Does identity politics have a rape problem?

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The following article was submitted for publication on the condition that the author’s identity not be divulged. Obviously, I will respect this person’s request to remain anonymous, as I have with the individuals who leaked internal ISO bulletins about allegations of sexual misconduct allegations against one of its members. “Who I am is not important,” the author wrote to me, “since I could be anyone who has been paying close enough attention to Twitter.”

While Twitter social justice activists do not necessarily belong to the organized Left, at least as traditionally defined, I’ve posted articles in the past about intersectionality and identity politics and some of its most visible proponents (Flavia Dzodan and Suey Park). In that vein, I publish this here fully aware that it does not necessarily invalidate any of these approaches to politics. At the very least, it calls for critical reflection and theoretical digestion.

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Twitter, social justice, and hypocrisy

Case of a cover-up

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Model View Culture
(MVC) describes itself as an “independent media platform,” a euphemism for silicon valley tech blog and print magazine. Arguably, MVC is the most popular publisher out there among the so-called Twitter “social justice” crowd. Under the banner of “Technology, Culture, and Diversity Media,” it feature writers like Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), l’Nasah Crockett (@so_treu), Sydette Harry (@Blackamazon), and of course, Suey Park (@suey_park) — all big stars in the world of Twitter Social Justice.

Part of MVC’s appeal is that it’s still small enough to be niche, but big enough to garner donations from wealthy individuals like Anil Dash.

The website is tireless in its defense of the legitimacy and viability of internet discourse as an agent of social change, while also (paradoxically) decrying the sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. that pervades it with equal fervor. In the past, MVC has run articles such as “In Defense of Twitter Feminism,” “The #TwitterEthics Manifesto,” and “Hashtags as Decolonial Projects with Radical Origins,” all of which received a fair amount of attention on social media. Currently “‘Raving Amazons’: Antiblackness and Misogynoir in Social Media” is getting a lot of traction.

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Shanley Kane, MVC CEO

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But MVC saves space for more concrete shop-talk, as well. For instance, there are industry updates like “Five Good Things Happening in Venture Capital,” a neat little listicle composed by company CEO and frequent contributor Shanley Kane.

Kane’s résumé is too mired in corporate techie jargon for me to decipher, but here she can be seen giving a “TED talk”-style presentation entitled “Scaling Product ‘Management’: Keeping Roadmaps, Estimation, and Self-Delusion from Destroying Your Company.”

Back in June, she was profiled by Elizabeth Spiers on Medium. Though she’d originally consented to the story, Kane decided at some point that it was actually a covert exposé and hit piece designed to damage her reputation. She therefore preemptively accused Medium of stalking and harassment. Unsurprisingly, piece they did end up going with revealed Kane’s erratic behavior and overwhelming animosity towards the press. Nothing further than this was “exposed,” however.

This might give the reader the false impression there is nothing to expose.
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shanley Kane

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Dana McCallum, celebrity SJW

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A brief detour is necessary before continuing with this narrative.

On April 11th, multiple outlets — including Valleywag and San Francisco Examiner — reported that charges had been brought against Senior Twitter Engineer Dana McCallum. She was released on $350,000 bail for a total of five felonies: three counts of spousal rape (the alleged victim is her ex-wife), one count of false imprisonment, and one count of domestic violence. Her lawyer insists the claims are baseless, of course, accusing McCallum’s ex-wife of crying rape in the hope that she can get a cash settlement. “Dana’s an employee [at Twitter] and is about to come into a large amount of money,” he explained, charmingly adding that “[t]his whole thing is about money.”

Poor, persecuted rich people. As for social cachet, McCallum is a trans woman, LGBTQ advocate, and a much sought-after voice on women in tech. She also has the uncommon distinction of having “served as a delegate on women’s issues in India.”

McCallum was also until recently a writer at Model View Culture. Prior to her arrest, she authored a widely-circulated piece on intersectionality as exclusive content for MVC. It was later featured in the first printed issue of the magazine. You wouldn’t know any of this by looking through their website, of course, because Model View Culture swept McCallum under the rug as soon as allegations were made public. Her profile and original articles were deleted without comment or controversy. The issue was never addressed; she was simply scrubbed from existence.

Advocates for “social justice” on Twitter are well known for their demands of accountability. MVC even devoted an entire issue to the subject of abuse. But when it came to holding someone from its own milieu accountable, the brand proved more important than anything else.

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Where’s the accountability?

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The social justice Twitterverse is still largely in the dark about this, I’d imagine. But there’s no way the tech “community” didn’t know about this. Sarah Jeong, for example, travels in both circles. She reads Valleywag, is well aware of Model View Culture, and had at least some rapport with McCallum. Despite her frequent overtures to women’s safety, Jeong is seemingly disinclined to speak out about the incident.

Here we see clearly the inherent hypocrisy of the Twitter Social Justice Warrior. Even if Model View Culture is not identical with the community as a whole, it is no doubt a product of its growth over the last few years. McCallum was presented as a poster child for identity politics, as a successful (wealthy silicon valley) trans* woman. Serious allegations were made, and instead of being transparent and discussing it openly — the behavior they’d expect of any other community — we covered it up.

Was it because of the potential backlash the trans* community might suffer from radical feminists whose “women-only” spaces are exclusively cis? Doesn’t the imperative to “believe the victim” apply here? Asking these questions to myself, I’m left with more questions than answers. One thing is for certain, though: without a forthright discussion of these questions, there is little hope of resolving them.

Conclusion

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“Social Justice Warriors” on Twitter argue for safe spaces, but cannot create them. Generally, I’d prefer not to discuss issues like this outside of explicitly feminist circles. The only reason I’m writing here is because online feminism is clearly not a “safe space” to voice dissent, and at least here I know my anonymity will be protected. No political institution exists from which standards of accountability or transparency can be developed. All that exists is simply a community held together by a vague aspiration to combat oppression and a need to relentlessly purge and attack.

Impossible standards of purity are set for thought and behavior, paralyzing discourse. And yet Social Justice Warriors themselves can’t meet with even the most basic standards required for solidarity. Whenever the unofficial leaders are called out, fingers always point elsewhere looking to place the blame.

16 thoughts on “Does identity politics have a rape problem?

  1. Reblogged this on BIMing Argentina and commented:
    Impossible standards of purity are set for thought and behavior, paralyzing discourse. And yet Social Justice Warriors themselves can’t meet with even the most basic standards required for solidarity. Whenever the unofficial leaders are called out, fingers always point elsewhere looking to place the blame.

  2. http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/dana-mccallum-male-senior-twitter-programmer-and-self-proclaimed-transgender-woman-charged-with-three-felony-counts-of-rape/#comments

    This has been well documented in the rad fem blogs. Seems more and more people who think of themselves as ‘on the left’ and rooted in traditional discourses of power, identity and ‘liberation’ are now finding themselves seemingly at the wrong end of what’s (supposedly) subversive and radical.

    I’m no rad fem but the lure of a return to the critical thinking we enjoyed prior to this cavalcade of chronic narcissism is becoming quite insistent. Who knows, the next move might be a union of the rad fems and the Marxists, stranger things have happened.

  3. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following the world of left wing politics and media activism for some time. Hypocrisy rules, accountability & critical self-reflection are big no-no’s. No wonder regular people avoid this milieu like the plague.

  4. “Internet discourse as an agent of social change”, that’s just ridiculous beyond measure. Very near to extreme idealism that holds one can control the material world through the mind alone.

  5. I appreciate you publishing this. It is important information. There is, however, one sentence that really bothers me:

    “Was it because of the potential backlash the trans* community might suffer from radical feminists whose “women-only” spaces are exclusively cis?”

    1. Women expressing outrage at a male rapist is NOT “backlash.” It is righteous anger; it is totally justified. Please don’t call it a “backlash.” I’m sure all these lefty dude types deeply FEAR the radical feminist community, but radfems do not have any social authority nor access to media outlets. Further, aside from Valeria Solanas, radical feminists are not know for their physical violence. So what is there to be afraid of?? Seriously. What?

    2. “”Women-only” spaces are exclusively cis?”

    The term cis doesn’t make political sense for reasons I have detailed elsewhere, but in this particular example: where most (all?) radical feminists do not “identify” positively with the “gender” assigned to females at birth, how could radical feminists possibly BE “cis?” And are butch lesbians “cis?” Because butch lesbians and other non-feminine females are very welcome in women-only spaces. Let’s think about what is being said here, please! Critical thinking. The variable that determines inclusion versus exclusion is not gender non-conformity, it is socialization from birth. Obviously.
    Additionally, putting “women-only” in scare quotes is an obvious attempt to suggest that the basis of these “women-only” spaces is not legit. ! Radical feminists seek to control for and exclude male privilege in their “women-only” spaces, both internalized and externalized male privilege. It is perfectly rational for any group of people to want to gather around the basis of their oppression– in the case of women, it is being assigned the sex-based social role “girl” at birth. There is no need for scare quotes.

    • “Was it because of the potential backlash the trans* community might suffer from radical feminists whose “women-only” spaces are exclusively cis?”

      1. Women expressing outrage at a male rapist is NOT “backlash.” It is righteous anger; it is totally justified. Please don’t call it a “backlash.”

      You misread/misunderstand what is being said here. This is not about outrage at a male rapist. It is outrage that trans* people, formerly men, have taken from certain segments of the feminist population, known as TERFs. Look it up.

      • Also, your second point also signifies a misunderstanding of what is being said. The reason “women-only” is in quotes is because that is how TERFs refer to these spaces. The quotation marks are not a means to undermine the legitimacy of the category, but to shed some doubt on those most likely to wield it (TERFs).

      • Hi, did you write this article or are you speaking for the author? I don’t need to “look it up.” I know the “TERF” position very well. You clearly wish to dispute the political legitimacy of female-only space and/or girl-role-assigned-at-birth-only space. The question is: on what basis do you dispute it?

        Reducing “women” to a subjective identity that is divorced from material and historical reality renders it meaningless. Being a woman is not a spiritual or metaphysical experience. It is not a feeling and it is not a performative utterance. Being a woman is a lived experience with material consequences.

        If women have no reason to congregate because they have nothing in common and “woman” is a mere identity that ANYone can choose for themselves, how does a transwoman KNOW she is a “woman?” It is circular reasoning.

        Deconstructing and fighting oppression requires understanding how it works. Subjective identity/self-labeling is not the basis on which sex/gender oppression is built.
        Please do not call women who value women-only space TERFs. It makes no sense.

  6. I have no idea how I got on this page, and also have no idea what I just read. Not quite sure what a ‘cis’ is… I think it has something to do with orientation… about a double bond in a hydrocarbon?

    Either way, lets hope for an end to sexual violence. Was that what this was about? I saw rape in there a few times, but I’m not positive. For all your talk about the techie jargon in Shandy’s resume, I had a bit of a hard time deciphering yours.

    While the feminist/LGBT movement tries so hard to fight so hard for inclusionary policy, my time at one of the most liberal educational institutions in America left me scratching my head. I oftentimes felt like I was compelled to support causes built upon railing against my own ‘mainstream’ culture, and if I did not, I was ‘part of the problem’. Like this article, I could never understand the message that was even being conveyed, as it was wrapped in esoteric trade-speak some post-doc likely coined in a dissertation.

    tl;dr:
    The feminist movement is impossible to understand.

  7. Pingback: Conundrums | astound me: D.A. Krolak

  8. Straight-White-Male-Engineering-Type, you should understand that just as engineers like us use jargon for very valid reasons, so too do social justice activists. Are you so arrogant to think that there is no body of knowledge or meaningful discourse there, and thus no need to innovate with language? “Cis” means “not transgendered”, by the way.

    There are social justice activists who communicate in a way that is obfuscated by the language of postmodernism, but this post is definitely not an example of that. I found it almost completely comprehensible (except for the line “No political institution exists from which standards of accountability or transparency can be developed”, which I didn’t understand). Perhaps you just need to do a little more reading.

  9. Pingback: Conundrums | astound me: D.A. Królak

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