Online, the field of discourse is narrowed to disembodied voices speaking in a place of privilege about an “us” wielded as an undifferentiated mass in which all conflicts and divisions have been effaced. It is a space where certain individuals become caught up in an image of themselves, as avatars free to act as if they were free online. We are expected to partake in the fantasy, as passive spectators, the enactments of their freedoms without interrogating the terms of their ideological discourse.
They are not pursuing a specific goal or an object of desire – such as emancipation – but the setting in which they enact individualised performances as political dissidents; standing before a lectern or writing themselves into being as fully endowed with (white) agency and subjectivity. By doing so they discursively produce the very differences their presence as militants purports to be challenging: class, race, gender and sexual heirarchies. Their’s is an imperial feminism. This is the paradox that so far they are unwilling to confront.
What in effect is being rejected by their critics (considered too dangerous to represent themselves) is the imposition of a political identity and shared common ground that effaces the conflict and difference embedded in the formation and ennunciation of their identities. People such as Laurie Penny erase the radical subjectivities to which they pay lip-service. Many of them came into being as political “outsiders” at a point of renewed class combativity following the 2008 financial crisis.
Penny, hailed as “the voice of a generation,” honed her skills as a journalist writing about – and speaking for – student insurgents during the protests of 2010. Lamentably her “In-Your-Face Feminism” has gone no further than reinventing the wheel. She puts into circulation feminist ideas that were already widely shared in the public sphere among radical Black feminists. The history of the EMA protests, however, the explosive dissident energy of the young who led the charge against the #Condems has been buried; as were the nascent hopes of collectively organising at a time when everyone was mutinying.
Because of speaking for and speaking over others, Penny finds herself facing a barracking everytime she ventures onto twitter; that site of opinion making now more influential than the Guardian etc. Having 100,000 followers comes with its rewards and tears. Before, an unkind criticism appearing below the line in CiF could be ignored but when those criticisms appear in your mentions from 10,000 bloggers, tweeters, their friends and allies then consider yourself trolled. So there is much Penny (and others) can be excoriated for, however, it is precisely because she is a woman who has broken through the internet’s fourth wall that she finds herself subjected to vicious threats by twitter’s troll armies. Simultaneously, assuming the position of a knowledge producer labouring at the coal face of online misogyny feeds works such as Cybersexism and Unspeakable Things. Misogyny may just be another pornographic product to be commodified and consumed on the internet of things via Amazon books.
Penny and others who make their living writing about internet culture are serving a neoliberal agenda whose ultimate aim is limiting the “democratic adventure” to the expression of a few opinion-makers who can be trusted with responsibility online. It’s suggested that perhaps ending online anonymity by giving everyone an ID that carries across all their communications will make this a safe space for all of us, in order to end the fly-by-night missives people receive from misogynist trolls. I am still more likely to encounter racist and sexist abuse from people I know and encounter in real life which is more damaging to me than the fly-by-nights whom I ignore. Why should I care about them? I don’t wish to diminish whatever suffering Penny and her friends experience when their mentions overflow with abuse aimed at their cunts but for most of us the internet has given rise to new struggles against old forms of subordination. That is where the real battle is. Perhaps the hate directed at the cunts of Penny and the likes of Criado-Perez is because they are sell-outs?
The internet, as Wendy Hui Kwong Chun  writes, is the domain where “the demand for new social rights seeks to dissolve the [the public/private] distinction and explode the political by turning subordinate relationships into antagonistic ones… and by reworking the antagonism so that domination stems from one’s own very body.”
So, everyone’s a cunt on the internet, whether male or female.
The vision of the internet that Penny taps into is an imagined bourgeois utopia sought from the start which erases differences by offering a place where we can play nicely in a virtual colour-blind equality and autonomous space, free from the highly classed, racialised and genderised space that it really is. Anyone who disturbs that space is now anti-social. A troll.
In the meantime, the space has been hijacked by the corporates.