Feminists using misogynist insults toward other women

I have a problem with leveraging misogynist insults at other women. Yeah, I do. And I am especially disturbed when these insults come from the mouths (or fingers) of women who actually consider themselves feminists or who believe that they are engaged in feminist discourse, analysis, and/or commentary while doing so. That’s funny, amIright? Tragically ironic is more like it. So I want to quickly address:

…the rising problem of ‘radical feminists’ using misogynist methods to refer to feminists with whom they disagree. Especially that they think it’s ok to publicly declare that some women are ‘male-identified’ (because *they* identify them with males) and then, basically, punish them on the grounds of that characterisation, by calling them ‘dick-pleasers’ or something similar. ~liberationislife

Sexualized insults are expressions of misogyny. Referring to a woman’s sexual behavior, her sexuality, or her appearance as a way to discredit her political efforts or speech is the lowest kind of insult I can imagine. It has no place in the mind of any self-I-dentified feminist. First, it blames women for their relations to males as if there were no such thing as structural and compulsory heteronormativity. It also seems to ignore the unfortunate reality that power and material resources are concentrated in the hands of males who must be appealed to under certain circumstances (remember, isolationism justified by delusions of revolutionary combustion is not an effective political strategy for improving the lives of women as a class here and now). Next, these insults characterize relations to males as an unconditional source of personal corruption (as if women are not capable of maintaining their integrity in the presence of males). Finally, this trend frames women’s value and feminist credibility as dependent on our relations to males (or lack thereof).

What kind of lazy hypocrisy is this? I know we’re living under The Patriarchy where cognitive dissonance and reversals are a way of life, but come on already, this is a no-brainer! A woman’s political value is in her ideas, not in her personal relations to males or male-controlled institutions. These kinds of insults are obviously unacceptable in ‘feminist’ discourse.

I wish to specifically include use of the malicious term handmaiden in my complaint. A handmaiden is a female servant. She is specifically female. And she is in service to male authority. Even dikipedia knows that ‘handmaiden’ is a sexualized insult:

A man might use a handmaiden as a concubine to bear his child if his wife was infertile. For example, the biblical Rachel, the childless wife of Jacob, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband to produce children. Jacob’s first wife Leah later did the same.[2] The Virgin Mary referred to herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” in acceptance of becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit.[3]

Unless y’all think you’re reclaiming ‘handmaiden’ like some ‘feminists’ want to reclaim ‘slut,’ it is completely inappropriate in feminist discourse. Please stop.

I will be moderating comments like the tyrant that I am. My blog, my speech.

handmaiden

For further discussion of female-female dynamics, see Rainsinger’s recent review of Phyllis Chesler’s book, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, here.

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23 thoughts on “Feminists using misogynist insults toward other women

  1. Thank you for this. A couple of very interesting points.
    “this trend frames women’s value and feminist credibility as dependent on our relations to males (or lack thereof).”

    I have heard a radical feminists explicitly say, that any woman with a male partner, is not a radical feminist. You are right. This judges women totally in relation to men, rather than in relation to a woman’s own ideas and actions. This is what patriarchy does. Judge a woman in terms of her relationships or lack of them, with men. We need to judge women on their own individual worth – their ideas and their actions.

    I really dislike the term handmaiden. It blames women for their own oppression. Something we should never do as feminists.

  2. Thanks, this is very interesting. I think when women are under pressure horizontal hostility can increase, and I’ve noticed this lately both online and irl.
    Terms like handmaiden are difficult though. I would never call a woman male identified, but might want to vent in a private rf space about the infuriating tendency of mainstream feminists to reap the hard won benefits of feminist activism, whilst repudiating women only space, lesbians, radical feminists, antiporn analysis, etc etc. This happens over and over (in all movements, not just feminism) the mainstream using the radicals to look better, whilst benefiting from the radicals’ commitment, and it gets boring. So I do agree, we need focus on women’s ideas and less of the ad feminam, but it’s also important to challenge being demonised as radical feminists/lesbians etc. If that makes sense.

  3. You’re right. I’ve been using ‘handmaiden’ as a pejorative against women who are (from my point of view) uncritically supportive of the current/fad M2T narrative (“woman born in a male body”, yada-yada.)

    That was wrong of me — for the reasons you clearly pointed out above — and I hereby vow to stop. If someone catches me doing it, please call me out. Thanks!

  4. Reblogged this on demonista and commented:
    I used to use handmaiden. I won’t anymore.

    Engaging with women and their ideas with “dickpleaser” and the like isn’t analysis, or even debate, it’s simply dismissing women’s ideas through insulting the woman.

  5. I generally agree that using specific words like “handmaidens” towards individual women in political debates isn’t helpful. However, being “male-identified” ie seeing the world from a patriarchal-lens and not a feminist lens and not being a “woman-identified woman” is a concept from the “second wave” (sic) movement. It can be useful if used sparingly. It is not an insult to individual women but, rather, names the process of patriarchal socialisation which all women are forced to undergo. We have to actively realise and reject that conditioning as part of our consciousness as feminists. Otherwise traits such as ego, pettiness, and grievances towards other women and feminists would get in the way of our alliances with each other and our common goal of liberation

    Without a doubt, one of the challenges we face is getting through that conditioning in order to reach a place where we can make sense of feminist discourse, so deeply entrenched is this “male-identified” way of thinking. Naming an argument as “male-identified” and not feminist can be occasionally important and relevant. Not everyone gets the distinction between that and patronising or insulting individual women. There are other ways in which feminists can insult or patronise, however, other than use specific demeaning language. Such as passive-aggression and using posts/blogs to attack other women on a personal level. It is a feminist act to resist doing that.

    This is a world where all women are taught to hate and compete with each other and we need feminist language to describe that without, as you say, perpetuating it ourselves via our feminist discourse and reducing our argument to personal attacks or dismissive language which doesn’t address political points made.

  6. I agree with you it’s not feminism to keep victimising women especially if “we” think they are already victimised (eg in a relationship with a male). And the idea of individual “choice” being the main condition for someone’s life apart from being a white middle class illusion to begin with, is a liberal one so kind of an ironic point of view from radfeminists who are bagging liberal feminists. It’s also poor politics to alienate so many people. If feminism is such a pure and narrow movement that most people don’t qualify to be part of it, then it will always be a splinter-movement, marginal at best. I always feel kind of defensive about being a mother around some feminists and I shouldn’t be. They don’t get to control my reproductive rights any more than a man does :/

  7. rubyfruit2, I agree that we need a way to describe identification with (internalization of?) patriarchal values. At the same time, I think that using the term “male-identified” fails as a useful descriptor. First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything. It’s more of a negative judgment than an attempt at illustrating or communicating anything specific about what is wrong with the thing being described as “male-identified.” It’s not a useful shortcut without more details.

    Uncritically recycling second wave rhetoric robs us of the opportunity to do better. And we can do better! We NEED to do better. That’s my first problem.

    Secondly, on a personal level, a woman could be married to a man, have borne 4 male children, and work for the local Catholic church. That’s about as male-identified as I can imagine. But it STILL doesn’t necessarily mean that her argument is bad or wrong. See Right Wing Women. Describing someone’s (assumed!) personal characteristics to discredit her political opinion is my second problem (I know you weren’t talking about that).

    And finally, you suggested that rejecting male-identification might give us the following results:

    Otherwise traits such as ego, pettiness, and grievances towards other women and feminists would get in the way of our alliances with each other and our common goal of liberation

    Oh, how I WISH that were true! The irony of being a man-hating ‘feminist’ and simultaneously being saturated with with ego, pettiness, and grievances against other women! Happens all the time. 😦

    As you said in your comment:

    we need feminist language to describe that without, as you say, perpetuating it ourselves via our feminist discourse and reducing our argument to personal attacks or dismissive language which doesn’t address political points made.

    EXACTLY!! 🙂

  8. This may be the most brilliant paragraph I’ve ever seen written on this subject:

    “Sexualized insults are expressions of misogyny. Referring to a woman’s sexual behavior, her sexuality, or her appearance as a way to discredit her political efforts or speech is the lowest kind of insult I can imagine. It has no place in the mind of any self-I-dentified feminist. First, it blames women for their relations to males as if there were no such thing as structural and compulsory heteronormativity. It also seems to ignore the unfortunate reality that power and material resources are concentrated in the hands of males who must be appealed to under certain circumstances (remember, isolationism justified by delusions of revolutionary combustion is not an effective political strategy for improving the lives of women as a class here and now). Next, these insults characterize relations to males as an unconditional source of personal corruption (as if women are not capable of maintaining their integrity in the presence of males). Finally, this trend frames women’s value and feminist credibility as dependent on our relations to males (or lack thereof).”

    It should be required reading in every radical feminist discussion space.

  9. Hi Bess, I think we’re broadly agreeing and it’s something which has been on my mind lately too – the confusion between challenging feminist positions and personally attacking women, using demeaning put-downs such as you describe, for example, because you don’t think they’re (radical) feminist enough etc.

    “male-identified”, in second-wave context is not about how far women are associated with men and patriarchy, it’s about how far we have internalised male patterned ways of thinking and behaving. Women do this to degrees; those who do well within staunchly patriarchal institutions and frameworks, for example, see nothing wrong with it because they believe it gives them personal rewards. I view traits such as ego, pettiness, grievances as all fitting into patriarchally-induced ways of relating to each other. Sadly, even if we’re man-hating lesbian separatists, we’re not immune to it. I do think it’s important that there is a way of acknowledging that women can internalise male behaviours and ways of viewing the world, even feminists, all of us and that this acts as barriers to us working towards the common goal of liberation.

    Today, there isn’t such an emphasis on this and I do see its dangers too – you could spend a lot of time attempting to rid yourself of “male-identified” behaviour and, still, the class of women remain oppressed and you’ve failed to reach any kind of internalised feminist “purity”, free from patriarchal influence. I take your point that using “male-identified” as a “short-cut without detail” makes the term open to misinterpretation.

    Yes, doing better than second-wave ideas sounds great, we do need to learn from the past and build on it. If not “male-identified” to describe this process which we agree happens, what descriptor could we use? It’s an anti-feminist phenomenon so it’s hard to think of a phrase which could not also be used to attack individual women.

  10. So well put. And the usage of identity politics to justify sexualised characterisations of other *women*, instead of expressing reasoned disagreements with their *arguments*, is a very useful subject for us to consider.
    Especially since this so often involves assigning identities to women without their consent – which is already a fact of life for us because of the sex hierarchy in which we live.

  11. Someone suggested that I offer some SEX NEUTRAL insults as alternative put-downs. Lol! Asshole and shithead are two of my favorites. I didn’t even mention one of my other pet peeves: douchebag. No, that word is not feminist-justifiable because douches are bad for women. Douches are used as a weapon against women…to say that we’re dirty. If you must be so fucking crude (and that’s your prerogative), I strongly suggest ENEMA BAG. I know it has an additional syllable, but it’s totally worth the extra nanosecond of pronunciation.

    Also, I talk a bit differently in real life. Because I’m using my real name, I take my documented public speech about feminism rather seriously. Y’all can take it less seriously when you use pseudonyms, I guess. It’s not a judgment, it’s a reality. And it affects *my style.*

  12. Hi again rubyfruit2, yes, I think we are broadly agreeing. I wonder about the difference between “internalizing” and “identifying.” The latter seems to imply more AGENCY (or blame?) than the former…not making a point here, just thinking about it aloud…

    As to the problem of both INDIVIDUALIZING disagreement and vaguely waving another woman away with presumptuous insults about her motives, character, or behavior as being too ‘this’ or too ‘that’ (regardless of whether it is relational to males) I think it’s a matter of being more specific. What *exactly* is reminiscent of males or masculinity that one is objecting to? What *precisely* is the danger one is concerned about when she describes something as “male-identified” or “dick-pleasing”? We should strive to be as INSTRUCTIVE as possible with our criticism.

    I believe that feminism should be about MORE than venting; we are trying to learn and/or to teach– to better ourselves through interacting with each other, riiiight? So instead of saying “I hate it!,” we would do better to explain WHY we hate it.

  13. Also, rubyfruit2, I want to apologize if you felt that you were being targeted by this post. It hadn’t occurred to me until sometime last night that my cross-link to Lib Coll (represent!) contained a comment from you using the term “male-identified.” I’m sorry if you felt singled out by that, it was NOT my intent to do so.

    TO ALL: the language of male-relational insults is widely used by feminists on the internet. There are 2 on this short thread alone confirming their (past) use of the misogynist term ‘handmaiden.’ My complaint about women using these insults toward other women in the context of feminist discourse is a GENERAL one, not specific to an individual. That’s why I gave you SWEET ANALYSIS of why it’s NOT feminist, generally speaking. Thank you.

  14. Ah, jeez. That is pretty slanted, isn’t it? 87% is too damn high! 🙂

    Regarding usage of “dikipedia” though, isn’t bastardizing the name in this way kind of a sexualized insult in its own right? Dick is often used a pejorative in reference to others; that is, I don’t see a difference between “She’s such a cunt!” “He’s such a dick!”

    Just my two cents.

  15. chaquepetiteextase, please read more feminism.

    Insulting males on the basis of their sex is ENTIRELY different than insulting females on the basis of their sex. Women are OPPRESSED on said basis; men are not (they are socially rewarded for having a dick and using it).

  16. Oh come on. I ignored your catty implications the first time, but I have to say that your appeal to knowledge is really, really lame. “Read more feminism”? Really? You have absolutely zero insight into what I have/do read about feminism, who I am, what my background is. Furthermore, there is no single banner or law of Feminism. Nobody gets a degree in Feminism, nobody is a certified Feminist. You have absolutely no monopoly on a Feminist agenda, interest, values, etc. and you are no authority on the matter, any more than I am. Your instance that I “read more feminism” does no hold water, it’s meaningless. See, I could say the same to you, read more feminism! Whoa! Burn!

    Next point. If insulting someone on the basis of their sex is wrong, as a matter of undeniable fact, then it is wrong for everyone. You did not choose to be born a woman (I am assuming you are one), and men did not choose to be born male. You do not deserve to be insulted or discriminated against on the basis of being a woman (again, I am assuming you are one) and men do not deserve to be insulted or discriminated against on the basis of being men. We do not advance the rights and treatment of women by putting down men.

  17. Rubyfruit2: “If not ‘male-identified’ to describe this process which we agree happens, what descriptor could we use? ”

    Great question. “Male-identified” quickly sums up a collection of attributes that are easily identifiable. What would be a better term?

  18. Well, farishcunning, I’ll tell you the same thing I told Ruby Fruit (thank goodness for copy & paste!):

    I think it’s a matter of being more specific. What *exactly* is reminiscent of males or masculinity that one is objecting to? What *precisely* is the danger one is concerned about when she describes something as “male-identified” or “dick-pleasing”? We should strive to be as INSTRUCTIVE as possible with our criticism.”

    Male-identified is a lazy term. Articulating the attribute or “collection of attributes” you intend by the term is better.

  19. this discussion has a good heart to it, but there is something oddly “thought policing” and silenc-y about it that i am having trouble putting my finger on.

    if a woman is behaving in a way that harms women, i have a right to speak truthfully about the impact of that behavior. what i am reading is that the author and some commentors are asking for the truth-speaking to be done differently. and that’s where i instinctively get really uncomfortable.

    if i understand the author, she declares the “h********n* term to be off limits because it is an ad hominem attack on a woman’s character that is based on her conduct.

    i have a different point of view, which is that i retain the right to identify *uncritically* male-centered behavior in a straightforward manner. and the term “female servant” is a plain description of a woman who delusionally centers men/male interests because she thinks that she will benefit in some way. the *uncritical* aspect is essential in my usage because it speaks to the fact that i and many women are routinely forced to do things against our wills within the system. and hopefully we can be mentally liberated even while we survive within the system.

    this has also raised a related question that i am mulling over: what is the responsibility of subjugated peoples in the creation of their own liberation? within a brutal and crushing system of complete control and domination, do enslaved peoples have a duty to free themselves – even if only mentally? and if this duty to mentally free oneself as an oppressed person exists, then how does that not become a form of blaming the victim for their own torture? i’ve been running in circles over this one and would be grateful for any insight, if anyone can help untangle my thoughts……..

    ah! maybe this is it: i am not in any way responsible for my oppression. HOWEVER, i am FULLY responsible for my own liberation.

    ok. maybe that’s closer to where i want to go. maybe…..

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