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A spiral of confusion

The Sarah Kendzior affair


  1. This is a reconstructed timeline of the Jacobin / Sarah Kendzior affair. I have made every effort to reconstruct the precise order of events and cite all participants in context. I've done a minimum amount of editorializing, for the most part pointing out things that are verifiably false or verifiably true. I have also made every effort to be a close and charitable reader of every individual involved... Please hold me to this standard; contact me on Twitter to suggest an edit if I'm being biased.

    This is how it begins: Amber Frost publishes an article in Jacobin, a socialist magazine, that criticizes some tendencies in online feminism. One of her criticisms concerns the use of diminutives like "bro" to discuss men who threaten to rape. 
  2. Frost argues, "I just don't think the diminutive label of “bro” should be [used] to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats. Let’s not mitigate our censure with cutesy fraternal nicknames."

    The original post contained, as an example, a link to a Tweet (an @reply) by Kendzior, where she mentions having received rape threats from a "brocialist".

    This is where the trouble starts. Kendzior complains about the link and asks that it be removed since it was leading to rape threats.
  3. Technically, Frost did not link to rape threats; rather, she linked to Kendzior's discussion of having received rape threats. Nevertheless the link was promptly removed, and with a very vigorous apology by its editor. Frost herself never defended or apologized for the link, remaining silent throughout the affair.
  4. The justification for removing the link is pretty clear. Kendzior claims the link lead to more rape threats. There is also a convention that has emerged in online feminism: not to link to personal accounts of violence without permission. Whether Frost did anything wrong, however, is up for debate. Frost would not likely have expected the link to lead to more threats. Still, the Micah Uetricht's apology does seem to imply that Frost has done something wrong by linking in the first place.

    At this point Jacobin has removed the link and apologized. But Kendzior has used somewhat misleading language to condemn Frost's article. Megan Erickson, an editor at Jacobin objects to this mischaracterization

  5. Erickson's tweet at this point is mostly accurate. Kendzior has mischaracterized what the link links to, though it's an unimportant error. Regardless, Erickson is pretty measured in tone.
  6. Kendzior replies
  7. Note that Frost's original piece was not "mocking [her] rape threats." It criticized Kendzior's use of "brocialist" to describe an attacker; it may be fair to say that Frost's criticism is unwarranted, insensitive, and tone-policing a victim of rape threats. It may also be fair to say that Frost's tone was mocking. Nevertheless, the article did not mock rape threats.
  8. I want to pause here to note that we should all be very accommodating to Kendzior, a woman who is receiving rape threats. At the same time, her language is misleading and inflammatory and will lead to terrible confusion later.

    Erickson calls Kendzior out on her misleading language again. But she escalates the language to insult.
  9. Things escalate pretty quickly. Some followers of Kendzior accuse Erickson of making light of rape jokes, which she obviously did not do.

  10. Other followers of Kendzior are more measured. They complain that the biggest issue is using personal testimony without asking permission. The mischaracterizations of the the text are less important:
  11. At this point, Kendzior feels compelled to write a blog post which discusses the plight of being a female intellectual online. She complains of being belittled and frequently subject to rape threats.
  12. She says a strange thing in this post, however: "two leftist publications used rape threats to me to belittle me, humiliate me and defame me."

    This is a mischaracterization. No one at Jacobin (or Salon, see below) "used rape threats" to belittle her; Jacobin used the way she discussed rape threats to "belittle" her. What she should have said is something like "[one] leftist publication, [because of the way I discussed] rape threats, belittle[d] me, humiliate[d] me and defame[d] me."

    (The second "publication" is Elias Isquith, who happens to work at Salon. Esquith snarkily tweeted (the tweet has since been deleted) that he didn't understand what the fuss was about. It seems he was mostly caught in the crossfire.)
  13. At this point Kendzior has made a few inflammatory and misleading statements: "link to my Twitter rape threats", "mocking my rape threats", and finally "used rape threats". It's probably this last statement that allows Joshua Foust to misread Kendzior and assume that "used rape threats" = "sent rape threats". Hence, Foust says:
  14. Foust must be a bad reader to have made this interpretation. No one has claimed that Jacobin or Salon writers sent rape threats besides Foust. But when called on it, he says there is "plenty of evidence" including email and deleted tweets. (The deleted tweet is most likely a reference to Isquith's deleted tweet.)

    But Foust must a) have fabricated having seen evidence or b) was lied to, or c) he confuses evidence of something else (eg, that there were some rape threats). He must have done one of these things, since days later he issues a weak retraction, saying it was "my mistake".

    Note: there are 2 pages. It gets more interesting. Click the "Next Page" Button.