6th 2010
Why blogs suck

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, race, unhappy endings, wankers, women's history


The always-controversial feminist theologian Mary Daly died a few days ago.  Word spread through the feminist blogosphere, and eventually obits ran in major media outlets.  Melissa McEwan’s Shakesville, a vital feminist blog I read and link to (and which occasionally links to me) ran a brief obit and appreciation of her career.  In the fourth comment, someone wrote, “Honestly I am somewhat happy [to hear of her death] considering the transphobic bigotry of hers that I have read.”  Four comments after that, McEwan said she wasn’t aware of Daly’s transphobic bigotry, and said that it was totally OK to discuss it in the thread but please refrain from dancing on her grave.  McEwan then added an “update” to her post that “Daly’s work was unfortunately marred by a streak of transphobia. Wikipedia summarizes its emergence in her work, including her assertion in Gyn/Ecologythat transgender people are “Frankensteinian.” While we want to honor her contributions to feminist thought, we also want to note the limitations of her brand of feminism, which deemed some women monstrous, a view that Shakesville endeavors quite fervently to counter. Cait and Shaker just_some_trans_guy also note she was challenged on her racism as well.” 

Well, of course that lengthy apologia for someone else’s opinions wasn’t enough.  Did any of the very opinionated commenters who were so very concerned about Daly’s transphobia offer quotations, or, you know, any actual evidence of her grave sins against humanity?  (I mean, aside from citing Wikipedia?)  Did anyone do what Mary Daly herself did her whole life–commit scholarship by citing evidence, chapter and verseNo–instead of indicating that they had ever read anything Daly wrote or any level of familiarity with her work, people got angry about one small part of Daly’s writings, and then immediately assumed bad faith not just on Mary Daly’s part but on the part of McEwan, and they accused McEwan of being ignorant because she should know absolutely every detail about Daly’s supposed sins against the trans community before she dare acknowledge the woman’s death.  Don’t you just looooove the blogosphere?

I haven’t read enough of Daly to offer an opinion one way or the other, and I certainly don’t know enough to put any transphobic passages in her writing into the larger context of her career.  She may have been a horrible, raging transphobic racist.  She may have also been a white cis-woman of her generation–and as readers who are familiar with the history of feminism know, it’s a movement that has been rent from the start by race and class, and in the mid-twentieth century, it was rent as well by sexuality and transgender issues.  I realize that blogs are not scholarship–not even blogs like this one that are written by scholars.  But, it’s so easy to get outraged and leap to fantastic assumptions about the motives and politics and personal lives of bloggers and other commenters, whereas it takes some actual effort to know authoritatively what you’re talking about.

Go ahead.  Read the whole thread.  It’s a fantastic blueprint for derailing a blog thread that was supposed to be about an important figure in modern intellectual history.  It’s almost as if an antifeminist troll posing as someone concerned about trans women engineered the whole thing–because it shut down any fuller consideration of Daly or testimonies about her career as a scholar.  I guess all of those non-trans women who concerned Daly don’t have any problems or issues worth considering today.

Is there any other major social justice movement whose leaders and intellectuals are expected to speak for everyone and be everything to absolutely everyone all the time?  Or is it just us girls who are expected to take care of everyone and make sure that no one ever feels excluded, ever, from any conversation about feminism anywhere at any time?

UPDATE, 1/7/10:  See Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville today responding to some of the issues raised by the comments thread described above, and on her vision for the Shakesville community.


64 Responses to “Why blogs suck”

  1. Christen on 06 Jan 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Daly’s death hasn’t even made it on all the prominant feminist blogs. Feministe only just posted something today, and naturally the first comment is about how the post was “waayyy too easy” on Daly.

  2. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 1:35 pm #


    I thought that Notorious Ph.D.’s post was very good, and the discussion there was reasonable and interesting. (Even that thread has its problems, though, as you will see.)

  3. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    I just read that Feministe post. It’s hillarious that the first commenter accused the author, Jill, of being “too easy” on Daly, when the whole post is basically, “she was really important in her day, but everyone thinks she sucks now and is embarassed by her.”

    Again, I realize that blogs are not peer reviewed scholarship, but if feminists aren’t going to bother to give Daly her due without all of the apologizing, what’s the point?

  4. Christen on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    I enjoyed the post on Notorious PhD, and I thought Violet at Reclusive Leftist had a great post as well. (I can’t get the link at the moment, because her site is blocked for me at work).

    Things like this are weaknesses in the third wave, I think. We have a lack of deeper analysis like that of Daly’s, so we apparently (as a group) can’t respond and build upon her work with anything but apologies and defensiveness.

  5. thefrogprincess on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    Very interesting. I’m not familiar with Daly’s work and because of the issues and beliefs that I hold most dear, I’m more inclined to fall on the side of those worried about transphobia. Not because I think the author of the original post did anything wrong but because I think it’s important to keep groups even more marginalized in mind. But seriously…don’t derail a blog when you don’t have evidence at hand to muster up even a passably weak argument. All those people, all those hours, not one passage from an article or book? So not okay.

  6. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Exactly my point, thefrogprincess–people who have no expertise and offer nothing but a complaint wind up driving the discussion. Unfortunately, when I started this blog I sometimes fell into that trap of catering to commenters who were just jerks. I’ve discovered that the wider community of readers and commenters appreciates it when I lay the hammer down on a problem commenter.

    Thanks for the tip Christen–Violet’s post on Daly is here.

  7. Roxie on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    All the women in Roxie’s World, living and dead, are with you on this one, Historiann, especially the two questions in your righteous final paragraph. Don’t we also have to acknowledge, however, that the safe space ethos to which Shakesville is so strenuously committed also encourages precisely this kind of trashing of someone who is found to be ideologically suspect, even if that someone doesn’t have the privilege of living in our own ideologically pure and perfect moment? (I kid, of course, about our moment. I think, for example, that the president of the United States may not be ideologically pure or perfect, but I digress.) We heart Shakesville and click over there all the time, but we’ve grown reluctant to comment for fear of giving offense to anyone’s sense of what safe space or safe speech is. It’s too easy to cross a line that feels pretty arbitrary to me, and I think the Daly thread shows the arbitrariness of the line and the kinds of problems it creates (though we actually haven’t read the thread). It’s apparently OK to gang up on a dead feminist who risked her career to take on the misogyny of the Catholic church and other institutions, perhaps because unchecked claims and lack of attention to history don’t wound any of the in-crowd. Maybe you should start issuing trigger warnings in comments over there: Warning: Bad History Ahead.

  8. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Thanks, Roxie–we’re indeed on the same wavelength if not on the same plane of existence.

    My post is mostly about the ease with which feminist conversations are derailed by commenters. But you raise interesting questions about the community over at Shakesville.

    I really admire the Shakers’ commitment to being open and safe for all, etc. But this fracas illustrates one of the risks of elevating inclusion above all. (I think it’s also something that’s more prone to happen on a group or multi-author blog–whereas our blogs are likelier to say, “I yam what I yam, take it or leave it.”) I’m not suggesting that their struggle for inclusion is a bad one–I think it’s very worthy. But as you suggest, by being so inclusive of all, it may foreclose or limit the conversations. And, I do wonder the extent to which feminist blogs are either under pressure (or put pressure on themselves) to be inclusive above all, as opposed to other issues or advocacy blogs. (IOW, is this a “girl thing?” Why can’t we tell some commenters that we don’t want to play with them?)

  9. Emily R. on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    I don’t know as much about Daly as I should, but I don’t think it’s just “us girls” who are held to that kind of standard. In my anecdotal experience, it seems as if gay male historical figures are often held to a higher critical standard than straight men with regard to sexism and transphobia. As a woman who studies gay men, I’ve sometimes been told that anti-feminist or at the very least inexplicable for me to focus on a group that has not always been receptive to feminism, but that strikes me as just as unreasonable and disproportionate a response as discounting Daly’s contributions to feminism because of the concern about transphobia. Transphobia is reprehensible, but not enough reason to discount someone’s relevance to the evolution of ideas about feminism and feminist theory.

  10. A on 06 Jan 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Re: Emily R. and the idea of “playing well with others” – one of the arguments against feminism (both formal and informal) that I frequently come across, and am deeply frustrated by, is that “real” feminism – that is to say, to support gender equality – is really just humanism, and that therefore criticisms of men/patriarchy are antithetical to the ethos of feminism (a circular argument indeed.) This is an argument that has only ever been made to me by cis, white, middle-class men btw. While I don’t think that the idea that feminism should play well with everyone is a “girl thing,” I do think that it is a charge disproportionately leveled against feminism – although I am not sure why …

  11. mandor on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    Over on a non-feminist website, the discussion of post about Daly quickly turned into a few dudes talking about how horrible she was to men by not allowing them in her courses. And an argument that women are favored in academia. Poor men!

    My mother was reading a lot of Daly when I was still a wee one in Catholic school and I can see now how her writings influenced the way my she would discuss the church with me, especially when I’d be bothered about being told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. In retrospect, it also probably had something to do with my campaign to play Jesus in the 7th Easter pageant. I’ll always remember how apologetic my teacher was about not letting me do it–he basically said he couldn’t because he’d get in trouble with the school. I considered it a small victory that he at least took me seriously.

  12. Poe on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    I’m not sure that what happened there is a function of the blog-o-sphere. It unfortunately reminded me of my Women’s Studies classes in the late ’80s and early ’90s – where the modus operandi too often was, “Let’s rip apart this particular theorist and demonstrate how she [almost invariably] ignores, overlooks, or just plain trashes some other (more) oppressed group.” I have more bad memories of women’s studies than I do of any other discipline or discourse because of things like that. Two things strike me: (1) I wonder if the “total” analysis that this intellectual aggression calls for is not impossible? I remember the emergence of the “etc.” phenomenon (race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), which always struck me as a rhetorical (or what Michelle le Doeuf would call an imaginary) way to paper over the theoretical impossibility of describing, let alone analyzing, the totality of all social positions (and all oppressions) within any one social formation. (2) I think these folks need to think more carefully about the position of enunciation. In this immediate speech situation, they are “speaking for” and “speaking as” one oppressed group; but the end result – coopting the discussion and silencing the original poster (or requiring her repeated and abject apologies, which to my mind ended up being the same thing) – indicates to me a fundamental gap between their position of enunciation – one of great power (manifested as hostility), instead of one great oppression. For me this is a place where the ethics of speech – or of writing – needs to intervene within feminist politics.

    The whole thread just left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.

  13. Roxie on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Well, of course, Shakesville does tell commenters “we don’t want to play with them” — Jerks and trolls are banned there all the time, and rightly so. I’d go nuts trying to manage the large-scale conversations going on there while trying to maintain such a strong commitment to safety. As you say, it’s a worthy goal, but I do worry about foreclosing and limiting conversations, which feels related to me to what you observed in the Daly thread. I am not defending Daly’s imputed transphobia (and have no idea whether that charge is valid or not), but I am troubled that such a charge, unsupported, becomes a way of dismissing a whole career and body of work — and, really, a whole moment in feminism. That seems every bit as serious to me as some of the verbal gaffes that end up with people being publicly shamed for supposed crimes against safety. Blogs are under no obligation to be free-speech zones: You come into my space, you play by my rules. Fine. But one woman’s safety is another woman’s coercion. The desire to maintain one’s place in the community can’t help but lead to a self-censorship that might make it hard to reply to the kind of trashing that seems to have taken place in the Daly thread.

    Does that make sense and speak to your point here? I don’t mean to hijack your thread, friend!

  14. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    I really admire the Shakers’ commitment to being open and safe for all, etc. But this fracas illustrates one of the risks of elevating inclusion above all.

    My impression is that disingenuous vandals know this about Shakesville and they exploit it for the express purpose of ginning up derailing blog storms.

  15. thefrogprincess on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    In response to Poe, it strikes me that there is a difference between demanding that feminist scholarship analyze all groups and questioning instances of actual homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, etc. The latter seems to me to be important at all times and, had the commentators over at Shakesville been of good faith, they would have presented concrete citations and the appropriate context and critiqued the thought (not necessarily the person).

  16. Poe on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Of course, frogprincess – I agree with you 100%. But what I was responding to was how the criticisms of Daly (which I cannot substantiate – it has been almost two decades since I read her work) slid into criticisms of the OP – and the primary criticism (or should I say insult?) of the latter seemed to be based on the assumption that not mentioning something translates into -phobia. And that’s the conflation to which I object.

  17. Moria on 06 Jan 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Cylons, one and all.

  18. thefrogprincess on 06 Jan 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Ah, yes, Poe. I completely agree.

  19. SocProf on 06 Jan 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Geez, how many times did Melissa have to apologize? And then, the guy who closes the thread apologizes as well. This is just ridiculous. This why I read POSTS over at Shakesville every day but NEVER the comments and never comment because it’s like walking on to a minefield.

    Blogs suck or not depending on content and authors. But blog commentariat if often awful in a lot of places.

    And this reminded be of the whole Brown Femi Power / Amanda Marcotte controversy.

  20. Emma on 06 Jan 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    There’s no interest in getting to the truth about Mary Daly. The trans fracases (fraci?) that keep popping up on feminist blog after feminist blog are the personification of oppression olympics. Trans persons are “more” oppressed than women? Really? Quantify that, please. And it would be nice if people didn’t make up entire “histories” of trans people throughout time, a la Leslie Feinberg, to support the quantification.

    Every trans fracas on the feminist blogosphere revolves around the allegation that trans person are being “denied” entry into “womanhood” by some made up category called “cis-women”. If you ask me, being kept out of someplace you want to be because of your sex is the definition of womanhood. Welcome to it. You’re there!

    And I don’t see that being denied the opportunity to define yourself and your space is somehow worse when it’s “cis-women” doing it to trans women than when it’s trans ideology doing it to “cis-women”. For example, did I give anybody permission to define me as a “cis-woman”? Did anybody ask if I define myself as a “cis-woman”? No I didn’t, no anybody didn’t, and no I don’t. But now I’m somehow ineluctably the uber-privileged “cis-woman” against whom the forces of ideological purity must be arrayed.

  21. Feminist Avatar on 06 Jan 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    As much as I try, I can’t get Adam Smith or JJ Rousseau’s entire body of work discredited, despite them both being racist, classist, misogynist pricks- so why are women and feminists, in particular, who make one mistake (which are very much products of a historical moment) swept from the intellectual plain? In a different forum, I might IBTP.

  22. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    Wow–thanks everyone. I was out dealing with family business and sliding around in my crappy car on blowing snow and ice, but clearly everything here was hopping along just fine!

    I had no idea that this post might resonate with so many of you. (Yes, Roxie–that’s exactly what I was getting at, to answer your question above.)

    I too have wondered, like CPP, whether or not people on some feminist blogs were on the level or whether they were intentionally trying to provoke or derail a conversation. (Those of us who posted on Judith Bennett’s book last spring dealt with this in the comments threads back then.)

    Poe and Emma both get at something that has bothered me about the policing with respect to trans people. While I would be thrilled if most trans women identified as feminists, it strikes me as a kind of overweening privilege to demand that their concerns are central, and that discussions of feminism that don’t specifically include them are somehow illegitimate.

    For example, I have used the term “XX-chromosome women” to identify a particular subset of humanity, and I’ve been criticized here because of the supposed cis-privilege that term suggests. I get that–and I fully realize that there are lots of people whose chromosomes don’t line up XX even if they’ve been girls or women all their lives. But, I adopted the term to get away from generalized discussions about “gender” in the historical profession that it seemed to me were increasingly leaving out women. (That is, evoking “gender” has become a strategy for nodding to gender and sexuality studies, but not actually having to include actual women.) The point I was trying to make was that *women* in history still are under researched and that there’s a lot more work to be done–and that saying the magic word “gender” won’t get us off the hook.

    So, I’m wary of feminism having to police itself so aggressively now for transphobia and trans-exclusive language, when as Poe suggests, these demands appear to be wrapped in an attitude of (former?) privilege.

  23. Kathleen Lowrey on 06 Jan 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    hee hee feminist avatar. you are funny :)

  24. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Kathleen is right–FA is Hi-larious! Sorry to have neglected to comment on that. (I take it that you agree with me, FA, that it’s girl work to be so inclusive and apologetic all of the time.

  25. Feminist Avatar on 06 Jan 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    I must apologise if my above comment, despite provoking hilarity, was not appropriately inclusive. ;)

    On a more serious note, I do wonder whether the need for women to be inclusive is an attack on our right to have boundaries- to say no. I mean we can barely establish our rights to bodily autonomy (no, I don’t want my body to be ‘inclusive’ of everbody, thanks), which is seen in debates over sexual consent (which you’d think should be a no-brainer). So, why should other forums- our political thought, our blogs, be any different?

  26. Historiann on 06 Jan 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    FA–I think you’re right. I’ve written about boundaries and bullying commenters on feminist blogs before. It’s chronic.

    This is why I think CPP may be onto something with his suggestion that it was a troll infestation.

  27. Lalaroo on 06 Jan 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Well, I don’t think it was a troll infestation. Nueva_voz and xpanasonicyouthx may have been trolls (because they were the harshest/least rational and I didn’t recognize their names), but I recognized most of the other names as long-time commenters. Just_some_trans_guy is not a troll, neither is KiriAmaya or CaitieCat. I don’t have a lot to say about the topic of this post, as I’m not familiar with Daly’s work and I don’t have any coherent thoughts about the way that Shakesville thread went down, other than to say that the two commenters who said that Liss was obvs not a trans ally were out of line. And citations of Daly’s transphobia/racism would have been nice. AND, it seems like the commentariat were less able to take a nuanced view of Daly than they were to take a nuanced view of Ted Kennedy. So make of that what you will.

  28. Paul S. on 06 Jan 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    I’ll play devil’s advocate here and suggest that feminist blogs aren’t necessarily singled out for trolling or unreasonable expectations of including everyone. I think that’s a pretty widespread phenomenon throughout the internet, especially with anything that is in any way connected with politics. Some people see any expression of an opposing political viewpoint on a blog or in a comment as a big waving red cape that they just can’t resist charging at. I’ve seen the same tactics that are mentioned here in other contexts – asserting that because [person A] once said or wrote something that is morally objectionable, therefore [person A] must be wrong about everything; asserting that anyone who agrees with anything that [person A] said must share any negative prejudices that [person A] might have once expressed; asserting that anyone who focuses on a particular issue of concern must not care at all about other other issues that are more important to other people.

    I know a little bit about this because I used to do it myself during a bad streak when I loved to pick fights about political issues on a couple of other forums that I frequented. Then I realized that I wasn’t accomplishing anything except looking like a jerk.

    I do think that it’s quite possible, even likely, that men are more likely to engage in this sort of behavior. If a lot of women are still raised with the message that they should be “inclusive” and avoid taking strong sides, I suspect that a lot of men are raised with the opposite message – that simply listening to people that one disagrees with and not immediately contradicting them is weak and even cowardly.

  29. SocProf on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Not totally unrelated: http://stopavatarmovie.blogspot.com/2009/12/december-18-2009-international-day-of.html

  30. Frankenstein, Necrophilia, and The Final Solution: How Transphobic Was Mary Daly, Really? « Kittywampus on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    [...] 7, 2010 by Sungold Historiann is wondering if there’s solid evidence that Mary Daly actually was transphobic. After a food-fight erupted in comments on Shakesville’s post, “RIP Mary Daly,” [...]

  31. Buster on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    Just in, NYT does a fair, if belated, job with Daly’s obit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/education/07daly.html

  32. Sungold on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Historiann, I’m totally with you on the way “safe space” can be turned in to ways to shame and silence. I don’t post there, though I read Melissa’s work (and that of a few other regulars, including CaitieCat, who’s trans) regularly and enthusiastically.

    That comment thread was initially derailed by the dancer-on-the-grave, but what made it really ugly was the entrance of Voz. She may sometimes have a legitimate gripe, but she’s so nasty that it’s hard to know. And no, this isn’t the “tone” argument – I’m talking about basic civility and learning to express anger in ways that aren’t just assholish.

    As to whether the charge of transphobia sticks – yep. With superglue. I took your post as a nudge to delve into Gyn/Ecology, and she doesn’t just compare trans folk with Frankenstein’s monster, she also associated them with a necrophilic plot to eliminate women from the world. Srsly.

    Now I know why I went to grad school – so when I’m snowed in, I can while away the hours writing posts like this on Mary Daly. (My original, kinder post emphasized a couple of her positive contribution to theology.)

  33. Emma on 06 Jan 2010 at 11:49 pm #

    This running around getting the vapors about Mary Daly is more than just a bit overdone.

    No “critiques” of Daly’s alleged transphobia ever attempt to place her work in the context of a patriarchial society that pushes GID and trans as the “solution” to women and men who don’t conform to patriarchal gender norms. The idea that women (and men) are trans because they’re not stereotypically feminine (or masculine) is an attack on women. And it’s an idea that has great currency in trans ideology and is thoroughly backed up by a patriarchal medical system that makes a good bit of money off of pathologizing gender non-conforming folks — including through backing trans ideology to the hilt even though there’s no evidence to support medical and surgical “treatments” for GID or trans identities. Medical and surgical “treatments”, by the way, that are starting to be given to children prior to puberty.

    Trans ideology and support for it from patriarchy and patriarchal medicine turns women into the trash heap of patriarchy: men who don’t measure up get turned into women and tossed out the door. (The same thing happens with feminine gay men.) Nobody ever asks, nobody bothers to inquire, why people are trans or what it means to be trans or what it means to be trans in a patriarchal society. (I’ve read and heard a lot of first person accounts and it sure sounds like a trauma response to me.) No, it’s much more productive, somehow, to heap vitriol on women for standing in the way of trans fulfillment.

  34. Digger on 06 Jan 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    The tension in feminist circles — the “we must celebrate how we are all different” vs. “we can’t get anything done because we are all not the same” is only making us run in circles! Were some of the facts in Gyn/Ecology incorrect? Yes (though I can’t quote examples at the moment, and it is entirely possible that she was using someone else’s incorrect info). Did she make transphobic statements? Taking Sungold’s search, yes. Do either of these make Gyn/Ecology a piece of total crap? I don’t think so. That’s just throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and the unpacking of that particular idiom in a feminist context will have to wait…)

    Basically, I’m agreeing with a lot of what’s already been said.

  35. Sweet Sue on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:39 am #

    Thank you and bless you, Historiann, for this post and Emma, your comments are brilliant.
    I don’t think intersectionalism is working out very well. Let every group have its own, respected liberation movement. Where the interests are truly mutual, we’ll come togerher in co-ordinated action.
    Shakesville is an interesting place. McEwan is a terrific writer but the blog is only a “safe place” if you specify your admiration-to a fatuous point-of the blogmistress, and agree enthusiastically with the groupthink, approved opinion.
    If you transgress, the resulting pile on and shaming remind me of nothing so much as a Maoist era show trial.
    The poor sinner has to recite one mea culpa after another, accusing herself of ever escalating delinquency.
    I’ve read regular commenters screaming at some helpless newbie who said something like “that was a lame excuse.”
    What’s safe about that?
    Oh, and I will never refer to myself or any other as “cis” anything.
    I really despise bullies.

  36. Knitting Clio on 07 Jan 2010 at 6:44 am #

    Hi Historiann,

    I’m glad you and Sungold have commented on this issue. This problem isn’t limited to blogs — I saw the same thing happen on WMST-L last year, only in that case it involved a living person whom I know very well and whose work I respect.

    Part of the problem is the lack of historical perspective. Daly’s early work was a product of its time — similar to the homophobia and racism in NOW and other mainstream feminist organizations. Women of color and LGBT theorists called them out on this and their views changed over time. Daly apparently also changed her views over time as well. That doesn’t seem to get acknowledged.

    I think folks need to give some thought to diversity among trans persons. For example, a few trans men have told me that trans women are not necessarily allies to either trans equality or feminism. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

  37. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 7:43 am #

    Thanks for all of your further thoughts overnight and this morning. Lalaroo–I should have said that not all people in that thread were trolling. (I read CatieCat’s posts, etc.–it is the two people you identify as the nasties that raised my suspicions.) It’s funny that you mentioned the obit on Ted Kennedy–I was wondering myself if I should go look in the archives to see how his death was handled by the commenters for comparison. Now, there’s a man who actually is responsible for a woman’s death, but as I recall, Melissa’s obit was much like mine, i.e., he was good on policy, too bad about the rest of his life.

    Sungold: thanks for doing the hard work of opening a book for us! (I don’t have any of Daly’s titles in my personal library.) As I recall, though, early trans people in the 1960s and 70s, when Daly was writing Gyn/Ecology, spouted a crapload of essentialist nonsense, which might explain in part the context of her comments on trans people. I think Emma raises a good point again about transitioning as a “solution” to gender queer people: there used to be a more vital feminist critique of sex changes, precisely because of the alliances made with allopathic medicine and the reification of traditional gender roles that transitioning seems to imply. (That is, if a man likes wearing pantyhose, then she must in fact be a woman, and endure risky surgeries to make the body comply.) This has fallen out of favor in the past twenty years, perhaps because of the rise of “choice” feminism (that is, if a woman makes a choice, any choice, it’s by definition a feminist choice.)

    KC makes a great point about the diversity among trans people, which is at least as great as the diversity among any group of people: not all women are feminists, and neither are trans men or women.

    As to Digger’s and Sweet Sue’s points about intersectionality and the inherent tensions between celebrating difference and arguing over difference–I don’t think we can say that intersectionality is a “failure.” I think it’s a fact, and we can either deal with it in productive (although probably never totally comprehensive and satisfactory to all) ways or not.

    My point in this post was to hightlight the ways in which blog discussions–particularly on feminist blogs–can go off the rails. Part of this is related to what Paul sees as the perils of the blogosphere as a whole–the tendency to stake out and defend to the death more extreme positions, and to assume bad faith on the part of your “foes,” for example. But part of it is very much about the mode of contemporary feminist discussions with an emphasis on inclusion, which can sometimes turn into an emphasis on not offending anyone, not even unreasonable people and/or trolls who are being intentionally provocative.

    I don’t in fact think that blogs “suck.” (I wrote that headline in a frustrated pique, when Melissa McEwan had apologized 10 times and amended the original “offending” post to boot, and she was still getting beaten up by people who presented no evidence of familiarity with Daly’s work.) I think that blogs can be great, but you get what you pay for, and a lot of writers and commenters are lazy and some of them just want to be jerks.

  38. Mary Daly not allowed to rest in peace « Knitting Clio on 07 Jan 2010 at 7:50 am #

    [...] on January 7, 2010. Filed under: Women's history, Women's Studies, politics | via : Historiann who comments on the shitsorm heated discussion in the comments section of an obituary for Mary Daly [...]

  39. Kathleen Lowrey on 07 Jan 2010 at 8:49 am #

    Emma — along the lines of what you are saying, it seems at least interesting that the nation with the second highest rate of gender reassignment surgery is Iran (the highest is Thailand), and for exactly the reasons you cite: being gender-nonconforming is not permitted, gender has to equal sex, so quite a few men face the official, mandated choice of either (1) punishment or (2) surgery. This really seems like an area in which today’s terrain might look strange in future (sort of in same way that some of Daly’s writings from the 70s now look definitely eek). It’s interesting that it seems kind of generational already — it’s the younger feminist blogs where this blows up again & again (both Feministe and Feministing have been subject to boycotts for being trans-phobic, and have published mea culpas but not — as far as I know — been forgiven).

  40. Rich on 07 Jan 2010 at 9:10 am #

    “Part of the problem is the lack of historical perspective. Daly’s early work was a product of its time — similar to the homophobia and racism in NOW and other mainstream feminist organizations.”

    That’s a mostly ahistorical perspective you’re offering there, though.

    Why doesn’t Amanda Marcotte’s book imagery of a white woman kicking and punching Black African men wearing “jungle” masks impugn ALL “third wave” feminism in the same way? White people were racist then, white people are racist NOW, and us splitting hairs about “Daly’s early work” as if it’s different than anyone running around right this instant and not part and parcel of the same thing is racist.

    Daly was a racist, I’m a racist (and misogynist), so are most of you on one account or another; that’s not an excuse, just a statement of fact. The only difference is that the only accusations of racism, or -isms in general, really taken seriously in our society are white on white accusations. Thus the accusations given the most credence, in my opinion, are the accusations against the women that white men like the least. So of course Daly is a worse person than feminists who think prostitution is fun for other women to engage in, etc.

    The only reason Lorde’s wikipedia entry is even remotely flattering is because she’s a convenient tool to use in the wikipedia entry against Daly; it’s not like white men go around reading Lorde and reforming our lives after her teachings.

  41. Rich on 07 Jan 2010 at 9:22 am #


    Lorde’s wikipedia entry omits her condemnation of BDSM.

    After all, she could be pointed out as a kinkphobe, someone who wants to punish people for their natural born inclinations (and it’s often argued that dominant and submissive roles are inherent and thus criticism is discrimination, the same as arguing against someone’s gnostic sense of in-born gender).

    Why is Lorde spared from being painted as a ‘phobe? Nothing in wikipedia is an accident. It’s all political and it’s all deliberate.

    I freely suspect it’s because invoking her would be less useful at punishing other ‘phobes if she were.

  42. Emma on 07 Jan 2010 at 9:24 am #

    SRS in Thailand is also intimately linked to the huge sex trade. When young boys can no longer get customers because they are becoming men, they get sex change surgery. And, because of this, MTF SRS is really good in Thailand, and it’s incredibly cheap. So, along with the sex tourism, there’s SRS tourism.

    Also, SRS is very successful with MTFs, not very successful with FTMs. SRS for FTMs is basically two mastectomies and, if you can afford it, a hysterectomy. Many FTMs never get bottom surgery exactly because it’s so bad. As one SRS surgeon reportedly said, “it’s easier to make a hole than a pole”.

    And along the spectrum of this whole topic are intersexed individuals who are operated on as children, without their consent or understanding, because somebody else has made a determination that they “need” it to be “normal”. I firmly believe that SRS/GID is headed in the same direction as children are being labeled trans earlier and earlier, by parents and medical professionals, exactly b/c they are gender non-conforming. There can be great pressure young butch lesbians to transition.

    But these are 3 issues the trans movement never discusses, as it seeks, for example, to amend ENDA in such a way as to make every gender non-conforming person transgender for purposes of that law. The trans-inclusive ENDA is dangerous to women, but we’re not supposed to talk about that because to do so is to be “protecting our privilege” as “cis-women”.

    And yes, “choice” feminism is a huge part of it. But trans ideology and politics will not discuss the harder issues of SRS, gender, and gendered power. It’s all swept under the rug in the interests of political power.

  43. Kathleen Lowrey on 07 Jan 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Rich — about your last paragraph, yeah, I can’t tell you *how many times* I have found in arguments with white dudes that they summarize Lourde (or bell hooks) as follows, “feminism: whatta buncha racist crap!”.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read either author, but I don’t remember that being their central message.

  44. Kathleen Lowrey on 07 Jan 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Emma — I’m not as well-informed as you are on this, but I couldn’t agree more on the basis of what I have read that, for example, with respect to children who are intersex or just gender non-conforming it seems sensible to go with campaigning for less social anxiety about it over more medical intervention.

  45. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Rich–you make really good points, but you should read all of Knitting Clio’s argument, which isn’t that Daly should be let off the hook, but rather that feminism and feminist intellectual thought has changed to incorporate various critiques.

    Her point is not ahistorical at all, it’s just a different point than the one you’re arguing about the uses of feminist critiques of feminism by antifeminists.

  46. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:15 am #

    UPDATE: See today’s post by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville re: the Mary Daly/transphobia fracas. She’s taking the rest of the week off and will be back Monday.

  47. Rich on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:18 am #

    “but rather that feminism and feminist intellectual thought has changed to incorporate various critiques.”

    Eh, overblown. If anything, management techniques have changed and become more successful. Black women’s complaints have been managed to be more productive to white women, who are more productive for white men. Just like you’re managing our conversation to make everyone equally correct, equally happy, etc.

    Which is why I find the evidence Clio writes of to be suspect: so and so who knew Mary Daly says so and so about her being friendly to trans identified people says something about something and we have to find meaning in that.

    I’m sorry, I don’t expect that Daly ever ran up to a transperson and shouted Frankenstein. I do know that she made deliberate criticism of a patriarchal medical establishment that creates and imposes gender.

    Some random person who expected the opposite and was delightfully surprised that Daly was perfectly pleasant in person shouldn’t be used to diminish her work. And yet it was: Daly is nice now, she must not have meant all of that stuff, she’s an ally, feminism has grown, and I see skies of blue and white puffy clouds!

  48. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:21 am #

    Rich, I think you need to understand more about the history of feminism and feminist intellectual history. Your comment that changes in feminism are “overblown” reveal that you don’t know very much about feminism.

  49. RKMK on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:25 am #

    Quiet, Historiann, Rich is in the middle of mansplaining.

  50. Emma on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:51 am #

    I think Rich makes good points re: Lourde/Daly and diminishment of Daly’s theoretical work through a narrative of Daly’s alleged personal transformation and/or a narrative of transformed feminism.

    Hey, I’m perfectly pleasant to trans folks as individuals. Especially so in person. People are people. But I have very pointed and hard charging critiques of the politics and ideology of transexuality and transgenderism which includes their relation (or not) to feminism. And I don’t pull my theoretical punches regardless of who I’m talking to. But that type of critique can’t be found in feminism today, unless it’s around the edges, because it’s been deliberately excluded as something called “transphobia”. Whereas Daly was (is) a founding theorist of radical feminist theory.

    Meaning: feminism hasn’t transformed so much as those types of critiques have been driven underground. Which is, come to think, a transformation of feminism, just not a “we’re all inclusive and it’s better now” type of change.

  51. Emma on 07 Jan 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Black women’s complaints have been managed to be more productive to white women, who are more productive for white men.

    And I think this goes to this point: accusations of racism are never so effective as when it’s white feminists accusing other white feminists. For example, you’d never know that Daly and Lorde reconciled.

  52. Thursday Link Love: Mary Daly edition « The Feminist Texican on 07 Jan 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    [...] finally, Historiann, on the storms that have arisen on various blogs’ Daly posts:  Why Blogs Suck Is there any other major social justice movement whose leaders and intellectuals are expected to [...]

  53. Rich on 07 Jan 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    “Rich, I think you need to understand more about the history of feminism and feminist intellectual history”

    Were you aware that someone not affiliated with Michfest put out a press release that transfolk were now welcome?

    How is that different than some random person rewriting Daly’s intellectual history just on her or his say so?

    “Quiet, Historiann, Rich is in the middle of mansplaining.”

    Which would be a salient point if the very topic at hand didn’t make it impossible to make: how is that irony not apparent? If people can identify as anything that they please, how can you level that charge against me; against anyone?

    Because I’m a jerk and anyone you don’t like is automatically the gender that’s convenient for you rhetorically? Well, trans activists largely say that’s indeed so!

  54. Historiann on 07 Jan 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Rich, I haven’t seen any links or evidence of scholarship or expertise in your comments. I’m not an expert on feminist intellectual history, but my identity and publication record in American women’s and gender history is all out there. Your comments here don’t inspire confidence that you know what you’re talking about.

    Please review the rules for commenting on this blog. We can disagree, but you seem to want to argue for the sake of arguing, rather than making any clear point. Unlike Melissa, I won’t apologize for something someone else wrote, and I will ban commenters who want to make comments threads all about them.

  55. Julie E. on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I just read over at Feministe thread and it makes me think some people need to learn the definition of respect before claiming they have it for someone else.

    Respect is not ignoring an important feminist’s books and theories for years then saying you respect her after she has died. Respect, like love, is a living thing that proves itself in deed.

    I saw it with Dworkin and now I’m seeing it with Daly where a third wave feminist blogger pats herself on the head for saying she has tolerance and respect when it is very obvious they don’t. It comes off like using Daly’s death to send a message about how generous and openminded they are, and it makes me think of all the radical feminists whose magnificent work they’ll continue to ignore until their deaths provide a brief public relations opportunity.

  56. Shalsaran on 07 Jan 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    No “critiques” of Daly’s alleged transphobia ever attempt to place her work in the context of a patriarchial society that pushes GID and trans as the “solution” to women and men who don’t conform to patriarchal gender norms.
    First, that’s possibly because a careful reading of her work does not support such a contextualization. Second,
    official recognition of GID (and the availability of SRS) is actually a good thing. Of course, my opinion is at least partially based on the fact that being diagnosed with GID requires significantly more than being “not stereotypically feminine [or masculine].” Further, if you look at the context in which Mary Daly wrote, I’m not sure how you can even try to make that argument. Were psychologists particularly eager to diagnose individuals with GID in 1978 (when she published Gyn/Ecology, the book from which the bulk of her transphobic quote have been taken)? Not to my knowledge, although I’m interested to learn otherwise if you have any stats to offer.

    Best regards,

  57. Knitting Clio on 08 Jan 2010 at 6:54 am #

    Is it just me, or do the comments about transphobia on various blogs seem to be related almost exclusively to trans women? I’ll admit that my reading of comments has been cursory so perhaps I’ve missed something related to trans men.

  58. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 7:55 am #

    KC–as far as I can tell you’re correct that it’s trans women. In many ways it is totally reasonable that trans women would be more interested in feminism. But I question the insistence on trans issues above all, which as many here have suggested appears to be coming from a place of power and control rather than one of marginalization.

    Your discussion of these issues, as well as Sungold’s actual research on Daly and transphobia were great contributions to this discussion–thanks for checking back in over here.

    I’m all for people being whomever they want to be. But activist communities are diverse and heterogeneous. The chucking aside of Daly’s career and history because of some unfortunate anti-trans commentary in her earlier work was disturbing to me because of its ahistoricity and its refusal to acknowledge the importance of the larger battles she fought. As Emma and I both suggested, in different ways, there was resistance among feminists in the late 60s and early 70s to the particular kind of essentialism that was promulgated by early trans celebrities like Jan Morris.

  59. Emma on 08 Jan 2010 at 10:03 am #

    Shalsaran, your post is stereotypical conflation, outright falsehood, shifting of the burden of proof, and baiting therefore, IMO, trolling and I won’t respond.

    And, KC, yes, consistent with the trans movement and its medical backers, the vast majority of attention in the trans movement is paid to the needs, desires, and political posturings of MTF trans folk. See, for example, the repeated boycotting of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival by Camp Trans but no analogous attention paid to the Master’s Golf Tournament played every year at all-male August golf club and broadcast on national television.

    Also, I think Rich makes another good point: there’s plenty of essentialism in the trans movement today for feminists (including Daly) to fight against. In fact, it’s all about essentialism. The basic assumption of trans ideology is that people have inherent pre-social gender identities — which magically match up with societal gender roles — that are so determinative that phyical bodies must be surgically and hormonally altered in ordert that adequate social expression of that gender can be maintained. It’s essentialist in every aspect, including in pushing to have children “diagnosed” as GID at ever younger ages (like 2 years old, in one case).

    The fact that Daly didn’t spit on the trans people she met doesn’t mean anything about her theories or her writing. It means something personally about her, how she chooses to interact with people, for example. It also says something that people can’t, apparently, find something Daly said troublesome without assuming she’s a raging bitch (“I was pleasantly surprised to find that Daly didn’t stab trans persons in the heart when she met them!”) But it says nothing about Daly’s work.

    I don’t see why there’s such an overwhelming need to “reform” Daly with apocryphal stories that she was surprisingly nice or by hastily dismissing or explaining away bits of her writing that some people have labeled transphobic without any evidence that they’ve done any real research into her work, the context of her work, or trans ideology then or now, or even given any serious thought to any of those topics.

  60. Emma on 08 Jan 2010 at 10:05 am #

    So Shalsaran’s comment stays, but Rich’s comment goes? I don’t get that. But it’s your blog, so I’ll stop now.

  61. Historiann on 08 Jan 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Rich is gone, because ze was pissing me off. *I* agreed with him yesterday, but his main point in participating in this conversation was to just argue with me in whatever I said and accuse me of “managing” the conversation here, as though that’s a bad thing. I reminded him to consult the rules for commenting, but ze appears to want to just bullshit hir way around like ze owns the place.

    I own the place. It’s my blog. Ze was warned, and ze responded with an even longer and more patronizing comment, which if you’ve read the rules, is a sign that you either don’t understand or don’t respect the kind of establishment I maintain. It’s not for random commenters to disrupt conversations among people who actually know something and have expertise in an area. I came to the conclusion, after being nice and warning Rich, that ze was just here to pee in the pool.

    Emma, you’re a longtime commenter who appears to know what you’re talking about. I disagree with you frequently, but you want to have an exchange (usually). I don’t know Shalsaran, but hir comment was a respectful disagreement with yours.

  62. Shalsaran on 08 Jan 2010 at 12:57 pm #


    I’m unable to identify any instances of conflation in my response to your assertion that a broader context existed for Mary Daly’s work that 1) must be taken into account and 2) to some degree mitigates the transphobic nature of her writings.

    What outright falsehood did my comment contain? I made three assertions:

    1. A careful reading of her work does not support the contextualization you suggest.
    2. Official recognition of GID (and the availability of SRS) is actually a good thing.
    3. Being diagnosed with GID requires significantly more than being “not stereotypically feminine [or masculine].”

    The first two are opinions while the third, to the best of my knowledge, is true. Again, if you have anything to offer that would contradict what I wrote, I would love to see it.

    As to your accusation that my comment is an attempt to shift the burden of proof, I suppose I’ll just have to reiterate that I am aware of no scholarship that suggests that GID (or SRS) could be seen as a tool of the patriarchy as a “‘solution’ to women and men who don’t conform to patriarchal gender norms” at the time when Mary Daly’s transphobic writings were published (e.g. 1978). That, as a reminder, is the topic at hand, not whether there is currently a trend that is potentially dangerous to women, whether trans activists currently fail to acknowledge intersex issues in pursuit of political power, or any other related topic. Your discussion of recent developments is interesting but ultimately not applicable to the question of whether Mary Daly was writing in a “context of a patriarchial society that pushes GID and trans as the ‘solution’ to women and men who don’t conform to patriarchal gender norms.” Again, if you have something to offer on this point, I welcome open dialogue. Being accused of trolling is a bit off-putting but I promise not to hold it against you :)

    Best regards,

  63. Emma on 08 Jan 2010 at 1:24 pm #


    My comments stand. I’m not going to engage you.

  64. Shalsaran on 08 Jan 2010 at 1:57 pm #


    I suppose that’s that, then. I have just a few left-over thoughts that the rest of your comments sparked.

    I both agree and disagree with your framing of the issues in this comment thread. For example, I agree that trans is at its core essentialist in a way that I, as a genderqueer individual, find very annoying. Having said that, I don’t think it’s fair to say that “[t]he basic assumption of trans ideology is that people have inherent pre-social gender identities” – most trans individuals with whom I’ve interacted are not essentialist in that (very specific) way. Instead, they strongly identify as stereotypically (read: as dictated by society) male or female – in a society that punishes failure to conform to gender norms, transitioning for some is a way of aligning (in a socially accepted way) their presentation with their identity. That’s very different from what you asserted.

    Now, if you would like to argue that these transsexuals are active participants in their own oppression (which I’m happy to frame as supportive of patriarchal gender norms with all that that entails), I would agree. I would also agree that many trans individuals are as (or more) committed to traditional gender roles as most cisgendered heterosexuals.

    Having said that, in my view nothing you wrote makes your framing of trans activism as seeking “political power” valid. Trans activists are no more seeking political power than are LGB activists. In my experience, they are seeking the same rights that most cisgendered individuals of the gender with which they identify have. Of course, there are limits. I’m not sure, for example, why you would expect trans activists to boycott the Masters Golf Tournament when, as far as I’m aware, there are no transmen who have been excluded from the Masters due to being trans but would otherwise have qualified for the tournament.

    At any rate, I’ll leave it at that since you refuse to engage. Be well!

    Best regards,