Opportunistic Misreads

In my prior post, I commented on Amber A’Lee Frost’s recent piece in Jacobin. As an addendum to that, I thought I might address the issue of Sarah Kendzior’s reaction to this piece.

In the piece, Frost writes at one point:

And I just don’t think the diminutive label of “bro” should be to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats. Let’s not mitigate our censure with cutesy fraternal nicknames.

This text linked to a tweet of Kendzior saying a “brocialist” sent her emails hoping for her rape.

Kendzior responded to the article by tweeting a bunch and then writing:

There are not words to describe the experience of reading an article, coming to the word “rape threats”, and then seeing that the rape threat is about you – intended to debase and humiliate you for admitting you have been threatened.

As Elizabeth Stoker points out, this is an absurd reading of Frost’s text:

This is to say: when ‘bro’ becomes the moniker for everything bad, we wind up categorizing things that are in reality dangerous, violent, and horrible under the fairly innocuous banner of the bro. Mansplaining and vaguely obnoxious jokes? Bro territory. Rape threats and other forms of sexual menace? Way beyond the pale of salmon-colored-shorts-wearing, boat-shoed bro-dom.

Frost’s point is that you debase the seriousness of violence against women when you mix it in with cutesy, sarcastic monikers. To extend the use of bro in that manner is to go way broverboard.

Only an intentional misread would describe that rather lucid text as being intended to humiliate someone “for admitting [they] have been threatened.” It was the flippant use of the light-hearted “bro” tag in concert with something that should be very serious and not made light of that Frost is censuring.

But opportunistic misreads are not new for Kendzior. I’ve had a front row seat to this before.

Late last year, I wrote a piece titled “3 Theses on Higher Education.” In the piece, I use extensive historical data regarding college costs and the class composition of college attendees to argue that the recent hubbub surrounding higher education costs are primarily driven by the fact that the upper class is feeling the squeeze. Read it if you want to see the argument, but its specifics are not terribly relevant here.

Sarah Kendzior disliked this post, and tweeted this in response:

.@MattBruenig The great unifying theme of your posts is that you never ask what an actual poor person thinks about anything.

I rightly identified this as an extremely offensive tweet because I come from a low-income family, which is to say I am an “actual poor person.” Under identitarianism 101, you are not allowed to say something like that to someone. If a person of color wrote a piece about something being mainly a white issue or whatnot, it would be deemed offensive and oppressive to ask them if, prior to posting it, they talked to an “actual person of color.” It implies that they don’t count as “actual” somehow.

Anyways, I illustrated how offensive this tweet was by writing:

Could you ever imagine any similar harassment for any other identity? Is there any world where I could, for instance, harangue Kendzior for not speaking to enough women before she wrote some piece on women’s issues? Could you even imagine? There is no way.

The point there is straightforward. I ask the reader to imagine some world in which Kendzior had written a piece related to women’s issues and I responded to that piece by saying “why don’t you speak to an actual woman about this before you post it.” Such a tweet would receive swift censure because the Left actually takes gender identity seriously unlike class identities (even though the theory suggests they should take them both seriously).

In response to this piece, Kendzior tweeted (find the tweet here h/t @aresnick) that my response was sexist. The reason it was sexist, she claimed, was because I had said that she was a “lady writer” who only wrote about women’s issues. I clearly had not said anything of the sort. I had said only that if she wrote a piece about women’s issues, then my responding to it the way she responded to my piece about class issues would be deemed oppressive. It was just a symmetric analogy using her own identity to illustrate my point.

Nobody could seriously read my piece as saying anything other than that. My point about how folks don’t take class identity as seriously when it comes to anti-oppressive language policing was clear as day. She opportunistically misread it just the same way as she has opportunistically misread Frost here. And she did so with the same intent in mind, to stir up some sort of outrage army to distract from criticism (that did not materialize in my case, perhaps because it was so over-the-top ridiculous that even those prone to mobilize in such a way couldn’t justify it).

This is just the same old, same old from Kendzior.