In a movement where the main thrust is equality, you wouldn't think that bullying would be a problem. But it is. As feminism fights the dominant ideology, those within the movement sometimes forget to put down their dukes when they turn around and face each other.
This isn't new. Jo Freeman wrote about it in great detail for Ms. Magazine all the way back in 1976. She calls it "trashing."
"Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape. It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised as rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy."
But this is not as straightforward as it sounds.
Both sides of the conflict surrounding the Equality for Women Page run by Charles Clymer, for instance, feel as if they are being "trashed." Neither feel as if they are "trashing."
When I was researching my original piece on men as feminist leaders and whether or not the policy of banning people and deleting their comments off a personal page meant to forward the feminist movement was censorship, I came across many pitchforks, many witch hunts, and many vendettas.
Everyone, it seemed, had something to say.
I had several women try to tell me that Charles Clymer was a sexual predator.
Spoiler alert: He's not. Let me say that again so you don't miss it. I have researched and interviewed this man and those close to him for months now. He is not a sexual predator.
What's interesting about this is when I told the women that I would not be labeling him as such, they were outraged. What about the overwhelming evidence, they asked. What about such and such screenshot? But the truth was there were two women who had actual screen shots of conversations that were completely consensual and in which these women were enthusiastic participants. The other complaints were either fabricated, hearsay or blind anger.
Charles says, "Making these unfounded accusations gave them a way to get back at me for banning them, after I called them out for not upholding feminist ideals in which they purportedly believed."
They were really mad. And I get that. He silenced them, many times for no discernible reason. (Clymer and I disagree about what constitutes an abusive comment. He knows this.)
"This isn't just me ranting about being bullied with something I did wrong, " says Clymer. "This is about my reputation being destroyed by accusations for which they refuse to provide proof. It's completely unfair that my banning them for saying things I didn't believe were feminist has resulted in a deliberate campaign to accuse me of sexual harassment. I will readily apologize for things that I've done wrong, but I will not apologize for things I didn't do."
I asked them to come forward with their name, but very few of them were willing to step forward to say they'd been involved in any way with him.
Many claimed fear of bullying for their cold feet, which brings us back to the original point. They were sure Clymer would come after them with all of his followers, trying to defame and ruin them.
A legitimate concern, since Clymer has been known to make statements on EFW denouncing those who go against him in the heat of the moment.
On the other hand, isn't throwing stones from the shadows (and hefty ones at that: harassment? Embezzlement?) then scurrying away bullying? Isn't planting seeds of doubt without context and trying to unravel someone's work because you're mad at them and pretending it's about real issues bullying?
Charles Clymer did not embezzle donation funds, and he did not prey on women.
He did ask for donations, and he did flirt with some of the women. End.
The problem with Clymer is the same problem a lot of feminists have and the same problem a lot of internet users have: he's sensitive. Very sensitive. Too sensitive, in my opinion.
In March, EFW shut down operation. The mod team disbanded, many upset at Clymer's leadership and ego at the time.
Former moderator Zoe Katherine labels the ordeal as a "huge mistake" and says many involved are "sorry for the hurt they caused."
"It was not my intention to smear Charles or tarnish his reputation. I believed I was doing the right thing, and everything I said was in the public interest. I now accept that I maybe didn't think it through, but no one was thinking rationally. It was like a mass hysteria. I never deliberately lied. I never said anything I did not believe to be true at the time."
There were two groups started after commenters got banned. "EFW Blacklisted" was headed by Eric Holodnak after he was banned by Clymer. EFW and EFW Blacklisted went back and forth trading insults, digging up personal information and posting it, etc. until they finally decided on a truce. EFW took down the posts and EFW Blacklisted dissolved.
This is where bullying plays a large role in feminism. All this he-said-she-said, back-and-forth, and the point of the movement gets lost as former feminists wade around the murky waters of their own egos and trivial bickering. This happens on the internet, on the street and in academia too.
There was another group against Clymer, "People Banned by Charles Clymer (and their close friends)," started by Kathleen Ellis after a comment she left on EFW got her banned.
One of the mods posted about going out in a sexy dress, getting drunk, and still not being raped or harassed. Kathleen commented that perhaps she should be careful even so.
"I was attacked by Clymer and others," says Ellis, "accused of victim blaming and slut shaming. I proceeded to post that I believed any person should be aware and alert in their surroundings, and that suggesting that a person be aware of their own personal safety was not equal to victim blaming. I never inferred that anyone who acted as stated above 'deserved it' or any such thing. I never would."
Fans of Equality for Women ended up getting Ellis' group shut down as a hate group, which according to my research, it was not.
Even now, months later, tempers on both sides flare over this group and the banning policy. While some of the criticism is legitimate (from both ends), a lot of it is boring, ego-stroking mania.
It's not about the specifics, but about what this says about the greater picture. The bullies, the wounded, the sensitive, the blowhardy, the movement itself, they all get wound up in these very personal dumpings that are totally beside the point. And it's happening everywhere.
In the end, you've got a whole handful of no-one-cares, and two people supposedly on opposite sides of a battle calling for the same thing.