Monday, April 13, 2015

Amanda Marcotte's Fake Feminism Problem

I briefly wrote on Wednesday about a Vox poll showing only 18% of the population self-identify as "feminist". I was somewhat (positively) surprised to read Amanda Marcotte's reaction:
The sample was a little over 1,000 adults, nationwide. We’ve seen similar polling data in the past, so this seems to be a pretty accurate assessment. This sort of thing frustrates the fuck out of feminists, because, by definition, if you believe in gender equality, you’re a feminist. So why is there this disconnect?

One big theory is that a lot of people are, in fact, feminists, but they don’t know it, because they’ve been scared off by negative stereotypes about feminists promulgated by opponents of women’s equality. Call it the “I’m not a feminist, but” phenomenon and it’s certainly a big factor, but I don’t think it fully explains the situation. Another huge chunk of it is likely due to the American fetishization of individualism, which leads a lot of people to shun labels in an effort to show what special snowflakes they are.* This is why, for instance, a lot of people who self-identify as “independents” are actually consistent Republicans or Democrats. There’s also some truly feminist men who avoid the label, because they don’t want to be mistaken for one of those creepers who calls himself a feminist to get female attention and cookies, but who is secretly a pig to women.
I say "positively" because she's at least interested, even at a very superficial level, in why people might find the label "feminist" a pejorative, as many in the HuffPo/YouGov 2013 survey did. Marcotte backs away — as she must — from the self-examination that might conclude that public recoil from the label "feminist" is self-inflicted damage; claims that conservatives and others have successfully framed the dialogue only go so far in their explanatory power. "You only have yourselves to blame" is not a message that will go over well, especially when you think you rest on the side of the angels. As Ken White observed, most label-based analysis is bullshit, so arriving at a mutually agreeable definition of "feminist" and "feminism" is very nearly impossible. One of the standard responses to definitional difficulties is to cast feminism in uncontroversial terms:
Reluctance to use the F-word may be more about education and information than the word itself. When respondents to the 2013 poll were given the dictionary definition of feminist — "someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes" — 57 percent of respondents, including 67 percent of women and 47 percent of men, agreed that, yes, they were feminists.
But dig a little deeper, and you will discover that a great deal of what gender feminists propose is outright dangerous to men when it isn't being deeply insulting:
Scott Alexander, lifting from Nicholas Shackel (PDF), calls this a "motte and bailey" tactic (his example 3 here), a bait-and-switch in which the speaker claims one thing (feminism is the mere equality between the sexes) but substitutes other things entirely for them later (specific theories and proposals that are in fact quite controversial). Interestingly, Marcotte appears to at least partially reject such a motte-and-bailey; either you use the label and are a feminist, or you don't and aren't. That, at least, represents a weak form of honesty. I have little hope she or other dedicated feminist partisans will take the next step from there and look in the mirror.

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