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Elite white feminism fail: Barnard president’s disastrous attempt at viral marketing

Date: February 22, 2014

I received this email this week:

Barnard spam

When I saw the title “Great post!” I thought of two possibilities: it could be someone who really liked one of my blog posts, or it could be a spam. But I didn’t think that it was an email from an Ivy league college promoting its president’s new book and podcast, asking for me as a “feminist thought leader” to provide free platform without offering any reciprocity. It might make sense if I was running a big mainstream feminist site, but it feels arrogant and entitled that they would approach me this way.

I posted the screencap on facebook, and quickly found out that a couple of my friends who are also radical Asian women writers have been contacted by this Barnard College person. So it wasn’t a fluke that they contacted me; they are actively seeking non-mainstream, radical women of color writers to promote the work of Barnard College president, a highly successful white woman.

I decided to investigate further: I looked to see if anyone has accommodated their request to publicize the book and podcast on their blog, but found something more interesting. Not only is Barnard sending emails to its chosen “feminist thought leaders,” they are also posting unsolicited, unrelated comments on dozens of other people’s blogs that is indistinguishable from spam comments.

In one of the pages Barnard spammed, Feminist Forte, author Molly responded to Barnard’s spam comment:

From what I have gleaned online, Debora Spar seems to be aligned with mainstream, white, NYC-centric feminism. In other words, her feminism isn’t my feminism, so I’m going to decline.

That was exactly my thought when I saw the email, but Barnard had no response.

They even posted the same spam comment on The TERFs, a site dedicated to opposing a version of radical feminism that discriminates against trans people, but apparently the moderator did not approve their post. So they tried again (it says “I do apologize – this is my second attempt to comment”), and was approved.

Barnard is obviously trying to tap the power of viral marketing, but they are failing miserably: despite many spam comments and emails, very few blogs seem to have accommodated their request to publicize the book and podcast. Of course, part of the problem is the idea of the book itself: we are just not interested in hearing a highly privileged woman’s view of what “young women today” need or want. But it is also about how they chose to promote the book, attempting to exploit other women’s platform for their own gain without offering anything meaningful in return.

(Hey, by the way Barnard, thank you for the great idea for my blog!)

Anti-Shakesville commenter claims to dislike men of NOMAS, but acts like one.

Date: February 18, 2014

So apparently, the person who submitted the hate-filled post,”The Great Kerfluffle,” is a user named Jimmybeamus, who seems to be contributing many other anti-Shakesville posts in the last couple of months.

Jimmybeamus says:

As the OP, I’d be happy to respond to Emi’s criticisms at any length. The basic point I’d make still stands- this is the essence of shakesville!Feminism. I pointed out that, at best, Emi’s statements were deeply controversial, at worst, actively wrong and harmful, based on the opinions of experts.* I pointed out that the reaction to a bunch of people saying “Um, we don’t want this going out under our name” was disproportionate, overwrought, and melodramatic. I’m no fan of NOMAS, nor do I like Brannon. He seems like a prick.

I’m glad to hear that Jimmybeamus, whoever that is, is willing to respond, but they do not seem to actually respond to anything I wrote.

Jimmybeamus wrote that my “thesis” was “that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but ‘often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way.” Based on this characterization, Jimmybeamus argues that my view was potentially “actively wrong and harmful.”

But that is not my thesis, as I made it clear over and over, in my original article that Brannon and Jimmybeamus misrepresented, my report that was published on Shakesville, and my initial response to Jimmybeamus’ attack.

What Jimmybeamus wrote is a demonstrably false mischaracterization of my work by NOMAS Robert Brannon, who used it to justify his censorship of my presentation and threat to physically disrupt it, as well as to publicly attack me during a panel in which NOMAS had promised to address women’s (all women participants except for the one woman who is on NOMAS board were protesting them) objections to their behaviors. Jimmybeamus claims to dislike Brannon, but they are participating in the proliferation of Brannon’s lies about me and my views.

What other aspect of my views are “controversial”? Here are the list of my claims that Jimmybeamus quoted:

  1. mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade
  2. such approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade
  3. intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on

I would welcome debate if Jimmybeamus can come up with actual criticisms or counter-arguments to any of the above.

Jimmybeamus writes that my views “directly contridicts” the “experts,” but their choice of experts reflects their obvious bias. It should be obvious to any reasonable person that Department of Justice should not be the go-to source for discussing harms of criminal justice systems on marginalized communities. Such uncritical reliance on the law enforcement (and non-profit organizations that align with them) is precisely what I am criticizing. Again, I welcome actual debate, if Jimmybeamus wishes to argue that DOJ should be intrinsically trusted.

Expertise does not rest exclusively with those who criminalize people in the sex trade, or organizations that align themselves with the law enforcement. There are many grass-roots organizations, activists, researchers, public health officials, and others who are themselves in the sex trade and/or working to advocate for people in the sex trade, who question the current mainstream anti-trafficking approach that prioritizes criminalization, including myself. Jimmybeamus is clearly unfamiliar with the landscape of this larger conversations and struggles, which resulted in their failure to recognize the expertise I bring to the feminist movement against violence.

Jimmybeamus repeatedly reduces what happened at the NOMAS conference as simply “livestream being cut,” and argues that I and other women are overreacting (and yes, it’s not just about me or Melissa; when you say that we are “melodramatic,” which by the way is a typical misogynistic label men use to silence and gaslight women, you are attacking all women who signed the demand to NOMAS). It was so much more than just that: denial of reality, blaming and scapegoating of HAVEN women, threats, physical aggression, stalking, etc. If it were just about “livestream being cut,” there would not have been a report or a list of demands.

Jimmybeamus argues that NOMAS’ decision to cut off the livestream was reasonable. But I was one of the main speakers NOMAS had (through HAVEN) invited to the conference, and they had months to evaluate my views. They have failed to do that, and because of that NOMAS co-chairs Allen Corben and Moshe Rozdzial ended up making their decision on Brannon’s lies about me. After everything, I asked Corben and Rozdial if I said anything that they thought was out of line, to which they responded “no.” The fact that they allowed the recording to be posted online with their name attached next day is a testament to how they had made the decision to censor irrationally.

Jimmybeamus wrote that I “flipped [my] shit” when I found out that NOMAS had cut the livestream. I do not recall “flipping shit,” especially at that point, before all the gaslighting and harassment. I suspect that Jimmybeamus simply made it up just to trash me. If not, I would like to know what they mean by that.

Jimmybeamus also wrote that I “tried to have [Brannon] ejected from the conference,” but as I’ve said before, I never requested such; I was informed after the decision was made. Again, Jimmybeamus made it up with no basis.

And Jimmybeamus says that I “packed up and left early” because I was “triggered” by Brannon’s presence. Once again, that is not what I wrote in my original report, so here is another instance where Jimmybeamus made things up to attack me and diminish the actual harm Brannon was causing at the conference, not just toward me, but also to other women including Lauren Chief Elk.

Jimmybeamus closes their comment by stating: “if Emi or Lizzie or anyone else wants to set themselves up as experts wielding the Pure Truth, they need to be able to answer criticism.” I would be happy to answer criticisms, and I have, but so far none of Jimmybeamus’ so-called “criticisms” are based in reality. On the other hand, Jimmybeamus has proven to be unable to respond to anything I wrote in my response to their “Great Kerfluffle” post.

Jimmybeamus, you clearly do not have enough background (personal, academic, or professional) to actually debate about public policies affecting sex trade or trafficking, and your entire “criticism” is about distorting, dismissing, and ridiculing me, solely because I had one article published by Shakesville. You continue to spread Brannon’s lies about me, minimizing and excusing his aggressive behaviors, and now you are calling women “melodramatic” for daring to resist male aggression. I have a feeling that your presence is going to be a liability even for the anti-Shakesville site sooner or later.

Anti-Shakesville site hates on me by association re NOMAS incident

Date: February 7, 2014

Last August, I was invited to be part of Forging Justice conference, which was co-organized by feminist anti-violence organization HAVEN and our supposed male ally group, National Organization for Men Against Sexism.

To be honest, I didn’t have a very high expectation of men of NOMAS based on my previous experiences dealing with male feminist “leaders” (as opposed to ordinary men who happened to be feminists), but what happened at the conference was much worse than I had imagined. Later, I wrote about all that transpired at the conference, and had it posted on Shakesville, a popular feminist blog. Here are related posts on Shakesville:

After these articles were posted, NOMAS did post a formal response on its website. Ever since, I have been thinking about writing about how the statement is very inadequate and disappointing, but I could not gather enough strength to once again focus my energy on bunch of (overwhelmingly) white men who just don’t get it.

It seemed like the whole incident had been forgotten after five months on inaction, but somehow it was picked up this past week by a Tumblr page “Drink the Shaker Kool-Aid” (shakesvillekoolaid), which appears to be an anti-Shakesville site. I don’t know (or even care) what issues the writer of the anti-Shakesville site has against Shakesville or Melissa. But what it says about me and my work seems completely off-base.

shakesvillekoolaid quotes part of my article that described my presentation at Forging Justice:

[it] focused on how the mainstream anti-trafficking discourse promotes further surveillance and criminalization of already marginalized communities as the primary and often only solution to the problem of violence and exploitation experienced by youth and adults in the sex trade. I argued how such an approach ignores realities of people who are actually in the sex trade (due to any combination of choice, circumstances, or coercion), and harm the very people they are intended to help. At minimum, I believe, an intersectional analysis would require us to start from the acknowledgement that the state is a problematic institution, a source of violence against women of color and many others, that cannot be intrinsically relied on.

To this, shakesvillekoolaid comments:

Now, here’s the first point that should be noted. This pretty much directly contradicts the findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers, and other, you know….experts.

shakesvillekoolaid does not refute anything I state, or provide any counter-evidences; they simply state that my view “contradicts findings of the DOJ, various organizations dedicated to helping sex workers,” and others. Of course it does: I am criticizing them. It makes no sense to rely on DOJ’s words when the question is whether or not some actions of DOJ and others aligned with it are harmful to people in the sex trade. shakesvillekoolaid is, of course, free to side with the DOJ over grass-roots activists like myself if they choose to do so, but the evidence has to come from somewhere other than the DOJ itself.

At the very best, Koyama’s thesis, that the men who pimp underage girls are not necessarily predators, but “often friends, partners, mentors, family members, photographers, drivers, bodyguards, and others who do not control the person trading sex in any way” is….controversial.

This is a distortion of my actual thesis, and it is inexcusable for shakesvillekoolaid to interpret my writing this way, because in my Shakesville article I directly and specifically refuted this characterization. In response to NOMAS co-founder Robert Brannon’s comment that I claimed “pimps are not controlling abusers, but friends, mentors, partners, and protectors,” I wrote:

And Brannon clearly distorted my argument when he claimed that I consider pimps “friends, mentors, partners, and protectors”: what I have actually written was that friends and others close to people who trade sex are often targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps,” leading to further isolation, which of course make us more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

In other words, my argument is that people who are targeted by the law enforcement as “pimps” are not necessarily pimps or traffickers, but friends and others who are not doing any harm; I am NOT arguing that actual pimps and traffickers are doing no harm. Perhaps Brannon may have genuinely misunderstood my writing, but shakesvillekoolaid cannot claim honest misunderstanding after having the opportunity to read my refutation.

shakesvillekoolaid further writes:

So, first- this illustrates a huge problem with Lizzie-style feminism- just because Koyama had one type of experience in sex work does not mean that her experience is universal, or that she is an expert. She is an expert on the sex work done by Emi Koyama, not all sex work done by all women and men everywhere.

My experiences are obviously not universal, and nothing I wrote claims to speak for all sex workers. But I am not just one woman speaking about her experiences; I am an organizer, writer, and independent researcher who have worked with other people who have been in the sex trade as well as our allies. After all, that is why HAVEN chose me as the speaker–not just to talk about my own experiences in the sex trade, but to share what I have learned from all of my experiences. shakesvillekoolaid seems to accept DOJ and rescue organizations as “experts” while discounting the expertise of grass-roots activists, which is bizarre and offensive.

Second, I was always informed that comparing things that aren’t rape TO rape was a huge no-no. Apparently there is an exception when comparing, say, a livestream being cut to, you know- rape.

No. I’m not comparing cutting off livestream to rape; I am comparing NOMAS’ initial claim that I had wanted them to cut it off and consented to it with rapists’ typical defense. The analogy was specifically chosen because NOMAS was positioning itself as the “real” feminist fighting violence against women while falsely accusing me of being an apologist for systematic rape, when in reality NOMAS’ behavior is more in line with that of a rapist.

Apparently she tried to have him ejected from the conference but he came back, and the long and the short of it is she packed up and left early because she found his presence triggering.

I did not try to have him ejected; I made no such request, and was only told after the fact that he had been ejected. And his presence wasn’t just “triggering”; when he kept approaching me after he was ejected twice, sneaking around so that he could come near me undetected by HAVEN staff, I was afraid of actual, physical danger. I wrote in my article:

As a survivor, I experience triggers frequently. I know that, most of the time, I feel scared about the situation or people because of something that has happened in the past, and that there usually is not an actual danger to myself. So for the last two days, despite the fact I felt scared and could not stop feeling shaky or sleep for more than two or three hours each night, I kept trying to tell myself that nobody was going to actually harm me.

After the third time Brannon violated boundaries of women like me, Lauren, and others, however, I was no longer certain that my scared feelings were just feelings: women know that someone that angry and out of control is capable of doing the unthinkable. So I decided to pack up and leave the conference hours before I had originally planned to do so.

It should be clear to anyone reading this that I was not just merely “triggered”; I believe that many other women would feel the same way if the same man kept approaching them after being ejected by his peers multiple times. For shakesvillekoolaid to describe this incident as merely “triggering” minimizes Brannon’s abusive behavior and distorts what I clearly wrote.

I have no idea what shakesvillekoolaid’s grievances against Shakesville are, but it appears that they have chosen to hate on me and publicly distort and discredit my work, solely by association to Shakesville, rather than actually engaging with my work and offering honest critiques. That fact led me to lose any interest in finding out what those grievances are.