SethBlogs is suspicious of any ideology that attempts to erase criticism and counterargument.





In Episode I of this series, I described various feminist resistance movements which protested critics of women’s studies in ways that many fans of free speech have found morally objectionable. In Episode II below, I intend to give a possible explanation for what may have caused women’s studies to lose its moral and intellectual way.

Justin Trottier, National Policy Director at the Centre for Inquiry, describes the situation as a re-invention of censorship ideals once pointed in the opposite political direction.

“If we go back to the 50s and 60s,” he says, “there was a time when it was the left, and their protests against perhaps the Vietnam war, their protests in favour of civil liberty legislations, ending desegregated schooling, that sort of thing, that was the contentious idea that was subject to censorship. But these days it is criticism of feminism, or radical feminism, it is men’s issues, it is abortion debates. My organization has been involved in debating abortion on campus. We take the pro-choice side. But very often these debates get shut down by well meaning, but unfortunately not well applying student unions that use the wrong methods to defend their morals, which they see to be superior to the rest of us.”

Where do such delusions of infallibility come from?

For a possible explanation, consider Dr. Janice Fiamengo’s March 27, 2014 talk at Queen’s University regarding what she called, “Feminism’s Double Standards,” in which she cogently articulated

(A) examples of the ways that she says men are currently gender-discriminated against in Canadian society, as well as discussing

(B) the complementary rigor-free, patriarchy-focussed work that she claims is done in gender studies classes.

If you watch the video of this talk, note the reaction from the feminists in the crowd who groaned, shouted out disagreements, and sarcastically laughed while Dr. Fiamengo presented her case. They had every right to not be convinced, and to question Fiamengo, but their vocal disdain throughout her presentation articulated to me that they weren’t willing—as they should have been taught in university—to consider her argument.

True intellectual inquiry involves pondering exactly what one’s natural philosophical enemy is saying, imagining what would constitute evidence for their claims, and then considering whether they might have provided a modicum of persuasive currency. Instead, the laughing students already knew that Fiamengo was wrong before she said a word.

When it came time for Q&A, a woman calling herself a philosophy professor stood up to counter Fiamengo.

“I have been [at Queen’s University] for twenty years, I am a feminist…,” pause for applause, “…and a mother of three young men, and so I am very concerned about men in our society. I am a teacher of many young men in this group, and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

Her side of the room cheered as though Fiamengo had been vanquished by a brilliant logical proof. In lieu of taking on any one of the professor’s fine-tuned examples, and/or pointing to possible errors in Fiamengo’s reasoning, apparently the simple claim, ‘But you’re wrong!’ counted for intellectual discourse from the supposedly feminist side of the academic ledger.

Of course an individual feminist commentator’s emptiness of argument is not a smoking gun either (she may be one anomalous anti-intellectual, which I’m sure even the most intellectually correct movements possess), but the steel-door-closed-minded celebration of her content-free rhetoric from the audience is, I submit, a symptom of the anti-intellectualism within feminist discourse to which Fiamengo refers.

I don’t think that such anti-intellectualism is intrinsic to a fight for women’s equality; instead, I believe it is the inevitable result of a club that has been free from academic scrutiny for a long time.

Philosopher Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers asks rhetorically Who Stole Feminism? as she describes in her 1994 book (and her work as the “Factual Feminist” since) an academic feminist culture that, she says, has been dominated by statistical untruths and “advocacy data.”

“Unfortunately,” she says, “[inaccurate and unsubstantiated statistics] are typical of the quality of information we are getting on many women’s issues from feminist researchers, women’s advocates, and journalists. More often than not, a closer look at the supporting evidence—the studies and statistics on eating disorders, domestic battery, rape, sexual harassment, bias against girls in school, wage differentials, or the demise of the nuclear family—will raise grave questions about credibility, not to speak of objectivity.” (Who Stole Feminism, Page 15.)

As I suggest in THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY, my belief is that, if Sommers is right that feminism has been stolen (even partly) from an original equality-persuing feminist movement, the primary ally to the robbers has been our society’s unwillingness to demand a security guard, in the forms of academic and media criticism, which would have protected the movement from its own worst ideas. I submit that feminism has achieved this criticism-free existence by two means:

(1) Academic feminism has divorced itself from the standard expectations of intellectual discourse that all ideas—even the best, most intuitively righteous ones—must be scrutinized; instead, it has lived in an insular world of yes-people, who concur with its ideology—no matter where it takes them—or perish. This provokes wild, evidence-free ideas to become doctrine.

According to Dr. Fiamengo (a self-described former “feminist radical,” herself):

“Modern day academic feminism, as it is currently practiced and disseminated in our universities, is overwhelmingly intellectually empty, incoherent, and dishonest.”

(Again, this is not a flaw that is necessarily intrinsic or unique to feminist inquiry, but one which I think would likely apply to any ideology spared the burden of serious critique.)

(2) Popular feminists—trained by the academic clique above—have utilized a false dichotomy in public discussion wherein criticism of feminist philosophy and “facts” equals misogyny. This, I suspect, has served to scare some would-be critics into either softening their criticisms or not speaking at all. More importantly, the terrified media has generally puddled to the will of feminist ideology (and the threat of the scarlet misogyny label); instead of taking the position of neutrality that journalists would at least aim for in regard to other philosophies, they refer to clearly ideological feminists as “experts” and their often questionable statistics as “facts.”

(See my posts THE EMPEROR HAS NO QUESTIONS (ON SEXISM) and ATTACKING MEN for examples of the otherwise critical media turning to mush when speaking to a feminist.)

I do not have the widespread sociological expertise to prove my “when the critical cats are away, the ideological mice will play” assessments of academic feminism; my intention here is only to suggest that

(A) such ideological blindness is more likely to happen in a movement that has reduced critical protections, and

(B) that it’s possible that modern feminism might be existing in such a state of general freedom from serious criticism.

Even those who tend to be persuaded by feminist arguments surely can contemplate the possibility that feminists have gotten a soft ride in academia and the mainstream media in the last couple of decades. And, if it’s conceivable (however unlikely) that feminism is blessed/cursed with fewer opportunities than most disciplines for genuine critique, then, just to be safe, should we not promote—or at least allow—sober intellectual critics to join the discussion?

See Episode I for evidence that such open criticism is currently being shouted down in Canadian universities. Or, for more details of how such anti-intellectualism is defended, see Episode III.



II: FREEDOM FROM CRITICISM (you were just here)


2 thoughts on “FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM II: Freedom From Criticism”

  1. Interesting essays Seth. I struggle to respect/appreciate the mindless slogan-slinging crowd too; I think they definitely play a role, but it’s hard to listen to their self-satisfied certainty sometimes.

    I try to put myself into a crowd of abolitionists or suffragettes from 1855 – it would be difficult to not be a little mindless in one’s howls for justice. But of course at the time, these were pretty extreme positions, so it would be appropriate to listen to the counterargument.

    Agreed on your conclusion that feminism has somehow wrangled itself into a criticism-free zone. I suspect that first world women’s equality is still in it’s honeymoon phase wherein past institutional gross injustices (and occasional contemporary ones) colour our collective feelings on the subject.

  2. Thanks Tarrin. Well put. I agree that arguments by slogan may be necessary sometimes, but havens of nuance they are not.

    I think your imagining of the position of abolitionists and suffragettes is a worthy one. As much as I may disagree with a great deal of modern feminist rhetoric, they may in fact truly believe that they are in a similarly deplorable situation. Nevertheless, two possible distinctions between current and original feminism come to mind. (A) According to Christina Hoff Sommers, the original equaility feminists did not replace one form of sexism with another.

    “Indeed, it is worth remembering that the Seneca Falls activists [one of the original feminist gatherings] was organized by both men and women and that men actively participated in it and were welcomed. Misandrism (hostility to men, the counterpart to misogyny) was not a notable feature of the women’s movement until our own times.” (Who Stole Feminism? Page 35)

    And (B) I imagine that, to those original gatherings, there was a critical resistance. As I have claimed in these essays, campus feminists don’t have to worry about criticism in classrooms in the way that most ideologies do, and so while they may be sincere in their chanting, I think they demonstrate a lack of awareness of their movement’s powerful and protected position when they protest any form of disagreement. If they were as righteous as they yell, I don’t think they would be afraid of a calm rebuttal.

    You may be right about the honeymoon phase for modern feminism. Nevertheless, I worry that the resulting marriage has already become abusive and that we must seek counselling soon or the next generation will be dysfunctional. 🙂

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