Feminism is dead. Feminism has been co-opted by the Left. Feminism is outdated and unnecessary. These are just a few of the common claims we hear whenever somebody dares to suggest that perhaps there’s still some work to be done in attaining equality for the sexes. Many of the crowds I run in are unfortunately full of people who can honestly claim that the state is the enemy of free men, but lose their minds whenever somebody suggests that the long history of male hegemony is the enemy of liberated women.
It’s a tough world out there for feminists. But, rather than argue the above claims (and they’re not all wrong), I would instead submit some advice for feminist-ish people on how to avoid walking into the minefield of Make-Me-A-Sandwich-You-Lefty-Harpy arguments, and how to deal with an all-too-frequently hostile crowd.
Grow a thick skin.
When you lose your cool at the slightest sexist comment, you are not helping the notion that women are weak and have delicate sensibilities. I know that those assumptions are unfair, but sometimes you have to take one for the team. Now, I disdain slut-shaming as much as the sex-positive crowd when it comes from law enforcement officers and the legal system. I’m decidedly less interested in what a cadre of Tucker Max copycat man-bloggers have to say about female promiscuity—even when it’s being used to senselessly attack someone. Yes, the culture is sick when it comes to a lot of gender issues. You still have to live with it. Instead of crying sexism every time some anonymous troll metaphorically wags his penis at you on Twitter (and he always will), listen to Gina: “You’re trying to subvert a power structure that’s been entrenched in our society for a couple thousand years. People aren’t going to thank you for it.” Word, sister.
Don’t be afraid of a fight.
Feminists should challenge poisonous attitudes towards women with good arguments rather than ignore or dismiss them. It’s absolutely true that the best way to combat crappy, vile, offensive speech is with more and better speech. It’s also true that the Internet embiggens people’s heads and makes them less willing to be reasonable or give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re arguing in good faith. The more people that are watching your spat play out in the public Internet square, the less likely it is that you and your opponent are going to get on the same level—but you might convince some of those people who are watching and not saying anything. Scoring virtual high-fives from your teammates is not effective persuasion, and the best weapon in your feministy armory is persuasion.
Master the eye roll.
Everything I said above still holds, but sometimes you’ll find yourself dealing with a level of ignorance beyond which it’s just not worth arguing. You will never get a reasonable response from these people. So master your pointed indifference. Nothing upsets a loud-mouthed oaf like a dismissive yawn. Rush Limbaugh called you a slut? WHAT AN EPIC BURN. So choose your battles. You cannot evangelize every sexist oaf into a feminist, but you can alienate a lot of people by being a sanctimonious loudmouth who cannot let a single thing go uncriticized. Most of the time, the stakes aren’t high enough to bother anyway, and often it’s best to just let a stupid comment speak for itself. Though it may not be fair, people associate what they think of you as a person with the ideas you represent. Remember that well.
Speak to the issue, not the debate.
This is most important. Friend of the blog Cathy Reisenwitz had it exactly right in her recent Forbes piece when she explained why the contraception debate is a convenient distraction from the reality of the continuing destruction of our health insurance market. (If it’s still not obvious to you why contraception shouldn’t be covered under health insurance, Julian Sanchez offers an analogy.) Reigning down condemnation on religious employers for their 12th-century views on contraception is easy. Studying an issue and saying something smart about it is admittedly harder, but better for your brain, your credibility, and the overall level of discourse.
This list is probably far from conclusive, but it strikes me as a good start. What do our readers think?