Friday, February 1, 2013

It's Not Bullying to Point Out Oppressive Language In a Book Review

'Stop!' photo (c) 2012, Kevin Dooley - license:

We first came across the site Stop the Goodreads Bullies when we learned that they were attacking online reviewers and publishing their personal information. If you look at the site now, you will find that they have removed all of this information from their blog after facing much criticism. To this day, they deny the publishing of personal information, even though there are several screen caps which have recorded this. The entire purpose of this blog is to attack reviewers who they feel are intent upon ruining the career of writers. Stop the Goodreads Bullies is a site that desperately makes you want to unsee it.  

We recently found that we have been placed on their badly behaving Goodreaders list. Normally if one is accused of behaving badly this is not a good thing, but considering the actions of Stop the Goodreads Bullies, we truly consider it a badge of honour. We have previously written that a review is not for an author to promote their work. Reviews exist to give potential readers an idea of what they are in store for, should they decide to pick up a particular book. To then extrapolate that an author is being bullied because they have been called out for writing something homophobic, sexist or racist shows the extreme sense of entitlement on the part of the owners and contributors of Stop the Goodreads Bullies.  As Parliament Funkadelic sang, “if you don’t like the result, don’t produce the effect!”

They have repeatedly engaged in all manner of isms to defend their precious books at the cost of marginalised people. This week, Stop the Goodreads Bullies published a piece entitled, Is Being Evil A Handicap. Pause for a moment, if you can stomach it and reflect upon this title before checking out the piece if you dare. The thesis of this piece is that disabled people use their disability as a weapon to silence currently abled bodied people. It further suggests that evil can be defined as a “handicap”.  

Intention is everything. Every sane human being has the capability to look inside oneself and ask what his / her intention is behind every choice, decision, and action. Every sane human being has the capacity to feel compassion. Every sane human being has the capability to amend the error of his / her ways after realizing he / she has made wrong choices.

Insane people cannot. Evil people WILL not.

Combine an insane person, such as one of the bullies STGRB frequently profiles who is no different from the typical frothing, eye-rolling, obscenity-screaming bag lady one sees on the street, and an evil one, such as a hate-filled, bent-on-destruction bully, and you have an entity all its own. A frightening, destructive one. The best way to deal with that type of person is to recognize what you are dealing with and head the other way when you see him / her coming your way. That is why this blog provides such a good service with the bright light it shines on such individuals: the layperson is now able to recognize the evil, often faceless bully on the internet, and utilize self-protection.
The author of this piece contends that they are attacking bullying behaviour but all they are doing is attacking disabled people through ableist language and associating disability with evil.  The association of disability with evil is certainly not new (just take a look at Darth Vader) but it is not acceptable. In this piece, disability is constructed as something which actively harms families and indeed entire communities and as we all know, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course the author is so wrapped up in their able bodied privilege along with their desire to sell a book, that clearly no thought has been given as to how such language actively harms the disabled community.

It’s 2013 and this author is still using the term “handicap” and this suggests that they have done absolutely no research into the lives of disabled people. They cannot for a minute begin to understand the privilege in which they are engaging in and this is a large part of the problem with Stop the Goodreads Bullies. While the authors are most definitely a product of the society in which they have been raised, their status as authors cannot and does not give them immunity from blunt criticism when they engage in behaviour which actively harms historically marginalised people. Furthermore, though this criticism is happening in the form of a review, we all have a responsibility to speak up when we see bigotry in action. Even more importantly, marginalised people are not required to be nice when they are dealing with their oppressors, despite what the following quote suggests:

After all, this particular bully is often seen around the web using her handicap to bully others. I’ve seen her on too many blogs boasting about her handicap, using it to garner sympathy, and then using it as a whipping stick to shut down people who disagree with her. When a disagreement gets heated (usually after this bully becomes vicious and starts attacking and name-calling), she will ultimately resort to pulling out her “handicap card” to shut people up: “I’m handicapped and you’re an ableist insulting me and you don’t know what you’re talking about, so shut the eff up” (paraphrasing here). It usually works because most people are respectful and have some degree of compassion, unlike this bully herself.
Do I even need to explain why this passage is ableist and offensive?  Disabled people don’t “play handicap cards;” we live their lives. Following up with patronizing comments about people being compassionate to the disabled only doubles-down on the horror.

It is pieces like these - and their previous post defending Victoria Foyt’s racist Save the Pearls - that convince us more than anything why it is vital to criticise media even in the harshest terms. In the world of the people behind STGRB, we’re supposed to close our eyes to the bigotry out there. We’re supposed to ignore the societal prejudice which saturates the media we consume, we’re supposed to ignore the prejudices society teaches and marginalised people internalise. We’re supposed to pretend it isn’t there.

And this post is a classic example of what happens when you  put on your blinkers and pretend that the things you are reading (or watching, or playing, or listening to) don’t contain dehumanising, othering and marginalising language. You take all those negative messages and then see no problem in using them in disgusting, prejudiced pieces like this. Perhaps if the author of this dreadful piece actually analysed some of the work he consumes (to say nothing of what he produces) and critiqued, rather than squealing whenever someone else dares, he would not write something so grossly offensive, so harmful and so utterly dehumanising.

In many ways, STGR bullies represents exactly why we need to criticise books (and media in general) because they are the epitome of the push back against criticism, no matter how extreme or prejudiced the thing we are criticising is. The enforced cult of niceness and the intimidation of critics is part of why so many damaging messages constantly emit unchallenged from the media. It is why stalking and abusive behaviour is repeatedly portrayed as loving and romantic, why discrimiflips keep happening, why we constantly have tokenism and erasure, and an endless list of damaging and painful tropes returning over and over again. While our focus is a social justice review site, we’re not the only ones who call out these damaging tropes - it’s telling that a substantial number of the people on STGR Bullies’ “bully list,” are people who have spoken against problematic themes, representations or portrayals in books.

In our reviews, are we harsh about some of these? Are we sarcastic? Are we cutting? Are we vehement? Are we angry? Yes - to all. And rightly so. As is said, “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” These prejudiced works are hurting people - they’re not minor issues, they’re not negligible and they shouldn’t be passed over. They are important enough to be angry about. They are serious enough to be worthy of furious challenge. They are even ridiculous enough and painful enough that snark and, yes, even mockery is an acceptable weapon against them

STRG Bullies wants people to stop paying attention - but in doing so and with pieces like this ableist rubbish, they show why it’s so very important that we do.