Intermission: Is the Shit List Warning System Actually Helping Anyone?

01Feb11

Hi there folks.

This isn’t a standard post and I’m still more or less on hiatus from blogging. But I do have a question for my readers. A while back I created a page. It’s got a pretty harsh name, harsher than its actual purpose (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about well that answers my question right away, now doesn’t it?) which is to warn people if certain large scale or popular blogs have made serious mistakes and refused to apologize for or admit to them. But as we all know, “The Warning List” or the “Zero Accountability List” isn’t really going to be read by well… anyone (which really is kind of a statement on how bloodthirsty the online social justice activist community can be, including my past self, but that’s an issue I think I’ve gone over to the point of nausea on this blog by now).

Let’s go over the issues first.

As far as things go, the Shit List is very prone to inciting angry responses. People don’t like being called out for mistakes they try to hide (or don’t believe are mistakes) and especially not in a way that’s harsh (we’ll go over whether the list is so harsh that it actually can’t function later in the post) and their sell out apologists also don’t like it. For that reason I’ve gotten a LOT of enraged whining sellouts on that particular page. Including, but not limited to, tone argument dropping assholes, painfully silly people like some wildly off base jackhole who seems to think it’s racist to call out black cis women for cissexism if you’re white (which is oppression olympics to a degree of ridiculousness that I can’t even comprehend), people who LOVE MELISSA SO MUCH THAT THEY CAN’T STAND A SINGLE NEGATIVE THING ABOUT HER BEING ANYWHERE ON THE NET (I mostly delete those Shakesfail comments, because they’re like swarms of locusts, millions of the same old crop eating shit) and people telling me that I’m a mean old uppity bitch and a half.

It’s tiring fielding all this oxygen waste word vomit spraying into my comment queue and as anyone who reads my blog knows, I have a lot more pressing concerns to tire me out than wasting my time on that bullshit.

I’m also really tired of people sending me emails of blogs simply run by people they don’t like or who GASP aren’t polite about oppression or for anything unrelated to the purpose of the list. Let’s face it, if you don’t know what the list is for to the point that you think it’s some kind of personal hate list, well then you certainly aren’t being helped by it. And it isn’t helping me cuz I don’t personally hate anyone on that list. No, not Renee, cuz she did personally apologize to me (so we have no personal quarrel on my end), the reason she’s on the list at all is cuz she specifically refused to allow the apology she said to apply to all the other trans women she attacked with cissexism. No, not Melissa McEwan. That’s more a sense of contempt and perhaps even pity since she still believes we all hate her and weren’t just upset because she has no ability to apologize for eulogizing a genocidal cissexist feminist. And no, not Bil either, I actually find him to be a nice, very likeable guy. He just keeps fucking up on trans stuff is all.

It was never a personal list, if it was, it would be huge cuz there are a ton of activists I have a personal beef with for things unrelated to social justice and I wouldn’t waste space on a non personal blog for it.

And then, is the list even aptly named? Is the design of this resource even helpful or useful? Because let’s face it, calling it a shit list is a bit on edge of overdoing it. And I and others have talked a ton on how SJ does sometimes overdo it. Whether it’s the tumblr army of death descending on one privileged person, even after their apology, to light them on fire, or it’s the tendency to overuse the callout and throw in levels of nasty into it that edge into more revenge than activism, I’d say it’s really time to start analyzing all of this stuff and not ignoring any of it. That includes the early warning system. So I know, at the very least, I’m renaming the shit list to the Zero Accountability List so that my older more vicious model of social justice activism isn’t still acting like a poison for me (nuker’s bane of anger toxicity style). And no doubt the name is a source of a lot of the above confusion. Which doesn’t help anything.

I’d like to think in writing about how the call out is being abused and how a lot of the online SJ community, including myself, had been operating under a mob justice model and acting abusively, I would actually allow that analysis to affect how I handle things, but it just becomes hypocrisy with things titled like “The Shit List” on my blog. So it’s time to change that at least, in the spirit of not being a mob justice fuckwad.

A change in the name will also help make it more intuitive in a world where people just read the titles of things to glean a meaning, and therefore more likely to be used for its actual purpose of “oh hello, I should be careful at this blog cuz they’ve done bad things to people and won’t admit it”, instead of going “OH GOD KINSEY HATES ME/THEM WHYYYYYY.” (Admittedly, Melissa will probably still do the latter even if I changed it to FLUFFY BUTTERFLY HAPPY TIMES LIST OF PEOPLE WHO MADE A MISTAKE AND DIDN’T APOLOGIZE AND MAY MAKE MORE BUT ARE PRETTY AND WONDERFUL AND WE STILL LOVE THEM JUST BE CAREFUL OKIES? OKIES. And no, I won’t change it to that name, even for the hilarity. It’s too long. XD)

The final issue is whether the list is actually helping anyone or not. Let’s face it, if the entire community knows by word of mouth about when a blog makes a serious transphobic, ableist, etc (note: I don’t have racism on the list cuz that shouldn’t be listed on a white girl’s blog. If you’re a poc activist and you have a list of sites who have had accountability fails on racism and not apologized for or admitted to them, I can link you if you want. But listing them myself just centers my white ass and I would like to avoid Tim Wising people) mistake, well then what’s the fucking point of maintaining a list? Who exactly am I telling? If no one doesn’t already know then I’m not going to add some more shit to my list of things I have to do, because I do actually maintain that list. It’s work. And annoying work at that.

So what I’m asking you for, my gentle readers, is to let me know if the list has actually helped you. If I get word from enough people that the list has been helpful (or people tell me that it will help them with the name change) then I’ll continue maintaining it. But if I feel that this is not really achieving much for the work I’m putting into it, I will be getting rid of it immediately. My spoons are not high much less infinite.

I appreciate any of your input but I will be deleting any comments on this post disputing the entry of any of the blogs on the list, even if they are valid disputes (like say, someone has shown accountability for a similar incident later, displaying that their attitudes have changed on those types of fail) because that belongs on the list’s comment page itself. And if you try to troll this page I’m just gonna delete you. Y’all been warned.

~Kinsey



28 Responses to “Intermission: Is the Shit List Warning System Actually Helping Anyone?”

  1. 1 TalieC

    I might get rambly for a bit here. I’ll get to a point eventually, I promise.

    When I was first figuring myself out as trans, I’d already been following the feminist blogosphere for a while, with Shakesville as the blog I read most (still is). I saw the whole failsplosion there as it was happening, but at the time I was still in denial; I didn’t let myself understand it since I didn’t think it applied to me. When I started questioning, started coming to understand myself, I explored the trans blogosphere a lot more, and came, well, here.

    I read the accountability list then, a few months ago, and, though it made me uncomfortable, I reread the archives of what happened there and realized you were right. I was left a bit less comfortable there (staying because there aren’t any comparably lively spaces I can turn to, and because the overall judgement I gave was “overall good most of the time, but unpredictably fails, up to and including very badly”, which I can handle), but at least now I know. And since I know, I can protect myself.

    So, the list has helped at least one person. Thank you.

  2. It’s helped me to have a critical eye when viewing content of sites on the list.

  3. It has helped me! Yours was one of the first blogs I found when venturing into Social Justice, and the $foo List definitely gave me a heads up sites I should be a bit wary of.

  4. This is the first I’ve seen of the list (I’m a little behind it seems) but I don’t disagree with anything on it. Useful? I dunno. Validating? Yes.

  5. I do find it helpful, whatever it’s called. I read a lot of social justice blogs but don’t have my ear to the ground re: problems, complaints, apologies, non-apologies, etc. Your list helped make me aware of issues with some of the blogs I read and helped me decide whether to quit reading them or to keep reading them with their past failures in mind/to take what they say on certain topics with a particularly teeny grain of salt, etc. Thank you.

  6. Yes, it has helped me. In particular it prompted me to check out what went down at Shakesville, and based on what I saw there I became convinced that it was not an accountable space. As Shakesville (but not the offending posts) often comes up in my search queries, in all likelihood I would have tried to join the conversation or at least spend a lot of time reading there, had it not been for your list. I am glad to have invested that time elsewhere.

    Also, though the outcome is hard to measure, I believe I have benefited from cis folks’ knowledge that such a list exists and that they will be held accountable when they fuck up. There really aren’t a lot of people out there holding cis folks accountable.

    Whatever you decide, I am grateful for all the time you have already put into the list. I am sorry that the list is a burden, and I would understand if you had to stop maintaining it.

  7. I for one do not think it’s helpful. I like to see transphobia/cissexism/other fuck-ups pointed out when they happen, but for me it is not helpful to learn that a blog has once engaged in fuck-ups, which may be several months ago. Then, just know that you think some blogger is transphobic or whatever, but I don’t know why, and I for one like to check things out myself before deciding to avoid a blogger.

  8. I like the idea of calling it an accountability list.

  9. My general impression is that things like your shit list, and “Derailing for Dummies”, and other snarky pieces are mostly useful for giving people that already agree a sense of vindication. It’s cathartic. And I think that’s valuable and important.

    But in terms of inciting actual change, it’s most likely to just polarize existing groups, which isn’t necessarily productive.

    I’m not a fan of tone arguments. But I think it’s valuable for people to be pragmatic about their goals, and to figure out what the best approach is to achieving those goals. Sometimes that’s cathartic, validating, snarky pieces. Sometimes it’s a really earnest, narrative recounting of painful events in one’s past. Sometimes it’s a diplomatic engagement of ignorant people.

    It depends. It’s just a matter of being mindful of one’s goals, and trying to figure out what methods are best for achieving those goals.

  10. @Cessen: What do you think about the renaming of the list and recasting it into a simple list of accountability issues, sans much of the original snark? Do you think it changes it’s functionality from a vindication thing and into an actual helpful warning system for people to use?

    @genderqueer2genderqueer: Thanks. I really felt the change was necessary.

    @Astrid: I do specifically describe the incident in question (and the fact no accountability was shown for it) and even provide links and stuff. So you do know why when you read over the material. I also make sure that the list is up to date by keeping an eye on the sites in question (except anything by Melissa cuz she makes me feel ill with how easily she fits into the privilege denying girl meme). It’s tougher to keep it up to date lately (I was late removing FWD from the list) but I do keep pretty close to current. Would it help if I placed dates on the entries so you can determine if a lot of time has passed?

    @Veronika: Thank you. I actually hadn’t thought of the deterrent aspect of the list, the idea that somewhere someone is actually listing off the cis people who play the privilege denying game and try to derail out of being accountable will actually deter some of them from pulling shit. I mean, that shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the list and if that’s the only benefit I see at the end of this discussion, I’ll still drop it (cuz that benefit is really hard to measure and prolly not very big) but it’s definitely interesting. No one does seem to hold cis people accountable.

    @Talie, Jordan, Anna: I’m glad the list helped all of you keep a little safer from problematic blogs.

  11. I sorta liked the name “shit list,” because it’s so in-your-face that it makes a person (or at least, made me) sit and think about what would make a person feel so strongly about those websites; about sites that seem so reasonable and have occasionally written some great stuff. You’re correct, though, that most people would answer that question with some variation of “unreasonable” or “hurt fee-fees” or (eugh) “crazy.” “Accountability list” avoids that pitfall, and I think it also helps to restore the meaning of “accountability,” which has become so diluted by its buzzword status.

    It was really validating to see Shakesville on there. I tried participating in the comments, once or twice, but I felt terrified of posting anything serious. They can claim all they want that it’s not an echo chamber and that they aren’t required to put up with ignorance, but I have never seen a non-Melissa-endorsed opinion that didn’t get a thrashing. There are no shades of grey in their world; an opinion is either something Melissa said or privileged wankery. Having moderately severe social anxiety, it just isn’t worth it for me to even lurk there. So, thank you.

  12. @Amianym:

    It’s really fucked how they consider even opinions in opposition to Melissa’s privileged wankery to be privileged wankery. Like super ironic to call a privilege call out bigoted when it isn’t. I’m glad it’s helped you, the list.

  13. 13 Sean

    I just think you should stick Dirt on there, since she’s going around stalking trans blogs like some kinda creep.

    ~2 cents~

  14. Dirt isn’t really an ally site, Sean. It’s pretty easy to recognize enemy sites when they don’t even pretend to be allies. Like the radical feminists that called me a “sterile fucktoy for men”

    I don’t think anyone is surprised by their lack of accountability.

  15. 15 Morgan

    I think things like the ‘shit list’ are really quite useful – any blog has a tendency to get a bit echo-chambery, if not to the Shakesville extent, because the regulars a blog attracts are inevitably going to largely be people with fairly similar opinions to the people who run the blog. It’s a big problem with the feminist blogosphere that there often aren’t a lot of non-trolling challenges to prevailing attitudes – and sometimes there really need to be.
    I think the ‘shit list’, and bloggers like you who don’t seem to be afraid of posting things like that, are a very useful thing to have around, because it’s very easy to get sucked into the overall culture of the big feminist blogs and not question them – if you agree with what they’re saying a lot of the time, sometimes disturbing undercurrents do go unnoticed until someone points them out.

    I like reading a lot of the big feminist blogs, because they do have a lot of interesting links and commentary, but I only like doing that when I also follow blogs like yours that go in a bit of a different direction and call out the big blogs when they do something off, otherwise it gets easy to forget how much of an echo chamber it can be and how one-sided a lot of the discussion is. Because by myself, I would probably only notice somewhere like Shakesville being as bad as it is when Melissa was actually saying something I personally disagreed with – which then stops me noticing if the ‘other side’ does actually have good points to make. I’ve been picking up on the limitations of a lot of sites a lot better since you posted that list.

    I don’t always agree with you, any more than I always agree with any of the people on that list – but I think disagreements can often be more valuable than total agreement. People need their attitudes challenged sometimes and things like the shit list are very good at cluing us in to who isn’t open to that. It doesn’t make their opinions worthless but it does give you notice to take what they say with a pinch of salt, which I do think is very valuable.

  16. @Sean (well, actually, @everyone who wants enemies listed): A mugbook of out and active transphobes wouldn’t be useful. Even the most strict comment moderation on your blog just means they can spam your comment queue with hatred; the most you can do is to protect your readers. This ignores the fact that you can assume a new identity on the internet with just a few minutes.

    Making enemies lists helps nobody. Making a list of “not as good as advertised” is helpful.

  17. 17 Eirwyn

    I found it helpful. Well, for me, I used the list to avoid reading those sites altogether. I’m sure they have very incisive critiques of misogyny and the patriarchy over there, but I just don’t feel like reading transphobic sites. My reason may be shallow- I just don’t want to be like that guy who’s like, Oh yeah misogyny is totally fucked up, but I am still going to laugh at my misogynist friends’ jokes and glorify the works of misogynist philosophers/scientists/etc. So I don’t want to be THAT cis feminist who’s supportive to her trans friends yet still eats up transphobic material.

    I also found it useful in the sense that I was able to warn other cis feminists about those sites, who would otherwise have been oblivious, like with the one where one of the writers apologized and her trans friend was cool with it, so the cis woman I was telling this to assumed everything was cool.

    But if you don’t have the spoons for it, definitely drop it, or better yet, have someone else take it up and manage it for you.

  18. 18 helen

    Not sure that a Sh*t list is what is required…but I thought you may be interested in adding this to any hall of shame you may choose to rename the list……..below is the synopsis penned by the directors of Queer Screen – to promote their screening of TOTWK…it is included in the online program…..Some background Queer Screen is the film festival which accompanies the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. This is a big event on the gay calendar not just in Australia – but worldwide.

    So the trans community may wonder why such an event has chosen to screen TOTWK as the only trans themed film in a “Queer” film festival……

    But more than that- the trans community may question why some witless & clueless person has chosen to add to the transpanic meme by describing the plot line thus “transexual party girls play the usual dangerous games of seduction with so- called “straight men”…..” and how about “tranny-phobic” as a means of diminishing and dismissing any suggestion that transphobia is an issue worth expending an iota of concern about —- Perhaps someone may like to reframe the next crop of homophobic bigots as a “creepy fag- phobic posse”……..

    Remember this is from the official program of an adjunct to a major GLBTIQ event- which receives serious sponsorship from amongst others the State Arts Department, the City of Sydney – here it is in its entirety —

    “Israel Luna | USA | 2010 | 100 min
    Doesn’t the title say it all? Love it or hate it, this frock-schlock action flick is already emerging as a B-Movie legend in the making. Go on, guess the plot line… a group of transexual party girls play the usual dangerous games of seduction with so-called ‘straight men’ but one creepy, tranny-phobic, redneck posse turn on the group, leaving one of their sisters for dead. What they weren’t expecting is the stilettoed-tsunami of vengeance these ticked off trannies are capable of unleashing. Warning: not for the weak of stomach or politically correct.”

    Helen

  19. I have recently found the list very useful, particularly for Shakesville. I used to read Shakesville semi-regularly, and was present (though not involved) for the Mary Daly fail. At the time I didn’t know enough about derailing and silencing, especially toward trans* people, to be able articulate exactly why I was so uncomfortable with the ‘official’ handling of that mess. And, as I can see from info on your list, was obviously reading post- comment deletion. The what-about-me fauxpology post was messed up. Anyway, I have only recently started reading Shakesville again – as more well-researched and hopefully a wee bit wiser person – and have already been moving away after several instances of mods ignoring people calling out their bigoted comments/assumptions (with the clear insinuation that these were just ‘minor’ things, no big deal). The information you have put up has definitely galvinised my opinion that many of the mods there are resting on their laurels in regards to checking their own privilege, and seem to think doing activism, and experiencing oppression themselves, excuses the times we marginalise, or are verbally or emotionally violent toward others. Even cliques can be safe-spaces… for those in the clique. This has helped me be firm in my belief that just because something might be a safe-space for me, I can’t just ignore when it’s not a safe-space for others (i.e. to put my money where my mouth is). I have liked and been helped by Shakesville, but to use their own catchphrase, I also expect more. So thank you.

  20. @Helen:

    Jesusfuck, that’s horrible. It’s prolly not for the accountability list since that’s more a blogosphere and online article thing, but this is definitely something to write an individual article about and tear that shit apart. Can you shoot me some links about it on my email? I’ll try to write an article lambasting that bullcrap sometime soon if my health holds up.

  21. 21 polyhymnia

    I just surfed here, so I hadn’t read the list before. But even if I had stumbled across it (I’m not sure what I’d be searching for, “mistakes made by popular social justice sites”?) I don’t think I would have found it useful simply because knowing that someone handled a mistake badly in the past doesn’t tell me that much about how they’re inclined to react in the future. Perhaps overall character portraits, as the one you paint of Melissa (whom I really don’t know) as a person inclined to protect herself before acting on her community’s behalf, might make me a little cautious around that person– but information about a single fiasco probably wouldn’t sway me much.

    I agree that the social justice movement has been growing into a sort of moblike frothy angrymass that descends on people for making a mistake, and I kind of question whether that’s really productive. Especially in terms of making people realise “saying stuff like this hurts people” instead of just “saying stuff like this gets radical strangers angry at you”. I think the reason I stay away from social justice media as much as I do is because one is never allowed to politely ask questions or confront one’s doubts; opinions are monolith and dissenters are ignorant scum. And the “go read this huge list of articles before I’ll speak with you about feminism etc.” approach seems like it’s counterproductive; much as it shouldn’t *have* to be people’s responsibility to explain stuff to noobs or the privileged, it is unfortunately the actual way things are; when you’re oppressed you really are starting from less than zero and you have to take every scrap of a chance that’s tossed your way; it’s not fair, but then, we all already agreed that being oppressed is not fair; what matters now is what *works* for change. I think that having the *chance* to have a normally privileged person open their minds and be educated should be cherished and, yes, given personal attention; you sometimes only have a little window of privileged people’s attention before they wander off to their own problems. So… a lot of the tactics being used presently just don’t work for me. If you’re going to talk about this sort of thing, I’d like to follow it. (And if you had, by contrast, a list of sites that *weren’t* just echo chambers, I’d be interested in that.)

  22. @Polyhymnia: Actually I really feel like that attitude “having the *chance* to have a normally privileged person open their minds and be educated should be cherished and, yes, given personal attention” is one of the biggest problems faced by the sj community right now (along with intersection erasure, not paying enough attention to individual experiences of oppression and the rabid mob justice attitudes in online SJ).

    We keep centering privileged people as though they are so precious and helpful. It’s a huge amount of effort and work for just one person and often not even a heavy activist either, in the end. It’s burning folks out and it’s burning through our resources. And ultimately it makes oppression easier to enforce because we’re concentrating so hard on stepping lightly that trolls, users and leeches can easily sabotage our efforts.

    I really feel there needs to be a balance between Nuker and Appeaser archetypes and that we need to start caring for ourselves. To start helping each other out and putting our effort into carving out of life what we need instead of playing babysitter to a bunch of privileged people who will likely give us virtually nothing in return beyond perhaps a reduced dosage of bigotry on a daily basis, if that. The very fact that they expect us to educate them is oppression and we’re giving into it, telling them it’s okay by caving to it. I’m not saying don’t educate if you aren’t so inclined, but don’t push people into subsuming their own interests into this education thing. It’s really more harmful than good.

  23. 23 polyhymnia

    Really? I guess I’m… not entirely convinced of how much good the social justice movement is doing within their own community, without outreach. I mean, if we are all complaining to each other and educating people who already are trying, then we end up preaching to the choir. It is supportive (of the experience that fits like a glove with the paradigm that a space was envisioned to support, at least), but supportive only gets us so far.

    I can only think of a few things the internet can do to help social justice: 1) change people’s attitudes, 2) spread information. But the information is already getting around just fine among those people who support the social justice movement, and the fine-grained discussion really isn’t doing any good. Much of what the social justice movement seems to be engaged in with each other seems to consist of ferretting out the (e.g.) sexism inherent in something that isn’t obvious, that not everyone can see at first glance– but that isn’t going to do much good when we haven’t yet gotten most of society to realise that they should stop with the blatantly obvious sexism. What we are doing with each other, I feel, is putting the cart before the horse, in a place where it isn’t actually going to to move anywhere.

  24. There are times and places for 101, some entire blogs are run on 101 levels. The big ones and most of the little ones aren’t, because doing 101 gets in the way of doing effective activism and saps energy, and for no guarantee that it’ll be worth it. In fact, the people who are most likely to become effective activists are the ones who will do the reading when it’s given to them and their hand isn’t held through it.

    That said, I have walked people through 101. These were close personal friends, and walking them through 101 was better than getting misgendered by them or having to cut them off. They were also (most of them) willing to do the reading.

  25. 25 S

    I found the list useful, at least. I experienced some ableism in the comments on one Shakesville thread, and when I got angry and called that person out, I got others piling on me as wrong. I started to doubt myself. Then I snapped out of it and left for my own good help.

    So, it helps to have an outsider’s (so to speak) view of it, to validate my own feelings.

    I still visit Shakesville sometimes, and so indulge in the community, but now I’m wondering if I’m just indulging my privilege… I don’t know, it’s hard. I’m more afraid to comment now, but I don’t know if it’d be best to just leave or not. But, that’s my problem, really. I’m rambling, sorry.

  26. 26 Es

    I think having it’s a really good idea, I wasn’t aware of the Shakesville thing until I started reading your blog today, and now I’m going to go through the list looking things up. As a ciswoman I realise that I might not notice when people say crappy things (although I hope I would usually!) and I don’t want to support any sites which are transphobic, for the same reason that Eirwyn said. I want to support sites which are safe spaces for everyone, not just for me (although I’m slowly starting to think that there aren’t really any biggish sites which are)

  27. @polyhymnia:

    We do have outright though. Lots of people take the gentle path and seek to educate. It’s just that obligated any of us to do it isn’t right. It should be volunteer only.

    And I think fine tuning our own community helps to create a safe fortress for us to operate from. If we can’t even solve our little internal bigotries how the hell do we expect to fix the world?

  28. I will point out that, I read the aforementioned list while trawling blogs to put on my blogroll, and it helped me figure out a couple I didn’t want on there. It’s also given me my first shit list I aspire never to be on, to contrast with the many conservative ones I have starry-eyed dreams about being on.


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