Some backstory: Local blogging sensation Xiaxue was subjected to a series of sexist, insulting attacks on the Facebook post on Singapore’s own Mos Eisley, the Temasek Review. In response, she went to the trolls’ Facebook pages, took their publicly-posted pictures and personal information, posted them to her own site and mocked their figurative pants off. As she is enormously popular, this generated a huge (and positive) response online. The Straits Times picked up on this and ran an article about it.
Let me explain why I think this A Very Bad Thing.
For the record, I detest the twin terrors of the Temasek Times/Temasek Review. They promote xenophobia and encourage vicious witch-hunts. I won’t even sully my website by linking to them. I wish the sites they were hosted on would vanish into a black hole and never reemerge.
Personally, however, I don’t think singling out users and sharing their information online, as Xiaxue did, was the right thing to do. I disagree with her methods. I disagree with her views.
But that’s not the point here. It is her blog and she is free to do what she chooses. What I want to address is the Straits Times getting in on the action.
Let’s put aside the issue of “How is this even news?!”. It is the smaller of the two issues here–and really, you could do worse than running frivolous stuff in a newspaper, even a national one. Let’s instead talk about “WHY IN THE WORLD ARE THEY ENDORSING THIS SORT OF BEHAVIOUR”.
Just look at the language used in the headline and the article. “Fights back against Facebook abuse”. The second paragraph: “She is fighting back by posting their photos and information on her blog, in an attempt to show that they do not have much of a leg to stand on in the looks and intelligence department themselves.” The fact that they even highlight that she posted their photos and personal information on her blog and painting this in a positive light is shocking.
I won’t even bother with gems in her post like “I also dislike bangalas” [sic] and “They shouldn’t be quarrelsome and petty. That’s for women to do.” Xiaxue posted pictures of her targets’ wives and young children in her blog post. Let me repeat in huge bold letters just in case it’s not clear how problematic this is: SHE POSTED PHOTOS OF MINORS UNDER TEN YEARS OLD IN ORDER TO SCORE POINTS AGAINST HER BULLIES. Toddlers and young children who have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with whatever comments their fathers have been doing in dark corners of the Internet. THIS IS THE KIND OF THING THE STRAITS TIMES IS PROMOTING.
Xiaxue doing it: Whatever. It’s her prerogative. It’s her blog, as I’ve said. None of my business. But the Straits Times endorsing this sort of behaviour? Appalling. APPALLING. They are the biggest English-language newspaper in this country. You know that over-used line from the Spiderman film? Great power, great responsibility? Where is the Straits Times’ sense of journalistic responsibility? By running this article you are saying to the public, it is okay to witch-hunt others if they insult you on the Internet. You are saying to the public, it is okay to drag their spouses and children and employers into the fray because of what they said on Facebook. I have no word for that other than terrible.
Seriously, if journalistic standards demand that names be kept secret in court case reporting to protect the identity of minors, how can you justify endorsing a blogpost that pulls this kind of stunt?
Recently, Minister for Information, Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, called for a national online code of conduct as a way to ensure constructive dialogue on the Internet. Colour me crazy, but hardly think that this sort of liver-for-an-eye behaviour was what he was talking about. And the Straits Times is usually so good at toeing the ministerial line.
My expectations for the Straits Times’ coverage of local issues are usually pretty dire. This time, they’ve managed to get past that and disappoint me. Well done.
Right. I can’t end this blogpost without addressing the many, many responses I’ve seen –which also broadly includes the Straits Times article, from the language used– that are painting this as some sort of a win for women, all “rah-rah feminism!!” I can understand why. On the surface, it looks good: Men posting in a misogynistic space (which the Temaseks are) hurl unwarranted sexist insults at woman blogger and friends. She hits back by exposing and shaming them publicly. Spunky woman 1, sexist douchbags 0. It’s inspiring, yeah?
I have to disagree.
Xiaxue is an enormously popular blogger. Her site gets 40,000 hits a day. She has won numerous regional and international blog awards. When she ripped apart a US dudebro using her pictures to fake himself a Korean girlfriend, her exposé hit the big leagues on Reddit. There are very few other bloggers in Singapore who enjoy the kind of popularity, the kind of wide-reaching fanbase, that she does. Xiaxue is very distinctly not “just a random girl” as she was quoted saying, she is Xiaxue! A brand unto herself. It doesn’t any get simpler than that.
All the people who are going “Good! Finally a strong woman standing up to sexist comments!” seem to forget that the majority of women who experience misogynist bullying, both online and in real life, do not have the reach and power that a blogger the stature of Xiaxue has. They don’t have the option of naming and shaming their bullies like Xiaxue does. They have no power: That is the point of misogyny.
Furthermore, the idea that it is up to bullied/oppressed women to stand up to their tormentors by bullying them back is problematic. More often than not, individual women who “take a stand” against their bullies have to suffer consequences. See the case of Ms Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel cleaner who brought charges of sexual assault against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The prosecution dug up all sorts of dirt on her, got the case dismissed (despite other women also coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations, hinting at a long-running pattern), and now DSK is counter-suing her for US$1 million because he didn’t get to run for French President. Imagine that, a multi-millionaire suing an immigrant cleaner for a million dollars. Ridiculous!
In the end, cheering and applauding Xiaxue’s post does not further the cause of feminism because it fails to address the root of the problem: The sexism that still persists across society. All it does, in the end, is endorse ad hominem attacks in place of proper discourse. Cherian George ended off his blogpost on the issue (link down) with a gang war analogy: You pull a knife, I pull a gun. But that will just leave you a field of dead bodies. And that’s not helpful at all.
**From a feminist’s point of view, there is more nuance to this issue that involves digging into internalised misogyny, playing into gender-based stereotypes, and all that fun stuff. But that’s a whole other shindig that’s beyond the scope of this post…