I apologise in advance, guys. I don't normally like to blog about the blogosphere, and I try to ignore what the blogosphere says about me, but this just takes the entire gluten-free cake.
Alright, so last week, I wrote an article about sectarianism in the liberal blogosphere for The Samosa. I was writing to brief, but it was a brief I thoroughly agreed with. In the piece I criticised, amongst other sites, anti-Islamist forum Harry's Place for slipping far too often into immature and unhelpful bullying, witch-huntery and ad hominem attacks.
Yesterday, Harry's place helpfully responded with a bullying ad hominem attack, on myself this time. Rather than actually addressing my points, the article and long comment thread consist almost wholly of a rant about how posh, rich, stupid, spoilt, young (and therefore ignorant) and female (and therefore silly and irrelevant) I am. It's worth reading in full, but if you can't be bothered, here are some choice exerpts:
From the article:
'People like Ms Penny - home counties raised and not long out of university - simply haven’t had that much time to reflect on matters beyond their own limited life experience and can’t therefore recognise political reaction if it comes with more melanin than she herself inherited'
'another member of the expensively-educated bien pensant community again...logically challenged and hopelessly muddled'
'since when did Socialism mean the rest of us had to be rearranged to suit the whims of a self-obsessed privately-educated, Oxbridge-cocooned twenty-three year old?'
From the comments:
'A stupid spoilt little girl'
'I feel sorry for her. She has no defences, no survival skills, nor any real moral framework that that would allow her to negotiate the world in an autonomous and secure way. She’s stuck in adolescence, is very weak and vulnerable.'
'a very silly, preening, posturing, vain, pretend revolutionary.
'I will criticise this spoilt little girl in any way I want'
And, most succinctly: 'Would she, please, just shut the fuck up?'
All this carries on for over 170 comments, Gosh, 170 comments, just for lil'ol me! I haven't been so thrilled since daddy bought me my third polo-pony :D
It includes a lot more invective, some speculation about my accent, and a few brave people jumping in to point out that responding to a piece about bullying and witch-huntery with a bullying witch-hunt might not be the smartest of ideas. As one commenter put it:
'The point of Laurie Penny’s article is - HP Sauce engages in smears and witch-hunts of anyone who dares dissent from its idea of what constitues ‘civilised debate’. So it responds by… smearing her, launching ad hominem personal attacks, and patronising her. The response has done her work for her. '
I'm flattered to note that a couple of knights in shining HTML have already ridden to my defence at Bleeding Heart Show and Pickled Politics. This is the point at which, for the good of my own mental health, I should probably just step away. But instead, I'd like to actually respond to the charges for once.
I'm pretty well used, by now, to being attacked on the basis of my age, my gender, my class, my background and my education, especially when people can't find much to criticise in my actual writing. It may come as a shock to some, but I’m aware that I write from a position of extreme privilege, despite having lived a lot more in my 23 years than some people at HP sauce give me credit for. I’m afraid that pointing that out isn’t going to shock me, or anyone who knows me, very terribly, although the news that I'm apparently both a Labour Party member and from the Home Counties did come as a surprise. (I was born in North London, grew up in Brighton, and have never been a party member in my life).
I’m quite open, on this blog and elsewhere, about the fact that I’m hugely lucky to have had the education and life chances I’ve been blessed with - my parents aren't peers of the realm, but we have always been reasonably comfortably off, and with my 80% scholarship they were able to afford to send me to a local independent school. I know I’m still very young and have lots to learn, but I see it as my duty to use those chances to contribute to a debate about meaningful social issues, and not just run off and make lots of money in PR or investment banking.
Tom Miller (who should know, because I've come begging to him for work more than once) pointed out on the thread that I'm actually not personally very wealthy, and am perpetually struggling to cover my rent and bills. Others have pointed out that I've had my fair share of tough life experiences, some of which I've discussed on here, some of which I haven't and shan't. These things are true enough - but they don't mean that I'm somehow exempt from class privilege. However hungry I get, I know that if I swallowed my pride, called my dad and told him I had nothing to eat, well...*sings* he would stop it all. And when I had my breakdown at 17 and was carted off to the loony bin for a year, I had my parents' private healthcare insurance making sure that I wouldn't be kicked out of hospital when the NHS cover ran out, as it did for many of the young people I shared the ward with. There's every chance that private health insurance saved my life.
It's not that I haven't fought, struggled and worked extremely fucking hard every day for the past five years just to survive. It's not that the struggle to stay well and stay productive and work for a secure future doesn't take everything I have, every day. It's that I'm privileged to have had the opportunity to work that hard at all. I know that. In fact, it's that knowledge that gets me out of bed on mornings like this one, when I'm convinced that I actually am the spoilt, selfish, weak, pathetic person that the haters like to tell me I am.
On the other points...yes, I'm young. Yes, I'm female. Yes, I am, in fact, 'little' -5 feet nothing in socks and a hefty 9 stone of ladyflesh. Tell me something I don't know. I've spent a long time being told that I'm too mouthy and opinionated for a girl, that however many books I read and measured debates I engage in, my gender and appearance mean I'm just a jumped-up, silly cow, no more. I've spent years being told to shut up and sit down and let the grown ups talk. I've spent 3 years of a neonate journalistic career being told that I'm simultaneously 'pretentious' (because I went to Oxbridge and know some long words) and 'stupid' (because...well...because I'm a girl, maybe?). And that's okay. I knew, when I decided to give journalism and writing a shot rather than go straight into teaching, that I was laying myself open to exactly the kind of bullying that nearly destroyed me when I was a weepy teenager. I'm stronger now. I know, and people who know me know, that I'm not some sort of spoilt, silly upper-middle-class princess who's never visited the real world, airlifted into a cushy media job by daddums. I've met those people, and I'm 100% convinced that I'm not one of them. If I were, I'm pretty sure I'd have a full-time paying job by now.
Criticise my writing, my ideas, my politics. Tell me I'm wrong, that I haven't read enough, that I need to educate myself more. Criticise my over-use of the semi-colon and inability to spell the word 'acheive'. Criticise my Marshall McLuhan fetish, my weakness for overblown feminist polemic, my frantic desire to find and create bridges between parts of a British left so divided that the effort itself may very well be useless. But don't call me a silly little girl. Don't tell me I'm unaware of my own privilege. If you do, don't expect me to run off crying. Don't expect me to sit down and shut up when the grown ups are talking. I am opinionated, articulate and unapologetic, and I am far fucking stronger than a lot of people would like to believe.
The only other thing I'd like to point out that I offered HP the chance to contribute to my article and put their point of view across - and they turned it down. Had they offered a retort, I'd have included it in the piece to make it more balanced. Instead, they refused to engage and devoted an entire article to a lazy ad-hominem attack. Not the first I've dealt with, nor the last. So it goes. Right, enough whinging from me, I've got work to do.