It was pointed out to me the other day, when I wrote about how the Big Lie relies upon the acceptance of a series of smaller foundational lies. The phrase, hashtag, mantra, slogan, whatever characterization you prefer, “Believe All Women” was “a strawman.” I sloughed it off, as it was neither factually true nor a difference with a distinction.
If this was the mountain upon which pseudo-feminists wished to die, that was their choice.
Filipovic is a lawyer, which suggests she would be modestly cautious about making assertions that can be completely disproven within seconds. But then, she’s also a “third-wave feminist,” so any rhetorical sophistry that appeals to her tribe is good enough to manufacture an excuse.
Her reference is to an op-ed inexplicably (but unsurprisingly) published by the New York Times.
In fact, “Believe All Women” does have an asterisk: *It’s never been feminist “boilerplate.” What we are witnessing is another instance of the right decrying what it imagines the American women’s movement to be.
Spend some mind-numbing hours tracking the origins of “Believe All Women” on social media sites and news databases — as I did — and you’ll discover how language, like a virus, can mutate overnight. All of a sudden, yesterday’s quotes suffer the insertion of some foreign DNA that makes them easy to weaponize. In this case, that foreign intrusion is a word: “all.”
No, the “right” didn’t insert the “all.” That’s not me saying so. The google and twitter machines say no. Robby Soave called this “gaslighting.”
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) September 26, 2018
No, “believe women” never meant, doesn’t mean, and makes utterly sense even if one took the post-hoc rationalization seriously, At Arc Digital, Oliver Taldi parses the phrase.
Similarly, author and activist Jill Filipovic tweets that “Feminists never said ‘believe all women’ — the right inserted the ‘all.’ Feminists said ‘believe women’: that is, start with the assumption that women are telling the truth instead of reflexively doubting them.” It’s not clear how the insertion of “all” is supposed to affect things. Does Filipovic think we should start with the assumption that all women are telling the truth, or only some? What does believing someone involve if not assuming that they are telling the truth? (Also, the claim that “feminists never said ‘believe all women’” is simply false on the face of it.)
It’s not hard to understand why now, with the hypocrisy demonstrated by adherents at dismissing accusations leveled at Joe Biden, the other tribe has seized upon the worst, most flagrant variation of this phrase, which appeared in various permutations at a time when no variation was subject to challenge or question.
“Believe All Women” carries a harder punch than “Believe Women,” and is easier for the rhetorically challenged to grasp than the more subtle variant. But it was a bludgeon created by the pseudo-feminists, who were happy enough with it when it was in their hands and are now desperately trying to disavow it when they’ve been disarmed and their adversaries use it against them.
But so what?
A first pass might be: Faludi thinks “believe women” means “believe some women.”
But in this case it would have no force as a slogan at all. Say you doubt an account that has been given of some event, and as a riposte, someone tells you that you are to “believe women.” If “believe women” means “believe some women,” then you can simply respond: “I do believe women. Just not this one!”
So, obviously “believe women” must mean more than just “believe some women.” What about “believe most women?” This runs into similar problems: it would mean “I do believe women, just not this one” is a valid response coming from someone who could point to a variety of occasions on which they did, in fact, believe women. But then the slogan carries virtually no force in the argument. So it can’t be that “believe women” means only “believe most women.”
It really doesn’t matter, substantively, whether the slogan is “Believe Women,” “Believe All Women,” “Believe The Woman” or any other variant one might prefer. The word “All” is redundant. The more important word, that miraculously avoids scrutiny in this battle over hashtags, is the word “Believe.”
The same analysis applies to Faludi’s claim that “believing women is simply the rejoinder to the ancient practice of #DoubtWomen.” (To any New York Times editors reading this: “believing” is an action, not a statement, and therefore cannot be a “rejoinder”; and no “ancient practice” has an associated hashtag.) If all “believe” means is “don’t automatically doubt,” then the slogan would not fit situations in which the doubt remained after the presentation of a great deal of evidence.
If, as the moment’s excuse machine contends, believe is used merely to remind men to take women seriously, or in contrast with “doubt,” then they could argue that the slogan was a lie all along and should have been #TakeWomenSeriously. Not catchy enough for the simpletons? It’s hard to come up with a cool phrase that works, but that’s not an excuse for creating a phrase that doesn’t say what you now claim it means.
But, of course, there is a far simpler reaction to these rhetorical gymnastics played out on uneven bars. The pseudo-feminists, as part of their thrust to avoid the difficulties of the legal system where proof of accusations would be required and weighed according to some meaningful standard, created an alternate path of public accusations on social media and publications where the mere accusation would be fully sufficient to “prove” their claim and neither the accused nor his “apologists” could challenge without violating the series of small lies that gave rise to the big lie, Believe.
There was a “credible accusation,” but no credible denial (until Liz Warren invented it exclusively for the use of Joe Biden). Anyone could accuse, but no one could question. That was exactly what the slogan was meant to achieve, whether in its “Believe All Women” or “Believe Women” permutations. If the latter makes you feel better, so be it. It changes nothing for those who refuse to think, but instead “Believe.”