Thursday, March 26, 2015

Should We Troll Tom Regan?

For women like myself with an active and public presence on the internet, we are fully aware that we "set ourselves up" for abuse by simply being present and by having an educated opinion.  Women are expected to be silent and invisible. For those who dare to disobey these gender norms, retribution is swift.

Whenever I publish something critical of violent tactics, I can expect a fresh onslaught from advocates who are violently opposed to my stance against violence and are dead set on "teaching me a lesson" or shutting me up.  Female colleagues who share my work sadly experience similar punishment. It is unfortunately lost on many that aggressive retaliation of this kind is also a form of violence, especially when it is directed at women and relies on scripts of sexism.

The thing is, a number of male-identified leaders in the movement are quite outspoken about illegal or violent direct action. Tom Regan, for instance, regularly publishes and lectures on the problems with violence in the name of Nonhuman Animal liberation. Indeed, an entire chapter of Empty Cages (2004) chastises violent advocacy. How can it be that Regan and other men like him can contribute ideas so freely?

First, retaliation against women who are critical of violence tends to reflect gender policing. That is, a male-led movement will turn on women who challenge patriarchal norms in order to push them back into their proper feminine roles of subservience and silence.

Retaliation also reflects a general devaluation of femininity. While men can be opposed to violence as well, we recognize that aggression and violence is associated with masculinity, while peace-making and non-violent, inclusive, education-based advocacy is associated with femininity. Therefore, when male activists gang up on women speaking out against violence, they're actually reacting to their discomfort with (and even disdain for) feminist politics and women's power.

Tom Regan is our great movement patriarch, so going for his jugular over his anti-violence position seems unthinkable. We pay deference to men, but we distrust women. Male leaders and activists get to disagree and still have their positions relatively respected. Men's ideas get full consideration; women's get tone-policed. Men are acknowledged as equal participants; women's motives are questioned. For women who speak out, there will be a price to be paid.

Though some male-identified activists surely do face a good bit of criticism, we do not inhabit a post-gendered society. What this means is that men and women will not be criticized similarly, and the consequences of that criticism will not be comparable. Male privilege will always buffer the blow.

Until direct action advocates are prepared to blast Tom Regan with trolling and sealioning with the same ferocity that female activists experience, we must recognize this for what it is: sexism.