The Territory

Stephanie West Allen sent a video my way, responding to an op-ed at WaPo about how feminist writers are considering retirement rather than suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Michelle Goldberg writes:

This is a strange, contradictory moment for feminism. On one hand, there’s never been so much demand for feminist voices…

On the other hand, while digital media has amplified feminist voices, it has also extracted a steep psychic price. Women, urged to tell their stories, are being ferociously punished when they do…

By “ferociously punished,” Goldberg means two things.  First, that they receive crude, violent or flagrantly offensive responses, devoid of substance and vicious in their threats or rhetoric.  Second, they endure criticism of their positions, arguments and “facts.”

Some — particularly women who have the audacity to criticize sexism in the video-game world — have been driven from their homes or forced to cancel public appearances. Fake ads soliciting rough sex have been placed in their names. And, of course, the Twitter harassment never stops. “Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job,” Lindy West, formerly of Jezebel, recently said on “This American Life.” Adds Jamia Wilson, executive director of the feminist advocacy group Women, Action and the Media, “It really can affect the way that people feel about themselves.”

While “the way that people feel about themselves” is peculiarly irrelevant, the appeal to emotion has become a mainstay of this concern. That it plays into every prejudice about women being overly emotional doesn’t disturb those who proffer it, as they play mainly to their choir who shares their over-emotionalism.

So stories today about Internet abuse inevitably elicit cliches about heat and kitchensdemands that women toughen up and grow thicker skin. Punditry and activism, after all, are relatively cushy gigs. Reading “nasty virtual tweets” is far better than being “an undocumented immigrant trying to feed your family in America, or somebody who is wrongfully incarcerated, or any of the issues I used to work on,” acknowledges Sally Kohn, a Daily Beast columnist who was previously the only left-wing lesbian feminist contributor at Fox News, making her an especial target for trolls.

Perhaps it is cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. But the claim suffers from being absurdly disingenuous, that anyone promoting feminist ideology is on the side of truth and justice, and anyone disputing it is a troll.  That their nastiness, threats and hostility is warranted, and everyone else’s is evil.  That they are entitled to speak. You are . . . not.

And so, the video from Steph responds, at some length, to the self-serving pronouncement of victimhood offered by Goldberg.

Hooray? No, not really.  This video struck me as sadly ungracious and needlessly antagonistic.  This epiphany, then, made me wonder how many of my posts that are critical of cries for new criminal laws, critical of over-emotionalism as the dividing line when rights clash with feelings, are similarly ungracious.

Most? All?

The fact is that as much as I think that progressive ideology has turned flagrantly illiberal, has dangerously rejected fundamental rights in favor of transitory feelings and, at its core, elevates emotion over principles that would lead to societal disaster, the level of discourse has gone needlessly and disgustingly sour.

Sure, there are plenty of threats and vulgar language to go around. I get it here all the time, and shrug it off. But that’s me.  What purpose is served by overt sexual and violent threats? Is it for the lulz, or some warped catharsis?  It changes no minds, while feeding into the complaints of feminists that men are animals. Why give them the ammo?

When one presumes to offer one’s opinion in a public forum, criticism and disagreement come with the territory.  Sometimes, it comes in a manner that’s thoughtful. Most time it’s just idiotic crap offered by drooling morons. Big fucking deal.  Here, I can deal with it according to my rules. When people post their disagreement elsewhere, it’s up to the vicissitudes of the internet gods.

That’s the territory.  If so moved, maybe I’ll deal with it. Since you wouldn’t know its frequency, you wouldn’t be aware that I let 99% of it go. It comes with the territory. And that’s true of the poor feminist martyrs as well.

Their self-characterization of themselves as righteous victims and those who disagree as vicious misogynists brings much of this on them. They won’t debate. They won’t discuss. They can be every bit as nasty and vicious as their antagonists, but they excuse themselves because they’re right and their opponents are wrong and evil.  We get that.  Denying it doesn’t change the obvious.

I concede that I have not been accommodating of their feelings. Frankly, I couldn’t care less that anything less than adoration makes them feel badly about themselves. Heat and kitchens, ladies, cliché or not. Nobody promised you the ability to spew your dogma. As the video says, sometimes you’re called an idiot because the things you say are idiotic. Either tough it out or stop being an idiot.

But then, watching the video, reading some of the more malignant twits, and I start to ponder that somebody has to be better than the worst, nastiest, most vicious voice around.  If the views opposing neo-feminists and their self-infantilizing demands are correct, then why can’t I be more gracious about it, more accommodating of their feelings, with the implicit understanding that the arguments will prevail because they are valid?

And then I realized the problem. The emotional appeal of victimhood, of logical fallacies and abusive anecdotes, seems to carry inordinate sway with people because reason and logic have fallen out of favor in this Age of Emotionalism.  Or is that just the way it looks from here?

I have no plans to stop presenting argument to address the cries for laws criminalizing conduct on the basis of post hoc hurt feelings, violations of constitutional rights or collateral damage to the innocent.  These are important problems that should not be ignored in the sea of feminist tears. But I would like to be more gracious about it.

Whether I can pull this off has yet to be seen, particularly since I tend to be direct, if not terse, in my criticism. That type of speech tends to hurt feelings, whether that’s my intention or not. And if I fail to live up to this aspiration, no doubt some of you will fry me for it.  That’s fair, as it comes with the territory.


19 thoughts on “The Territory

  1. REvers

    You’re going to have trouble being more gracious and still getting the point across. Not because you’re you, necessarily, but because some arguments simply don’t lend themselves to grace.

    1. SHG Post author

      Given the breadth of reading comprehension on the internet, subtlety tends to get lost very quickly, making graciousness difficult. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try, even though I find myself misunderstood constantly despite my efforts to be as clear as possible.

      1. REvers

        You are not being misunderstood. They just don’t want to hear what you’re saying because they cannot comprehend reason should take precedence over emotion. See the good professor Franks for an example.

        Perhaps you should just start every argument with, “Jane, you ignorant slut.” It worked for Dan Aykroyd, you know.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’m not quite as sanguine about Mary Anne as you are. While her intellectual dishonesty is well documented, the extent of her intellectual prowess remains in doubt. From her writings, it’s difficult to discern whether she has the chops for scholarship. She favors shallow thought and empty jargon, which leads me to believe that she may just not have the intellectual depth to understand.

          As I’ve noted before, this observation is shared by other lawprofs, who similarly doubt that she’s all that bright. But she’s insulated by her advocacy, so that anyone who questions her intelligence will be denounced as a misogynist. Not willing to fight that battle, and not caring enough about whether she continues to teach at a third tier school, they let it slide. It’s a shame.

          1. REvers

            Your arguments (and Bennett’s, for that matter) are extremely clear, logically presented and easy to follow. Even non-lawyers without a background in con law get it. While Mary Anne certainly isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and has no business teaching law students, I find it difficult to believe she’s so intellectually challenged that she can’t follow and understand what you’re saying.

            She just doesn’t like the truth, and therefore it’s not the truth. Good luck with being gracious in the face of that.

  2. Not Jim Ardis

    And then I realized the problem. The emotional appeal of victimhood, of logical fallacies and abusive anecdotes, seems to carry inordinate sway with people because reason and logic have fallen out of favor in this Age of Emotionalism. Or is that just the way it looks from here?

    I’ll start by saying that I am frequently guilty of being less civil than I could/should be. It is a failing of mine, one fault among oh so many…

    But I think part of the reason those who argue (or try to argue) with feminists (and in my case that antiGamerGate subset of feminists, also known as Tumblr Feminism) is that you are GOING to be called a misogynist and evil and all that other stuff, so you might as well say whatever you want.

    For many, I think they act uncivilly because they might as well earn the labels that will be applied.

    1. SHG Post author

      While I am painfully aware that any disagreement, whether offered in dulcet tones or angry words, will produce a backlash of name-calling and attacks, it begs a question: Yes, it frees one to not try to be sensitive as the resultant attacks will happen regardless, but then, it doesn’t force one to wallow in the gutter alongside one’s adversary.

      I have no concern about being called a misogynist. But don’t I still have the choice to be more gracious even if feminists are mean-spirited and hypocritical assailants?

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        You are correct, and you do still have the choice in how you act – we are all moral actors, after all. I’m merely suggesting what some might have as their reason/excuse for not bothering to be civil (or for actively being offensive).

        As a small aside, you likely fear being labeled a misogynist less than someone else because you are self-employed. You are unlikely to fire yourself because a e-mob has besieged your employer and/or their advertisers with tales about how you hate women, don’t think rape is real, and promote violence against women.

        Many others are not so fortunate, and an employer might let someone go in an effort to appease the feckless, howling mob. In such cases, I could see someone thinking “well, if they are going to get me fired, I might as well go all out,” even though that does make it more likely they would be fired (since otherwise they could answer the employer’s questions about the matter saying “look, here is what I actually said, which isn’t even remotely what is being claimed.”).

      2. Padraig

        While you absolutely have the choice to remain gracious in the face of unrelenting angry and hatred I can’t help but wonder what the gain is?

        Why engage with people are filled with nothing more than a sense of righteous indignation at anything you say and everything you are?

        I can’t help but think that Valenti got one thing right, and most likely completely by mistake, while not having the wherewithal to even understand the application for herself.

        As stated by Valenti, “You can’t get called a c— day in, day out for 10 years and not have that make a really serious impact on your psyche” and yet somehow she doesn’t understand that the decades of calling men dogs, rapists, woman beaters, misogynists, etc, etc has had any negative impact in both the reception she receives and backlash she cultivates.

        How can you ever expect to move forward with people who don’t know how to do anything but stand in place? Why engage with these people at all?

        1. SHG Post author

          Why? Because I don’t want to be like them. Besides, sticks and stones. They may get all twisted about nasty words, but it’s still just words.

          And in the meantime, I see the grave danger happening on campus and to the malleable minds of young people. This is a serious problem and I want to contribute something useful.

  3. Beth

    These things that feminists are complaining about happening today seem to me the very essence of what society back in the 70’s was warning women would happen if they insisted on ‘equality’ and the ability to work and study in traditionally male domains. It’s one thing to ask for equality and be granted the opportunity to work in male domains. It’s another to insist that those areas be made comfortable and welcoming for all women. Perhaps it would be best for our society if we can accomplish that. I don’t know.

    What I do know is that the rules that prevented women from working in male domains a few generations ago were designed to protect women. They ended up constraining the opportunities of women. I don’t see the end result of feminists who want new rules to protect women from harassment to be any less constraining. You can’t ‘protect’ people from the rest of the world without controlling their access to the rest of the world. When you do that, you are treating them as lesser being, incapable of deciding for themselves who to interact with and who to avoid. I don’t want that.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s one thing to ask for equality and be granted the opportunity to work in male domains.

      These are not the same things. Equality is equality, in all aspects of life. Career opportunity, whether by entering occupations that were considered male bastions or by equivalent pay, is one piece of the equality puzzle. With benefits come detriments, as a full package. They want one without the other.

      It doesn’t happen that way for anyone, regardless of gender. We all take our licks. Anything less is infantilizing women, but then, that hurts their feelings as well.

      1. Beth

        You make a valid point about equality not being the same as equal opportunity. You are also correct that with that opportunity comes problems, which was the point I was trying to get across. Thanks for adding that clarification.

  4. EH

    “Equality” is a meaningless term on its own. Especially in this context, where all sorts of folks are using it to mean one of three different things.

    There are three equalities: inputs, processes, and outcomes. When it comes to humans (who are variable by nature) you have to sacrifice at least one of them. if you don’t specify which one you’re giving up, you often end up arguing about “equality” and it’s really just semantics.

    If you leave inputs alone, then they’ll vary (because people are different). So if you apply a neutral process, you will get unequal outcomes. Group disparities on race-blind college admissions are a simple example. That’s why “equality of opportunity” and “neutral process” alone often indicate unequal outcomes.

    If you leave inputs alone and require equal outcomes, you must use an unequal process. AA in college admissions is, again, a simple example. That’s why an “equal end result” is almost always accompanied by a non-neutral process.

    If you want to achieve your selected outcomes by using a neutral process, then you need to tweak the hell out of your inputs, so that you can pick and choose your way around natural group variation–the most obvious example here is “gerrymandering.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Have you tried Ritalin? And it would have made a tiny bit more sense if you used the reply button before going headlong down the tangential path.

  5. EH

    ….left out my past paragraph my mistake:

    A lot of the people talking about equality here are arguing for equal outcomes. Which is all well and good. But absent very specific circumstances where you can select inputs, this means an unequal process.

    Writers shouldn’t be allowed to simultaneously claim that they want equal processes because that is literally impossible. You can say “publish me equally, treat me like you treat a male author; and I’ll take whatever hatred comes my way” or you can say “publish me equally and use a different process to ensure that I don’t get more hatred than a male author.” but you can’t look for outcome and process equality at the same time.

  6. AG

    There’s some conflation going on in this broader debate that gets in the way of meaningful discussion. Getting called a name (even if it’s the same name 20 times/day for ten years) is not the same as getting death threats. Even having someone impersonate your dead father (Lindy West talks about this in the TAL story), nasty as it is, is different than having people come to your home and workplace to threaten you more.

    Similarly, calling to criminalize aspects of this behavior is different than simply illuminating (as I think the TAL story and the WaPo op-ed do) the utter bile of human behavior. What was moving in the TAL story is that she called out her attacker and he seemingly repented. Maybe exposing the bile, bit by bit, can make a difference. Maybe it can’t. But there’s also a difference between “whining” and exposing laughably inappropriate behavior.

    (And, by the way, this debate has no shortage of whining. That video was full of whining.)

    1. SHG Post author

      We have laws about people coming to your home and workplace to threaten, and for good reason. Online buffoonery is sad and pathetic, but it’s noise. When it gets real, that’s where real recourse is needed, and fortunately exists. But then, there is a secondary gap between claims of “threats” and actual threats.

      Since that’s not the point here, I won’t go into it in depth, but when I’ve taken a look behind the “threats” characterizations, they usually end up being overwrought nonsense. Notably, we’re rarely told what the “threat” was, but just that there was a threat, and we should blindly accept the characterization. That’s a problem.

      And yes, this debate has no shortage of whining on both sides, though my view is that the feminist perspective has ownership of ad hominems and logical fallacies. Your mileage may vary.

Comments are closed.