If I’ve told myself once, I’ve told myself a thousand times that it isn’t good for me, but I still do it. I forget. I drift into this fantasy world in which the Internet/Earth is inhabited by intelligent, articulate people who enjoy developing their own ideas through discourse, consideration of each other’s carefully delineated viewpoints and a walk about in the shoes of people with different experiences.
So every time I follow a seemingly innocuous link on a topic of interest to me, I am devastated anew when apparently sentient beings unquestioningly espouse opinions that are evidently a product of the emotional parts of their brain, entirely unmediated by the logic lobe. I’m even more devastated when those opinions are expressed in heinous generalisations, massive logical fallacies and almost entirely emotive language.
I am frustrated by this to the point of weeping/ranting/hyperventilating/overeating. I’m currently really, really interested in, among other things, the question of where Feminism stands in the 21st Century, and in the seeming rise of anti-male sentiment in the Media, so I often follow Twitter links to articles on this kind of topic in the hope that I will find a thought-provoking well-expressed piece of writing (I sometimes do), which leads to an inspiring and enlightening discussion to which I might like to contribute (it rarely does). You’d think I would’ve learned by now.
Last night I followed various links from Twitter, through ‘The Good Men Project’ (a site that makes a refreshingly concerted effort to be fair and balanced, but is regularly accused of pandering to Feminism) and out the other side while exploring anti-Feminist opinions. I am, as I hope I have made clear, suspicious of all ‘-ism’s, and am therefore loosely a ‘Feminist’ who is very open to criticism of Feminism. All standpoints need questioning, and all beliefs need challenging. So I clicked on an Exposing Feminism article about the shaming of men to see if it made any interesting points. I’ve discussed shaming before with spouse who has argued that it may be time to move on from shaming British people for colonial actions carried out by their ancestors, and modern men for the actions of men in the past. This is a point I think worthy of consideration, so I was prepared to consider the points in this article.
I was initially put off by the emotive language in the writer’s description of the: “… histrionic behavior of female detractors who refuse to argue their points with logic”, but overlooked it and read on into the article, which is a bullet pointed catalogue of responses that Men’s Rights Activists apparently receive from women in response to their logical points in debate.
I had three responses to his list. The first response was a gut reaction. We all – whether we deny it to ourselves or not – initially respond to things with an in-built gut response that comes from our own personal subject position or belief system. Mine was, ‘no woman EVER said that!‘ But it took all of 45 seconds to remember that, a) women can be just as stupid as men can and b) it is usually necessary in debate to take a speaker’s experiences at face value as it’s impossible to confirm or deny them.
My second response was the realisation that I had, in fact, encountered some of these responses in online gender debates, for example, “You’re afraid of a strong woman”, “You’re just afraid of losing your male privileges,” and what the writer calls “Code Brown” – the accusation that the person you’re arguing with is being some kind of ‘Fascist’ – a logical fallacy I’ve seen regularly used in all kinds of debates not just the gender one. It’s so frequently used that a name has been invented for it: Reductio ad Hitlerum.
Fair enough then, I thought. If Feminists are throwing this sort of rubbish around, then Men’s Rights Activists have a right to object. That is no way to hold a proper debate. And some of the other comments the writer reports are just embarrassingly shit. Apparently, a common response from women to points in debate is: ““You are going to make me cry.” Ok, I am taking the writer’s word for it here. If women are using that as a contribution to a discussion, then they deserve to get destroyed by superior intellects. Other shit things women apparently say when men explain their viewpoint are: “Suck it up like a man!” and “I’m not interested in boys. I’m interested in real men.” And, “Men are shirking their God-given responsibility to marry and bear children.” And, “I need a real man, not a sissy.”
Now, let’s pause a moment here. This article is written in the context of a debate in which some Men’s Right’s Activists (do we have these in the UK, or is it exclusively an American thing?) are saying that Feminists are more man-haters than equality-advocates. The strapline of this site is: “Feminism purports to concern itself only with equality – but in reality propagates mistrust, tension and hatred between the sexes.” Although this particular article refers to ‘women’ rather than ‘Feminists’, the implication that it is ‘Feminists’ who are saying this stupid stuff is clearly there, and that it is, therefore, ‘Feminism’ that is responsible for the perceived threat to the rights of men that has resulted in the Men’s Rights Movement.
But let’s look at some of these comments. Would a Feminist – a person who is interested in the debates about which aspects of maleness and femaleness are biological and which are culturally constructed, and – being a ‘Feminist’ is highly likely to believe cultural construction is a major player, and that the cultural construction of gender traits can sometimes restrict people’s freedoms to live in ways that don’t fit a culture’s gender stereotypes – would this be the sort of person who would call a man “a cissy” or a “real man”, with all that connotes? Would a ‘Feminist’ – an inheritor of the fight for women to be able to live independently from men and so come together with men on equal terms – use the phrase “I need a man who…”?
You get my point. It’s not ‘Feminists’ that are the problem here. It’s stupid people. And there is no respite from idiocy in the Great Chain of Stupid that follows the article, and unfortunately for the writer, the stupid comes from both sides of the debate. He must surely be delighted that contributors are supporting his viewpoint with well-considered arguments such as, “Women NEVER SHUT UP, they are never happy, and they are like locusts…”, and “I am surprised that “Femi-Nazi’s … have not taken the major mafia clans to court under the guise of “discrimination” to have “wimmin” inducted into the Mafia……What a joke!….LOL! Helpful of this contributor to provide an example of someone on the writer’s ‘side’ using the precise same reasoning fallacy he is accusing ‘Feminists’ of. Pure idiocy.
And if you think this piece is a bit one sided in identifying poor argument, then permit me to show you something tweeted by the Everyday Sexism project.
At first glance, this is pretty compelling evidence of the ubiquity of some very archaic attitudes to women. So I decided to look at the top sites that are thrown up by some of these searches. Here’s one of the search examples:
One article about women’s right to sex, two that are pro-women’s rights, an article expressing outrage at an American saying women shouldn’t have been given the vote and someone asking for help with their Suffragettes History homework. Nothing (apart from a backward reverend in America that nobody agrees with) here to pose the slightest threat to women’s rights. But very much the type of thing that goes round the Internet, is posted all over Facebook, and used as ‘evidence’ of whatever point of view its posters are espousing. This kind of flimsy evidence doesn’t do the credibility of a cause any good at all. And in this case, The Everyday Sexism project can be damaged by it. When some (plenty) of the evidence given to prove there are still problems for women in society is weak or spurious, it gives credence to the opposition’s claim that women are being pathetic complainers instead of raising valid concerns.
But the same goes for all debates over issues that matter. And the problem is not people’s individual viewpoints – it’s their individual inability to comprehend each other and hold a legitimate debate. I am firmly of the belief that we should be able to discuss anything. And I mean ANYTHING. Tom Matlack at The Good Men project was right to publish an article by a rapist. Feminists should open their ears and consider the points of view of the white males they blame for patriarchal oppression. The most taboo subjects – such as holocaust denial – are the most important topics of all to be tackled. In an open society that believes in freedom of speech, all points of view should be heard. Nothing silenced.
But if we as a society and as individuals do not have the ability to recognise when we are using emotion over logic, to stand back and inspect our own reactions, to consider their validity and where they are coming from, to listen to a point of view we find abhorrent and argue against it using reasoning rather than anger, to recognise that groups of people are made up of differing individuals and not homogenous lumps of identical beliefs, to take time to check our sources and evidence before we use them to confirm our biases and to consider openly whether someone else’s experience or evidence should make us adapt our own belief system, then I can’t see how we can progress as a society at all. If I were to put my catastrophising head on, I’d say democracy is pretty much a failed ideal. It was dreamed up as a collaboration of thinkers, not a toddler fight in a playgroup.
The problem isn’t people’s points-of-view, it’s people’s stupidity.