Thursday, January 3, 2013

The feminist stamp of approval

I find it silly how responses to feminist critics just repeat the same patterns over and over again.  I feel that there is practically a stereotype of a defensive sexist.  I don't assume the stereotype accurately describes anyone, but somehow people step into that stereotype again and again, like they aren't even aware of it.  This opens them up to all sorts of stock criticism, and they don't even know.

I feel bad for people because they probably just don't read any internet feminism and don't know any better.  I don't like that feminism is a minefield for people who aren't familiar with the language and tropes.  Sometimes I wish I could bridge the clear communication gap.  Alas!  I am but one person, and anyway I'm too partisan to be a credible mediator.


As just one example, I want to mention a few more things in the column by Shermer that I discussed the other day.  To be clear, I am not saying that Shermer is an especially bad or notable case (I hope to show more and better examples in the future), it's just the example I have on hand.

Shermer's primary problem is that he tries to build his credibility by citing woman who agree with him, or give him the feminist stamp of approval.  His interviewee, Cara, says "[Shermer] is, in my estimation, as pro-woman and pro-atheism as they come."  He quotes Harriet Hall who says, among other things, "I have always been a feminist but I have my own style of feminism."  He refers to co-founder of the Skeptic Society Pat Linse:
Pat Linse, was involved in the first wave feminism [I'm sure he meant second wave] of the 1960s, and she recalls the lamentable in-group bickering about who were the “true feminists,” and how this led to witch hunts and purges that splintered the movement and made it a less effective political force.
Finding women who approve of you is a thoroughly standard and unimpressive response.  Finding feminists who agree with you shows ignorance of the sheer divisions in feminism.

I suppose this is an instance where outsiders perceive a group to be monolithic (or they perceive any divisions to be a novelty), whereas to insiders, all the divides are obvious and old news.  As I understand contemporary feminism, one of the major things they seek to correct are the shortcomings of second wave feminism.  Thus, explicitly, one of their major opponents are second wave feminists.  From the description of Pat Linse, it sure sounds like she was a second wave feminist who didn't see any shortcomings.  Instead, it sounds like she blamed people who pointed out the shortcomings of second wave feminism for petty bickering.

Harriet Hall may also be unaware that saying you're your "own style of feminist" has very negative associations.  There's a history of people who oppose feminism, yet describe themselves as their own kind of feminist (eg).

But I don't know anything about Pat Linse or Harriet Hall, so I don't know if they're really like that or if they just unknowingly gave negative descriptions.  The point isn't that this necessarily reflects negatively on Shermer, Pat Linse, or Harriet Hall, but that it completely failed as a rhetorical tactic to build credibility.

1 comment:

miller said...

The phrase "stamp of approval" I probably took from Greta Christina's essay on the "atheist seal of approval".