Shunning and Democracy

Cooties vs. Disfellowshipping: A comparison

A lot of the online-motivated left treats politics much like a game of “cooties,” which kids played at elementary school when I was little.

How it works is, one child says that another child has cooties, and then all the other children run away from the unfortunate for the rest of the play period if they come near. It’s like a snap, arbitrary, peer diagnosis of leprosy. Or, a bit arbitrary, but it was usually a child that the other kids just didn’t like very much.

Everyone has their own line for people they will and won’t associate with, and that’s fair. Freedom of association must also include freedom not to associate, or it isn’t worth much. “No Nazis” had always seemed a sensible line to me, as well as being a broadly acceptable public standard based on criteria that could be objectively discussed. Not like it ever used to come up very often. (Do you remember how as recently as 2014, you almost never saw any swastikas unless you watched a WWII documentary? If we all survive the next couple years, let’s promise each other we’ll get back to that state.)

Nonetheless, the ACLU has defended the free speech and political association rights of Nazis for years, and the organization has yet to be shunned. The irony that the left now treats disobedient feminists worse than Nazis, worse by far than volunteer lawyers for Nazis, is not lost on me.

Also, there are people I just don’t like, or can’t get along with, and everyone has that right of non-association too. Sometimes people bring out the worst in each other and there’s nothing for it. But it’s all too easy for that dislike to excuse harassment and insults when people conflate our arbitrary, personal dislikes with hard standards of non-association reserved for people determined to be a danger to society.

I started to get a little worried a few years ago about how people on the left had started to call everyone they disagreed with Nazis. I got more worried when the left came up with their own synonym for “feminazi,” namely the slur, “TERF.” My worries were unfortunately close to the mark.

I wrote this article last summer about leftist incitements to rape or kill feminists, as well as physical attacks on women marked out as “TERF” witches. I wrote it at a women’s retreat that had to be canceled, rescheduled, and then held quietly in secret on a date that was only shared with registered attendees, because of overwhelming threats and harassment. Last summer, that harassment included a phone banking type effort to contact every single neighbor and town official to demand that the gathering be shut down, and to homophobically fearmonger about ‘hundreds of lesbians on motorcycles taking over the town.’ I did not include that in the article, because I was worried that if I mentioned where I was, someone unfriendly might show up. This was a fear based on the fact that the previous week, someone unfriendly had shown up, wondering if the retreat had gone ahead. He wanted to “see the women.”

Readers, we did not want to be seen.

Having grown up as a Jehovah’s Witness, I know more than the average person about various practices of shunning. For instance, everyone in the faith is a “brother” or “sister,” but everyone outside the faith is “worldly.” You are not supposed to associate with worldly people except for necessary business, education, or work. Small talk and acquaintance is allowed, but you’re not supposed to have worldly friends that you meet up with outside of necessary business. Friendship is for the faithful. If you have worldly family, you can see them as needed, but various cautions are recommended.

If a member leaves the faith, or preaches against it, they’re disfellowshipped. This means that no one in the faith but their family or clergy, known as elders, are allowed to talk to the disfellowshipped person for any reason outside of necessary business. If you’ve messed up but are appropriately repentant, you are disassociated, which is more lenient in allowing you to talk to other believers at church. Both disfellowshipping and disassociation encompassed the possibility of reinstatement into the good graces of the congregation.

I will note here that disfellowshipping, which is considered quite harsh, is a more forgiving standard of association than the game of cooties. Though cooties wasn’t meant to last for years, and its practitioners way-back-when were actual children, most of whom became more mature eventually.

Nonetheless, the left has now adopted a cooties standard of non-association for people they don’t like, rather than the more lenient standard under which I, at the age of 17, was forbidden by the church announcement of my disfellowshipping from speaking to any of my childhood friends.

I share this to point out that I am still not a member of that church, even 20-some years hence.

Anyone who wants me to join their cause on pain of being shunned needs to get in line behind my family, whom I love, and behind old family friends who sincerely want me to join them in Paradise after Armageddon. They can wait behind these dear people, with whom I also do not agree, for the rest of all of our natural lives, or until they come up with a better argument.

But this kind of social practice is not a good way to run either a large, democratic society, or a cohesive, small social group, it seems to me. The faith I grew up in has one of the lowest retention rates of people born into the church of any religion in the US.

Democracy

In a healthy democracy, a decent candidate for office should be asking everyone for their votes. It would be unsettling to hear a presidential candidate, for instance, start telling people to please not vote for them. Every citizen’s vote is supposed to be as good as any other’s, and so you ask everyone, even if you ask some people more intently and directly.

In legislating while in office, it’s common practice to work with people of the other party to carry out basic functions of government. In most US states, and in Washington, DC, the most common situation is one of a government divided between parties. If you were a legislator forbidden from speaking to the opposition, forbidden from speaking with entire groups or organizations that had a lot of influence with your constituents, forbidden from asking the opposition for their votes when your legislation came to the floor, most of the time you wouldn’t get a lot done.

Remember all the articles that were shared in 2016 about how so-and-so had “perfectly destroyed” then-candidate Trump’s arguments? Remember how that didn’t neutralize the voting rights of the people who didn’t care about those arguments and also that he is the president now? Politics is not just an essay contest.

No one on the left badmouths the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, today, because Dennis Hastert helped get it passed, even though everyone later found out that he was a sex criminal. CHIP delivers a necessary service, it’s defended on that basis. We don’t go through and toss out necessary institutional infrastructure because it once talked to someone who’s fallen from grace.

Planned Parenthood, to take a policy group instead of an elected official, was founded by a eugenicist, Margaret Sanger. Almost everyone in mainstream politics and philanthropy was a eugenicist at the time, but this seems to come up a lot in criticisms of the organization; criticisms of women are like fictional, supernatural serial killers, and always come back for a sequel. The organization is defended on the left not because of its origins, but because they provide what we have deemed to be necessary healthcare that women of few means or in underserved areas want and need.

No one defends Planned Parenthood more strongly than the many women who are now, or once were, constituents to whom it provided a service.

The educational outreach and argument portion of political activism is important, but it’s not more important than delivering results. Whereas, if you don’t deliver results, or at least make a robust effort to do so, eventually you’re not going to have constituents. They’re going to go and support someone else.

I’d like to ask women in the radical or gender critical feminist movement who are critical of WoLF’s nonpartisan work to think about what the movement is going to deliver to those women whom feminists would like to have as constituents. Is it media content and political analysis? Is it social media groups or closed Reddit forums? I’ve enjoyed the company and insight of other women in these online spaces. Yet these are not experiences that people can’t get elsewhere, while also facing less risk of being doxxed and mobbed by crazed, leftist men with a god-complex.

We don’t agree with conservatives on abortion, marriage equality, or what to do about redressing racial injustice. We don’t agree with the left on the sex industry, surrogacy, or gender identity. The group of people who agree with us on all of these topics at once, even in the US, is minuscule, and we are nowhere fully represented in government.

How would we even begin to work for change if we were in a country where no political party agreed on any of these issues, and we wanted to win something like the right to be able to travel on our own without permission, if we weren’t allowed to associate with people who disagreed with us on various principles? How would we ever deliver results?

What WoLF tangibly offers constituents, aside from networking, is solidly feminist arguments against gender identity policies presented in US courts, from which we cannot be no-platformed by Silicon Valley tech support. These arguments are public, all are welcome to review them.

This past week, we also participated in a series of public and private meetings trying to bring a long-delayed discussion on the potential harms of gender self-identification to the fore in Washington, DC. This coming year, we’re going to further support our members’ capacity to educate public officials and work to hold other public events.

Self-identification, already the law in several states and in many facilities that accept federal funding, which already results in grave medical harms to children, may be rolled out nationwide within the next three to four years through the gender identity provisions of the Equality Act. This is very little time in which to avert this outcome, if it’s possible, when the opposition has been organizing for over a decade, supported by nearly 13,000 grants from over 500 foundations, corporations, and government entities. If we can fight this, it will take many of us meeting with officials at the local, state, and federal levels. It will take women being willing to speak out under our own names and hold or show up to meetings, or testify at hearings, to peacefully assert our principles.

We are trying our best. We hope it’s enough. It would be nice to have more options, and other help. But the situation is urgent and we’re working with the people who showed up.

That could be you who shows up, too! You don’t have to work with us to be effective, but you will have to engage with the people who currently run your government, and with whom you are likely to disagree.

We’re asking everyone for their support, and we hope you’ll join us in engaging with the ordinary political process as if you have the right. Because you do have that right. The suffragists saw to it, and they couldn’t even vote when they won it.

I urge you all to stand up now to fight back.

— Natasha Chart, WoLF