It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
Every few months some writes an article about how misunderstood feminists are and how to combat the misunderstanding. They typically only cite other feminists to support their arguments and rely on slanted studies and strawman attacks to defeat the criticism.
If the best you can do is lie about your critics and resort to logical fallacies and insults, then you give people no reason to support your movement. For some bizarre reason Suzannah Weiss decided to prove this point:
Have you ever called someone out, then had them twist it around and call you out right back? Anyone who has tried to bring attention to sexism (or racism, or homophobia, or anything of that nature) can probably relate to the frustrations of pointing out a double-standard or microaggression and being accused of overreacting or “reading too deeply into it.”
While I’m all for friendly debate, some debaters aren’t trying to engage with your position — they’re trying to dismiss it. Here are some cheap tricks I’ve seen people use to dismiss feminism and what you can say to defend yourself if they’re willing to listen.
So instead of Weiss providing a method of addressing people’s criticism of feminism and offering substantive commentary about that criticism, Weiss decides to go the lazy route and offer cheap tricks of her own to address challenges against her ideology. Let us see how this goes:
What it sounds like: “You’re overreacting.” “Offense is taken, not given.” “Nobody can make you feel anything without your permission.” “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can’t hurt you.”
People use gaslighting — making others doubt their own perceptions and blame themselves for their emotional reactions — to dismiss not just feminists but also anyone who calls them out. This tactic may be couched in supposedly wise platitudes about thick skin, but don’t be fooled: It’s really an excuse people use to say anything they want without taking responsibility for the consequences.
That is an accurate description of gaslighting. It is also an accurate descritpion of how Weiss treats men throughout her article. She never takes men’s complaints seriously. Instead, she repeatedly states that all of the complaints about feminism are in people’s heads. She follows up her dismissal of men’s rights by stating, “Yes, I can say it because I live it every day. There are statistics to prove this, and there are lived experiences to prove this. One consolation of the shittiness of being a woman in our society is that I understand sexism on a deep, personal level — and I deserve the chance to share that understanding.”
In short, “You’re a man. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a woman, so I know everything about sexism.” Her entire argument about men’s rights essentially states that:
By encouraging [men] to develop thicker skin, [I’m] skirting the real issue: that it takes thick skin to deal with [feminist] comments [about men]. How easily [men] take offense and whether or not they’re giving it are two separate questions.
But such double standards are acceptable because they are directed at men. Men should accept whatever criticism feminists throw at them, whereas feminists should be spared gaslighting criticism like “Do you have any evidence to support that claim” and “That doesn’t match my lived experience”.
Unless you know that you’re really reacting to something other than the person triggering you — and unless you’re totally delusional, but I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt there — the person who offended you is responsible. If someone throws a punch at you, you’ll get a bruise; if they hurl careless or hurtful words at you, you have the right to get upset. And you have the right to be heard.
Unless, of course, you are a man criticizing feminism. Then you do not have a right to be heard. You have the right to listen to feminists like Weiss tell you how they know more about your life experiences than you.
Here is what Weiss offers as a solution to so-called gaslighters:
How to respond: I’ve fantasized about giving gaslighters sassy responses like, “I suppose I don’t share your ability to control your reactions to everything. Have you tried walking through fire?” Alas, a better-received response would probably be to point out that the gaslighter is also human, can’t control their reactions to everything, and has surely taken offense at something at some point. Ask how they’d feel if they were gaslighted in that situation.
There is no need to ask that question because in many instances the reason why someone is criticizing feminism is due to feminists gaslighting them or someone else. The better question to ask is why Weiss seems to have no problem gaslighting non-feminists, particularly men, as she does below:
2. Invoking Men’s Rights
What it sounds like: “Our society puts unrealistic standards on men, you know.” “You don’t know what it’s like to be a man, so you can’t say women have the shorter end of the stick.”
Yes, I can say it because I live it every day. There are statistics to prove this, and there are lived experiences to prove this. One consolation of the shittiness of being a woman in our society is that I understand sexism on a deep, personal level — and I deserve the chance to share that understanding.
Citing two feminists websites (links in the original article) that readily dismiss men’s experiences is not proof women have it worse. It is merely an example of gross confirmation bias.
Likewise, Weiss citing her lived experience is not proof because she is not male. She has not lived the male experience. She is therefore in no position to tell men what their lives are like.
It is very easy to compare your experiences to other people’s experiences and conclude that you have it worse. It is much harder to see things the way the other people see it. What Weiss does, however, is completely dismiss men’s experiences altogether, essentially accusing them of being overly emotional about their lives. There is a word for that: gaslighting.
She goes on to state:
I absolutely sympathize with men’s struggles with gender stereotypes, and I’m angry about the dismissal they face when they are victims of abuse. But as this video aptly puts it, when someone’s house is on fire, you don’t tell them that people also die from drowning — you offer them a hose.
Citing an anti-male video that dismisses male victims is not a good argument. If one genuinely sympathizes with men’s struggles there would be no “but” or any caveat either. You either do sympathize with them or you do not. You cannot sway between the two positions when it suits your strawman argument and then insult men by claiming their experiences really are not that bad compared to your own.
Her solution is similarly contradictory and ironic:
How to respond: You shouldn’t have to statistically prove your oppression, but if you’re trying to convince someone who is dismissing your lived experience, it might be helpful to have some statistics on the wage gap, underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, or sexual harassment up your sleeve.
She says this after summarily dismissing men who statistically prove their oppression. Again Weiss reveals her double standard. It is okay to dismiss people’s lived experiences as long as they are men.
3. Accusing Feminists of Paranoia
What it sounds like: “You’re just looking for sexism.” “Are you sure that’s not confirmation bias?” “You’re nitpicking my language.” “You’re reading too deeply into it.”
That is not accusing feminists of paranoia. It is questioning how and why they make certain arguments. This line of thinking flows from the same source that declares criticism “harassment”. Being questioned is not an attack. It is the way in which rational adults engage in debate.
But according to Weiss the problem is:
If you strip these comments down, the accuser is implying that, as a feminist, you are paranoid and incapable of being objective. After all, if you’re thinking critically about the issues our society faces and looking at the media skeptically and questioning people’s assumptions, how could you possibly be trusted to accurately report events or say anything perceptive, right?
Similar to gaslighters, those who accuse feminists of paranoia act as if you walk around wearing sexism-colored glasses so that you can criticize everyone around you for being sexist.
That assumption could be avoided if feminists were not inclined to say things like “Or perhaps, people are just being sexist”. Those kind of comments are why people assume feminists see sexism everywhere. Even the mere disagreement with feminists is seen as sexist.
If that is how feminists view the world, why should anyone assume their views are objective or unbiased?
Her solution does not help either:
How to respond: You shouldn’t have to prove that you’re not suffering from paranoid delusions, but as with men’s rights activists, having some statistics handy can be helpful if you’re up to the challenge.
How does citing statistics prove you are not paranoid? Could you not cite the data and draw the wrong conclusion? Could you not cite biased studies?
4. Invoking Human Solidarity
What it sounds like: “We all bleed the same color.” “We should think of people as people, period.”
Because your testimony of the oppression and discrimination you have faced does not fit with this person’s picture of a genderless, raceless, classless world, they will outright erase and deny it.
That is not usually what happens. What usually happens is that people challenge the feminist argument that the feminist view of the world is the one and only correct view. Many feminists perceive this as an attack, yet it is only a statement that there are many ways to view the world around us. This does not erase anyone’s experience. It adds to our understanding of the broader world.
This resistance sometimes comes from confusion between description and prescription. When people hear you describing a world where people are categorized and bringing the experiences of specific categories to their attention, they worry that you’re perpetuating these categories. You’re not. You’re just talking about them.
Correction: you are talking about them by categorizing them to specific groups, which incidentally perpetuates the categories. Again, you cannot have it both ways. Either using this quick method of categorization is wrong or it is not. You cannot pick and choose when it is fair at your discretion.
Yet Weiss has a far more insidious position:
Invoking human solidarity can also stem from guilt. Members of privileged groups would like to think they’re not contributing to or benefiting from anyone’s oppression. Invoking human solidarity allows them to do this, but it also ignores history.
That guilt by association, and it also perpetuates categorization. Everything about Weiss’s argument is built around the notion that somehow when feminists do it all the bias fades away. It is only when everyone else, men in particular, engage in a behavior that it becomes a problem.
The problem with this double standard is that it ignores everyone else’ sexperiences. The world is a biased place and some people do face more bias than others. Yet that does not mean that women or minority groups possess some inherently profound understanding of the world. Their perspectives are just as narrow and subjective as anyone else’s.
5. Citing Science
What it sounds like: “Men are better at math.” “Women are more emotional.” You know the drill.
In general, men are better at math and women do express more emotion. Weiss claims this is due to social norms, yet that would not explain why this pattern exists in cultures and societies that are vastly different from each other. That evidence would imply there is something biological at play.
Of course social norms will influence this biological element. That does not mean we should take situations like this:
For example, some fascinating psychological studies have shown that parents perceive and treat boys and girls differently from infancy. Even when they were actually observing boys dressed as girls, adults still perceived the “girls” to be more social. They also underestimated their daughters’ climbing abilities while guessing their sons’ accurately.
and conclude they explain away the difference between males and females. Pointing out that “science also shows that gender differences can be culturally ingrained” does not change that science also suggests that either sex have some biological predilections.
Finally we come to the last strawman argument:
6. Building Straw Women
What it sounds like: “Are you saying that women are superior?”
Nope, didn’t say that.
“Are you saying that men aren’t victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse?”
Nope, didn’t say that either.
“Are you saying that men and women are identical?”
Can’t recall saying that one either.
None of that makes any sense without context. Rarely does anyone happen upon a feminist and ask “Are you saying women are superior”. That question typically follows from something the feminist said that gave the impression that the feminist thinks women are better than men. The sand holds true for all the other questions.
This makes Weiss’s suggestion that feminists should say:
Nope, nope, nope, didn’t say any of that. If you have to ask if that’s what I’m saying, it’s probably not what I’m saying.
all the more idiotic. People often use veiled comments and smears. People often say one thing and mean another. It is very common for people to play with words this way, particularly ideologues like feminists.
If feminists do not mean men cannot be victims of abuse, the best response is to clarify what they do mean, not take the condescending position of:
Anti-feminists, men’s rights activists, and serial gaslighters aren’t always the best listeners, so simply disengaging with them is sometimes the best option — especially if you’re being trolled online.
Playing the victim does not make you right anymore than it makes the questions wrong. Again, rational adults work to fix misunderstandings, not dismiss them as “trolling”.
Playing the martyr can also be tempting. This is what Weiss suggests, that feminists remind themselves:
You’re not overreacting, you’re not diminishing men’s rights, you’re not paranoid, you’re not minimizing human solidarity, you’re not denying science, and you’re not saying the words people are putting in your mouth. You’re fighting the good fight. So keep doing what you’re doing.
If fighting the good fight leaves you with no allies and most people thinking you are a bigoted, sexist, racist ideologue incapable of engaging in basic discussions without throwing tantrums when things do not go your way, perhaps continuing to do what you are doing is not the best idea.