity. This makes me absolutely negligible, as I receive practically no threats, and barely any abuse, except I did for a while cop a fair bit of upsetting reprimand, public and private, from Razer.

Razer writes:

The idea is not important. The trauma victim becomes important. The claim that “Clementine Ford is important for women” should be made about the growing body of this writer’s work and not about the threats she has received. The violent attention of barely literate misogynists has become the register of a good thinker.

Good thinkers have always been the targets of abuse, and injury, and not infrequently death, since long before there were internet trolls. Online attacks are merely the most recent manifestation of hatred for good thinking: with the Internet haters have discovered an opportunity they’ve never had before to globally spew their bile, and so of course there are more visible victims.

Being the target of abuse doesn’t make anyone an important commentator or a good thinker: Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine cop their fair share of threats and abuse and nobody capable of thinking straight could call either of them good, or important, or even really thinkers, to be honest.

Razer links to this interview with Yasmin Nair, titled The Ideal Neoliberal Subject is the Subject of Trauma, in which Nair makes the claim that everyone must identify as a trauma victim to be considered a legitimate subject:

It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say “if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing…There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

Is the narrative of personal trauma obfuscating the bigger discussion of context, policies, and the state? Or are the two narratives more compatible than Nair (and Razer) argue? And after thousands of years of silence on the subject of our trauma, who, after a mere couple of decades of public discussion, has the right to suggest that the traumatised are silencing another, more important conversation? Hasn’t this always been said to women?

Does revealing personal trauma make one more authentic? Or does keeping silent about personal trauma add to one’s authenticity? Does revealing personal trauma detract from the value of one’s work? Or add to it because experience complements abstract knowledge?

I am more interested in the fact of those questions than I am in any answers. In speaking and writing about my own traumatic experiences, I’ve never once thought to ask myself, will I seem more authentic if I say this, or if I don’t say it? This could well be a grievous oversight on my part, however, I’m not in the habit of wondering whether or not I seem authentic, and it seems to me a tortuous thing to have to ask oneself before writing and speaking, the kind of core self-doubt that can do little other than reduce me to quivering silence.

Why should a woman have to ask herself before she writes, will writing this make me more or less authentic?

In her piece on Ford, Razer links to this earlier post, written in 2014, in which she writes at length about her own experiences of being stalked, threatened, and extremely frightened, and the long-term effects these experiences have had on her life. It hurt me, I think irreparably, she writes. I don’t think any the less of Razer’s body of work because she reveals this about herself.

Indeed, she has apparently written a book on the subject, and I don’t think any less of her intellect because she’s written a book on her personal trauma. I am, however, more than a little irritated by the apparent double standard at work here. Razer has confessed her suffering and revealed herself as a wounded subject, yet seems to be arguing that others should not.

Thinkers are at times simultaneously wounded subjects. It seems to me an admirable goal to enable us wounded subjects to contextualise our experiences of wounding in terms of the systems and regimes that govern our lives. If we do not speak about our trauma in the first place, we have no hope of contextualising it for ourselves and others.

If you are exasperated by the sheer number of victims using their voices, perhaps it is wiser not to blame them for your exasperation, but rather go to the source, and hold the source accountable. As I noted earlier, women have been silenced for thousands of years, and it is only in the last three decades we have begun to speak. It would seem a little early for exasperation.

As far as I’m aware, there is no guide-book for how a woman should react to trauma. Each of us does it in our own way and nobody has the authority to police that. Ford does it her way, as does Razer, as do I.

Each one of us who confesses herself as a wounded subject does it in a way that can have significance for somebody else, because there is no one way, and there is no right way, and there is no time limit.

The idea is important. The trauma victim is important. It isn’t either or.

This is authenticity.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    If I have something to say, then I say it. Granted I am no longer nubile so maybe you could argue I have nothing to lose. But guess what! You’d be wrong. Yeah, I might turn off a potential suitor but anybody worth getting wouldn’t be turned off. More important is that women and over-shadowed men get their voices heard.

    While I hate any nasty abuse of any sort against any individual or group for their status, I’m not interested in a feminist contest between Ford and Razer.

    What I am interested in is their personal and societal takes on what it is to have the freedom and opportunity to express their visions of what their statuses and those of their peers are without any perceptual barriers imposed on others that don’t fit their socio-economic moulds.

  2. paul walter

    Well, at least Wilson had the sense to include the Razer article. You get sick of the hate and guilt till innocence proven inherent with the sort of Hobbesian adhominem style hyperbole Ford and co do.

  3. paul walter

    People like Kaye Lee will convince me of an issue’s validity through objective and inclusive argument in moments.

    People like Ford and Dines just get my back up with generalisations and no structured writing or argument. I’m told there may be ptsd involved, I suppose it is a factor…doesn’t everyone cop a hard time at at least some point in their lives?

    Also, media in a capitalist society affords outlier groups and individuals little chance of expression as to their vison of things: society is not inclusive, why would NOT, folk like Wilson and Ford rebel in the end.

    But it is not the fault of all men, or the system, that some men are violent toward women, it’s surely more complex than that.

    Most of us despise such men as inadequate. We WOULD change things, of course I’d love a magic wand. But why not win over support instead of alienating it with abusive rhetoric?

    This is the message I took from the NM piece.

  4. trishcorry

    I am a little bit different in that I don’t want to share the personal details of some of my stories. I do agree with Razer in the way that if for example if I just based my writing on my own personal experience (just talk about me), I’m not sure I would achieve the aims I set out to achieve and I do wonder if comments would be mainly about sympathy/empathy or on the opposite of that judgement and criticism about my personal experience, rather than my aim to create discussion about a particular topic and in particular ideas on the way forward.

    I try to use my own experience though to bounce off of and research into areas that could have say, if applied today, would have made my life much better (for example domestic violence). I do have a feeling that when people read some of my stuff, they do know that I have some type of lived experience with the issue, although I do not address it directly. However, I don’t feel I need to. I hope that women who have had the same experience (whatever I am talking about) take from my writing that I understand them and they understand me. I do not feel the need to validate myself through sharing my story. I think between women who have shared certain experiences, it is like a secret code language we pick up on, so I don’t feel I need to give details. I feel they will just know.

    I kind of agree with Razer’s comments and I kind of don’t. I have been quite a fan of Ford for a while now, as she reminds me of the feminists I met when I was in my teens in the 1980s. They were not polite. They said stuff and did stuff, even though they knew others would find it offensive and it changed the world for women. I do believe sometimes it is impossible to have a polite conversation about certain things and achieve reform. To achieve reform, sometimes we do need to be gutsy and loud. I personally have little tolerance to entertain bigots, racists and sexists people or people who show contempt for the workers or those on welfare, or any disadvantaged or minority group by being polite. I think that they are being downright harmful, aggressive and inconsiderate to an entire group of people by their comments and thoughts, so I no longer feel I have to be polite and nice to these sorts of people.

    With regards to feminist issues, I would like to see more outcome based/driven discussion about how to effect change and redress whatever issue it is. Whether that is cultural / social / political or legal change. I do get a bit annoyed with reading feminists discussions on social media that do not appear to have a solid aim. That could be the academic in me, or the liberal feminist in me – I do not know.

  5. trishcorry

    Oh and a very good article by the way.

  6. kerri

    Regardless of Helen Razers take on Clementine Ford, I do find Razer’s commentaries perpetually negative.
    I sometimes wonder if she has any happiness at all her life as she seems to continually use her writing as an opportunity to criticise and/or mock!

  7. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Paul Walter, yes you’re right. There needs to be differentiation between male bastards and male decent men like you. Sorry my language is clunky but that’s the basic definition.

    Trish is also making good differentiations between the Ford portrayal and the Razer portrayal of Feminism. I will go with BOTH.

    But I will go with NEITHER if I think they are denying any voices to be heard. I will not tolerate any negative distillation of input from every part of our WIDE feminist society.

  8. Jexpat

    paul walter:

    The message I took from the New Matilda piece is that there’s a new generation (thankfully a small minority thereof) who will repeat decades of mistakes on how to deal with bullies.

    Let’s put it bluntly: no one really cares about persuading you and people like you. You’re already on side and your attitudes are mature and appreciated.

    But the way things work in the big ugly world are that we have to hit bullies back. More than that- we have to draw the cowardly sorts out, and let them expose themselves- and face consequences for their behaviour.

    Obviously, such behaviour is tolerated and/or encouraged in certain workplaces: if a person works for blustering Bob’s panel beaters, then he might get a pass. But in the hospitality industry or PR firms, etc., then under the “free” market fundamentalism that is 21st Century Australia- this is decidedly not “good business practice.”

  9. paul walter

    Jennifer Meyer Smith, thanks for the effort. Your language is not clunky. I’ve been talking with JW at her own site on the same issue and rethinking things.

    Your comments are what I would expect from an adult, not something anomolous. The difficulty has always been, for a given person, to see through illusion and meet “the other” on the other’s terms. But Kilbride acknowledges it too. He isnt launching a full frontal assault on Ford, but questioning her effectiveness in her current mode of writing within the limited opportunity the oligarchy presents her. But then, what can she do, within such constraints?

    Wrong Jexpat, for the obvious reason that if you don’t win over the public, change will not come. It will always be hard to get meaningful change in our society the way it is constituted and it will become impossible when activists spit in the face of the very people who can most identify with their story and seek to combine to get a better eventual outcome. Womens freedoms, refugees, Aboriginies, the working poor, people on the dole, environmentalist and other outlier groups also, are forced to compete for a tiny ration of space and time from the oligarchy.

    To me, Kilbride was merely making the observation that people who want change must unite, not fall into sullen in-fighting over the spoils of defeat while our owners look on in satisfaction.

    Finally, back to Jennifer MS. Again, thanks for allowing me the benefit of the doubt as to decency. It is true I am not a thug or rapist, but as a mature person you will know, it is always much more complex than that and I, too, regret my manifest limitations and flaws..I do indeed have a darker side, but I’d like to think I am not about putting a slipper into another when they are down, whoever they are.

    But time will tell and I’ll probably slip up again as to reactiveness before I hit the grave. Not decent , just “human, too human”.

  10. trishcorry

    Jennifer Meyer Smith – But I will go with NEITHER if I think they are denying any voices to be heard. I will not tolerate any negative distillation of input from every part of our WIDE feminist society.

    Exactly, this is my point with my comment. I have now read both articles (Kilbride’s and Razers) and the commentary that has gone with it. I like Ford because of the reasons I said in my comment. This is probably the only time I have agreed with Razer – and that is only on one point of my own personal style that I do not feel I need to validate my story, nor want to. I am certainly not saying that other women should not. That is their call entirely.

    Women should speak out how they want to speak out. To me it is like saying there is no room in society for militant unionism and that the only way to achieve progress for the worker is the milder more negotiating style of unionism. No, the world needs both, for different times and different reasons.

  11. Jexpat

    paul walter:

    All you have to do is look at what’s going on in the US (and what went on for years to build it up to this level) to see the consequences of whimpy behavior in the face of bullies.

    Same is true of Australia- and the same sorts of things have been happenening and will be happening here- enabled by those who refuse (for whatever reason) fail to understand the dynamic at work and respond accordingly, without worrying about “offending” bigots, misogynists, xenophobes or any and all manner of right wing ideologues.

  12. Chris

    Excellent article Jennifer Meyer-Smith ! I think Paul knows what I thought about ‘She’ll be right Jack”s article. I think I said he was a fool….
    Helen Razer is not always negative. She is certainly always enthusiastic when talking about gardening and usually good for gardening advice…..I kind of like her (when she is not being too scary). I think she may be missing the point here by thinking that Clementine is only doing it for attention or self promotion. If that is what she is inferring. ‘What ever’ really she probably makes some good points but not about that…..and that is ok too (maybe negative distillation is ok….).
    Good on you also Trish (who I used to talk to on twitter) and Jexpat…..pretty sure I agree with all of that.

  13. paul walter

    Fwiw, I’d say, on a night’s sleep, that I didn’t distinguish between the issue of Ford’s unhelpful and opaque hyperbolic writing and the issue of her right to protect herself from yobs. Bogan thugs are a curse and even I, when cornered, once turned on a school bully who had me cornered, because the fella left me no where to go and nothing to lose taking a swing. Self respect is important. Self defence is ok.

    The yob who slagged her in such a crude way earned his metaphorical black eye.

    Razer is fun and usually abjures victimhood.

  14. Chris

    I don’t hold it against you Paul. I was up way too late that night too. : )

  15. Rossleigh

    Of course, the obvious point to make is that Clementine Ford shouldn’t need anybody’s permission or approval to handle idiots who go beyond the acceptable rules of society. When it all comes down to it, all she did was shine a spotlight on the behaviour of idiots, and they’re responsible for their own actions.
    Anybody who – like Razer, who sometimes to be trying to be the left wing Andrew Bolt, or like Kilbride is yet another man telling women how to make it all go away – can just be ignored.
    Ms. Ford doesn’t need a lecture or advice.

  16. paul walter

    Yes…but, “I Hate Men”?

    I mean, really?

    Interesting that the press finds her a useful idiot, good for demographics and circulation and in the propagation of a Hobbesian mindset within that demographic. All this on the superlatively reasoned insight that she is a victim and all men are spit-flecked morons placed within life by the goddess for the sole purpose of malevolently seeking out and persecuting Clementine, most of all?

    Ae you really sure the altruistic capitalist press wants her there because her insights are so much deeper than some of the women who write- intelligent- stuff on social and cultural issues elsewhere?

  17. Chris

    paul walter, Well you should be allowed to hate men if you want or if that serves some purpose in dealing with life or if it is a form of hyperbole to get your point across. I probably do the same with …..Liberal voters, English people, baby boomers, etc (I probably could go on ; ) ). It doesn’t mean I wish ill on any of them (except perhaps Liberal voters) – I actually wish they would get their shit together and stop being ignorant, greedy, horrible people. As Rossleigh points out she particularly targeted people who were behaving reprehensibly. (I have missed a lot of this controversy because I don’t do twitter anymore but I used to follow Clementine and tended to think she had interesting things to say).
    Men still control the world and the destiny of most living things on this planet. ‘They’ as a phenotype deserve ‘big criticisms’. Threats of violence or harm against you or the ones you love or others are the only things worth taking personally.

  18. paul walter

    Yes, I suppose so. Niggers, too.

  19. Chris

    paul walter Heh ?!
    Don’t do that……makes you sound……English (or the deep South of the US). It probably should be deleted.

  20. Chris

    I probably should have said ‘white men’ still control the world…..
    And if anyone wonders about my statements about ‘the English’…..they have made a huge contribution to modern racism and racist attacks in this country. They rarely seem to hold to the older British supposed traits of discussion and negotiation, decency, etc. I am willing to accept that my perception is perhaps skewed by the fact that many English that migrated here seem to have done so because they didn’t like or cope with the multi-culturalism in their country. They have then proceeded to spread their hate here.
    Mine is a comedic ‘reverse racism’ from someone of English-Irish-Scots heritage (so not really racist by many definitions….I would be being ‘racist’ or bigoted against myself to some degree) and I most definitely acknowledge its hypocrisy.
    It is part of my performance art….. ; )
    I would doubt any sensible English person could be that offended by anything I have ever said. Anyone remember that old saying…”An Englishman’s eyes are like pissholes in the snow.” That’s the worst one I’ve got (and I didn’t make it up). Maybe it was this guy but probably older…
    I have probably been a misandrist before, as well…..
    This is the kind of English man I like (of course there are plenty of others too)

  21. jimhaz

    [or like Kilbride is yet another man telling women how to make it all go away]

    So what if he is a man, isn’t that what equality is about – desexing.

    I think he was treated disgustingly by the serially wounded on the New Matilda thread. Attacking someone like that who was trying to be cooperative is sick – too much like a manger attacking a whistleblower for telling things how that person sees it.

    [The yob who slagged her in such a crude way earned his metaphorical black eye]

    Lol, not on the basis of what Nolan said, I mean “slut” – big deal – but his picture tells me another story.

  22. jimhaz

    [But the way things work in the big ugly world are that we have to hit bullies back. More than that- we have to draw the cowardly sorts out, and let them expose themselves- and face consequences for their behaviour]

    That was actually the starting catalyst for the Cronulla riots.

  23. Chris

    Jimhaz Oh well that proves what I said that J. Kilbride was a fool. And is that Dan Nolan you are talking about ? He is mostly a bully from what I’ve seen. “Big man of twitter” I called him in the Guardian comments…..right before he got banned (and refused to address any of the issues that I made about his post. It was the attack on Leunig opinion piece….)
    Interesting idea that the Cronulla riots was because of the exposing of cowards…..I’m not sure I agree with that…..

  24. Chris

    For some reason the comments on some things like New Matilda don’t display…..I must have something that blocks them….oh well.

  25. jimhaz

    [Interesting idea that the Cronulla riots was because of the exposing of cowards…..I’m not sure I agree with that…..]

    Kinda wish I hadn’t made the comments above. Would take too long to explain my point of view – even though a doco was on SBS tonight it was too awful to watch.

    I just think things were hoting/hating up in the years before and there were lots of reasons for this on both sides. A pressure value was released, and more were made to reflect and since then I think the tension is more controlled. More good than bad.

    Tension won’t go away – most people are instinctually territorian if they feel invaded and all people are protective of their culture and subject to fears, therefore some degree of cultural tension must occur.

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