The breadth and vitriol of the attack

The petition to Rabble to fire Meghan Murphy (the content of which is Sheila Sampath’s ignorant and dishonest post) shows this as the first comment, signed by Sarah Hunt:

Feminism has a long history of racist, classist, colonial wrongdoings that have, in recent years, been recognized as exclusionary and oppressive. Racism, transphobia and anti-sex work rhetoric have no place in a supposedly forward-thinking feminist organization. I am appalled by the kinds of violent attacks that MM has initiated against sex workers, trans women and women of color through her columns and on social media. I stand in solidarity with the grassroots individuals and groups who initiated this campaign to end Rabble’s complicity in MM’s hateful actions.

Emphasis mine. Violent attacks!! As if Meghan Murphy had been beating up and killing sex workers, trans women and women of color.

Rabble didn’t dump her though, but it also didn’t tell off the people who were accusing her of violence and racism. A large group of feminists and feminist organizations published its own open letter to Rabble, defending Murphy in strong terms.

We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep dissatisfaction with rabble’s response to the recent attacks on Meghan Murphy.

In past weeks, Meghan Murphy has become the target of a vicious and focused attack that we believe is aimed not only at her — as the most visible voice of a set of feminist principles with which we broadly agree — but at women in general and feminists specifically.

This attack — sparked by an article at Playboy magazine and a petition inspired by the Men’s Rights Movement and women who are known for their promotion of the sex industry — focuses nominally on a brief piece written by Murphy in response to nude photos published of a trans woman named Laverne Cox. Her piece criticized the notion that the publication of highly sexualized, pornographic photographs of a woman or trans woman is “empowering.” We see no fair basis upon which the piece can be characterized as “transphobic.” Moreover, the definition of “transphobia” is, like its partner in discourse, “whorephobia,” a subject of debate. For those of us who still adhere to democratic standards and principles of fair journalism, it is disturbing to see critique converted to “phobia/personal attack” resulting in an end to rational discussion.

You know what? I too think it’s ludicrous and self-indulgent to think (or pretend to think) that appearing in porny photos is “empowering” for women…but I guess I don’t need to say that, do I, since the depth of my depravity was so thoroughly plumbed at Freethought Blogs last summer.

Given that there is no reasonable argument that Murphy’s article discriminates against or is disrespectful to trans people, it is our belief that the breadth and vitriol of the attack on her and the ideas she articulates is rooted in a broader attempt to marginalize and inevitably silence women and feminists who agree with her political views — and ours.

Indeed. There’s a lot of that around.

As evidenced by her work at Feminist Current and at rabble, Murphy has taken a principled, feminist position in opposition to the institutionalization of women’s oppression and exploitation through prostitution and in support of the goal of the abolition of prostitution beginning with the criminalization of the men in charge of the prostitution industry — pimps and traffickers — and the consumers of women’s bodies — johns.

There has been, and is, deep division across many constituencies with respect to this issue, accompanied by a concerted effort from the sex industry and those on the sex industry bandwagon — often including women — to attack, smear, stalk, harass and threaten any woman — or man — who threatens the flow of cash streaming from women’s backs into the pockets of exploiters. In our view rabble has consistently supported, published and given wide berth to these voices at the expense of reasoned argument, debate and discussion, rather than articulate a principled stand on the issue.

The one ray of light at rabble on feminist issues and prostitution is Meghan Murphy. Unlike many in the pro-prostitution, anti-feminist, and transactivist movements, Murphy depends on analysis and reasoned argument in articles she has written at Feminist Current and rabble. Her detractors have failed to actually engage with the arguments Murphy makes. Instead they favour vicious, personal attacks and astroturfing. These attacks now threaten her employment and career, not only at rabble, but elsewhere.

As women and feminists who depend on Murphy’s integrity as a journalist and her ability to think and write analytically and lucidly, this is of deep concern to us. We support her and we vehemently oppose the effort to silence her public voice.

And they’re not pleased that Rabble did so little to support Meghan Murphy (ah how familiar that sounds, too).

While it may not be possible for rabble to take a principled position on each and every issue, we, your readers, demand that at the very least you provide an environment wherein reasoned discussion is encouraged and ad hominem attack is not tolerated.

Many of the blog and opinion pieces you have sponsored have not met that basic expectation. Personal attack against certain voices appears to be encouraged, thus legitimizing the kind of vicious campaign levelled against Meghan Murphy and her supporters. By not taking a firm stand and making a clear statement in support of Murphy’s journalism, published in your own digital pages and appreciated by a broad spectrum of women, feminists, and male supporters of feminist principles, you are implicated in the current witch hunt. rabble thus harms not only Meghan Murphy both personally and professionally, but also stifles public discussion of complex and difficult issues that are simply not covered adequately in mainstream media.

It’s all so familiar.

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