Internet subculture drama and the problem of right wing women promoting dysfunction as function

There’s some emotional firestorm going on in a tiny internet subculture I still poke around in.  Thing is, I’ve been on the old interwebs a couple of decades and that means I have seen it all before.  The bad behavior, the ad hominems, the plays for sympathy, the binary divide into “good team” and “bad team”, and the threats to leave the internet subculture/quit blogging/focus on “real life”.  The threats to leave or quit generally involve a lot of commenting and/or posting furiously about how you’re totally going to stop posting as soon as you’ve cleared your name/confirmed that so-and-so is a big jerk/clarified the facts/etc.

It’s a very old play, ancient music, songs from long ago.  For about ten whole seconds I let myself think this particular emotional firestorm would not be like the other fifty or sixty I’ve watched play out.  But, uh, then the engine of human behavior started up and people played out the roles they always end up playing when a tiny insular subculture gets caught up in drama over some of its more flamboyant figure(s) who anchor things with their force of persona.  I’d say personality, but part of the game is that the anchors aren’t real.  They just deal out personas like a deck of cards, showing one thing one place and another thing another place.  There is a core to the many personas, but it’s the same no matter what the subculture.  It could be furries, it could be Depeche Mode fans, it could be FreeBSD users, it could be Christian manosphere bloggers.  The specific subculture’s features don’t change the nature of the kind of personalities that come to anchor these subcultures.

It’s the sun, there are no new things under it.  This too, shall pass.  The anchor will go back to anchoring the subculture and in another year or so some new firestorm will probably appear and the anchor will play the part necessary for that one, too.  And so will all of the other people still in the subculture.  It’s the way of the (internet) world.

Having stated my view (based on long and sometimes painful experience) that this is just a generic pattern of behavior and not anything unique, I am going to be more specific in my critique of this particular anchor within this particular subculture. I think the primary target in this drama promotes very untraditional, unBiblical, anti-domesticity positions and I wanted to lay that card on the table and explain my views without utilizing the emotional elements of my personal hurt feelings.  Before moving on to that critique I will note for the record that I don’t think this will affect the blogging behavior of the person in question on anything resembling a permanent basis, as the individual’s past history doesn’t suggest such and the general pattern the person represents doesn’t either.  Maybe we’ve got a unique snowflake this one time, but it is pretty unlikely.  And again, for the cheap seats, none of this means I think the “enemies” who (re)started the drama are the “good team” or whatever tribal rank-closing is going on among the various blogs discussing this.  Sometimes every player has some soot on the old cheekbone and there’s no good guys. Anyway, on to the critique.

There is a strain in many conservative Christian subcultures that pops up again and again that relies on the Superwife myth to bash other women having difficulties as SAHMs.  It simultaneously claims that it’s easy and fun and not really important to be a SAHM, while lashing out at women who dare mention any travail as spoiled/selfish/lazy and making very clear that every woman should want to do it anyhow.  These subcultures invariably rely on women who have an emotional investment in the idea of the Superwife as viable and who have a compelling writer’s voice (this strain appears in printed matter and blogs alike) to craft a persona of the woman who does it all because anyone could and if you can’t, you must be a closet feminist trying to justify laziness.  The pushback I and other women get for promoting historically normal household help specifically for SAHMs is extremely insightful and saddening.  We are generally dismissed, told it’s not historical, accused of being rich/spoiled/selfish/not really Christian and mostly blown off.

So I do not favorably view a persona who is part of this broader strain of anti-domesticity, who encourages the meanness and cruelty towards tired housewives and doesn’t offer anything but illusions of accomplishment.  This dysfunctional masquerade has gotten us conservatives a bunch of women drowning in laundry, kids and chronic exhaustion while Superwife personas sit around telling them they just didn’t plan well, because their (fictional) family never has those problems.  Their laundry is always clean, their house is sparkling, their meals all home cooked from scratch, their children in perfect clothing and behavior and it’s all done with three or four hours of down time left in each and every day with no other people helping or assisting ever.

It’s fictional, it’s a front presented to promote a certain way of thinking about life as a SAHM.  It’s viciously unhealthy and unnatural to promote such an unrealistic standard, though.  The results are directly visible.  Women are being broken by it, and so I did have a hope that this latest drama-fest would result in the anchor-persona stepping away from the aggressive promotion of this unhealthy strain of conservative thought even if the blogging didn’t end (which, of course, it won’t).

But this strain exists in conservative-land for a reason.  It feeds the Randian individualism that has been so destructive to conservative life but which permeates its fabric in a seemingly permanent stain.  It used to be a Pioneer Woman myth, then it became a Donna Reed myth and now it’s…well, it’s looped back to pioneers with the push for homeschooling and homesteading on top of all the rest.  And this anchor-blogger is just one small piece of a larger right wing woman problem.  I could list out ten or twenty more blogs, some much more popular down to others with just five or ten hits a day, all of which have the same strain infiltrating many of their postings.  Conservatives keep choosing this madness over and over, decade after decade, and it’s NOT WORKING.  It DO NOT WORK PEOPLE.  We aren’t islands, it’s not supposed to be one person and Jesus, but several people and Jesus.  Atomicity isn’t superior when it’s a SAHM working herself into a hospitalization rather than a single childless career gal doing the same thing with an office job.

That insane, hypocritical embrace of atomicity and autonomy uber alles is why I am not comfortable with promotion of dysfunction, unlove and general cruelty being defended as, shockingly, Christian and appropriate and yet that’s what is going on.  Ex-fundamentalists, the very women who bought so hard into what this anchor-person is promoting and advocating and presenting as a common persona in her blog posts, are dismissed with a viciousness that rivals any of their own snarky scrabbling around in pieces of what may or may not be the anchor-blogger’s personal life.  They aren’t treated with a lick of love or concern for the fact that they were broken by the disordered Superwife ideal and veered into a different unhealthy extreme response.  No, they’re “the right kind of enemies”.  Enemies.  A bunch of tired housewives who turned to extreme feminism because they didn’t think there were any other alternatives than that or the right wing dysfunction that was eating them alive.  These are now “enemies”.  Not fellow broken humans who are still quite lost and looking for His light.  Enemies.

It’s sad to me on a personal note because several people I respect greatly are caught up in the emotional rollercoaster and feel compelled to make assertions that this anchor-person represents the positive aspects of the insular subculture.  If this was a feminist subculture, I’d be seeing a bunch of stuff about how badasterisk and tuff and empowered the anchor was instead of the bizarro-world portrayal of that persona as nothing but the summit of Christian womanly lovingkindness when the blog posts, comment history and comment threads on her blog posts tell a very different story.

This is part of the insular subculture pattern, though.  A major persona sends around a few emails/tweets/AIM chats and people are like “surely someone who’s contacted me so personally and directly is basically cool!”, or sometimes it’s phone calls or even in-person contact.  The latter works best for maintaining position, as people feel guilty about saying anything once they’ve met a person offline.  I remember a similarly small subculture about 15 years ago having a huge blowup also regarding “outing” of personal details where a lot of people could confirm the facts that the anchor was not as nice/pleasant/cool as he appeared, but didn’t want to because they’d met the anchor-person of that subculture and felt cruddy at admitting they’d been manipulated non-neutrally.

As it relates to Christian housewives in this particular case, it’s as I said earlier in this post.  A bunch of disordered mostly ex-fundamentalist SAHMs decided months and months ago to internet sleuth a new voice in the Superwife sweepstakes, but they never assembled their efforts in one spot.  Recently someone else did, a persona that was itself very influential and popular in its day with the very same manosphere subculture, but who has been paying ever since for not living up to the high opinions that subculture had of his early writings.  That’s also part of the pattern, for a compelling persona to acquire guru status, flame out and constantly scrabble for months or years afterward trying to regain the lost footing, while the former adoring fanbase turns on him or her like a pile of jackals.

What I am saying probably repetitively and incoherently (yay pregnancy brain) is that this little dustup in the manosphere isn’t about doxxing or anyone’s children or being intimidated out of talking online.  The person in question who claimed to be so oppressed spent many days commenting hither and yon on many, many blogs.  Can’t miss ya if ya won’t leave, y’know?  The observed behavior puts the lie to the idea that there was all this deep concern about effects on offline family/friends/relatives.  Anyone being honest about the whole thing will notice that there is zero sign that this person is intimidated by anything at all relating to posting content on the internet. People with a dominant/prominent role in an internet subculture are never the ones who are intimidated or whatever by drama no matter what they are saying in public or in back channels or both.  I keep repeating that the blogging will resume because this isn’t a Christian dustup.  It’s just a generic subculture power struggle and one of the current top dawgs in that subculture is using the fact that this is a subculture that worries about being outed offline to stir up emotional attachments and connections to maintain status within the subculture.  The cost is, of course, that some folks will bail on participating in it.  But the ones left will feel more insular, more attached and for this type of persona, that’s the point of the exercise.  Eventually this approach of drama-storms reduces the number of people down so low the subculture scatters into something else (nothing is an option, but sometimes also getting merged into a new subculture somewhere else online).  I think this is likely to happen soon (18 months or less) with this subculture simply because it’s greatly reduced from its peak size and shows only signs of reduction and further insularity.

Getting back to the manosphere drama, as for the other housewives who are genuinely being reviled out of proportion to their claimed and observed participation in this melodramatic fiasco, well, part of the pattern is that less popular people in the subculture getting considered part of the “Bad Team” have to deal with a lot of nasty blowback, which often drives them offline.  And then people feel kind of cruddy about it all and settle down, allowing the anchor-person(s) to roar back with their blogging/website/messageboard.  This type of drama always requires some longtime but not as flamboyant members of the subculture to actually get intimidated offline while the main players stick around and pop back up a few days, weeks or months later.

TLDR;  this isn’t Christian stuff, it’s very secular, very typical and ordinary and not the least bit special at all.  Watching it play out like clockwork was like rewatching some of the other such dramas I’ve seen over the last twenty years online.  The specifics were of course quite different, but the basic playbook is no different when it’s a bunch of people adding some Scripture to their power struggling.  The person at the center isn’t specially nice or evil, the various people accused of being mean to this person aren’t specially evil or unChristian (of the Christian ones); this is all some standard-issue stuff happening because this is just what happens when affinity, insularity and the internet collide.

In fact, I thought about splitting this ridiculously long post into two posts, one of which would detail a nearly identical situation among a bunch of distinctly non-housewife women, but I think one post is plenty.  I tried not to get into too much of the specifics of the manosphere drama because the particulars are quite meaningless to both the persona anchoring this subculture and the general tenor of how this kind of routine goes.

Prayer is well warranted here.

Pray as much as you wish to if you believe in Him for the FJers and their distorted understanding of the faith, instead of cackling about how they’re the right sort of not-really-real “enemies”; as ex-fundie SAHMs, they were and in some cases still are the same dingdang women so many involved claim to want other women to be!

Pray for the GOMIers and their tendency to make gurus/aspirational idols out of women (mostly mothers) and then turn on those women for not living up to the images in their blogs/websites.  They are to be pitied, not hated.  They are just one little piece themselves in their own subculture of the general pattern of anti-natalism peculiar to America.

Pray for the people who populate the manosphere (Christian and secular flavors) and their habit of combining both of the above problems, and for the people specifically named and shamed in this latest little drama (Christian and otherwise), that they gain some perspective and realize that they, too, are like sheep and have gone astray.

Easter has passed for this year, but He rose, He is risen and I stand by my commentary and will mourn the loss, if I lose something I value to tribal subculture politics and emotional firestorms.  It happens, this is one of the two or three times I’ve been emotionally attached enough within the subculture for it to affect me.  I do wonder at the fact that this time it allowed me to see the larger pattern of all those dozens of other times it happened that I witnessed (and sometimes, sad to say, took my own part in the tribalism and drama) again and again.  Perhaps there is providence and some deeper purpose in that.  One never knows.


3 thoughts on “Internet subculture drama and the problem of right wing women promoting dysfunction as function”

  1. As a party surely and openly confessing a degree of guilt as I read some of your points about right wing dysfunction, women in the male dominated reactionary sphere, and defending the indefensible, I thank you for writing this. It needs to be read by more and I’m going to (as I often do with your posts) link it.

    Having the benefit of household help myself in recent years (I wrote about that here as well as linking to your thoughts in that post), and having had the experience of being overwhelmed with young children underfoot and therefore able to contrast, I agree that the Superwife myth is very damaging.


  2. Your posts are very thought provoking. I am a stay at home mom who was sucked into the false image that somehow a woman with a strong faith could “do it all”. It’s absolute horse manure. It took me crashing and burning with severe postpartum depression and nearly walking out on my husband and children for me to finally realize it though. Me, my vacuum, and my prayer book are not enough. (I think you used those terms in another posts once). I do believe God helps through difficult circumstances that SAHM’s find themselves in these days, but I am also not going to portray this false image that I get from so many others that with a stronger faith and a little more organization things could be so much better, you know?


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