Thank you for stating the obvious

Originally posted on September 30, 2013

A University of Toronto research team found that activists who aggressively promote their agenda prompt others to hold negative opinions about them:

Why don’t people behave in more environmentally friendly ways? New research presents one uncomfortable answer: They don’t want to be associated with environmentalists.

That’s the conclusion of troubling new research from Canada, which similarly finds support for feminist goals is hampered by a dislike of feminists.

Participants held strongly negative stereotypes about such activists, and those feelings reduced their willingness “to adopt the behaviors that these activities promoted,” reports a research team led by University of Toronto psychologist Nadia Bashir. This surprisingly cruel caricaturing, the researchers conclude, plays “a key role in creating resistance to social change.”

Did we really need a battery of studies to tell us this? Is it not obvious that the more hostile and militant the group, the more likely people will want nothing to do with them?

As the article notes, the more vocal activists become, the more people take note of them. The more militant and hostile the activists become, the more people begin to stereotype them. The closer the activists plays to type, the more people want nothing to do with the activists or their concerns.

The researchers focus on environmentalists and feminists, yet this logic applies to other activists as well. We see it with groups like civil rights activists, gay rights activists, men’s rights activists, and the Tea Party. The more aggressive and angry their approach, the more they turn people off.

This is one of the reasons why I strive to be civil towards people. While calm voices may not receive much attention, it is easier to convince someone to listen to you when you are not attacking them than it is by shouting in their faces.

As the article states:

“Unfortunately,” the researchers write, “the very nature of activism leads to negative stereotyping. By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy and unconventionality or eccentricity.”

“Furthermore, this tendency to associate activists with negative stereotypes and perceive them as people with whom it would be unpleasant to affiliate reduces individuals’ motivation to adopt the pro-change behaviors that activists advocate.”

So the message to advocates is clear: Avoid rhetoric or actions that reinforce the stereotype of the angry activist. Realize that if people find you off-putting, they’re not going to listen to your message. As Bashir and her colleagues note, potential converts to your cause “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”

Most older social movements learned this lesson quickly, yet many modern movements tend to ignore it. Modern movements strive for the “in your face!” approach, often alienating anyone who does not agree with them and browbeating their opponents into silence. While it appears that they make gains in the short-term, they actually hurt their long-term efforts because people develop a negative view of them.

Look at the gay rights movement. While liberals support it, most people want nothing to do with it. Why? There are many hostile voices that take the public center stage. Organizations like GLAAD come across as bullying anyone who says anything they do not like. Some of the activists so heavily promote their agenda and attack those who disagree with them that they turn off supporters.

The same thing happens with feminists. While feminists have some valid concerns, their approach is so accusatory, antagonistic, and arrogant that few people want to associate with them. It has gotten so bad for feminists that most people do not even want to use the label lest people think they hate men. Feminists could have argued earlier in their movement that the man-hater label was an unfair stereotype. Yet after fifty years in the mainstream, that label results solely from feminists own actions.

Men’s rights activists should take note of these findings. While all men’s rights activists are not loud and angry, enough of them are that it is easy for people to form a negative opinion of them (often with feminists’ help). Civility goes a long way. Look at the infamous Big Red video. Feminists protesting at the University of Toronto screamed and yelled at the men in front of the school. Yet those men remained calm and polite, and as a result they look far more reasonable than any of the feminists.

This is a lesson people need to learn. There is nothing wrong with protests and activism, however, the “in your face!” approach only creates enemies, not friends.


14 thoughts on “Thank you for stating the obvious

  1. Two thoughts on this:

    One of the many things that turned me off about Obama was when he told his supporters that they’re going to have to get into people’s faces.

    During the days of slavery, many people that were against slavery didn’t like to be identified with abolitionists because how the abolitionists acted as described above.

  2. Precisely. You catch more flies with honey…and more people will be converted to your cause if you’re polite, calm, make reasonable points, and don’t automatically insult/condemn potential allies simply due to their gender, skin color, orientation, etc. Just because someone is atypical of your usual followers (a female MRA for example) doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to fight with you.

  3. Many feminists I’ve seen are unapologetic about being angry and aggressive…it’s their right, it’s their PRIVILEGE they believe to act like rude assholes whilst simultaneously writing articles trying to say the stereotype of the angry feminist is wrong and that feminism is for everyone…where the comments of said article are chock full of angry n aggressive feminists pouncing on anyone that does fit the line. Not all feminists do this ™ but it is way too common, all they do is reinforce the stereotype. Jezebel is especially bad for it. I see it too often that they feel ok that they’re angry, that OTHERS should just deal with their anger n aggressive behaviour, that being rude n pretty much abusive is ok when you’re “fighting the patriarchy ™”. Yet it’s human nature to not want to be around negative, angry people…

  4. @Tamen

    Ugh, that link was revolting. Of course male rape victims are as important as female ones. The mechanics of the rape are probably/could be different, but it’s still someone using another’s body against their will. To say that one victim is somehow more or less important than another due solely to their physical sex is cruel and discounts the experience they need to get assistance for. This link was as cringe worthy as the time a self described MRA on Youtube told me that female rape victims had it easy because “at least their body was used in a natural way”. (Obviously this guy felt like being ignorant towards both women and the gay community in general.)

  5. Tamen, that link is the perfect example of why you should not become angry. That kind of stupid must be allowed blossom and flourish so that others can see it for what it truly is.

  6. Toysoldier: Yes, I agree. Although it’s more a matter of how one channels or display the anger felt rather than repressing the anger itself when one happens upon statements like that.

    Pointing out that according to CDC 25% of rape victims are men and almost 20% according to RAINN. One could further point out that women make up appr. 25% of homicide victims. According to the logic this Tumblr used then that does mean we should be focusing on the big problem of men getting murdered instead of the much smaller details (of women getting murdered). Perhaps then it will be even clearer for more people just how offensive the original statement and that attempt at rationalizing it in the editor’s note.

    Tarnished: Stating that female rape victims had it easy due to being “used in a natural way” is just as cringe-worthy as you pointed out. It makes me sad that people find it in themselves to say such things.

  7. How did I miss this post? Nice catch.

    Yeah, it’s a tough one. I think to some degree it is good to give vent to anger publicly, but it should not be treated as sacrosanct or always a good idea. Ultimately the anger/snark venting is good for rallying the like-minded, but not so good for changing minds.

    Guilty of this myself, of course. I think if one chooses that route there has to be pretty sound argumentation attached to it – if you’re both wrong and obnoxious, you’re going to completely lose your audience.

    Some factual observations to back up how unhelpful this behaviour is though is nice, and it does make the constant refrain of “Tone trolling!” look even more pathetic.

  8. @ Tarnished

    “Self described MRA on Youtube told me that female rape victims had it easy”

    Strange that a self-described MRA would render the largest portion of male rape victims–men raped by women–invisible.

  9. typhonblue: We both know that there are people who label themselves MRA who indeed does render male and female rape victims invisible in different ways. Case in point: Eivind Berge. Do I think the label is misapplied by him because of his stance on rape – yes I do. Regardless, in my experience he appears to be of part of a very small minority of MRAs.

  10. @typhonblue

    That was merely one sentence of the entire tirade he sent me. His pm to me was all about how “women have nothing to complain about, ever” and gave various examples…including the fact that when women are raped it’s “more natural”. I was tempted to point out that women can be raped by other women, and that men aren’t necessarily getting raped from behind, but I’d been having a difficult week and simply deleted his message and blocked him.

    He’s the one who said he was an MRA, not me. I think he must have either been very new, or one of those people who only latch onto the parts of a movement they like while throwing the rest away. Truthfully, his pm made me think he was less an MRA and more a male supremist.

  11. Pingback: If you’re a feminist you’ll be called a man-hater. You don’t need rebranding |

  12. And yet militant feminists and other far leftists set the national agenda. The system doesn’t care who people feel “associated with”, that’s not how it works. In the real world power is exercised by an elite few who bargain with other elitists and militants when it is in their best interests. Militancy works because, among other reasons, it creates operating room for those who are slightly less militant . It only has to reach a certain mass and that mass is very low when you have the media on your side. Certainly as a simple objective observation the militants of the left are big winners while the compromisers of conservatism have gone down to near total defeat. Militancy wins once a certain critical mass is reached, and as I said, that critical mass is quite low when you have the media in your pocket.

  13. Hello Jacob, I’m a long-time lurker of your blog and I just wanted to pop in and say that, yes, we do need a battery of studies to tell us these supposedly obvious facts, because what’s obvious to one person may as well be blatantly false to another (especially with regard to the subject matter of this blog), and these things need to be tested. Which is not to say that these papers can’t be wrong, but then you have concrete flaws to point at, rather than busting up against nonnegotiable opinions and “lived experiences”. Empirical research is our ally, and that includes these seemingly benign articles, because one study about feminism’s bad image may lead to others trying to replicate or refute it, and acquiring a deeper understanding in the process.

    Of course, this is nothing like the “These dumb studies don’t really prove anything, because ” that I find on one of the two feminist blogs that I read.

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