Another one down – only two to go

I assume that most people who drop by here regularly also read Public Address, and I know that some of you, and me, join in the discussion there. So you will already know that the one explicitly feminist voice there, Tze Ming Mok, is calling it quits.

I count four explicitly feminist voices in the NZ blogosophere – me, Span, Tze Ming, and Maia, with other people from time to time saying something feminist. (Not that these other people aren’t feminist – their blogs have a different focus.) Of those four, Span regretfully thought long and hard about what other important things were going on in her life, and quit a few months ago. Tze Ming has just quit, for reasons that she spells out in her leaving post, and reasons that she leaves sitting tantalizingly there, mentioned, but not explicitly drawn out, in her lovely prose. I’m about to leave for Australia, so although I plan to continue to blog, on NZ topics, no doubt over time I will find that I focus less on NZ, and more on my new home. Maia will be the only one left. She has been involved in incredible events recently, living her feminism and activism. I hope she is able to keep going, because we need her voice.

The comments thread following Tze Ming’s final post is … interesting. Lots of people commenting on how much they appreciated her insight, her anger, her capacity to make us all think. But take a little look at the language she has used:

After nearly three years of being the exotic dancing girl of Public Address… these Canto-peasant feet weren’t made for stilettos.

the PA System experiment is a large factor in why you’re seeing the back of me. Although it’s been a very successful exercise in online community-building, and although I have had a lot of fun with it in places, it has, overall, been strangely isolating for people like me. But I always knew that was how communities worked, and I knew even before it started that PA System would be dominated by a certain kind of perspective. It’s not a terrible one, not at all. But it’s not for everyone. For people like me, it takes a lot of effort to stay involved. I’m tired and isolated enough where I am, now that I’m a real hard-working immigrant at last.

Coincidentally, the day that I joined the [Redacted Place] and became unsure whether I could say exactly what I wanted on this forum [Public Address] without getting fired, was the day something happened in New Zealand that had me feeling sick to my stomach every time I checked my email and found no reply to a ‘where are you?/are you okay?’ callout to some of my activist friends. Good friends. Eventually, when the replies started coming with reports of raids of their homes and young families, and when the posts and discussions on Public Address showed their colours, it certainly drove home for me how far away I am from this country, and from the overall middle ground of this site, from its essential gut.

Those are not “so long and thanks for all the fish” remarks, but if you read the comments thread, you would think that Tze Ming was just saying a polite goodbye. Read between the lines, people. Tze Ming doesn’t feel welcome at Public Address. The crowd there can’t cope with difference, with views that provoke and challenge them to change their own thinking and behaviour. They are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the good guys, the liberals, the ones who are on the morally right side of issues. When Tze Ming comes along and jolts them out of their liberal complacency, the typical reaction is to howl complaint, and to refuse to recognize when their own behaviour embodies the very attitudes and behaviours they are decrying. And there’s an in-crowd there – people who can say what they like. As for other folks, when they say something the in-crowd doesn’t like, they get slapped down, pronto.

And then there’s this:

To the chicks: As if to prepare me for my own exit, the author of some of the most well-considered, articulate, clearly argued, occasionally plagiarised by others, and least-linked political posts ever in the blogosphere, one of my oldest friends from middle-class activism … AKA Span, retired earlier this year from blog-life to exist as a more well-rounded human being.

Feminist writing isn’t a goer on Public Address. I googled back through the PA posts, and I could find precisely one link to the fabulous Span. Analyse that.

There’s an insightful comment in the discussion:

but i reckon that the halycon days of public address were just after you and keith joined the team. lots of posting, lots of debate. the big issues were canvassed and blogs were still a teeny bit guerilla.

i think that’s something everyone can look back on fondly.

(The commenter is welcome to contact me if he or she would like me to attach their name to that.)

I agree. It’s all just too damn comfortable there at the moment. Like lots of the people there, I love playing around with words, I enjoy quirky insights about NZ life, I am happy enough to read a little about techy stuff and music stuff. But that’s all cosy armchair in front of the fire material.

I would love to get in there and be provocative, but I have been slapped down a couple of times, and I’m just not up for it again. A couple of weeks ago one regular commenter made a gratuitously sexist reference to women politicians… and I longed to post something pointing out exactly what the problem was with the phrasing, but I do not have the energy to do it, nor the emotional wherewithal to withstand the rebukes that would come my way.

I can see why Tze Ming Mok is leaving.

17 responses to “Another one down – only two to go

  1. One thing I thought about posting in that goodbye thread, and may yet do so, is that it was striking how many people with 1 or very few posts popped up to say they would miss her, that she spoke for them, or some other words of support.

    I suspect the demographic breakdown of the lurkers is quite different from that of the frequent posters. Encouraging those people to delurk and represent is a problem. But if I were Tze Ming I’d be a bit rueful that they weren’t commenting earlier.

  2. You know – over time I read Public Address less and less. I’ve joined the discussion a few times, but nowadays I mostly stick to feminist sites, which unfortunately are almost all American.

    I just can’t be bothered explaining feminism101 to every tom, dick and harry.

    So yeah, I feel like Tze Ming is articulating something that I feel too…

  3. I spared you my bitter musings on PAS but they are there on Merc Prodz, the blog that was setup for the PAS dissenters, well…sort of, I got very irate at being called a conspiracist and driveler.
    When RB called Sarah Noble hysterical, that was the final straw for me.

  4. I too noticed the naive reactionary attitudes on the PA comments.

    Such confidence in their own correctness, such lack of willingness to brook another’s opinion.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigot to be helpful)

    This is all too common right and left. The recent wave of arrests we saw the same on indymedia and kiwiblog. Minds shut, mouths open. But over at PA it was no better. Loony liberal?

  5. Also – Tze Ming’s parting gift to me seems to be your blog.
    To my shame I didn’t know you had one!
    Let the reading commence…

  6. I’m such a PA lurker that I don’t even comment, but I’ll miss Tze Ming too. Funny, insightful, and genuinely a bit counterculture in the best possible way, which I guess is what you’re getting at.

    I know what you mean about not wanting to comment on stuff: internet forums (and I rate the PA system as that, rather than a blog with comments) can be amazingly hard work, emotionally, and people seem to let off both barrels too easily. Not to mention taking it as an oppotunity to repeat themselves endlessly…

  7. I read selected posts and comments threads at PA (including all of Tze Ming’s posts) but comment rarely, largely because my politics–including my feminism–are to the left of the majority of participants (if I read them correctly) and I tend to be verbose, rather than pithy, in response, which finds little favour with the commenting majority.

    I still marvel in memory at how Tze Ming’s post around the bullying of women in cyberspace prompted so many responses to the effect that focusing on women’s particular experiences of harassment (or particular women’s experiences, for that matter) was in itself sexist.

    Like you, Deborah, I believe I understand her decision to leave.

  8. i know don’t post more on PA, and i irritate myself, but honestly there have been times i’ve written something and before i click post i think. Can i cope with

    hello, i don’t like fighting, it’s not fun and it’s not pleasant. and I’m not prepared to fight. When Tze Ming posted about bulling in cyberspace, she got it right, and guess what that thread tuned into.

    it’s not beating up on PA, it’s saying OMG PA is an extremely active vibrant community that has the potential to be more. I’d consider it’s NZ’s premium place for political discussion.

    It’s just that sometimes, people are not about conversing, they prefer to argue

  9. Kia ora Deborah

    i agree with a lot of what you are saying and will miss Tze Ming and am missing Span!

    i have reccently written a post on the treatment of women in politics if you are interested in checking it out

    http://thesproutandthebean.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/i%e2%80%99m-not-sexist-some-of-my-girlfriends-are-women/

    we do need to get more women writing and of various perspectives and backgrounds.

    great to find your blog!

  10. Still thinking about this, I will come back to it once I have thought about your post and Che’s. I can also see why she wouldn’t want to bother anymore.

  11. Che of ObjectDart fame has some things to say about all this, and Shea at New Freeland has chimed in on the issue.

    Glad to see that people are talking about it.

  12. i’m with you on this deborah.
    i also agree with shea’s observation that “commenters do not feel comfortable giving debate to the minorities you take on board. The intrinsic leftist reflex is to not take such a writer to task, or even seriously debate on the fundamental issues, so any such writer is going to get bored and isolated.”
    it was true of me at least.

  13. i’m with you on this deborah.
    i also agree with shea’s observation that “commenters do not feel comfortable giving debate to the minorities [PAS takes] on board. The intrinsic leftist reflex is to not take such a writer to task, or even seriously debate on the fundamental issues, so any such writer is going to get bored and isolated.”
    it was true of me at least.

  14. I googled back through the PA posts, and I could find precisely one link to the fabulous Span. Analyse that.

    I never linked to Span enough. She’d post interesting, worthwhile stuff, which would take an hour to formulate a proper response to. So it would get stuck in the “I’ll post about this sometime” queue, and then fall off the bottom.

    Unfortunately, I seem to have the same problem here as well…

  15. Funny, I assumed at first – from the topic and the title – that the “two to go” were me and Fiona. Because if the estimable Tze Ming (oh, how we will miss her scouring wit and sheer staunchness) was the “one explicitly feminist voice” on PA, then it’s true: all you’re left with are two implicit feminists. For the moment at least, we aren’t going anywhere :-)

  16. Being the subject of the discussion is both flattering and a little depressing. I can’t entirely control the tone of the debates, but I’m very keenly aware indeed of the importance of women feeling comfortable on Public Address System, and I think we have more women posting regularly than any other forum in the country. I don’t have to ban people often, but from memory on all three occasions I’ve done it in response to our female readers indicating discomfort with the person involved — and pretty swiftly at that.

    I like the fact that our discussions generally involve intelligent contributions around the issues and not the mind-numbing procedural tit-for-tats that pass for debate on a lot of other sites.

    Merc: I didn’t call Sara hysterical. I did say the claim she had made (escalating a rumoured “intimate search” to a “cavity search” of a teenage girl) was hysterical. I was shocked by it, to be honest. I had to go back and search for the other thing you referred to but I think it’s where I said you were alluding to a conspiracy theory (that the government had scripted the terror raids: “why did the police commissioner have to clear the Warrants with Helen first?”). That was my opinion, and I listed four answers to your question that I felt made more sense than the theory you had put forward. I can’t apologise for that.

    As for you being called a conspiracist, I can’t actually recall the details, but it’s an open forum, and if someone sees fit to call you on your argument, that’s how it works.

    Worik: Honestly, I think the way that people with very sharply differing views on the whole terror-raids issue managed to get through tens of thousands of words of debate without falling into personal abuse was something of a triumph. The fact that someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re “naïve”, it means they disagree with you.

    Deborah: Tze Ming’s eventual discomfort with open discussion forums under her posts was a complex thing, and something she predicted would be the case even before System started up. I didn’t escape me that a good many of the people who paid tribute after her final post were former lurkers — I thought it was quite touching that people took the trouble to register just to thank her. But I don’t think she actually got that many hostile comments anyway: more the reverse, particularly during the Asian Angst saga.

    I’ve been debating in online forums for about 14 years, and most places have been a hell of a lot more torrid than PAS ever gets. It’s a format I’m comfortable and confident with, and I do try and manage it (and myself) as best I can. I’m strongly aware of not wanting PA to be a bunch of middle-aged white males, and you’ll hopefully soon be seeing some posts from a new entrant who is not white, male or middle-aged — but who will hopefully bear out my record as a good judge of talent.

    The most difficult thing to deal with as a moderator is the taking of offence, because it’s so subjective (the so-called Yellow Peril “thread that wouldn’t die” was characterised by the taking of offence from all sides, usually where offence was not actually intended). In a discussion it’s best to pause both before giving and taking offence. I always find it useful to bear the following in mind: it’s just a discussion thread. There’ll be another one tomorrow.

    Cheers,
    RB

  17. > if you read the comments thread, you would think that Tze Ming was just saying a polite goodbye<

    Oh, I didn’t think that. At all.