Just for the record, I’m a big fan of bullshit. In fact, I buy huge bags of it every spring to use in my garden. Sure it’s stinky, but it gets the job done.
Recently, the Feminist Hulk (a tongue-in-cheek twitterer) sent out a tweet about bullshit and it was widely “re-tweeted” (or copied, with attribution) by many users in The Exponent community.* It read:
When I first saw this tweet I bristled a bit at the profanity. These words carry more weight and are somewhat more offensive when in print than when heard in casual conversation. However, that’s precisely why I liked the tweet. I felt uncomfortable and it caught my attention. And that discomfort made me think about how feminism is portrayed on The Exponent blog. The look of our blog is organic and feminine: pastel colors, the leaf motif, subdued fonts. The photos in the sidebar are artful–all of winsome smiling young women. Not a scary old hairy feminist in the bunch. I’d say that we sit squarely on the “softer side” of the feminist line when compared to mainstream feminist blogs like Feministing, Bust, or Pandagon.
So when the bullshit post from above was re-tweeted on the official Exponent channel, several of the bloggers protested on the private permablogger listserv. And when the week’s aggregate feed post went up, the bullshit tweet was removed because it was considered too vulgar for an Exponent post.
I’m shaking my head here, as I ponder whether feminism is best served with a wink and a smile. Our sisters who fought for the 19th amendment weren’t afraid of a little discomfort. I’m not necessarily suggesting that profanity be used in every Exponent post–just the opposite. When used judiciously, the discomfort that results from a smartly-used swear word can serve to illustrate an important point. Because if the Hulk tweet had said simply “RESIST THE PRESSURE TO DOWNPLAY FEMINISM TO MAKE PEOPLE MORE COMFORTABLE. DISCOMFORT CAN BE PRODUCTIVE,” I seriously doubt it would have had even half the intended impact. Discomfort can be productive. But when we carefully sanitize our writing so we don’t push boundaries or let things get a bit ugly, are we missing out?
In fact, not one reader even mentioned the Hulk tweet or the profanity in the twitter blogpost. If someone had been offended, I’m sure they would have let us know–the fact that the profanity passed unnoticed by our readers makes me wonder if there was even any cause for concern in the first place.
When I use steer manure in my garden I have to be cautious to ensure that it’s been properly aged or it can burn young seedling plants. Similarly I can see why profanity needs to be used with caution, because of the possibility of “burning” those blogreaders who are only just barely acquainted with feminism or who might be turned-off by a bit of bullshit. But at the same time I can’t help but wonder if the discomfort is really our own, and not that of our imagined audience–and if it is, then what are we really afraid of?
*Note: For new readers of my blog: I’m a founding member of The Exponent blog, which focuses on Mormon feminism and other topics that are relevant to progressive LDS women.