Breaking the silence on silence
I just want to write a quick post about the issue of “silence” arguments—i.e., the “why aren’t group A writing more about topic B?” posts. It’s similar to the “you can’t prove a negative” fallacy. All too often, when we get angry with someone for not blogging a specific news item, it’s not that they don’t care, but something more mundane. They were napping when it came out and missed it in their news reader. They don’t feel they have anything useful to add to the discussion, and think someone else blogged about it more eloquently. They cover similar topics so often that they occasionally skip a news item on the topic lest they come across as shrill, one-note bloggers. There’s only so many hours in a day, and even the most devoted bloggers spend some of those napping, earning money, or keeping their marriages together. And of course, at least 50% of the time someone is accused of ignoring an issue or story, they actually blogged it and the complainer is ignoring that or conveniently missed that to make a point.
For me, the number one determinant on whether or not I blog a news item is whether or not I have anything entertaining or useful to say on the topic. If you really feel strongly that I have an obligation to blog about X, Y, or Z, and I don’t, please consider that I might not be all-powerful and have witty, intelligent things to say on everything.
I say this because I read Kathy G’s post about the feminist silence about attacks on Michelle Obama with guilt, because I don’t think I’ve blogged any furious, “Shut up you monsters!” posts about the attacks on Michelle Obama. But the damning “silence” language makes it sound, in my case at least, a lot more nefarious than it really is.* It’s not that I don’t care. I miss a lot of dust-ups (like this one), and honestly I don’t think I would have anything useful to say about it even if I hadn’t.
But even when I see some stuff that angers me, I don’t automatically blog it. I’ve seen some insane shit aimed at Michelle Obama (like when Christopher Hitchens, I think it was, blamed Michelle for the Jeremiah Wright nonsense), and usually I just IM it to friends who are fellow Obama supporters. And that’s not because I don’t care, but because I’ve put myself on a diet of primary coverage. It’s very easy to slip into stupid-season thinking, trawling around for anything that gives you outrage and reaffirms your belief that your favorite candidate is a stalwart saint in the face of powerful, deceitful opponent. I’ve seen some people really give up their dignity running with stories that turned out to be empty shells, or getting all offended at something that won’t bother them in a couple of months, but because of their hard blogging work, will make the jobs of Republican oppo researchers much easier. So I try to skip over primary coverage until a nominee is selected, in hopes that I minimize the damage done to the eventual nominee. I’ve slipped up a couple of times and let the off-blog silly season conversations between me and my fellows show up in the posts here, but on the whole, I’m trying to follow the rule that discretion is the better part of valor.
Items that could produce juicy blog posts condemning sexist attacks on Michelle Obama have gone into the “not worth the hassle” bin, mostly because I’m afraid that rabid Clinton supporters will accuse me only of caring about sexism for partisan ends. Far from being silenced because I don’t care, I’m silenced because I’m afraid I’ll care too much and come across as more concerned about sexism aimed at Michelle Obama than at Hillary Clinton, creating unnecessary fussing. The attacks on Michelle Obama are pretty much the attacks aimed at Hillary Clinton given a fresh coat of paint to feminize Barack Obama even more than they did to Bill Clinton, and so if you address attacks on Michelle Obama, you’re opening yourself up to a wearying thread on why you don’t post on every similar attack on Clinton, even though she’s the candidate. Does that make a weak, sniveling coward? Maybe. But right now, I’m just not interested in giving people an opportunity to play the Oppression Olympics. Every time I see an item I could blog like that, I say, “Just hold out a little longer and the candidate will be selected and you can blog in their support unafraid of devolving the conversation into score-keeping over whether or not a liberal feminist blogger is wearing her suddenly-mandatory ‘unbiased’ hat.”
As for Clinton supporters Kathy documents who’ve gone so far into the Hillary camp that they think it’s right and good to echo sexist and racist attacks on Michelle Obama for being opinionated, intelligent, and independent-minded, for shame. Where she is now, Hillary Clinton was 16 years ago, and you should keep that in mind. Her bravery in the face of the threats against her husband’s safety that have led to him getting Secret Service detail early on is admirable, and that she handles what must be incredible stress with so much charm and a good sense of humor makes me like her all the more. Just like with Bill Clinton, the candidate’s wife really makes me like him all the more, because his good taste makes me think he’s probably brilliant under the slick, unthreatening, “I’m no elitist!” skin that Democrats have to wear nowadays.
*Kathy isn’t singling me out, but since I do fall under the general group “feminists”, especially those with a platform to speak my mind whenever I want however I want, I feel like I’m in the category of “people who should be saying more but aren’t” established here.