May 5, 2020

Anger and me

The fight to protect women's rights in the UK against incursions from well-embedded trans activist organizations is a brutal and bruising one. As you probably know if you're reading this, when you're in the fight, you're buffeted by negative emotion a lot of the time, for various reasons.

Since becoming involved, I've mostly tried to keep some of the more dramatic aspects of my own personality out of the public eye. It's not because I'm a Buddha-like sage - pretty much anyone who knows me, knows that's not true. Partly I've been constrained by the professional role I have as employee, carried out under the glare of colleagues who (literally) send my tweets to my line manager. But I've also thought there was a contribution to be made by talking calmly in public through the issues, using my academic skillset -and that's what I usually try to do. At times, though, I fail and snap, particularly when I'm feeling exhausted or cornered.

Lately I've tried to get into the habit of examining why some criticisms make me angrier than others.  Sometimes it's because I'm being unfairly accused of something false - sometimes distortions or outright lies, either from trans activists or other feminists -  and I know that some will believe the falsehoods true. At other times, though, it's because deep down I fear the critics are right in what they're saying. It's easier to get angry than admit this. Anger's a brilliant anaesthetic.

Sometimes I get angry, I've painfully realised, because I'm projecting onto other people things I don't like about myself.  Chances are, if someone really gets under your skin, you're responding to aspects of them, or projected aspects, that remind you of stuff you really can't stand to look at in your own personality. Jung called that "Shadow": the unconscious bit of your psyche where all the stuff you've been made to feel terrible about over the years, rightly or wrongly, goes to play.

Lately I got angry with some named and anonymous people on Twitter about their responses to a celebrity's book endorsement. And then quite a lot of people got angry with me, which is fair enough*. I'm sorry that my tweets made people feel bad. I shouldn't have tweeted like I did. A small voice told me that the time, and I didn't listen. While I still think it's not that strategic for large groups of gender-critical people to angrily bait celeb tweets that have nothing to do with trans issues, and that it's good to let people change their minds, I think the extent of my own irritation probably shows me that I'm not that comfortable with people changing their minds myself, but don't want to recognize this. So it's easier for me to feel righteous and condemn others for it.

Twitter being twitter, the whole issue then morphed into a completely different one, about anons in particular, which hurt yet more people I respect. I want to make it clear my own tweets were not about that. I was angry with  anons and names, including, to be completely honest,  a very prominent male name who I otherwise get on well with.  I have no particular gripe with anons. The opposite actually - I am positively in love with a lot of the anons that follow me, as they are an army of well-informed, tenacious arguers who take on my twitter critics, calmly  but firmly making the case for women's rights and the reality of sex, often in the face of hostility. Their energy and knowledge base is amazing. I regularly thank my stars for them out loud, as without them, I think I really would go mad. I  fully understand the reasons why some people can only fight this battle as an anon. The only time I'm likely to mention anonymity critically is when it's somebody using it to be unnecessarily personal, or to cause hurt or chaos, as a few will always do.

I've always loved Aristotle's words: "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." This post is partly to admit I don't find it easy. Sometimes anger can be appropriate and powerful, but more often it's to protect the person who's angry from seeing things they don't want to see. In that case it's just destructive and pointlessly sets off more reactive anger.

One of the gripes about me and some other academics that has been making me angry for a while now is that we really want to be "leaders". I'm currently in conversation with my Shadow about whether that's true. But consciously, at least, I don't see myself as a central figure in feminism, compared to the women that do the real work: organizing, running refuges and programmes, politically campaigning about VAWG, launching lawsuits, and so on. As I've already said on Twitter, partly to prove  - at least, to myself - that I don't want to be a leader, I've decided to step back from speaking at general feminist meetings in the future. I think I've had a decent moment in the sun, and am grateful for it.

I've no illusion that this will persuade people out there for whom I'm not their cup of tea (partly because I say things like "for whom"). In fact for some of them it will be proof that I'm even more annoying/pious/narcissistic {.....complete your own insult.....} than they originally even thought. I'm not writing this to win them over, or to pull "the movement" together. You'll think what you'll think. I don't really find  talk of "the movement" helpful anyway. It makes people (yes! OK!, me!) feel they can't say things out of line with the group, which then, over time, builds up and comes out later as fury.

Feminist activism is notorious for chaotic dynamics, and there's no reason why the 2020 version should be any different. Group dynamics and group aggression can be powerful things. People can get dragged into behaviours they don't fully understand themselves, and look back afterwards with total confusion about how they got there.  Although I am in no way telling you what to think, I fully recommend you listen to this outstanding, compassionate, wise podcast from This Jungian Life about "The Scapegoat" if you are in the mood to understand a bit more. It talks about Shadow, scapegoating, outgrouping, and other stuff I am mentioning for absolutely no reason whatsoever. In meantime, I will be steering clear of chaos-merchants for self-protection, logging off when I get angry and asking myself why, writing my book, and doing other bits and pieces that I think are useful. See you around.


*One of my tweets used the word "folk devils", which I had read on twitter only a day before, and thought sounded cool and clever. I now realize that wasn't my best move. I tweeted something like: "if I could get the baiting of these GC folk devils out of my feed, I would". I meant the regular baiting of Alice Roberts, Jameela Jamil, Billy Bragg, etc. (I get tagged into quite a lot of that stuff: people shouting at Alice Roberts when she mentions that such-and-such happened, and then a man did such-and-such "HOW DO YOU KNOW HE'S A MAN?" Again, my Shadow probably wishes it was up right there doing it too). So I wasn't calling anons "devils" or "folk devils". I meant more like "people-GCs-love-to-hate".  Happy to clear that up and very sorry for the confusion.