After various leftist media outlets spoke out against the inclusion of rape apologist Willie Jackson in the Labour Party’s election planning , The Daily Blog welcomed its new influx of male readers. Although the lack of self-reflexivity about this was maddening, in some ways it was a relief to see the blog finally being honest about where it stands on women’s issues. Like many – perhaps most – men, Bomber (and other contributors to TDB such as Chris Trotter) will only condemn male violence when it doesn’t require any changes in their own life, or any hard discussions with their peers.
When the misogynist in the spotlight is someone comfortably alien, like the Roastbusters or the Police, Bomber posts indignant rants with more exclamation points than everyone’s granddad who posts minion memes on Facebook. But when it’s someone like Andrew Tidball or Willie Jackson, someone a bit too close to home for comfort, TDB either keeps very quiet, minimises the issues, comes out in active defence of the men in question, and/or treats the whole thing as a reader recruitment opportunity. Despite its claims to supporting feminism, TDB has consistently prioritised such men while alienating several of their female contributors.
There is a certain risk in giving these kind of schisms oxygen. Indeed, much of the Left has become used to rolling their eyes and ignoring Bomber, because most of the time there’s no satisfaction in harvesting such low-hanging fruit. But, in the recent past, the radicalisation of white men online has proven how damaging such attitudes can ultimately be. Men like US mass murderer Elliot Rodger, (whose autobiography showed that he never interacted with any women) still found enough rage in him, stoked by online forums like PUAhate.com, to kill six people in his revenge on the world for the fact that no woman had ever kissed him, or slept with him (unasked!). The selective engagement and sensory detachment from one’s peers that digital communication enhances is dangerous when it comes to people with power, who are increasingly able to avoid witnessing the real-world consequences of their hateful ideologies.
Thus it seems that ignoring the trolls, while necessary to conserve energy for movement-building and to keep mental health intact, doesn’t resolve the problem. Moreover, when a variety of important leftist institutions are packed with men who abuse women and/or protect serial abusers, leftist women don’t have the luxury of ignoring them. The effect of leftist misogyny on TDB isn’t just the sidelining of good journalism. Overall, the push to tolerate and even uphold violent men serves to sap the energy of leftist women from struggles against zero-hour contracts and populist xenophobia.
A study by the CTU in 1995 found that unions dominated by women have an overall higher success rate; no surprise when women are trained from birth to do the communistic work of compassionately holding groups together. But despite their claims to representing authentic leftism, men like the TDB bloggers, union bros and party hacks have ignored the teachings of communism founder Friedrich Engels, who wrote in 1884 that: “The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.”
TDB’s myopia on the issue was again demonstrated by regular contributor Chris Trotter, who wrote in a TDB post republished at Bowalley Road that the outcry against Willie Jackson was based on selfishness and ideological purity–rather than on, say, sound political strategy. TDB generally makes a lot of noise about reaching out to the common worker, but somehow women workers and rape victims never count as disaffected non-voters who might have any sway in election results. In the 21st century, how are we to successfully fight fascism when many men who claim to be our comrades are, when it comes to gender, barely distinguishable from Trump? By sidelining women, these men are dividing the Left and setting us up for failure and irrelevance.
The feminist Left is long past the point where reasoning with these men using the basic statistical facts of women’s oppression will yield anything useful. They have read the earnest explanatory thinkpieces, they’ve seen our street marches; chances are that many of them have sat directly in front of an important woman in their lives as her voice shook while trying to justify her/our existence as human beings. The sorry truth is that they’ve created an abnormally large gap between how much they care about women versus themselves, and it can’t be closed by rational reasoning alone.
How, then, can feminist leftists produce emotional changes in men like this? And which changes are valuable? Perhaps the most terrifying thing is that many of these men are simply indifferent to women’s issues; the grumbling that emerges when they come up in cultural conversation is one of men being forced to do their taxes or wash the dishes, a chore that’s too hard and boring to do anything but outsource. “It just doesn’t interest me,” said a former friend as I begged him through tears to care about feminism, to care about his effect on my life.
In cases of a power imbalance, the path from indifference to care rarely starts with a positive emotion. Former white supremacist Derek Black famously left the movement after a series of diplomatic conversations with anti-racists brought him around. However–and this is crucial–he stated that: “I never would have begun my own conversations without first experiencing clear and passionate outrage to what I believed from those I interacted with.”
Therefore, there is certain value in the rallying cry of Make Misogynists Afraid Again. The sorts of men who read TDB are afraid of exposure of their personal violence against women, of losing readership, of public ridicule. In the past, more unorthodox methods like the Mervyn Thompson controversy had a significant impact on university sexual harassment policies, which were implemented in the wake of the scandal.
If men are made to know that with great misogyny comes great humiliation, they will be more careful about committing or espousing it. In some ways, the TDB turn to embattled Mens Rights Activism territory is a sign that the feminist Left has made a real impact. It’s an awful and scary turn, but when men like that choose to take this path rather than to reflect and change, it at least makes the battle lines clearer. To paraphrase Malcolm X, another depressingly misogynist leftist, better the snarling misogynist wolf than the smiling Male Feminist fox.
Meanwhile, we need a Left to take care of the sick and wounded; women, people of colour, disabled people, sex workers, the queer and trans community, all those who know that their battles are at the centre of the fight rather than a distraction on the margins. A brilliant article on weareplanc.org about the emotional conditions of capitalism argued that contemporary leftist resistance needs to correspond to capitalism’s current emotional stage: that of making everyone very anxious and overwhelmed. The article argues that the Left, at least internally, has to be kind to its members, offering a haven from the angry and overstimulating world of neo-liberalism-cum-fascism. As I wrote last year, this approach is not incompatible with outward anger against the state, cops, the prison system, corporations or any other oppressive institutions and forces. Rather, it will help replenish our energy to do that work.
It’s not uncommon to see leftist men in this country argue that, while we might not like The Daily Blog, it’s the best platform the Left currently has for its analysis. This is simply not true. If the best work the Left had actually was Bomber the spin-homeopath’s predictions that David Cunliffe was the second coming of Marx, the Left would deserve to die for the crime of hilarious inaccuracy alone. But there are dozens for fantastic writers with sharp analysis waiting at the margins of the New Zealand Left; they just need to be given more platforms. Hopefully people who run leftist media outlets will seek out and find ways to amplify these non-male, non-white voices and to fairly compensate them for their work.
Anne Russell is a writer with an interest in the politics of intimacy.