Is it okay just to lurk?

I was turning this question over in my mind last night, after spending the evening catching up on feminists blogs. There is currently a stoush on between a couple of blogs which began last week (I think) and is ongoing. There have been attempted apologies, dissections of why those apologies don’t actually address the issues arising from the comments on the original post, further attempts at getting it right and lots of commenters insisting that the original comments on the original post did nothing wrong and lots of people are just being loudmouthed bullies. I’m sure by now many of you will know what I’m talking about. As I don’t want to re-hash it all over here I’m not going to go into detail because that isn’t the point of this post.

I found myself agreeing with one side in the debate, but more than that I found myself learning a hell of a lot. I haven’t commented at all on any of the blogs involved, preferring to sit back and soak it all in and gain a better understanding and hopefully be able to put that into practise as a better ally. But should I be doing more than this? Should I be going to the blog of the person I agree with and adding my support? Should I try to show solidarity?  I’m not going to the blog whose post comments started this all because I don’t have skin in this fight and I don’t want to just pile on. I think the bloggers there are having to deal with a whole heap of privilege being pointed out to them and that is difficult at the best of times, as well as having a small but determined chorus tell them that they haven’t done anything wrong. I think they are floundering at the moment, and there are plenty of people, intimately involved in the issues, who can tell them and are telling them where they went wrong, why and how to fix it.

So as a lurker, should I be thanking them for blogging this? Or do I just sound like another cis, het, white privileged feminist expecting a cookie?

ETA: Since people from both blogs have commented here now, I will state my position. While I respected and sympathised with the writer of the original post, and the fellow authors who were also trying to understand the issue, I really felt for the people on the other side who were offended and had to yet again explain and defend their position. Not that I am in a position to cast any stones, it was a comment that I could easily have made without realising the offensive nature because it is not something that is uppermost in my mind.* It was the realisation that I could have easily made this mistake that led to a lot of reflection on my part.

The several of the people on the blog have tried to engage in a dialogue, as noted by stargazer above, but when tempers get high the going gets rough. There were also people who couldn’t see what the issue was. It wasn’t so much pile ons that I was thinking of, but those comments by people who mean to be supportive but end up either explicitly or implicitly implying that the other side of the argument is bullying or being unreasonable, which doesn’t help and only ramps up tensions. This is what prompted the question of lurking. Would adding my voice be supportive, or just further muddy the issue. In the end I decided to hold my tongue and leave it to the people involved.

This post is not designed to be a re-hash of the stoush, as the participants are doing fine on their own and I don’t want to start another stoush on an unrelated blog.

To the people hurt and angered by the post – I’m sorry for your hurt and hope that I have learnt enough to avoid doing that myself. Thank you for the 101.

To the owners of the original blog – I can see that you were trying to understand the issues and I know, from personal experience, that it is hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you have no idea how to even begin to guess what that might feel like. But you tried anyway and I respect that.

*To make things clear the response that started the stoush began with “Guys” being used to respond to a transwoman. She, for obvious reasons, didn’t like this and things went from there. As has been noted in comments by Deborah there is also history here, which I’m not clear on so I’m going to leave it at that.

Categories: gender & feminism

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16 replies

  1. Very good questions to which I have no good answer.

  2. I actually don’t know the blog war of which you speak, so here is a general comment.
    This is how I think about it: when comments and links are flying, there’s a cost to receiving a comment: seeing that notification sitting there in your inbox, and wondering if it’s yet another flame or criticism or even a thoughtful comment that might take an hour of one’s time to properly digest and consider (and while doing so 50 comments come in…) It’s immensely stressful knowing that one is the intense feelings and scrutiny.
    So, knowing that, often I lurk, perhaps deciding to become a regular when things have settled down a bit and participate in a community rebuilding or simply contribute to the community longer term if it doesn’t need my building help specifically. (Sometimes, in open communities but where I’d be just another privileged voice, silent listening/reading might be the best form of participation and help.)
    An exception might be if there really didn’t seem to be a lot of existing publicly expressed support for the person at all. There’s no guaranteed way to avoid cookie-seeking, but I figure a simple expression of honest gratitude or support is best, avoiding stories about myself, especially ones that invite praise or attempts at absolution.

  3. I think I know which particular stoush you are referring to, and it’s one that makes me cry a little for all the people who have been hurt by it. There’s history, of course, and it would be odd to read the current stoush in isolation from that history.
    I’m favouring the shut up and listen approach at present. There’s a couple of places where I do that.
    All the same, I think that there are only a few people who have responded with honesty and integrity throughout, and with a genuine desire to examine their own mistakes, to find a way to keep on talking, to make and to accept apologies, and to look for a way forward. These are all GOOD THINGS, and I think they are too often absent in blog pile-ons.

  4. I do an awful lot of lurking and learning even on blogs where I do feel I’m part of the community so I certainly hope it’s ok to do that! 🙂
    Perhaps if your usual mode of interaction with blogs etc is to participate by commenting then it feels inadequate to sit back and watch but it’s hardly unusual, you only have to look at the differences between the number of views and the number of comments on any particular post to know that. Which is something I remind myself of when I’m suffering from commenter’s block (click reply, stare at empty text box failing to find the right words, click away).

  5. @ Deborah, I think you do too. I guessed that there is a lot of history there, which is partly why I’m hesitant to engage.
    I agree that there are attempts to do the hard yards, which is great to see and hopefully that will continue.

  6. Rats. Just realised I’d forgotten to change my blog link.
    {fixed 🙂 ~tt}

  7. And my first comment is in moderation. I’ll just blunder around in here on my own tangent shall I? *wry grimace*

  8. LOL ok, I’ll just be quiet now 😉

  9. Hello from a resident lurker!
    I am in favour of lurking, especially in the sort of case that you mentioned here. I don’t know the case, but I have found that wading in to the middle of someone else’s argument achieves nothing at best, and can even make things worse.
    But then, maybe it’s because when I get angry I tend not to think about the bigger picture, and end up putting my foot in it. All in all, I seem to cause less trouble when I lurk!

  10. I also think I know which incident you’re referring to, and I had similar thoughts while following the comments threads. The position I have taken is that while I do comment regularly at the original website it’s not usually on the kinds of issues in question so I thought it best not to wade in in this case. And what Deborah said.

  11. BlessedJessed, I agree. A lot less trouble is caused by lurking, a closed mouth gathers no foot, and I learn more with my mouth and typing fingers still and my eyes and ears open.

  12. i don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to comment on this, given that i’ve hardly been calm & collected elsewhere.
    but here goes anyway. i know i (along with others) stuffed up. i accept responsibility for stuffing up. i totally accept that the people affected by that stuff up are angry, an i’m absolutely prepared to have them direct their anger at me & others involved. they have every right to do so, and i have a lot to learn from their expressions. so, as for myself, having made an (admittedly quite inadequate) apology, i’m more interested in reading, processing and thinking about where i’ve gone wrong, what i can do to improve and trying my best to understand why people have felt hurt.
    where i’m really struggling is exactly the issue that has been raised here: the other pile-ons. the people who, in acting as allies, have misrepresented or flamed or (in my opinion only) sometimes drowned out the voices of the people who i really want to be listening to. maybe i’m wrong to be angry about that. maybe i’m over-reacting – but then aren’t women (& feminists in particular) always told they’re over-reacting? i really don’t know.
    i know i’m not perfect. i know i will stuff up now and then & i really appreciate the modelling provided by one of our team in terms of really listening & revising her original post. i’m glad that some of the people who were affected have accepted her apology, and have actually been quite gracious in terms of their response. there’s still plenty of work to be done by us, and i’m sure that will happen.
    in any case, i appreciate your lurking, and your comments here. i’d agree that it’s better to lurk when those who need to be heard are speaking. although i know the latter would probably appreciate the support of allies, if those allies make it more difficult to listen, then i don’t think they’re really helping.

  13. Lurking is underrated. Which I sort of have to say since I lurk here (and elsewhere) so often, and because I’ve got lots and lots of lurkers in my space, who are totally welcome!
    But I also agree there are times when you should speak up. If you’ve got something really constructive that needs saying, or you feel that there aren’t enough of the calm, reasonable voices engaged, that’s probably a cue to delurk. Sometimes I sit back and wait until I can find a way to provide moral support or make a compassionate and helpful contribution without adding fuel to the fire before delurking. But there are also times when I honestly don’t have the emotional energy to engage, and I feel a bit conflicted about that. The old classic self-care versus it-it-my-job-to-fix-the-world and silence-is-collusion dilemma. It’s a lovely thing. And as far as I can tell, it’s a perennial issue for feminists that’s not going away anytime soon.

  14. As an older feminist I don’t participate in the toxic pileons which occur in some feminist blogs (and I have no idea of the stoush in question so this is only a general principle.) I find some US feminist blogs have just become a venue to vent about their enemies, which is a soap opera, but not really advancing much.

  15. It’s definitely a difficult issue, Mindy, but at least since it’s now been pretty clearly signposted by others which particular stoush you’re referring to, I think you can feel free to state your opinion on it wherever you choose.
    I think there’s probably an interesting discussion to be had on the subjectivity of the phrase “pile-on” – I know it’s had a specific meaning here at HaT in the moderation of comments and trying to prevent comment threads getting derailed with a dozen replies making the same point to the same person, but when we’re talking about inter-blog arguments I’d put it into the same category as “one person’s terrorist …” etc.

  16. I had a big post here, but I think instead of a laundry list I will just say sometimes I should lurk to avoid people who won’t listen, and that I tend to get into blog fights because I think not that I discredit my opponent but rather offer them an opportunity to discredit themselves. (Like the day femonade lost half her readership)

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