(Image: AAP/Tony McDonough)

Another week, another great victory by progressives over the forces of darkness. The latest reactionary villain to be called out and shamed is… Tracey Spicer.

Spicer’s alleged failings in relation to NOW Australia, a vehicle established to deal with the torrent of sexual harassment and abuse complaints in the wake of the Me Too movement, were subject to an epic 7700-word takedown by BuzzFeed last week. “NOW offers a cautionary tale,” the authors suggest. But it’s Spicer, mentioned 100 times throughout the article and whose name dominates the graphic at the top, who is the real subject of the tale and the caution therein.

Yes, I’m an old white male, so my opinion is worthless. I can’t Get It, and my racism, sexism, etc should be taken as read; I accept that. Privilege is the sea I swim in.

But despite the prodigious length of the BuzzFeed article, it’s not really clear exactly what the criticisms of Spicer are.

Certainly she’s white, and that’s problematic: NOW, we will learn from the article, is Problematic to its very core, but the lack of diversity, its “trickle-down white feminism”, is particularly a problem, despite the presence of, erm, a former Diversity Council executive. And Spicer’s thinness, too, is problematic; yes, Tracey Spicer, who more than anyone else in the country has challenged patriarchal standards of female presentation in the workplace, is specifically criticised for her appearance.

Then there’s her failure to respond quickly to the thousands of emails her call for stories about sexual predation in the workplace elicited, although we learn that Spicer, through no fault of hers, didn’t see quite a number of them. A long discussion of one specific email failing ends with the lawyerly “there is no suggestion Mani’s email was deliberately ignored”.

But note that Spicer is also criticised for confining her activities to the media (a “fairly small pond”); apparently she should have invited tens of thousands more women to email her as well.

Similarly, there are nebulous suggestions of a much more serious charge: that Spicer shared confidential information “with random strangers”. That, too, is followed by what looks like a lawyer’s addition, that “there is no suggestion Spicer was in fact careless with the private information of people”. BuzzFeed is happy to discuss a serious allegation against Spicer before assuring readers that well, no, we’re not actually saying she did it.

What seems to be the most substantial complaint is that Spicer didn’t handle her desire to direct complainants to legal assistance and counselling well. Spicer didn’t merely want to hear complaints, but enable women who had suffered from harassment and abuse — or who found the process of revealing their own stories distressing — to be able to access support. Spicer’s critics charge her with not consulting enough with groups that might be able to provide support services, particularly given such services might already be stretched with existing workloads.

So, the real charge against Spicer is that in trying to do the right thing by the women she invited to come forward — to do more than a regular journalist or media outlet would in trying to establish mechanisms of support — she failed. Albeit that her failure was as much a result of support networks being overloaded as it was a result of a failure to consult.

One lesson from BuzzFeed’s takedown, as it was from attacks on the Women’s March in the US in 2017, is that white feminists can rely on being savaged not merely by misogynist men but from the left, too, on the basis of identity politics and a need to find or manufacture offence. The same way that Greta Thunberg is savaged not just by old white snowflake reactionaries, but by sections of the left for her white privilege; the same way Extinction Rebellion is damned for failing to be sufficiently cognisant of the relationship between people of colour and the police.

The other unintended but more powerful lesson is deeper: don’t do anything. Send a few call-out tweets, sure, but don’t try to organise anything, because that will involve getting out in the real world and dealing with real people, with all their foibles, and someone will find a reason to criticise you, and that criticism will end up online. Because everyone’s a cop now. Thanks to social media, everyone’s a surveillance machine ready to call out your mistakes, which will be blamed not on the fact that you’re human, but that you’re white, or thin, or posses some other privilege. And then you’re cancelled.

Thus, Tracey Spicer is cancelled. She tried to address pervasive, systematic abuse of women. Don’t be an idiot like her.

BuzzFeed could have investigated why the initial momentum created by Spicer and the early reporting of Me Too in Australia failed to generate lasting achievements. That might have touched on our media laws, media structure and a lack of resourcing for what are belittled as “women’s issues”, as well as the mistakes, over-ambitions, over-promising and under-delivering of Spicer and others. But no, instead we got 7700 words on Spicer and her personal flaws.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators and architects of the systems that enable and protect abusers, well, they’re doing just fine, thanks. They don’t give a damn about who’s on a magazine cover. And they don’t care about getting cancelled. They’re just getting on with exploitation and abuse.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. 

Peter Fray

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