November Editorial – Take criticism when it’s due, and at no other time

By Jen Thorpe

Last month I was involved in some really great activism. I attended the V-girls refuser march (thanks to Story Scarves for the invitation) where I spoke to a group of young women about the influence of the media, and our need to get more women’s voices out into it. These young girls were fearless (watch this video of them all here), and bravely told their stories of abuse and survival. I was amazed at how ready they were to do this, and remembered how at my school I once started a petition and got nearly everyone to sign, only to have the teachers tell me this was not acceptable behaviour. I am so proud of these young women, so grateful to have been invited to participate, and I wish them so much luck and strength for the future. I also recommend suncream to anyone who gets involved in these types of things to avoid the wicked sock tan I now have.

I was also part of a boycott of the Foschini Group as a result of some particularly horrendous t-shirts they had on shelves. Thankfully the group has agreed to remove the T-shirts from stores, and undertake an audit of their t-shirt review process. We’ll be following up on this in December, so keep your eyes peeled for their tees. The reaction we got to this is nicely summarised in a post by hilarious feminist Rebecca Davis. Suffice to say we were labelled humourless feminists (a great video on this here), man-haters (which is really a silly thing to say when you haven’t met all the feminists in the world, and don’t actually know whether their religion is misandry or not) (and is also interesting given that it is mostly men who commit violence, hate speech and war against other men, and yet are entitled to their opinion) and unstylish (as if this matters).

The aim of this criticism was not, in fact, to tackle the offensive content of the t-shirts but to attack us as feminists for wanting to enter the dialogue at all. (See ad hominem moves and the backlash). I don’t believe that any of the comments actually gave us any reason to support these t-shirts, even the ones that said that at least we’d know which men to avoid (because this is a tricky one, and sometimes the men to avoid don’t reveal themselves as avoid-worthy until much later).

What they did show was that feminism is increasingly vital. It is vital to keep public discourse on sexism open (those commentators who argued that a discussion of t-shirts and a request for their removal was against free speech, might like to note is in fact an exercise of our right to free speech). It is vital to begin to break down feminist tropes, and begin to shape more realistic ideas on feminism. It is vital to continue to be a part of the democracy that we live in.

Keep an eye out for our ever growing list of feminists on Twitter and also for the Johannesburg Feminist Tweet up on the 19th of November at Bliss at 44 Stanley. Lets not stop talking.

Don’t give up. Don’t take criticism (especially poorly spelled, sexist criticism) to heart. We can do this.


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