Against Bombing Syria? Sexist!

Sure, these British female politicians voted to rain death on Syria. But back to the real issue: incivility on Twitter.


In progressive circles, "white feminism" is often used as a pejorative to critique the sort of bougie, classist, navel-gazing activism favored by folks like Sheryl Sandberg and those who think cat-calling should be criminalized. I think this column published by the Independent yesterday may be the platonic ideal of "white feminism." In it, writer Jane Merrick frets over the mean Twitter comments received by British female politicians who voted in favor of bombing Syria. 

"The vitriol … over the Syria vote has been aimed at both male and female MPs," Merrick admits, "but it has been nastier, and more organized, against women." How exactly she measured this is unclear, but for the sake of argument, let's take Merrick's word on it for now. The fact remains that even if the pro-war women are getting more heat for their stance than the men, none of the examples of criticism that Merrick offers seem particularly gendered at all.  

Merrick asserts that "the messages sent to women MPs have been more graphic, as if the trolls believe [women] will be more emotional and empathic, which is sexist in itself." OK, maybe so. But let's put this in perspective: these are messages concerning a major foreign-policy decision that could cost lots of innocent lives. Which is worse: war-mongering, or the slight sexism involved in thinking that appeals to women's humanity may be more successful than appeals to men?

To make the whole piece more ridiculous, Merrick spends some time bashing a grassroots, left-wing political movement called Momentum for "the vitriol" over the vote on bombing Syria (perhaps it "should be renamed Bromentum," she suggests). And yet, she admits, "no direct link can be proven between Momentum organizers and the keyboard warriors who tweet death threats and graphic pictures." So why make the connection, then? It's all "on the same spectrum of intimidation," you see. 

The whole thing reminds me of the "Bernie Bro" hoopla over here. Apparently, some Bernie Sanders supporters on social media have been known to make sexist remarks, or at least remarks that have been read as sexist, about Hillary Clinton and her supporters. At the same time, some male leftist activists, pundits, and writers have expressed thoughtful and legit criticism of Clinton's views. Despite little to no evidence linking the two parties, an abundance of hot-takes appeared dismissing more-or-less all Sanders supporters as incorrigible misogynists. 

The anti-Bernie-Bro brigade uses the language of social justice and feminism as a weapon to discredit those who oppose their politics, just as Merrick is trying to make anti-war activism into some sort of crime against womanity. It's misguided at best, and often disgustingly disingenuous. 

But partisan hacks will be partisan hacks. What takes the Independent column into especially egregious territory is the severity disparity between the actions of the alleged sexists (sending uncivil tweets) and the actions of the alleged victims (enabling death and destruction in Syria—a proposal which ultimately failed, p.s.). The amount of privileged, narcissistic lack-of-perspective such a comparison requires is almost unfathomable. 

Thankfully, feminist commenters at the Indepenent don't seem to be buying Merrick's load of crap. "I am a feminist. I am very open to discussion of the misogyny of the left," states one of many similar comments. "But do not for ONE SECOND start hijacking feminism in such disingenuous, smeary, weaselly ways like this article". 

"I'm a woman and an anti-war feminist," reads another. "I don't give a damn about abusive tweets or e-mails you're getting. DEAL WITH IT. You're a politician and you have no problem voting for dropping bombs on women & children far from your safe political cocoon. Oh but heaven forbid someone dare send you an insulting abusive sexist message! Grow the hell up."