Cuntry Living isn’t a feminist safe haven, it’s toxic
Inside the notorious Facebook group there’s nothing but in-fighting and ‘microaggressions’
Theoretically Cuntry Living should be a paradise. Set up as a feminist group by some of the finest young minds in the country – well, Oxford students – it should be a place to discuss important issues, to learn and educate themselves. It is, as it claims in a pinned post to the group “an intersectional, anti-racist, sex positive online space in which we can challenge the patriarchy and other structures of oppression”.
It’s not a paradise. Instead, the 14,000 strong group has become so asphyxiated with its own impossible to uphold ideals and labyrinthian rules that it’s impossible to take it seriously.
Both as a feminist and someone who spends way too much time on Facebook, I wanted to understand the hellscape of arguments and bannings that was Cuntry Living. The first thing to do was message the admins. I’d heard horror stories of people being kicked out for voicing opposition to a niche opinion, or for siding with the wrong person in one of their many daily all-out comment wars, but in a group that was founded by Oxbridge students, to educate Oxbridge students, I was sure they’d be reasonable, intelligent, open to chatting. I was wrong. Cuntry Living has a bizarre feudalist set-up – the group is run by a gang of 11 admins, and though I reached out to all of them, I only heard back from two people. One was a mother, living in Australia, the other English.
The first took a few days to mull over chatting to me about the group, but eventually decided she’d “be anxious about any kind of hate mail related stuff. Women cop it just for identifying as feminists, I don’t really want my name out there”. It was the same story for the other admin who replied. “We’ve had bad experiences with journalists” she said. “It’s not about being scared and doesn’t affect our ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude. It’s just that the majority of journalists misrepresent us and it’s easier just to say no to everyone than to gauge who is and isn’t trustworthy.” Shortly after asking I was removed from the group.
Loughborough graduate Franki Alpert says shying away and banning people is not an uncommon management technique. She was kicked out of the group for liking a comment on another user’s post. She told me: “Someone wrote a lengthy post saying they were unhappy with the admins silencing people with different opinions, so I liked it, and was removed shortly afterwards.”
Feminism is unfortunately intrinsically tied to putting your views out there. For some people that’s getting trampled by horses or being attacked for having the audacity to go to school, and for the admins of Cuntry Living it’s Facebook messaging. As a feminist putting your views out there, clearly and without aggression, is essential. It’s incredibly disappointing to see that despite the hostile atmosphere of Cuntry Living, the women behind it, when it came down to it, were too scared to actually associate themselves with the group.
Cuntry Living might once have been a mecca for like minded feminists to educate themselves and discuss ideas. Now, it straddles an uncomfortable position between laughable and terrifying. On the one hand, the group is an easy parody. Its attempts at intelligent debate can be reduced to Portlandia style buzzwords. It’s too tempting to joke about how any post in the group can be reduced to someone with blue hair shouting caps lock style at someone who has been triggered. Someone else will interject asking for a content note about gender exceptionalism. There will be a splinter argument carried out over the wrong use of pronouns. Out of nowhere, a user will remember that nobody has checked their privilege in at least seven minutes, and there’s a brief meltdown before they realise the person who has pointed this out identifies as a man, which is, you know, in itself quite problematic. If you scroll down the page looking for any opinions that don’t come with the words: “feel” “trigger” “admins pls delete” you’d be fighting a losing battle.
It’s become so notorious that it even has its own Tumblr showcasing the best of the worst posts, gems like “TW: satire”, “sometimes I shout ‘fragile male ego’ at my boyfriend” and “is anyone else suspicious of Amy Schumer?” So yes, it’s easy to laugh at the sham model of social justice warrior feminism Cuntry Living spouts, or to send screenshots of the weirdest stuff in there to friends over WhatsApp with the caption “literally though how are they real”. But more than funny, the feminism Cuntry Living present is disappointing and scary.
An investigation carried out last year by The Tab Oxford, on the people the group was founded for, discovered that people weren’t posting in the group, simply because they were too scared of the constantly frenetic and aggressive atmosphere. 160 of the 270 respondents said they had never posted on the group before, even though 70 per cent of them said they had something to post. And over half of those who have never posted admitted they hadn’t done so because they “felt too nervous”. The atmosphere was described as “militant”, “toxic” and “hostile”, and many felt Cuntry Living could not function as both a “safe space” and a discussion group, that this conflict could often lead to issues such as what one called “authoritarian moderating”.
Crucially, over one third said that the group failed to represent a broad range of feminist perspectives, and that its broadly white middle class demographic didn’t feel inclusive. The group isn’t just hilarious, it’s scary, and it’s frustrating. Legitimate issues are overlooked for the sake of esoteric rules about who can post what and when, and how you should reply and discuss it. Rather than it being a place where someone could be corrected and educated, it’s a shrill playgroup which confuses more than it explains. But unlike a pre-teen Tumblr or a school-yard clique, the people in Cuntry Living are mostly, if not entirely, all adults. They have jobs, degrees, families. It’s hard to imagine how they function in the real world, hard to imagine that they already exist in it.
To me, feminism is about support, education and equality – none of those values are upheld in Cuntry Living’s aggressive forum. Though it seems to pride itself on being able to shout the loudest, ultimately it doesn’t really have anything to say.