Who Killed Civil Discourse? Evelyn Evelyn, Marginalization, and Internet Discussion

Hello. I am Annaham (yes, I have a name). I am the person who posted a critique of Evelyn Evelyn on this website, which kicked off something of an internet controversy. For those who’ve just joined us, I made a post about Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley’s side project Evelyn Evelyn, Lauredhel made another post soon after, and things got a little out-of-control, to say the least. Because my post was part of this whole storm of various substances — both gross and not — I feel some responsibility to share my reaction to what’s gone down thus far.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about some basic principles of anti-oppression activism and social justice work that intersect with the work we do here at FWD, as some very specific structural issues and contexts are absolutely relevant in this discussion. Often, marginalized people are encouraged and expected to be sensitive and accommodating to the attitudes and prejudices of the dominant culture and to those of less-marginalized (ie: more privileged) people. However, this sensitivity and accommodation usually does not run both ways. Marginalized people, if they criticize something that (for example) leaves them out or makes them feel awful, are often told that they are being overly sensitive or overemotional, that they just misunderstand intent, that they are exaggerating, or that their tone is not polite enough. They are then expected to modify their behavior — and their self-expression —  to fit with the norms and values of those who are more privileged.

What the less-privileged have to say is usually not accorded much importance, critical thought, or respect, and yet they are supposed to prioritize, be patient with, and generally assign more importance to views, values and norms that are not their own. People in marginalized communities are often expected to educate the more privileged majority. They may be expected to patiently explain basic concepts, sometimes repeatedly. And if those with more privilege decide that they do not agree (with the less-privileged group’s tone, focus, or any number of other things other than the actual argument that is being made), those with less privilege are told, with varying degrees of subtlety, to shut the fuck up.

All the while, the perspectives, attitudes, norms and values of those with more privilege are made neutral. The power dynamics are rendered invisible, because that’s just the way things are, so there’s no point in trying to change any of it. Why are you so angry?  You’re just looking for things to get mad about. You just like being offended. Why can’t you focus on other/more important things? It wasn’t meant that way. You need to hold your tongue until you’ve done x, y and z. Quit taking it personally. You’re ruining everyone’s good time. Stop trying to make everyone pay attention to your pet issue, because it doesn’t affect anyone other than you. Your demands are unreasonable. Stop complaining. Shut up.

And when things don’t go entirely smoothly (which happens often), those not in a position of privilege are often blamed for it: Well, what did you expect, using that tone? You’re the one who brought it up; you’re the one who rocked the boat.

Unfortunately, these tactics are extremely common when it comes folks’ objections against many sorts of media and pop culture critique and/or backlash against critical engagement with cultural works. In other words: These are not new patterns.

I am definitely not saying that everyone has to agree with the critiques that I and others have made regarding Evelyn Evelyn; I am not suggesting that ideological lockstep is a worthy end-goal. What I am saying is that the humanity of marginalized people — those who have traditionally been left out, and who are often on the receiving end of justifications for said exclusion(s) — is not up for debate. The humanity of the participants in this discussion — that of the creators/artists, fans, and those of us who have come forward with critiques — is similarly not up for debate. What I posted, and what I am posting here, was (and is) my take on the matter. I do not, nor do I want to, claim to speak for all PWDs, or all disabled feminists, or all fans of AfP and/or Jason Webley who are also disabled or feminists, or both. We all have our different takes on Evelyn Evelyn and how things have unfolded, and I think it is a good sign that so much discussion has come from this.

As I have stated here on FWD and elsewhere, I am a fan of AfP and have been for a number of years. Many of the people who have raised concerns about Evelyn Evelyn are fans, potential fans, or former fans (and there have been solid points raised by non-fans, too). Dreamwidth’s Anti-Oppression Linkspam community has, at present, four roundups collecting posts on the matter from around the web.  I suspect that many of us who have posted on the Evelyn Evelyn project with a critical eye are not raising these concerns simply to bug or irritate Amanda and Jason, or their fans. However, there are quite a few people who seem eager to dismiss those of us with legitimate concerns as “haters” who just don’t understand art. The hostile messages from “haters” that Amanda has received are not legitimate critiques. These are personal attacks, not arguments of substance.

I almost feel like it should go without saying that I do not support people making these attacks on Amanda, but just to make it very clear: I am very much against people using this controversy — and the complex issues raised — as a bandwagon upon which they can leap to make personal attacks and/or comments about Amanda’s personal life or who she is. Unfortunately for those of us who have been trying to bring attention to Evelyn Evelyn-related issues and seriously discuss them, the “haters” are distracting from these same issues (and are apparently effective at it). I have also heard that people are making threats of physical violence against Amanda. That is not okay. It is never, ever acceptable to make threats of violence against anyone, regardless of your disagreement. That is basic human decency. It is truly disheartening to me, and to the other FWD contributors, that some are using this very difficult situation as an excuse to make horrific threats. We fiercely condemn these attacks.

One of the comments I received was from someone who, as far as I can tell, thought that my post seemed “insincere,” with a bonus implication that I was and am making other PWDs look bad “in the eyes of the abled.” Comments of this sort are often aimed at members of marginalized groups who are expected speak for everyone in their group when confronted; it basically boils down to “You are making other [disabled people] look bad.” I have to wonder why this same thing was not said to the AfP fans who found it necessary to show up here to derail, break out tone arguments,  tell me and my fellow contributors that we are crazy and/or should shut up, and who dismissed us on Twitter as just bitching about the project. It’s interesting, and rather telling, that some fans have used these tactics against me, my fellow FWD contributors, and other people who have critiqued the project, but could not (or did not want to) step back and consider their own behavior.

We were, in various other places around the web, called “retarded,” “angry bloggers,” had the legitimacy of our contributors’ disabilities questioned, and (trigger warning) threatened with rape (link goes to a screencap of a comment left on Amanda’s blog) — among many, many other things. In the comments thread to my original post, I was told that I need to focus on more important issues, that I was blowing things out of proportion, that I was censoring people and/or trampling on their free speech rights by laying out guidelines that specifically told potential commenters  to not leave derailing comments,  and that intent should excuse offensiveness. Eventually, I lost my patience.

There were also quite a few personal-attack comments left in the moderation queue; for obvious reasons, these were not published. These attacking comments were a significant part of why I closed comments on the post, though I did not explain that in my final comment. My decision was not about “censoring” what anyone had to say, or infringing upon “free speech” rights (this is a private website — one that has contributors, commenters and readers who are not only from the U.S.), or only about the fact that I lost my patience after having explained certain concepts over and over again; I and my fellow contributors simply could not deal with the personal attacks, threats, and violent language being left in the mod queue anymore.

Here is just a sampling of some of these unpublished comments from the mod queue (possible trigger warning):

“What’s the matter with you?”

“cant handle it? then just fucking die!”

“fuck u die slow nigga!”

“ONOEZ SOMEONE WANTED TO SMACK SOMEONE SUCH VIOLENCE!!! Typical retarded comment on an idiotic, stupid, moronic, weak, and lame blog. Fucking oversensitive twits.”

I think there is something analogous here to some of the more hateful comments that Amanda received on Twitter and elsewhere, but that is a bit of a tangent.

Going through the mod queue for that post was not an experience that I would want anyone to have. I could talk about the fact that it got to the point where it exhausted me to look at the comments; about the extreme anxiety and emotional hurt I felt while reading some of the comments that attacked me as an individual and/or questioned my mental health status; about how it feels to notice that your physical pain level — already there as a result of a chronic pain condition — goes up a few notches as you read criticism(s) directed not at your argument, but at you. I have a feeling that were I to discuss this in depth, some would likely construe it as “ANGRY BLOGGER BLAMES AMANDA PALMER FANS FOR HER OWN PAIN” or accuse me of using my disability as an excuse for being “too sensitive.” I get more than enough of that outside of the blogosphere.

I need a break from having attempted to be civil and polite and explain very basic concepts to a select few people who have no interest in substantially engaging with me or with others who have raised concerns about Evelyn Evelyn.  Simply put, I need some time to recharge my politeness batteries, as well as my hope that some people — and I include many of Amanda’s fans in this category  — do want to listen, learn and discuss without derailing or attacking. I wish I could address every critique that’s come our way, but I am pretty worn out (and I suspect that many of you — disabled and not — know the feeling).

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Jason and I have been communicating via e-mail — he emailed me shortly after my other post went live — and discussing many of these issues in more detail; for that, and for his willingness to engage, listen, and consider the critiques that have come up, I thank him.

I wish Amanda and Jason success with their endeavors; I do not wish to shut either of them up or, worse, endorse that Evelyn Evelyn not go forward at all. There is, as I have said, quite a bit of difference between critiquing a portion of someone’s work and wanting to shut them up or silence them; I have aimed for the former. I ask, however, that they engage critically with and take seriously the numerous points that have been brought up, both about (trigger warnings apply to the first two links) specific aspects of the project and the response to critiques so far. Taking on such huge issues will doubtlessly be a difficult and ongoing process. Of course, Amanda and Jason will probably interpret all of this in different ways. What happens next does not have to be “perfect” — nor 100% Annaham-approved (because that would be unrealistic and silly), but it would be fantastic for these two very talented musicians and performers to bridge the gaps between their good intentions and what actually shows up onstage and on the album.

What are the ultimate lessons here? What can people on all sides of this discussion take away? Right now, I don’t know, and for the moment, that is okay with me. I still believe that better things are possible. I refuse to give up that hope.

[Special thanks to meloukhia for ou’s help in putting together links and other material for this post.]

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  1. hi!

    it’s interesting that you just posted this because i’ve been thinking about joining the conversation but had some hesitations.

    firstly, i’d like to say a little about myselfs as it relates to this topic. i am crazy, sick and cognitively disabled. i have a very low stress tolerance and my communication style tends to be unique to me. these factors, combined with ableism (& other oppressive bullshit), make me hesitant to engage with folks i don’t personally know.

    i read about the evelyn concept album with great interest and dismay, and it has led me to some blogs by disabled feminists that i didn’t know existed, which is really cool. i already subscribe to this one. it’s truly awful what people will try and say. i’m sorry y’all have had to deal with so much hatred and venom, and i’m certainly glad that you take the time and effort to moderate the discussions here.

    moving on…

    one of the concepts that i’m intrigued and also concerned about is derailing. the comments policy states:
    “Ad hominem attacks, concern trolling, straw man arguments, derailing, and other pointless rhetorical tactics are also frowned upon here.”
    i’m assuming this is a common language to folks who spend a lot of time on the internet? they are unfamiliar to me, but i have a difficult time reading things on screens. today i’m feeling able to use the computer and i’ve been reading about derailing, among other things. and on the one hand, it’s a really cool shorthand for the many ways folks try to avoid dealing with issues that are on the table. on the other hand, it’s pretty subjective and could be used to shut down folks who may not communicate within this standard.

    i’m really sensitive to this, because i have dealt with a lot of oppressive shit relating to the ways i communicate, and these are directly linked to who i am in the world and where i come from. i often have the feeling that i’m living to the side of most folks. i guess i just wanted to kind of wave and say hello, and that i’m just feeling kind of hesitant and wondering if my expression is going to be acceptable here.

    from a fellow disabled feminist, in solidarity.

    take care,
    billie xo

  2. I have run the full gauntlet from initially wanting to defend an artist I like, to reading the blogs/comments and feeling disquieted, to looking into the ways minorities are routinely silenced (there are several good websites for this, will try to find the links if anyone’s interested, ‘baby steps away from racism’ comes instantly to mind as a turning point for me but then maybe by that point I had just read enough such posts to ‘get it’), and finally to reading the coments on Amanda’s second blog post after coming to the conclusion that I actually agree with you. Some of the things people have said there that I would have thought of as reasonable before now appall me. Thanks for radically altering my worldview. I have to admit that at first I was like “what, I don’t get to HAVE an opinion?” but I realised that my opinion was already well-represented, formed from a place of privelege and at least in part constructed by a society which likes minorities to know their place; there is an imbalance of rights and in order to redistribute them more fairly sometimes you have to lose some of your priveleges (such as always thinking that WHAT YOU THINK needs to be impressed on to other people). Despite all this I used to think I was liberal and inclusive! I think I am going to have to make a lot of changes after reading this discussion…(and become a regular FWD reader!).

  3. Annaham, I just wanted to thank you and the other blog authors for providing such great moderation It makes a difference to how safe I feel on this blog. Thank you for all your hard work.

  4. I’ve been reposting your commentaries on the E/E controversy but remaining relatively internets-silent because of this trolling/silencing behavior I see too many comrades getting sucked in to. I’ve just sent this link to a current silencing happening on Facebook (I didn’t know people got chattery on FB). Thank you for being so completely articulate so that we can continue the conversations in person, online and otherwise.
    Here’s to a lifetime of not eating what’s fed to us, but pulling it apart to find the nutrition and and educate on the toxins.

  5. Brava, Bellissima!


  6. Annaham, thanks for this post and the ones before it. I’ve been following the coverage of Evelyn Evelyn here at FWD/Forward, and sharing your links with friends and others in my less-public internet life (I haven’t been writing much in my more-public internet life these days). The coverage here has been great, and hasn’t just brought up important lessons for people in disability activism, but in social justice activism in general. I am no longer shocked by people’s inability to apply privilege/oppression models to different circumstances than the ones they’ve been explicitly taught (I think that is just another aspect of privilege in action, to force marginal people to explain themselves again and again), but I know how frustrating it can be.

    Sorry you’re having to put up with such crap in the comments. Having caught the attention of a larger audience over things I’ve written before I know how horrible that mod queue can be and how it can affect you emotionally and physically. One of the greatest challenges I have to holding the position that people are essentially well-intentioned is reading internet comments, and I don’t mean that to sound flip. It is at times traumatizing.

  7. I just want to express my admiration for the cogency and grace with which you have both spoken your mind and addressed the reactions of others.

  8. I have great respect for you for attempting to deal with this, and great sympathy for having to plough through the hateful comments. The TAB argument so often, seems to boil down to “I can’t be bothered to extend any empathy towards you”.

    It’s frustrating. And kudos to you.

  9. Like many of the previous commentors, I’ve remained silent over this project because my own disability and a family situation have been making my own anxiety spike, and I just don’t have the spoons to deal with the silencing, hostility and threats. Nevertheless, I wanted to thank you profoundly for this post, and for taking your valuable time to make it. I hope that people who truly want to learn will make use of it.

  10. You’ve been hit with an enormous amount of bigotry for advancing discussion on some very important issues. I think that the one thing that is clear to me after all this is that I’m VERY, very glad that this website exists, both reflecting my experiences and inspiring me to further reading and to explore new angles that I hadn’t previously considered. Despite all the hate, FWD has been classy and informative throughout. Thanks for being my new favourite blog. <3

  11. A very wise post. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with crap from people who’ve chosen to be disrespectful.

  12. The commentors above had expressed the sentiments I feel so well, so I will just add a “ditto” for taking on the topic.

    I really appreciate the great commenting moderation, even though I know it can be REALLY tough on the mod.. Mod. comments make this blog such a safe place to post. I only post here and one other blog that are open to the interwebs, because they are both safe places to speak up. I know I won’t get roasted by others. ((((hugs)))

  13. I’m not braining well today — used my spoons, oddly enough, trying to make progress in this discussion — so I’ll just say “Awesome blog” and link this from as many places as I can… once I get a few spoons back.

  14. Billie xo, as someone with reasonably severe ADD, I can sympathize with your concern about thee derail issue. As part of my disability, my mind jumps all over the fucking place. As such, I really don’t have much of a feel for when topics connect or do not. I’m CONSTANTLY getting crap for this in the 3D world, so it’s a definite source of anguish for me. I’m assuming, though, that if you are likewise, you can easily request accommodation, or at least ask for sensitivity, as specified in the comment guidelines. And, I’m assuming, is specified in this post as it asks for listening and engagement.

  15. Thanks for continuing to engage.

  16. Thank you for continuing to post on this despite the many angry attempts to silence you. It must be especially hard as a fan of AfP’s work. I’m pleased that Jason has been in touch by email- I hope both he and Amanda can learn something from this.

  17. I’m sorry your comments have been so awful. Unfortunately, not surprised (I’ve been blogging while female for a long time now, way longer than the BARCC blog), but sorry.

    And you are, of course, entirely correct that the outlandish behavior of a few commenters is pulling the discussion away from the very real issues here. Argh.

    Thank you so much, from yet another disabled feminist, for your posts on the matter.

  18. *Delurks*

    I wanted to add my voice in solidarity.

    Thank you for raising the issue and don’t let anyone shut up or derail the important stuff: The actual affected people.


  19. Samanthab,

    yes, the staying on topic thing definitely is one concern for me. i have a myriad of cognitive things going on, none of them ADD, although my partner of 15 years deals with that in a big way, which creates a very nonstructured communication flow in my household. it’s actually pretty fun! i enjoy the jumping bean style of our communications as a general rule. i’m also multiple, so it gets REALLY fun around here!

    also, i’m not sure how one asks for accomodation from a blog? i guess by including it in my comments each time? i’d love to know if there’s a protocol for that. it’s possible i read it but didn’t take it in.

    the rude and cruel things people are saying in regards to the topic that “inspired” this post are really distressing! i can imagine how difficult it is to wade through all this and then still attempt to be civil, especially when there is so much complexity in how folks are communicating outside of the openly hostile stuff. i really like this website, and i enjoy that it’s somewhere i can turn to for a perspective on these issues that generally aligns with my own.

    i’ve also seen people say things that to me are interesting and related but are addressed as derailing tactics. perhaps i’m not attuned to the subtleties that are happening below the surface of communication. the other thing is that i tend to be relatively broad in my concept of appropriate communication because i know how hard it is for myself and other crazy/confused folks to just get acknowledgement for our contributions to these kinds of discussions.

    i really appreciate how much effort the folks on this site must be putting in to deal with the meanness that gets directed to the specific feminist disabled perspectives that are represented here. that’s something i don’t know that i could personally handle. i have a hard time feeling like i can express myselfs in this friendly space. seeing the ugliness that’s being filtered out helps me appreciate what really goes into what i see and what i’m not seeing here.

    thanks again, y’all!

    xoxo billie

  20. dear billie rain, I don’t know what your communication troubles in comments are like, but I think I am prone to derailing and ‘splainin’ if I understand what those terms mean (focusing on something that isn’t the point, or overexplaining/overanalyzing things in a way that sounds patronizing–especially things that don’t directly affect you). I guess I really like systematically writing about ideas with a lot of examples and sometimes (though not lately, fortunately) I have left comments on FWD/Forward that were not posted and I think it’s because they were inappropriate to the discussion.

    however, they have linked me, and let other comments of mine through, before and since. although I may be projecting and they may just not have thought about it, I really appreciate this. I feel like in some safe-space forums and blogs, if you say something that is considered to be inappropriate, they ban you, and are often mean to you. I feel like, if it is an intentional choice at FWD/Forward to not actually ban people or snark on them because they posted something that was inappropriate, that’s really awesome. it means that even if people do something wrong, they still have an opportunity to do other things better in the future. and I think if someone has a communication disorder that contributes to them leaving inappropriate comments, this makes the environment much more accessible to them, because messing up once doesn’t mean everything is ruined forever.

    …and as usual I am not posting on the OP topic, so I hope this is okay. I have appreciated all the posts about Evelyn Evelyn, and I’m really sorry that you had to experience threatening comments. Whether or not people agree, it is horrifying for them to attack someone just because the person criticized a fictional story.

  21. I just wanted to say that I really appreciate all the work you do here, and I hope you know that there are so many people who appreciate you speaking out – and understand you having to step away. I really can’t express how much this community has helped me to understand ableism and advocate for myself and others. So, I hope you know that your voice has really helped some people. (if that helps at all).

  22. You’ve given this far more attention than I would have had the energy for. (Last time I got a threat, I deleted the comment they were responding too and locked down my journal tight as a drum. Some people took that as an overreaction.)

    The degree of derailing and tone argument has been mind-boggling. The oppression Olympics aspect has been dazzling as well. A horde of “other oppressions” seem to be rushing in to say “well, I don’t know that those disabled feminists have a point, but I’ll tell ya, I have this oppression that’s related to Evelyn Evelyn, and I can tell you for sure that it’s all about ME and NOT those disabled people over there…” A little intersectionality here, people, please.

    But most disheartening of all has been the violence expressed against women with disabilities. Disheartening and shocking.

    Thanks for maintaining a safe place on the internet for me and my sisters.

  23. Annaham,
    It saddens me to think of how exhausting moderating the comments must be. Thank you for posting this, and for the time and energy you’ve spent thinking and writing about this project.

    I very much hope our communication will continue,

  24. Thank you. For the original post, for putting yourself in the line of fire and moderating those comments, for closing comments when it was clear that keeping them open was helping nobody, for writing this post. For being excellent.

  25. Your post has been added to a linkspam round-up.

  26. It’s so intensely frustrating how frequent threatening/violent and ad hominem responses are online. It’s as if we went back to 6th grade, where the average response to a well-argued piece that someone didn’t agree with was either an insult or a fist. Pretty damn low common denominator, if you ask me.

    I thought your piece did a good job of being a critique that was aimed at the action and not the actor, and it’s a shame that people couldn’t do the same in their responses to what you had to say.


  27. Thanks so much for your comments, everyone! I’ve made myself scarce for a bit for obvious reasons, but please know that your comments are very much appreciated.
    .-= Annaham´s last blog ..Just a link =-.

  28. You go Anna, hope you’re feeling better. 🙂

  29. Just adding to chorus of thanks for you and the others who posted about and addressed this topic. I would not have been aware of EE without this site, and in fact had never really heard of AfP before this. I didn’t even engage much when the first post came and went before my eyes, but when it continued to be discussed and talked about here and other places I read, I finally went out to see what the deal was and was so appalled that I jumped into the fray myself a bit. It was so frustrating to see SO many people just Not Getting It and having so few people with the available resources to argue against them. I (gladly) spent a lot of my spoons last week trying to pick up the slack in several places and have learned a lot in doing so.

    Also, thank you to you and everyone else maintaining this site who deals with the comments because it is so easy to forget that all that crap must be posted here all the time. You all do a fantastic job of keeping this a safe space and I know it can’t be easy, so thank you thank you thank you.

    But most especially thank you for rocking this particular boat and forcing me to pay attention to it!

  30. I somewhat disagree with some of your conclusions about the Evelyn Evelyn project, although I certainly see how it’s problematic (I’m providing this info as background and not argument). I feel kind of defensive of AfP because I’ve been so into her music for so long but there were things even back in the Dresden Dolls lyrics that made me WTF (ex: “unrescuable schizo or else you’re on the rag” and general victim-blaming for domestic abuse in Delilah). I’m glad you spoke intelligently about this ableism issue and I wish people could get it through their heads that you can be a fan of someone’s music and still not condone every single thing they do. Or you can be so bothered by something wrong like this, that it ruins an otherwise good thing for you. And if the latter is the case, it’s not something you do on purpose, it’s something that sucks and is disappointing. The vitriol on both sides is scary, but on the “AfP can do no wrong” side it’s especially bizarre. Knowing that Amanda and Jason are listening to your thoughts on this makes me happy and strikes me as a good thing for all involved.

    Anyway, to conclude, you’ve challenged me to recognize a new facet of my own privilege and act accordingly to get over my initial irrational defensiveness on behalf of AfP, and to recognize unconscious, potentially damaging expressions of privilege both in myself and in others I admire. Thank you for this. This whole discussion has been very intelligent and brave on your part and I salute you. You rock my boat.