National Paper Endorses Revenge Bullying, This Blogger Sees Red

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…

Posted on by June in Media Critique

38 Responses to National Paper Endorses Revenge Bullying, This Blogger Sees Red

  1. kixes

    People who look to Xiaxue as their feminist role model and laud her for being a strong woman to stand up against misogyny have probably not seen this post: http://xiaxue.blogspot.com/2007/01/would-you-have-sex-with-this-guy.html

    • June

      !!! A Filipina friend did mention this story, but she didn’t have a link to the specific post so I had no idea it was this bad! Also, the bit at the end where she “changed her story” — wow, rape culture at its BEST. :/

    • C

      My one major interaction with XiaXue was on twitter after she posted that fat girls should take it as a compliment if people think they’re pregnant because it means someone thought they were fuckable.

      When you run around making comments like that, you immediately disqualify yourself as a feminist. You do not empower your gender by acting like a middle school mean girl, tearing down other women.

      FAIL FAIL FAIL all around. None of it is appropriate, none of it is major news.

  2. RaRa

    But, seriously let’s face it what she has done will bring change amongst the men & media who hide behind FB to say nasty things to a whole lot of people.

    • June

      Sadly, I don’t think so– it’ll just stop them slamming high-profile targets like Xiaxue. The usual targets of their vitriol – foreign workers etc – don’t have the same kind of bully-back power that she has.

    • kixes

      I have to agree with June here. I don’t think that she will bring change amongst men and media at all. She did not teach these men not to abuse women. She taught them not to abuse Xiaxue.

    • sim

      i believe she inspired other girls to crap on the bullies faces enough. it can effectively deter bullying acts by perpetuating this kind of culture.

      • kixes

        If she inspired other girls to stand up for themselves and call out the abusers, that would be good. But if she inspired other girls to stand up to bullies by bullying them, posting photos of their spouses and kids, returning the insults, then we wouldn’t really be deterring any bullying acts, just perpetuating bullying on both sides.

  3. D

    problem: The sexism that still persists

    The same national paper that is apparently condemning the vitriol probably has a picture of a semi-naked woman selling something or rather or a woman who’s lost weight … it’s simply going to reinforce ill-treatment of BOTH men and women by reducing them to things.

    Put it together and you get what should be cognitive dissonance. Is this the best we can do?

  4. TP

    I never figured why people read her blog. She’s proven herself to be a vindictive and vulgar bully from day 1. ST published the story because she was pro-PAP and anti-opposition in that same post..She would have been thrilled with the free advertisement from ST

    • laughingseal

      Don’t feed the trolls, indeed.

  5. azim

    ok, um I think I would be in the minority here but, I would like if you wrote a piece specifically about the “fun stuff”. You know paint a more nuance picture about the whole incident vis a vis the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Cause I’m fun like that.

    • June

      I might. There’s plenty of material–an embarrassment of riches, in fact– to back up the argument that Xiaxue Should Not Be A Feminist Icon. I stayed away from it because I didn’t want to start critiquing who Xiaxue is as a person in this post.

      • azim

        absolute coolness. It would probably not be worth your time,considering how she behaves online, to write the XX should not be a feminist icon article.

        However, seeing that AWARE has posted the article and more importantly given XX credit for standing up to bullies, it should be made known that XX is very much the antithesis of a feminist icon.

        • June

          I’ve heard that AWARE might be publicly posting something about that FB post of theirs (maybe!) — they did clarify in the comments that they do not consider Xiaxue a feminist, but a) that’s only apparent if you actually read through the comments, and b) the ST article that quoted them took the weirdly-worded post and twisted the heck out of it, so that they sound like they openly endorse XX (whereas the post was really asking for others to chime in with their opinions). So that’s pretty awkward.

  6. anon

    The ST is nothing better than the pappy propaganda machine print medium. So ST and XX are two of the same thing – just so much trash, one in print the other in virtual print.

  7. laughingseal

    An eye for an eye anyone?

    I really dislike Xiaxue’s values and I’m embarassed that she’s so popular. One only hopes that the international community doesn’t picture her face when they think of Singapore. Having said that, I agree with her right to disagree..

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. ” – Voltaire

  8. Shanelle

    Xiaxue isn’t even a feminist.

  9. XX

    This board isn’t the kitchen. Get back in there and cook me up something.

    • June

      Ladies and gentlemen: The level of discourse conducted by misogynists. (Approved for the lulz)

  10. xizor2000

    I ceased reading her garbage ever since she dissed a handicapped person who made a fuss over her friend who occupied the handicap’s toilet. IMO, your friend was in the wrong and when you are wrong you say sorry and you shut up for a long time. The fact that she then took up her friend’s case and publicly dissed that handicap person shows she is nothing more but immoral and attention seeking. She being a PAP-lackey further lowered my already low-opinion of her.

    Die by the sword you wield, Xiasuay. Frankly, when she has been dissing people the way she has always done, she deserved what she has gotten even when I have an equally low opinion on people who posts on Terbalik Revue or Terbalik Times (and at times, even those who reads regularly the crap on all flavors of seemingly anti-establishment sites with the name “Terbalik” in its name).

    • June

      I do agree that a lot of what Xiaxue does is morally grey if not outright reprehensible, but it’s unfortunate that those targeting her are readers of the Temaseks, who opted for the easiest way out to insult her, by using her gender against her. Calling her a “whore” has no relevance to what she’s actually said or done…

    • Han

      Hello!

      I’d just like to point out that your allegations of berating a handicapped person is, as with so much else on the internet, a figment of your imagination/word of mouth mistruths.

      http://xiaxue.blogspot.com/2005/10/i-am-hungrrrrrry.html

      If you read the exact words carefully, you will realise that the entire post is an opinion regarding a situation observed by her brother. So in actual fact, neither her nor her brother nor anyone she knows is involved with the handicapped person.

      Subsequently the furore surrounds her opinion that people should be free to use the handicapped toilet when there are no handicapped persons around.

      Remember, always fact check yourself otherwise you’re just a Terbalik!

      =D

      • June

        Wow. I’m sorry, but that is just horrible. I wasn’t going to touch on the whole dissing-the-disabled thing, but since you had to bring it up by linking to the post–

        You can’t see anything wrong with her, an abled-bodied person, complaining about disabled people being unhappy that able-bodied people are using facilities built specially for them _because they are disabled_? Wheelchair users are highly disadvantaged because they have to live in a society that is tailored to able-bodied people. Do you know how many SBS bus services are fully wheelchair-accessible? 80. Out of 250. That means that if you are in a wheelchair, you cannot take one hundred and seventy SBS bus services because you cannot get on or off the buses. If you think public transportation has become a nightmare in Singapore, imagine what it must be like if you cannot take _more than two-thirds of the buses_. And Xiaxue wants to complain that she isn’t allowed to use handicapped toilets? Note that the brother’s friend wasn’t even using the handicapped cubicle inside a regular toilet. He went to the ACTUAL handicapped toilet that is separate from the toilets that he SHOULD have been using. Who does that?!

        “The man stopped at the handicapped toilet instead of the normal male toilet, because well…

        1) it is nearer afterall
        2) maybe he shares my love for handicapped toilets because they are so freaking spacious and usually has your own mirror and wash basin! Coolness!”

        Every reason she gives for this behaviour is completely selfish. How could you condone this?

        • Han

          Hi June!

          No, I do not agree with her sentiments. I agree with you that her explanations are selfish. I am merely pointing out that, her opinions aside, she never did the things that people accused her of doing.

          My main point is that that post consisted entirely of opinions, and whether I disagree with them or not, that still does not translate to misrepresenting what actually transpired.

          • traveller

            I suggest you Google “Xiaxue cyberbully”. She has always had a problem controlling her mind-numbing rage against her haters and uses her influence on the Internet to condemn the people who don’t like her. From fat people, to Dawn Yang, to Peter Coffin, to a female Australian blogger who was depressed, Xiaxue never lets anyone off for criticising her. She cyberstalks her critics, grabs their pictures and then writes lengthy blog posts exposing their “sad lives”.

            No doubt the misogynists in this recent case and the rest of us who use the Internet have to think about our online conduct. We shouldn’t make irresponsible comments or denigrate people that we don’t even know in real life. The rude words that the men used on Xiaxue must’ve hurt her a great deal for her to write such an angry post.

            But even as we sympathise with Xiaxue, we have to acknowledge that it’s not just those guys and the rest of us who have to contemplate our net etiquette. Xiaxue needs to do some reflection of her own as well.

            For example,

            1. Should a credible blogger make a living out of bashing her haters?

            2. The same defense that others put forward for Xiaxue (such as that she has parents, nasty comments would hurt her mother, people who engage in cyberbullying are scumbags, etc.) can also be used against her.

            Did she think about the feelings of those people she called “retard” or “cunt” before she published her numerous “hate” posts? Did she think twice about her own choice of words before hitting back at her critics? To take just one example, when a forum user pointed out that her grammar was wrong, she countered by saying that “People wanna rape you with a bayonet” because nobody likes to have their grammar picked on.

            There was a time when Xiaxue was refreshingly different from other bloggers because she dared to be frank. Her candidness and intelligence earned her many fans and even occasional appearances on TV.

            But this time, she has crossed the line between being a brutally honest blogger and being a brutish, callous blogger seeking self-justification. When netizens point out to her that it’s wrong to use photos of the men’s families, she conveniently sidesteps the ethical issue of implicating innocent family members, and replies that it’s the men’s own fault for insulting her and they are getting their just desserts.

            By ignoring her critics at best and shoving a gun in their faces at worst, it looks like Xiaxue is a blogger who is unable to have a discussion of controversial issues without resorting to veiled intimidation the likes of “A LOT of people read my blog. How many? You will find out soon enough. ;)”. A smug knowing wink because she is well aware that the men will soon suffer the backlash and wrath from her fans, who will stoop at nothing to get back at them on her behalf?

            A parallel can be drawn with those spurned ex-boyfriends who release intimate photographs of their ex-girlfriends online as a means of getting back at them. “But they hurt me first!!!” just doesn’t cut it as an excuse. Neither does “It’s their own fault!!!” One’s feelings of hurt and anger should not be used to justify any sort of unethical online behaviour.

            No one can take the moral high ground here. Not the rude men, and certainly, not Xiaxue herself, when her past blogposts catch up with her.

            A little less enmity, a reduction in the number of “f**ks” per sentence, and a lot more intelligence, fun and robust debate. That’s what this blog reader would like to see from the local blogging community.

            • kirsten

              YES. This exactly!

            • kirsten

              YES. This exactly!

              I did find it ironic when she wrote that she hated seeing men say mean things about women, because she says some of the meanest things about women I’ve ever seen.

  11. kojakbt

    Hi Ms Hallelujah,

    This ia a good write-up. Can I have your permission to repost on TR Emeritus (TRE)?

    Thanks!

    p.s. TRE has got nothing to do with Temasek Times and Temasek Review Facebook…

    • June

      Thanks for the offer, but I am not comfortable with having the post reproduced on another site. Perhaps just a link will do?

  12. Ws

    Don’t get me wrong, I love your blog and tweets. But are you saying those guys weren’t misogynistic bullies because the victim happened to be a power blogger?

    • June

      Absolutely not! I’m saying that just because the guys are misogynist asswipes (which they are) doesn’t mean it’s okay for Xiaxue to target them the way she did–esp not bringing their wives and children into it–and it’s definitely not okay for the Straits Times to highlight this sort of behaviour without criticism (aside from a few soundbites as a token balancing out of the views).

  13. Rosie

    Xiaxiue’s popularity and her endorsement by ST reflects the very sad state of our collective psyche. The vision of a more gracious society gets blurred with every new unique visitor Xiaxue and bloggers like her get every day. I find it very encouraging that a number of people have condemned Xiaxue for what she did and for ST’s report. Thank you MissHallelujah and Cherian George for your posts, and for TOC for featuring them.

  14. Katherine

    I just read on Xiaxue’s blog the old entry in which she states that:
    Good looking men cannot be rapists because they don’t need to resort to rape. And if they do rape someone, it wouldn’t be traumatic BECAUSE THEY ARE GOOD LOOKING.

    Even the most misogynistic person I know would not say that. Most rapists probably wouldn’t say that. WTF.

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  16. MC

    Hi, I was directed here by a share on Facebook, and I thought I’d just share my two cents here; I hope I don’t offend anyone.
    For the tl;dr version: XX is justified in acting this way, ST is justified by printing about it in this way. For justifications please read on.

    1) I think that XX, WHILE NOT IN THE RIGHT, is at least justified by doing what she has done. I do not agree with the proposition that XX should not have targeted innocent family members just because they are innocents. I have to humbly suggest that XX seems to be the victim here (at least in this particular context), since all she has done is shown her support for the PAP IN THE PAST. And that is about as offensive as me saying that I’m atheist; people may disagree with me, but it doesn’t give them the right to insinuate slurs on me which have nothing to do with the subject matter.

    Note that I am deliberately excluding her social commentary, since it doesn’t seem fair to judge a person’s political ideas based on the quality of her social ideas; it’s like saying that since X doesn’t believe in global warning, X must also be a sharks’ fin eater and animal abuser.. Non sequitur?

    Next, I think it is pretty obvious by now that there is no effective way of stopping these misogynists. Self-censorship-clearly not happening; self-regulation-by the TR? Is this happening? Legal regulations-some people would claim this is not desirable, besides, what would the consequences be? Can’t be more than a slap on the wrists in my humble opinion; I suspect this won’t be an effective deterrent, and people might even object more vigorously to fetters on their freedom of speech.

    And so, bearing in mind that these misogynists are NOT innocents, what better way to show these misogynists, what effect their words have on innocents? And speaking of family, did they even consider the effect of their words on XX’s husband? Is he an innocent? Or does he deserve it because he chose to marry XX?

    In conclusion for point 1: Yes, an eye for an eye indeed makes the whole world go blind; how then do you stop the first person from taking the first eye then? IF what XX has done is necessary to make the internet a LITTLE bit nicer for everyone, then I support her action.

    2) Having pointed out the reasons why I think XX is justified, although possibly still not in the right, let me start point (2) by pointing out the case on Zinedane Zidane in the 2006 World Cup. He headbutted his opponent in front of a global audience of millions when said opponent insulted his mother and sister. News coverage around the world subsequently went wild. Now, scaling it down to Singapore, don’t you think that the (controversial) actions of a high-profile person are newsworthy enough to make it onto the newspapers?

    And note that nobody is saying that Zidane was in the right to retaliate; he was punished, his team lost, AND YET news coverage of him was generally positive.

    Now the exact thing is happening in Singapore and people are suggesting that the news coverage should not be positive?

    Dare I suggest that this is:
    a) due to the fact that XX is somewhat…controversial and her blog posts frequently evoke some feelings of repulsion? (Myself included, truth be said.) But wouldn’t this be effectively judging the seriousness of an incident by who it affects? i.e. punching a prostitute vs punching a passerby = punching a prostitute less serious? I strongly denounce this view. To test this hypothesis, I would suggest that everyone replace XX with another notable blogger, and see if they still feel the same way?

    b) Or is it due to the fact that the PAP is the party supported in question? To test this hypothesis, references to PAP could be treated as references to the WP.

    c) Of course it could be a combination of the two, and/or other factors I have missed out.

    In conclusion for point (2), I think ST may be justified in printing this article, AND for painting the positive light on XX. And frankly, I would be disappointed in any news source that promotes misogyny by making these misogynists look innocent and bashing XX instead.

    To wrap up the whole thing (thanks for staying with me), I would like to say that I do not approve of other ST editorial policies like biased election coverages and being blatant “party mouthpieces”. Also, I actually don’t like XX, I don’t read her blog regularly, and I get disgusted by some of her social commentary. But that shouldn’t stop me from thinking that she may not be all wrong in this situation. I believe in “对事不对人”(addressing the issue, not the person). Cheers! :)

    • kirsten

      I agree with you that XX was a victim of cyberbullying, and I denounce that cyberbullying just as you do, but at the same time I think we can agree that it is never as simple as victim/abuser. There can be more than one victim, and I see it like this:

      XX was a victim of cyberbullying, and in retaliating she made victims of the men’s families and children.

      So there is wrong on both sides. Criticising XX for what she did (which is also a form of cyberbullying) does not mean that we agree with the men for bullying her, or think that she deserves it.

      People need to be clear: it is not the act of her retaliating that some of us disagree with. It is the WAY she did it, which was to indulge in the same bullying that caused the problem in the first place.

      I don’t think this makes the Internet nicer for us all, not even a little bit. In fact, by the way ST has painted it in a positive light, it’s likely to make the Internet a whole lot LESS nice, now that it’s been suggested that the right reaction to bullying is to do a bit of bullying yourself.

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