Dissent Of The Day: My “Scorn Of Feminism”

Anti Sexist Stickers

A reader writes:

I see you’re jumping into commentary against feminism again. First, let me just note that I snorted in amusement when you wrote: “Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech?” You must admit that that is a funny thing for you to write, given your policy of not allowing comments on Dish posts. If it is such a good thing, this rough-and tumble, and if it’s so easy to handle it, why don’t you turn commenting on?

I’m also disappointed in the continuing scorn that you heap upon feminism. You don’t seem to understand even the most basic facts about it and the sneering tone that you take is unbecoming and not like you. You seem to lose all ability to understand nuance when you write about it. I’m a “straight white male” and even I realized that, in that video, my demographic “as a group” was not being disparaged. You’re like a walking poster child for the #notallmen hashtag and the enraged, entitled, petulant man-boys who complain on it.

And the strawmen – could you just stop with that? You wrote: “Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe … that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands”. Um, what? Show me a feminist who thinks that women are “not strong or capable enough.” Go on, show me one, anyone, anywhere. You cannot, because they don’t exist. It’s the anti-feminists who think that. Just look at the words of Phyllis Schlafly, for example, and the immeasurable damage that she has done.

And then there is this: “They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves.” Gender quotas, huh? Well, I looked through WAM’s “About us” page, the “What we do” page, and the “Action center” page, and didn’t see a thing about “gender quotas.” In fact, what they seem to want to do is simply to raise awareness of the disparities – there is no call for legal action to implement and enforce some quota. It’s intellectually dishonest, Andrew, to write things like that when you know them to be untrue.

First up, the Dish has long opted for an edited and curated version of dissents, rather than a comments free-for-all. And that’s because Dish readers have voted down a comments section multiple times and because we want to create a different atmosphere of civilized debate than in many troll-feeding sites. If we were not publishing strong dissents – like my reader’s – it would be one thing. But we do all the time.

Second: let me address the assumption that I am pouring scorn on feminism. I’m really, really not. I favor the removal of any formal or legal barriers to women’s success. And I’m happy to celebrate moments of women’s cultural, political and social success – and they are many and multiplying. But I’m still a conservative-libertarian. I don’t believe in an identity politics that seeks to remove structural oppression by forcing others to say things they may not want to say, or do things they may not want to do, or by ostracizing people for whatever-ism they are found guilty of. And I’m still a believer in some irreducible differences between men and women that have nothing to do with culture, except to shape it.

This is what animates my contrarian skepticism about groups like WAM who seek to police the culture in pursuit of social justice. (No, I won’t use the SJW term again, since it seems to rile people up unnecessarily.) And if you think I’m just singling out feminists, you should see what I have said about the gay equivalent, GLAAD, when they seek to do exactly the same thing.

If you think my opposition to a certain kind of left-liberalism is merely about women, then why is my position identical when it comes to gay rights? Why am I defending the rights and free speech of bigots who refuse to marry gay couples, or the boy scouts (of old), or the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade? It’s because I really believe that the best response to injustice is more free speech rather than less of it. It’s because I believe in maximal freedom of expression – especially by those segments of the society who are rightly reviled by most of us. A defense of free speech that did not include the speech of racists, misogynists, homophobes and bigots is no real defense of free speech at all. And it says something depressing about our contemporary culture that if you make this classically liberal point, you are immediately told you are in favor of misogyny or racism or homophobia.

I can see that an argument on these grounds is hard to make after the extreme polarization and emotional wounds of the past few months over #gamergate and other gender issues. In a pitched battle, you are supposed to pick sides and stick with it. But I have chosen sides. On the question of real harassment, stalking and personal threats, I’m strongly against them on both sides, and emphatically against them when they are laced with foul misogynistic language and hatred. I find the big majority of #gamergate tweets to be repellent. I have no problem with Twitter deciding that that kind of abuse should lead a user to be suspended. I’ve said this in virtually every post I’ve written on this.

Have I misrepresented WAM? Go read their site as I urged readers to do in my first post. Does “gender justice” require that half of all reporters be one gender? Or that half of all media organizations be owned by women? They don’t explicitly say those things but they sure do imply many of them. And I do think they are claiming that abusive rhetoric and language online makes the web an unsafe space for women, in a way it does not for men. But, while such abuse is vile, there’s plenty of evidence that it flies both ways toward men and women – see Cathy Young’s exploration of that here. And I don’t think women need special protection from this. That’s what I think is condescending. We are all capable of having thick skins and that isn’t restricted to one gender or another.

Am I being overly provocative? I plead guilty to some degree. It’s sometimes my job to take a highly unpopular position if I think there’s something awry in the popular consensus. It’s not trolling – because there’s an issue of principle here that I strongly believe in. But it can be seen as tendentious  in a broader context. My hope is that what you read here on the Dish every day balances that out. Posts where I take a strong and sometimes counter-intuitive viewpoint are balanced by reader dissents, aggregation of other views of the subject elsewhere online, and an open debate. This is not a one-person blog any more and hasn’t been for years. Whatever your views of me, I hope you’ll see that we’ve tried to create a place where my bias is balanced. Judge us on the whole rather than the part. And keep the dissents coming.

Update from another dissenter:

You: “we want to create a different atmosphere of civilized debate than in many troll-feeding sites. If we were not publishing strong dissents – like my reader’s – it would be one thing. But we do all the time.”

First, cut the shit. You tend to publish dissents that serve your own agenda: those that you can use to reinforce your own views and easily juxtapose the “correct” view from that which is obviously “wrong.”  Your response to this dissent is quite typical of how this works; it’s as disingenuous as it is self-serving. But hey, it’s your website, so I guess you have a libertarian right to use it as you choose.

Second, if by an “atmosphere of civilized debate” you mean that you intend to frame the debate as you want it framed, well, you may be on to something. But my sense of “civilized debate” is that everybody is entitled to make a contribution as well as frame the debate itself in the way that one sees fit. Your website does not do this. True, neither do many troll-feeding sites.  Sites like the New York Times, however, allow for a much freer and open exchange of ideas than the Dish does. Yet they’re also able to keep the trolls at bay.

Third – and this gets to the heart of the previous two points – I would challenge the statement that the Dish publishes dissents “all the time.” I don’t know what percentage of dissents you publish, but I’m guessing it’s pretty low. I haven’t written many dissents – maybe two or three since I started visiting the site five or six years ago. But I do know this: never were they published or even acknowledged with a response. And I don’t expect this one to be any different.

We get hundreds of emails a day, a large percentage of which are long and thought out – two qualities increasingly scarce in a comments section – so it’s difficult to feature all of your feedback within the concise reading experience of the Dish. But we try our best. You can browse all our Dissents of the Day here and here to determine for yourself if we publish them “all the time”. And critical feedback on the Dish isn’t confined to the Dissent feature; it just contains the most cutting and persuasive examples. Dish editor Chris Bodenner selects almost all of the dissents, thus creating a layer of critical distance that greatly decreases the chance of selection bias on my part. It’s a system that has evolved over the years and we think it’s the best fit for the blog, but we are always open to further change. So keep the feedback coming.

By the way, below are the two other emails our Update dissenter has sent to the Dish in the past, posted here in the spirit of continued dissent. Here’s one from six days ago, in response to my post, “No, Mr President: Wait Some More On Immigration Reform“:

With all due respect, are you fucking kidding me? Obama already delayed executive action on immigration, and what did he get from it? Recent immigrants didn’t vote, while Pryor and Landrieu lost their seats anyway. If he had moved on immigration before the election, it would have likely brought more Democrats to the polls and enabled Democratic politicians to draw a clearer distinction between themselves and the xenophobic Republicans. Given how Pryor and Landrieu voted as senators, Obama simply should have said to them good riddance and moved ahead with securing more of the Latino vote. This is just the latest example of this president’s political ineptitude.

Now you’re suggesting that Obama further delay executive action. So what’s he going to get out of it?

There are two possibilities. The first is that he gets an immigration deal done, but in the process he has to compromise to the point that Republicans will get virtually everything they want while the Democrats will have to fuck their Latino constituents over. The second (and more likely) is that Republicans will continue to bait Obama and lead him on, making him look even weaker and out of touch than he already appears.

What will this mean for Republicans? With the former, they could claim that they’re able to govern and accomplish for immigrants what the Democrats could not. With the latter, Republicans will boast how principled they are because they refused to compromise with the Kenyan Socialist. In either case, though, the Democrats will come off looking as they do today: a bunch of feckless, spineless, cowering milquetoasts.

Now, what happens if Obama takes executive action without delay?

He and the Democrats come off as principled and thus willing to stand up and fight for what’s right. Meanwhile, the Republicans go apeshit over what Obama has done, revealing themselves as the xenophobic assholes that they really are. It might even provoke some in the Cruz caucus to pursue impeachment, which would be the gift that keeps on giving for Obama and the Democrats.

Andrew, I’m fucking tired of this “only adult in the room,” “no red state or blue state,” “meep meep motherfucker” bullshit about Obama. Say what you will about the Clintons and their triangulation strategy, at least they had the balls to stand up to Republicans and dish out as much as they took. What did we get from Obama? It’s nearly impossible to overstate what the 2010 and 2014 debacles mean for Democrats. They are now assured of remaining a minority party for an entire generation, and likely many more years after that. So what about Obamacare? Do you really think that there’s going to be anything left of it now that Republicans control both houses in Washington, to say nothing of all the state legislatures that they took over? Fat fucking chance.

Needless to say, this is not just a matter of which party deserves to be in power; it’s not about whether the blue team or the red team is winning. What’s likely to occur for the next 25 years is further erosion of economic and social equality in this country – above all for African-Americans – further demonization of the federal government and the role that it plays in assuring a level playing field and providing basic services, and further destruction of the environment and denial of climate change. You want to hear something really scary? Do you realize who’s about to become the new chair of the Senate committee on the environment? None other than the climate-change-is-a-hoax-in-chief, James Inhofe. With dipshits like these in power, this nation – if not the whole global environment – is absolutely fucked.

Meep meep motherfucker my ass.

The other email, from 2010:

I’m very much enjoying the YouTube clips that you are putting up regarding your recent talk at Princeton. It has provoked a lot of thought in my own mind regarding not only homosexuality, but more broadly how it should be understood within a free and democratic society – to say nothing of the faith tradition that we happen to share, but which I have recently abandoned for some of the reasons that your blog has helped make consistently clear.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that your position is rife with inconsistency regarding the very principles on which your talk is based, namely reason and freedom. On the one hand, you make an eloquent critique of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, showing how its concept of sex being solely for the purpose of procreation is inconsistent – from a rational point of view – when it concerns the heterosexual infertile, pregnant, post-menopausal, or practitioners of natural family planning. On the other hand, though, you made it very clear in the latest clip that “religion is not about reason.” But if the latter is true, it seems to me that your argument against the Church’s position on homosexuality is thoroughly useless and without merit.

You can’t have it both ways. The only plausible conclusion, then, is that Religion IS about reason in many significant ways; to deny otherwise – particularly when you are discussing a tradition in which faith and reason have perennially been seen as complementary – not only undermines your own argument, but makes a caricature of religion itself.

Similarly, you criticize liberalism as being a bastion for protecting minorities and in effect infantilizing them. At the same time, however, you argue that in your fight against the religious right you have taken shelter behind the First Amendment, which of course guarantees your right to free speech and emboldens you. But if the First Amendment is not based on the principle of liberalism, then the very term, “liberalism,” is thoroughly meaningless. Moreover, was not First Amendment adopted for the express purpose of protecting those who, precisely because they find themselves in a vulnerable minority, are liable to suffer negative consequences for what they say? In other words, you run to liberalism when it benefits your argument and enables you to express it, yet you deride it whenever it is an inconvenient reminder of your need for, and dependence on, minority protection. Your selectivity about liberalism also strikes me as a caricature of this ideology than anything else.

In the end, why not simply admit that your position is as riddled with inconsistency as those against which you argue? And if indeed that is the case, then what the argument really comes down to is a matter of which inconsistencies are more convenient to one’s own intrinsic beliefs, values, and assumptions. In such a case, nevertheless, I’m much more likely to side with you than those against whom you argue.

(Image of “anti-sexist” street-art from Jonathan McIntosh)