A couple of days ago, Joss Whedon left Twitter. Packed up his bags and went, leaving us with this final tweet:
That’s kind of a shame. Joss has long been a writer/producer/dreamer of some of my favorite ideas and I really enjoyed his little corner of my Twitter feed. But what is much more important than that is why he left. After Age of Ultron was released, Joss received a non-trivial amount of Twitter vitriol, which you can investigate here, about the portrayal of Black Widow in the film. I had some issues, but nothing I want to get into here, and certainly nothing I want to scream into Twitter about. But what’s remarkable was the assumption that these tweets were the reason that Joss left Twitter. The article I just linked above, at time of writing, assumes that to be true, it seems.
More importantly, it was lent credibility by Patton Oswalt tweeting:
Yep. There is a “Tea Party” equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.
—Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 4, 2015
You know, I was really bothered by Black Widow’s characterization in Age of Ultron. I thought she was simpering and her on-screen time was wasted. I thought that attempts to show a softer side of her just made her feel a little less relevant, and made me wonder if Joss Whedon really understands the word “feminism”. The prima nocta joke just wasn’t funny, much less in good taste or appropriate anywhere, really. But does it make me want Joss Whedon to rot in hell?
Does it make me want to curse him out on Twitter, to fill his feed with profanities so that he knows that he’ll never work again in this business?
Eh. Probably not. But just the same, all people who respect free speech on the Internet should be ashamed that Joss Whedon was driven off Twitter.
There is just a single solitary problem with that: he wasn’t. In Whedon’s own words: “That is horseshit.”
There’s so much going on here that it is frankly hard to decide where to begin. It was kind of irresponsible for Patton Oswalt to put that (now-deleted) tweet out there, especially as it’s now apparent that he was wrong. Moreover his assumption, one widely shared, tells us something about how the internet perceives feminism in general. It seems that there’s a perception that online feminism is only pointless accusations and attacks. For example, more from Joss Whedon:
Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter. That’s something I’m used to. Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause.
He does make the distinction that he’s talking about “militant” feminism (I’m not sure I know exactly what this means), and I’ll admit, I have seen more than one Twitter argument about feminism end up looking like Lord of the Flies. What I worry about in the “band together and actually fight for the cause” bit is that it oversimplifies. It seems to assume that there is no actual “fighting for the cause” going on, and it reduces the internal conflicts between brands of feminism and brands of liberalism, more largely, to petty squabbles over whether they like Vanilla Feminism or Peanut Butter Swirl.
I see his point. It’s frustrating to see people you consider on the same side fighting each other instead of a more obvious enemy, like Republicans, or sexists. I’m all for coalition-building, but it risks ignoring how relatively privileged members of a progressive movement have and will continue to misuse “solidarity” as a tool to silence those who would criticize them for being shitty to less privileged persons. Asking Ida B. Wells to march at the back is a good example. Or TERFs. Fuck TERFs.
You see, the thing about Twitter, and Tumblr, is that they are always Lord of the Flies. They are quasi-public arenas in which people vent their strong feelings and troll one another and until recently, they did so without any real accountability for their actions. That’s not just something that can be pinned on feminism, whether Patton Oswalt thinks so or not.
Returning to Joss Whedon, he said that the real reason he left Twitter was that he needed to focus on his writing: “wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place.” Twitter is not that. I’ve written before how the internet can get just plain mean sometimes, often in really disgusting ways, but perhaps more insidiously, it can be noisy and depressing, especially on social media.
Social media can be difficult to shut out for the average citizen, and I can only imagine that it’s worse when there are several hundred thousand people hanging on your every word. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’d be much nicer to cry into a giant pile of cash about my problems, but they are still problems just the same. Remember when Neil Gaiman left Twitter for six months? Perhaps it all moves too fast, like it did for Louis C.K., who said it was exacerbating his depression.
It does get worse when people are just being willfully malicious, like the trolls who attacked Zelda Williams online after her father’s death or the ones who harassed the magnificent Sue Perkins off of social media because of rumors she might take over Top Gear from known asshat Jeremy Clarkson.
Really, it boils down to this: we have got to be kinder to one another. That’s not the same thing as letting people get away with treating you like trash. But so much of the internet is noise that it behooves us to ensure that as much of it as possible is patient. Sometimes people really fail at that. That’s not a feminist thing, it’s a people thing. I don’t mind that people object to the crappy way people treat each other on the internet. I mind that this incident is seen as discrediting feminism. Anyone who does that was just looking for a way to discredit feminism. How do I know that?
Because, for the same people, the rape and death threats against Anita Sarkeesian don’t automatically discredit Gamergate, or all white men. Sarkeesian was, by the by, one of the first people to reach out to Joss Whedon when he announced he was leaving. For me, this is about behavior we need to stop tolerating, like death threats (which everyone is reporting in this incident, but I haven’t seen any).
Of course, with everyone reporting that Joss Whedon left because of “feminazis”, people had to declare sides. So, the hashtag #Isupportjosswhedon was developed. I can only hope that the denizens of this hashtag will be so vocal and active the next time a woman is threatened just for expressing her opinion.