Feminist burnout: the toll of continually responding to the news cycle

Late last year, writer Tanya Ashworth contacted me for my answers to some questions she had about the effects of immersing oneself in the background media consumption required to write regularly about feminist issues: the drip-drip-drip of piece after piece of anti-women incident coverage and condescending/fatuous/abusively sexist op-eds. Yesterday she finally managed to get that article published, and my answers are in fine company – Clementine Ford, Van Badham, Lou Heinrich and Viv Smythe: optimism in the face of online abuse.

As regular readers know, over the last few years my writing online has waned significantly (mostly because blogging no longer gets the eyeballs or the commenting engagement that it once did (swings/roundabouts – no longer the waves of abuse either)). However, my consumption of social justice related media hasn’t greatly declined, so the continual drip of cultural misogyny (and racism/classism/ableism etc) is very much still a constant background noise. I wouldn’t change any of the answers I gave Tanya last year about the emotions that induces or the coping strategies I use, although I should have included reading thoughtfully crafted SF and mysteries as well as watching big dumb action movies, and also my rediscovery of musical performance as pursuits I find most effective in shifting myself into a different headspace. I am also still optimistic about the possibilities for social change, because I do see incremental improvements regularly.

So why has Tanya been able to interest a publisher now about what I and others said to her last year? Recently, as many of you will be aware, Clementine Ford reported an abusive commentor to the employer named on his social media profile, and that man’s employment was subsequently terminated, presumably because his employer perceived his public actions online as reflecting negatively upon their company. Predictably, outrage has ensued over a man losing his job for saying stuff “nobody man would give a shit about down the pub” (although saying that sort of stuff to anyone at work would certainly constitute grounds for dismissal, and there are actually plenty of pubs/bars/clubs where saying that sort of stuff would result in a muscular person asking one to leave with alacrity right now thank you – I was in one the other night where the sequin onslaught alone would be alarming).

Several supportive articles have been written by other women about why what Ford did was both justified and exemplary, and I too want to express my admiration for Ford sticking to her strong and uncompromising work centreing how sexism and misogyny are still pervasive and that feminism still very much matters. I don’t have the online influence now that I did several years ago, largely by choice, because I did get rather burnt out in terms of constantly writing 500-1000 words a day about injustices of various kinds (which is why we’ve always included whimsy and trivia here as well, but that probably helped the readers more than it helped us).

In particular, I get far less abuse these days than the other women quoted in Tanya’s article – probably because I am not especially active on social media. I do have a public Twitter profile, I have a few robotweet doodads in place for tweeting links to posts on Hoyden and Feministe, I have occasional flurries of posting links of interest found in my reading, or retweeting the cogency of others, but I don’t tend to engage in Twitter debates – I prefer longer form writing for my arguments. I have huge admiration for those who do continually put themselves out there within the easily-misrepresented limit of 144 characters, but for me environments where I have finer-grained control over who gets to use my platform to speak to my audience have a far greater appeal.

These more carefully curated platforms don’t tend to generate as many twitterstorms or other linkbaits though, which is of course again why blogs have lost audience share in the ever more frenetic world of online opinionating – bloggers have mostly learnt to use the moderation and filter tools available to them to limit toxic “contributions” that seek to derail substantive discussion – thus the hate-flinging howler monkeys have moved to where they get more bang for their short-form buck, and the 24/7 news cycle has followed them to where the clickbait is spawned.

So it’s all the more important that those like Clem and Van and Lou are willing to put themselves out there on the social media frontlines. They inspire others to be open about their experiences of anti-women bias, far more than I do, and those messages matter, letting the world know that women will no longer be silenced about the way the world treats them as lesser.

Just one example from this week: comedian Brydie Lee-Kennedy wrote about how the male comedy community in Australia mostly closed ranks in support of her comedian partner who repeatedly committed domestic violence against her, and excluded her because she refused to pretend it hadn’t happened or that she forgave him for it. The next day comedian Rebecca Shaw responded to her friend Lee-Kennedy’s article, stating that abusers who may fear an underground female mafia out to get them should congratulate themselves on realising that women definitely do not keep quiet about abusive men amongst themselves, and that this secret female mafia is very much what the world needs in order for women to both protect themselves and see at least a few deserved social consequences for abusers – like not having their communities still treat them like they never did anything awful (and when we’re talking comedians, it’s not like the professional bookers are going to stop booking them so long as they turn up on time and keep the punters laughing, and neither will the subset of semi-pro rooms that “just happen” to always put on male-only line-ups stop booking them, and yeah the showbiz industry generally doesn’t give a shit about the personality flaws of performers as long as the box office takings are good (hello Bill Cosby, Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris, etc), but (but!) the community of performers ought to strive to be better to each other than the bloodsucking leaches, surely?)

Without the fortitude of women like these (and so many others (apologies to friends from foreign shores, I’m going to just stick to a very small sample of the many loud women active around Australia for this bit) – Celeste Liddle aka Black Feminist Ranter, Tara Moss, Maeve Marsden, the hugely missed Stella Young, name your own favourites in comments) who are willing to be loud about the harms against women they observe and the hateful abuse they receive as a result of writing about it, the abusers and haters stay cloaked by the habit of homosocial solidarity against the complaints of women. Since I started writing this yesterday journalist Kerri Sackville has started a Twitter campaign to name and shame men who have harassed and abused Clementine Ford online, the hashtag #endviolenceagainstwomen quickly trended worldwide and Sackville’s on ABC Weekend Breakfast right now talking about it.

Predictably, on twitter Sackville is being called a bandwagon-jumping attention seeker as a result. Fuck that noise. #IStandWithKerri, #IStandWithClem, I pledge #NoSilenceForViolence. I pledge to fight my feminist burnout harder, and signal-boost other women putting themselves out there more often. That’s probably going to mean more frequent flurries on Twitter mostly, but I’m also going to get back into writing at least a few long-form op-analysis articles a month. It’s time to sally forth unto the breach once more, and when I need a burnout break again I’ll take it knowing that other women will have decided to go back out there after taking their own burnout breaks, and by choosing a balance that works for oneself our overlaps will always have each other’s backs on this.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, social justice

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14 replies

  1. A bit of cross-promotion to begin with – My Views on the whole Clementine Ford thing.

    I tend to find I have only a limited tolerance for nincompoops these days (and yet I’ve subscribed to “We Hunted the Mammoth” on WordPress). A lot of it is just sheer intolerance of what I perceive to be both impoliteness, and what I perceive to be sheer bone-headed foolishness. Basically I’ll get so far through the day or week, and then realise I’ve reached my limit, and head back to the fan fiction. Mind you, I’m starting to realise that at least part of the reason I spend so much time in fanfic is because at least there I know who the arseholes are, and I’m not likely to see otherwise-reasonable characters suddenly coming out with rapey or bullshit opinions (and if I do, I can just make a note-to-self to avoid that particular author in future).

    Maybe I’m just getting old.

    • As I get older, I’m placing more importance on emotional-energy management. I’m better at it than time management, that’s for sure.

  2. Rlly, yr sttmnts “trg hs nsd vr mn lsng hs jb fr syng stff “(nbdy)[nbdy s crssd t] mn wld gv sht bt dwn th pb” r vry sbjctv nd mply tht ll mn r dmb bstrds tht drnk t pbs. m nt n f yr str typs bt m jntly pnshd by y nd ppl tht gr wth nly yr vrsn f vnts.


    [Moderator note: tediously predictable non-substantive response has been disemvoweled to avoid annoying the more typically perspicacious amongst our commentariat ~ tt]

    • I was wondering how long it would take some knee-jerker to weigh in on a description of a commonly gendered behaviour as if it was a claim about a universally gendered behaviour.

      If you didn’t realise that’s what you were doing: you really should read more carefully, Paul. If you were trying to gaslight us while shifting goalposts: well, you’re not nearly as good as that as you might hope.

      • Paul has responded with some bizarre assertion that I and every woman mentioned in my post claims to be a journalist and then goes on into even more absurd territory. Nope nope nope, Paul – you really haven’t been paying attention. Bored now. Bye.

  3. May I also feel punished for lackwits suggesting that, were I in a pub, I would care not one whit about someone using gendered insults towards strangers obviously not interested in talking to them? Then, may I rant at people attempting to address that very problem rather than the people I feel punished by?
    Will that prove me to be a str typ? Did someone misspell “aSTuTe”?
    If I have another coffee, will I be able to deduce what str typs are?

    • If you have another coffee, you’ll probably be able to enjoy cogitating about something more worthy of your leetle grey cells.

      • Hm, just realised on re-reading that my sarcasm here could possibly have been read as aimed at you rather than as aimed at Paul Murphy. Just wanted to clarify that you were definitely not my target here, Matt!

  4. Unsurprised to see so many familiar Hoydenista commentariat names in the wave of responses to the disappointingly cynical clickbait offered up by New Matilda via the earnestly concerned Jack Kilbride on how Clemintine Ford is not “The Answer” for those wanting to “close the gap” between feminists and angry sexists.

    Firstly, as so many responses noted, who the hell wants to close that gap anyway? That gap needs to be made so gapingly enormous that there’s absolutely no doubt which side of it people are standing on. The people who it is possible to persuade with arguments against sexism are already standing on the feminist side of that gap, even if they’re not standing right up close to the feminists yet. The angry sexists don’t want to bridge that gap, and the rest of us are safer from them when it’s really clear to all of us that the huge gap is yawning between us.

    Secondly, the only people who seem to expect any one feminist to be “The Answer” for how feminisms should advance their goals are people who haven’t yet fully realised and accepted that women (just like the traditional default “real” human beings aka men) really are very different from each other! We each accumulate life experiences in our own unique way, depending on our personal circumstances which can never be quite exactly alike even in the same household, thus we each process our experiences uniquely no matter how common such experiences may be in the population at large – there are shared trends and patterns amongst groups, but none of us are clones in a hivemind. Sharing some feminist goals does not mean prioritising the exact same goals at the exact same time and definitely does not mean agreeing on lockstep tactics and strategies for feminist activism, and that’s ultimately a very good thing, because if it did we’d just end up with another authoritarian hierarchy that would eventually form systemic inequalities paralleling those of every other authoritarian hierarchy.

    Indeed, since middle-class-tertiary-educated voices (such as mine) already dominate most feminist discussions, because class privilege tends to get those tertiary-educated voices noticed and promoted by the other tertiary-educated folks who control access to larger media platforms, it is more crucial than ever for each feminist across the wide array of feminisms to continue doing feminism in their own ways for their own reasons to highlight their own primary concerns.

    Our differences make us stronger. Nobody puts any feminisms in any corner, thx bye.

  5. I really appreciate your taking us through where you see blogging fitting in with your life these days. I wonder, though, if blogs across the board are no longer getting the same traffic, where are people going for their analysis? Surely not back to more conventional forms. And there is only so much you can get from a tweet, as you yourself point out.

    • There’s a lot more media sites, both indies and corporates, using social media integration in their comments section, so that commenting there will be shared on your timeline (abbreviated on twitter with a link to the relevant discussion). I really don’t like sharing my FB profile around willy-nilly like that, and it just seems weird to see those sort of statuses on twitter (which is why that integration is actually less common now than it was a couple of years ago). There’s still a few blogs where long threads worth reading occur, but they are few and far between, and people mostly don’t tend to hop around between a bunch of loosely related favourite blogs the same way that they once did. So I’m not sure what exactly is happening instead regarding actual analysis vs shortform commentary/opinionating – perhaps much of that interactiv energy has been dispersed to more passive watching/listening with streaming services or pod/vidcasts rather than reading/responding?

    • I think one reason blog traffic (well, feminist blog traffic) is down is that the backlog of topics and viewpoints that blogs are well-suited for and previously had no outlet for is spent. Blog-suitable topics and ideas don’t arise at anywhere near the rate that they were being raised in blogs when blogs first became A Thing.

      I don’t think that social media and sound-bite media like twitter are killing blogs, any more than on-line media have killed ink-on-paper books. What they’ve done is to siphon off a lot of the sound-bite level commentary that used to fill up comment threads. People who used to go to blogs to shmooze with their like-minded buddies now do it on FaceBook, people who want to shoot off a top-of-the-head reaction to something or other use Twitter. But when you’d like to actually discuss something and have people think about what other people have written, blogs and Internet fora are better places to do it.

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