A feminist outpost in the desert.
In an age of spin marketed as information (see: green washing and faux-news “promoted” in your social media feeds), it makes navigating the, perhaps naive, notion of truth feel at times perilous. After all, what does any journalist-turned-syndicated-blogger have in this world if not her reputation? Her credibility? I’ve been struggling with this question all weekend. This admittedly long post is my attempt to right a wrong.
Whether you’ve been a Siren for the life of this nearly six-year-old blog or are one of the many new readers who’ve signed up for email alerts, followed me on twitter, friended me on Facebook, or even subscribed via Kindle — and I thank you all equally, truly — what I strive to give you is not only my unfiltered, feminist agenda on politics and society but that you know at its core that what I’m giving you is a piece of myself. I speak from my modest soapbox and preach the gospel that is true for me: All people are equal; bigotry and hatred in any form or -ism is not only immoral, but an abomination to the God I believe in (and I do welcome all faiths, including the faithfully atheist); women deserve autonomy over their bodies in all areas of life; and that in the big picture we are not just connected to each other but we have a responsibility to each other and future generations whether it’s about getting real about the climate crisis or small stuff like actually getting to know your neighbors. I don’t organize rallies for women’s reproductive freedom or hate crimes events to just talk about today. I do it for my daughter — for all our daughters and sons.
You might read that and think it sounds cheesy or overly idealistic. They used to call me Pollyanna in the newsroom. I take it as a compliment. I consider myself a pragmatic optimist. I see that the cup is half-full and half-empty; so what are we going to do about it? I rarely entertain a big idea or embark on organizing something without a plan B, C, and sometimes D. I derive a kind of power from answering that nasty question: What’s the worst that could happen? I let it push me forward. Because even in my greatest public failures or gaffes — and they happen and live long in the Age of the Internet — I know my intentions are true. But most importantly, when I’ve done my best to make amends or apologize, I learn from it and don’t let my mistakes stop me from aiming big again when the time is right. (In fact, I hope you do the same.)
So this brings me to why my brow has been a bit furrowed this weekend. To be fair, it’s partly the medicine-head stemming from what my doctor calls “a massive ear infection.” (If you are friends with me on Facebook, I apologize for all the whining. But seriously, ouch.) But, let’s face it, I have no one to call in sick to. I’m a one-woman show. I guess I could call in sick to myself. Hey self? Yeah? I’m wicked sick. Oh no, take a couple days. I got this. … Eh, no such luck. So, even with my head pounding, I’m checking my emails and scanning my social media feeds. There’s no robot farm doing that for me. When you see a tweet or Facebook update from The Sin City Siren, it’s me, Emmily. (Hi!) Every time. It’s me.
And in my professional life, The Sin City Siren is my baby. I created it. I’ve nurtured it. I’ve lost sleep over it. (It’s 3 am as I write this.) I’ve spent money I don’t have on it. While I try not to place a misguided amount of importance on things like hit-counts on posts or what my royalty payments are each quarter, I admit it’s hard not to. They are a kind of measure of how much you like what I do. And there’s Facebook and twitter. The number is right there staring me in the face. X number of people follow you. X number of people like this. Back when I worked at a newspaper, I would always have to push out of my mind the circulation numbers. They make X number of copies of this paper and that means that X number of people could (possibly) read my article. Maybe to someone like Beyonce or Tom Hanks the kinds of numbers that have defined my career are small. In fact, compared to some very big feminist blogs, my site is modestly successful. Those sites also have staffs of people, a budget in the black, and (usually) some kind of ad budget to pull more readers in. Kudos to them and their success! I do what I do all alone. Sometimes during toddler naps. Or sometimes hopped up on antibiotics and cough medicine. Because however it might seem to you, I actually do take this seriously. It’s my job. And I don’t do things half-way.
But because I really do put sweat equity into this thing, I care about my credibility. A lot. While I got excited to see my twitter count climb above 800 (thanks!), I don’t just hit the follow button on everything I see. I know that’s supposed to be one of the methods of getting more and more twitter followers — the return-follow. (I follow you; you follow me. Quid pro quo.) But I don’t do that. Partially because reading my twitter feed has gotten increasingly obnoxious as I follow more and more people. And partially it is because I feel a sense of responsibility. I’m not going to follow Ricky Gervais. Ever. Because he tells rape jokes and, in at least one of his specials that I watched, he told a sexual abuse joke. I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. It’s not funny. Fuck you, Ricky Gervais. And I take it as a kind of maintenance of my brand to make sure I don’t associate with assholes, anti-feminists, misogynistic anti-abortion types, woman-haters in general, rape apologists, any kind of bigot from homophobic to racist, or any person/entity that is just wasting my time. Now, I’m not going to say that every single person/thing I follow on twitter is beyond reproach. But you’re not going to see Westboro Baptist Church or Chris Brown in my friend box.
So, the other day I was reading an article on something called The Good Men Project, which I just started following recently. A funny little post was sent out on their feed called Things I Won’t Miss About Being a Stay at Home Dad to Babies. If you have ever been the parent of small children, it will make you laugh. (If not, it might make you feel sorry for your friends who do. Compassion is a beautiful thing.) I had started following The Good Men Project after I saw something else by a dad that was funny and insightful. I’m always looking to get a more diverse takes on feminism and progressive issues, especially voices that are not like my own. I seek out feminist male writers. I seek out non-white writers and LGBT writers. Indeed, one of the things that troubles me with social media is how narrowly you can define the parameters of your “news” feed. For most of us, it is all too easy for it to become an echo chamber of all the other people who are just-like-us. We end up talking to ourselves all day by reading tweets and updates that are by all our socio-economic and cultural dopplegangers that populate the tiny window we choose to look through. If one of the criticisms of feminism is that it has been a brand that is built to serve middle-class white women, then I do myself or any of my readers no favors by perpetuating that with what I do with my own feminist space. But I digress…
I had read a few things here and there and I went to The Good Men Project‘s website and read about their mission to discuss the modern male experience. And the few times I’ve gone to their homepage, it usually had some progressive stuff. And while started by men, the staff is populated with women in leadership roles as well as women writers and contributors. They had a nice piece on fat-shaming Melissa McCarthy. When I read 16 Ways to Not Be a Shit Guy, I retweeted it because it was clever and talked about the ways that “real men” should be, by realizing that hugging a dude does not make you gay and that the Photoshopped images in magazines are not real. Maybe some of you saw it and thought, “All of this seems obvious.” I think that every time I write about why I hate Walmart. And then I end up on a conference call with someone who read one of my Walmart posts and after a lifetime of going there, something made her change her mind. And that something was my post. So yeah, sometimes things are obvious to you or me. But they still need to be said. Because as much as everyone likes to think we know everything now that we can get the internet on our phones and shit… Ubiquity is not the same thing as knowledge.
So after that I tweeted out something about how I liked The Good Men Project. In fact, here’s that tweet:
— Emmily Bristol (@TheSinCitySiren) February 17, 2013
And then a tick later, I got a pretty pointed tweet from someone identified as “No I Will NOT Be Quiet” (@noiwillnotbe) who said:
— I Will NOT Be Quiet! (@noiwillnotbe) February 17, 2013
What the what?! Is this true? Have I unwittingly endorsed an anti-feminist, rape-apologist site?
I went back to their site, but my searches did not come up with anything like what was being described. I tried an Internet search which yielded this Tumblr post about some kind of event-that-is-never-actually-named. And in my sickness fog, I admit I was not really up to a full-on detective mode on this. But I mentioned it to my husband and he started poking around just as my twitter feed was blowing up with a heated debate featuring @noiwillnotbe and Joanna Schroeder (@iproposethis) who is the site’s Senior Editor in Sex & Relationships and Content Partnerships as well as someone I can only identify as “The Good Life” (@GMPgoodlife) who says he writes for The Good Men Project.
It started to get heated.
In a bit of a panic, I went to their website and on that day’s front page was a post called Only Yes Means Yes: Sometimes What You Think is Consensual Sex is Actually Rape. The framing of the piece, written by Everyday Feminism, was a kind of tutorial on all the ways that consent is NOT implied. (Examples included being drunk, being married, or being considered a slut.) While I may not have liked the exact tone of the piece, I recognize that there are some people out there who may be getting this for the first time. Being a wife is not automatic consent for sex. Being labeled “easy” or a “slut” (or working in the sex industry) does not mean that a person has automatically given implicit consent for sex. These points seem extremely obvious to me, but the fact that we live in a rape culture necessitates the need for posts like this.
When I posted the article to @noiwillnotbe she (I assume its a she because of the avatar picture at the time) was not having it:
— I Will NOT Be Quiet! (@noiwillnotbe) February 18, 2013
Fair point. If someone were to tell me that a child molester could, possibly, not know s/he was sexually abusing someone, I would be incredibly pissed off by the insinuation. But I got worried when Joanna Schroeder replied with this:
— joanna schroeder (@iproposethis) February 18, 2013
Maybe not the best response. Because, really, where is that argument going to take us that is at all productive? Do all rapists know they are raping? Do all rapists intend to rape? Would all rapists classify what they’ve done as rape? … You could go on to, How does a society define rape? … Holy shit! That’s a whole ecosystem of worms! I mean, the freaking FBI didn’t even have a modern, inclusive definition of sexual assault (aka rape) until last year! We could go on forever if we go down that rabbit hole. Let me be clear: That is a conversation worth having. But not in 140-fucking-charaters on twitter. At least not by me. (Look at how long this post is, for goodness sake.)
Meanwhile, my husband was wading through link after link, stemming from the Wikipedia page on The Good Men Project, and found some teeth to @noiwillnotbe’s claims. the Guardian’s Jill Filipovic took Good Men to task in December 2012 for publishing a piece by writer Alyssa Royse titled Nice Guys Commit Rape Too. [Trigger Warning!] Royse wrote in defense of her friend who was accused of raping a woman who had openly flirted with him all night and with whom he admits to having sex with after she fell asleep. Apparently, it lit up the feminist blogosphere and twitter-land (here’s the twitter conversation between Good Men creator Tom Matlack and feminist-extraordinaire Jenn Pozner, et al) while I was wrapping Christmas presents or something. I missed it completely. I also missed when (in the same month) they published this piece by an admitted rapist, who says he will continue to do it because he’d rather get laid than worry about being labeled a rapist. [Here's the link and really big TRIGGER WARNING. As well as Senior Editor Joanna Schroeder's defense of publishing it.] And the more I dug into this, the more I saw that GMP may be a proxy front for the particularly alarming new meme of Masculine Rights Activists (or Men’s Rights Activists or MRAs). While GMP might have started out with some quality feminist writers, those folks were jumping ship as The Good Men Project started looking less like a place to define what a good man is, as @GMPGoodLife assured me the site’s mission is, and more like a place to go to get your rape-culture apology on.
Well shitfuckittyfuckfuck you fucking mother-fuckers! I’ve been played.
Maybe after all this, it doesn’t matter to you that I said I liked the posts I had seen on The Good Men Project and any implied endorsement of their brand or activities. We all make mistakes. But I can’t stop thinking about @noiwillnotbe. I want to thank her. I feel like a fool. I’m angry that in order to know the truth about something you have to wade through many, many articles and posts (some since deleted). It’s not enough to scroll through a masthead, scroll through some past articles, and read a mission statement. You have to do a mother-fucking background check just to be triple-sure you’re not getting suckered.
If there is one thing that really pisses me off it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Like a “pregnancy crisis center” that feeds lies to women in order to coerce them out of their reproductive rights, I despise any entity that is either willingly duplicitous or so willfully blind to misogyny and the rape culture it perpetuates that it cannot see that it is a pawn in a game it claims it is not playing. The Good Men Project says it is about “as many definitions of goodness as there are good men,” as Joanna Schroeder tweeted me. But when pressed to answer the simple question: Are you feminist? The answer was, “We cannot answer that for you.” Well, I don’t need you to answer it for me now.
Like I said, my intentions are always true. And when I’m wrong, I apologize. So, I do apologize. Maybe this seems like an unnecessary step. I mean, how harmful is it that I momentarily followed The Good Men Project on twitter and retweeted some of their articles? In the big picture, maybe not much. But I think about @noiwillnotbe… I’m glad you will not be silent. In the newsroom I used to say that for every letter to the editor, you know there are at least a dozen or more who thought the same thing but didn’t take the time to write it down. How many of my feminist friends and followers did I offend by following The Good Men Project? I’ll never know. But I’m sorry.
It’s just me behind this computer screen. Sometimes I fuck up. I’m sorry.
Some of you might think this is a bit much for such a mistake. But that’s how seriously I take what I do
on The Sin City Siren as The Sin City Siren. I’ve heard from many of you that you learn things from this site. Well, I learn things from you, too. All the time.
I am a proud feminist. I am proud to have created a feminist space here at SCS. And I like talking with you. I read every tweet you send me. Every comment you post. And even if it takes a while, every email. What you think about SCS matters to me. It’s not just what I do. It’s a big part of who I am.
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. If you forgive me, I’m grateful. If you’re mad at me, I understand. I endeavor to learn from this and move on. Together.