This morning my day was ruined by the shock of learning that some Mormons, apparently drunk with Schadenfreude at Kate Kelly’s excommunication and wanting to exact some kind of Gospel revenge, have created a Facebook page called Ordain Women Exposed, the content of which essentially amounts to traditional internet abuse — cyberbullying — of Kate Kelly in particular and, collaterally, of anyone who supports or perhaps shares some of the concerns of the Ordain Women group.
2013 has been described as the “annus misogynis” — the year that misogyny came out into the open. Misogyny is a major component of cyberbullying, and it has been found that women are indeed more likely to be victims of cyberbullying than men. Reflecting on this rise in internet misogyny, Telegraph reporter Michael Deacon writes that
[f]or misogynists, the arrival of the web has been a glorious boon. In the past, admittedly, your prejudices were more readily indulged in everyday conversation, but it was hard to win them a wider audience. You could try getting a letter published in the paper, but there was always the risk that the editor would read it, notice that you were a screaming crackpot, and file it quietly in the nearest bin. It was most frustrating.
The web changed all that. Now, no one could stop you from exercising your right to inflict your miserable opinions upon the world. Beneath articles on news sites you could rant and abuse to your heart’s content. On Twitter you could inform female public figures –- from actresses to academics –- that they were physically repugnant whores who deserved to be raped. Theoretically you could be arrested for this sort of behaviour, but fortunately there were so many of you doing it that the police didn’t know where to begin, and hardly anyone got in trouble at all.
In the Telegraph article first linked above, from early 2014, reporter Hannah Betts quoted her colleague Zoe Williams, another British columnist, as saying “There have always been patronising gargoyles, but I think the level of aggression is new. If I use the word ‘feminism’ in an online article, it’s like crawling into a pit of hyenas. The derision is disproportionate and the fury palpable.”
The world truly hates feminists and feminism in general, even though that topic is extraordinarily broad (and often, especially in modern iterations, manifestly does NOT mean what its critics claim it means in setting up their straw man arguments against it), and even though virtually every single woman in the free market democracies of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia — and increasingly in Latin American society and other developing countries around the world — from Apostles’ wives down to the lowest caste or class of women in various societies benefits every single day in myriad ways in 2014 from the work, effort, pain, and very real sacrifice of countless “feminists” (whether called “independent women,” “Mormon suffragists,” “suffragettes,” “feminists,” or in 2014, “not a feminist, but”) over decades, perhaps even centuries. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are supposed to be building up Zion, rejecting the prejudices of the world. But as cyberbullying rears its head in the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication (and well before as the conflict was forming and becoming more acute), the ugly and chilling misogyny that is so characteristic of this kind of internet behavior in the broader world is unfortunately visible among the body of saints as well.
The misogyny of internet bullying out in the world — a hallmark of which is the abuse directed by anonymous participants (both male and female) known as misogynist trolls — ties in closely to classic sexism, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination against women. Laura Bates, a proprietor of the Everyday Sexism Project, observed in a blog entry that
[t]he society we live in has normalised the treatment of women as second-class citizens, as disposable objects, as punchlines for jokes. Young girls are growing up learning that it is simply normal to be harassed and touched in their uniform on the journey to school. Rape victims are blamed for what happens to them. Women are used, in advertising, TV shows and magazines, as living, breathing decorations. We live in a world in which a barrister can describe a child victim of sexual abuse as predatory, as if she were somehow complicit in her own abuse. Female politicians are judged on their looks and criticised for their clothes and face sexual harassment within the walls of Westminster. Female university students are dealing with posters and T-shirts joking about rape, and chants about miscarriage and abuse. The Daily Mail reports on the “womanly curves” of a 14-year-old girl. Two women are killed every week by a current or former partner. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year. Over 85,000 are raped. The naked breasts of a young woman are plastered inside our biggest selling “family” newspaper while teenage girls fight to be treated with respect by their peers. Extreme images of women bloodied, battered and beaten with captions like “Next time, don’t get pregnant”, still abound across the internet, and graphic messages telling me how I should be raped and which tools should be used to disembowel me ping into my inbox on a weekly basis. Just for giving a platform for women’s voices. Just for raising the issue of gender equality.
In an op-ed column in the New York Times earlier this year, Ross Douthat contemplates “root causes” and asks “where all the hate and twisted fantasies are coming from”? He posits that “[o]ne potential magnifier, of course, is the Internet itself, which by its nature is a kind of unreal space for many users — a place where a range of impulses can be discussed, explored and acted out in what feels like a consequence-free zone.” He theorizes “that many men who might have successfully regulated their darker impulses now have what seems like a green light to be ‘virtually’ abusive … because they’re just trying out a role, or because the woman on the receiving end seems no more real to them than a character in a pornographic film.” He also identifies feminism as a “magnifier” of this misogyny rampant in anonymous internet abuse, observing that “there’s no question that women writing from that perspective [of feminism] come in for more personal, sexualized abuse than women writing about, say, monetary policy. Where the personal is political, the political becomes personal more quickly, and the grotesque abuse that liberal, feminist writers can receive for being liberal feminists is a scandal that conservatives, especially, need to acknowledge and deplore.”
Surely Latter-day Saints reject this worldly misogyny as they become adopted sons and daughters of Christ through baptism and embark on the process of building up Zion, right? Because I firmly believe in the strong Christian discipleship of most Latter-day Saints, I also firmly believe this to be the case for most active, faithful Mormons.
However, the group of presumably LDS voices anonymously running Ordain Women Exposed actually “exposes,” to our collective shame as Latter-day Saints, that this is not uniformly the case. In a self-righteous fit, the unnamed, anonymous posters at OWE let all pretense at charity and Christian discipleship fall by the wayside as they excoriate, in a putative effort to “expose” the “evil” of Kate Kelly to the rest of the Church, just about anything they can think of about Kate Kelly. In response to comments calling out the repulsive nature of the page, the anonymous OWE voice justified itself as follows:
KK brought this attention on to herself by dragging what the LDS faithful value more than their own lives–the Gospel of Jesus Christ–through the mud and a media circus. The anger we feel over the spectacle she has created is probably similar to the anger Christ felt when he had to clean the temple from the money changers. There is a difference between someone being lost and someone being lost and actively leading others astray. This has become a big deal because KK made it a big deal. I don’t think a single one of us is happy she has lost her eternal salvation (as of right now), but we are happy that someone who was doing so much damage was finally “corrected” by a priesthood leader. Also, I must say, WE do not need to forgive her. She needs to seek forgiveness from Christ. As far as the comments about her dress, KK wore that on purpose to make a mockery of the instructions she received about her excommunication. She is playing the “victim” card fully by appearing in public with bare shoulders so she can say, “See what those awful mysoginistic men MADE me do!” I do feel sad for her. It is one thing to lose your own soul, but she has severed ties with her children through her own behavior, and I weep mostly for those innocent children.
In OWE’s own words, then, this is some kind of twisted attempt at “Gospel revenge” — getting her back for her efforts to achieve women’s ordination (by petitioning Church leaders, through the outside pressure created by her media campaign, to seek guidance from the Lord on the issue). The page displays all the characteristics of classic misogynistic anonymous internet abuse, from the shameful cyberstalking tactics of collecting and posting screenshots of Kate Kelly’s Facebook, other pictures of her, and links to many of her interviews and news reports about her, to hateful comments about her and her efforts littering the site often in the “we” of the anonymous OWE voice but also represented by many people commenting from their own Facebook accounts (i.e. not even anonymously) reprimanding her for her work at Ordain Women and commenting about how evil she is, to comments about her clothing and looks. True to the pattern of misogyny playing a major role in anonymous internet abuse, Kate Kelly’s feminism or feminist presentation of her concerns about women’s role in the Church seems to form the backbone of this patronizing, abusive attempt to “correct” and condemn her.
The Ordain Women Exposed page and virtually every comment from “OWE” is classic cyberbullying, exhibiting all of the traits of that lowest form of internet communication, including and especially the misogynistic impulses that have become famous in such anonymous internet abuse. “She brought this bullying on herself by starting OW and engaging in her media campaign which got her excommunicated,” is what appears to be the justification that this page uses for its bad behavior — behavior that is carried out in a Mormon linguistic register though entirely without the Spirit or any indicia of Christian discipleship, thus damaging the Church much more than Kate Kelly’s ill-advised media campaign meant to use outside pressure to motivate Church leaders to meet with her and to petition God on her behalf on the question of ordaining women to the priesthood. The use of this Mormon linguistic register means that Kate Kelly is not being called a “bitch” or other profane slurs that are commonly found in the type of anonymous misogynistic internet abuse that this page resembles. But the “Mormon nice” cannot eclipse the substantive abusive nature of this material.
This is therefore conduct that is unbecoming of Latter-day Saints and is manifestly “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church”, if ever there was such conduct. The ostensible Mormons behind Ordain Women Exposed, and the commenters jumping on the bandwagon to criticize, demonize, and castigate Kate Kelly and Ordain Women should be ashamed of themselves and their lack of Christian discipleship in this situation. This has nothing to do with supporting or defending Kate Kelly’s problematic approach to opening up dialogue about the ordination of women. This is about Christian discipleship and the cause of Zion. Such behavior, hate, vindictiveness, and abuse as is found on this page should not be had among us. Its presence indicates a willingness to let worldly influence corrupt our interactions with each other and especially with those who most need our loving kindness — those whom we’ve recently cast out. No matter how appealing this kind of trolling abuse is to the natural man, we as Latter-day Saints must reject it. Failing to do so is a breach of our covenants.