I am going to ask the reader’s patience—just for a moment. What we are going to examine is best understood with an example first. Thus, it is best to keep the “cat in the bag” initially.
Imagine if you heard or read the following as a health alert, or a public service announcement.
“There is a condition that is the greatest source of death in the world. This condition is chronic, progressive and uniformly fatal.
This condition is killing people all over the world—and most of us don’t even think of it as a problem.”
So far, so good? Sound pretty familiar? Let’s continue.
“It is chronic: once you have it, it keeps going.
It is progressive: it is characterized by a set of symptoms that worsen over time.
It is uniformly fatal: all who contract this condition die. There is currently no cure. The fatality rate is 100%.”
At this point, the announcement would probably have your attention—but something else is happening. There is an alarm going off in your head, and an inner voice that tells you “this is starting to sound like nonsense.” Good. Keep that alarm plugged in.
“All who contract this condition die. By the way—everyone contracts it. It is called Life. Please donate to the Prevent Life campaign today.”
And now the “cat” is out of the “bag.”
So, what did we just demonstrate here?
That anything—anything—can be framed negatively.
Remember this the next time someone –researchers, “experts,” film commentators, anyone– starts to talk to you about problematic masculinity. Remember—anything can be framed negatively.
One classic way to frame something negatively is to tinker with the accepted definition. Remember when masculinity meant things like willingness to protect and defend, willingness to take risks, and willingness to act on goals and values. You will no doubt have noticed that the “recipe ingredients” have been altered: now masculinity allegedly is characterized by “aggression” and “the wish to dominate.”
By the way, there is a name for this kind of hostile, manipulative framing. It is called “propaganda,” and it is as old as the human race. The ancient Greeks preferred the term “sophistry.” The Greek philosopher Plato was openly critical of sophistry; the true goal of philosophy, said Plato, was the pursuit of the truth, while the goal of sophistry was simply to apply what appears to be logic in order to convince or persuade.
What you will notice is that propaganda is not limited by logic or facts—because it uses them: every statement you just read is factual and the conclusion is logical (given the facts). Yet, once you reach the conclusion, you immediately know the conclusion is absurd. The key is which facts you select, and how you present them.
A prime example of such manipulation is one we see during every election year from the mouths of the candidates. This is not to say that politicians don’t lie—they most certainly do. It is simply to say they don’t need to lie. They can (and do) distort the truth by selectively telling the truth.
There is a logical approach, however, that can be used to test manipulative arguments. The traditional name (and one that is still used in logic and math classes) is “reductio ad absurdum.” According to this logical approach, if a set of assumptions can be shown to lead to an absurd conclusion, then the assumptions are proven absurd as well. The above demonstration fits this format (although somewhat colorfully).
So, I would argue that men are entitled to apply this reasoning to feminist arguments. Let’s do a little inventory, shall we?
One of feminism’s chief assumptions is that there are no meaningful biological differences between men and women—that these differences are either insignificant and/or they are a product of social scripting. Hence, boys are only boys because they are taught to be, and the same for girls (or at least, again, in any way that is significant). A chief conclusion of feminism is that we live under a system of essentially universal male rule, called “patriarchy”, that constructs social rules that benefit men and limit/restrain women. Now, let’s take these assumptions forward logically to see what conclusions they generate.
If women are essentially indistinguishable from men, then there should be a minimum of difference in their motivations and goals. If there is no meaningful difference in motivations and goals, then there is no point in establishing a system of male rule because it would make no difference. Also, if men and women are so indistinguishable from each other, it should be difficult for one group to even conceive of the other as worth dominating—after all, in all ways that matter they are basically the same already. Therefore, if the premise that men and women are not meaningfully different is true, it should lead to the conclusion that no one has a reason to dominate any one. Yet, we are told that men are powerfully motivated to dominate women. The conclusion and the assumptions, presented together, create an absurdity.
Let’s try another one.
There is another branch of feminism, generally called Radical Feminism, that starts with a different assumption: that men and women are, indeed, basically different, and that specifically male traits are predictably negative, disruptive to society, and dangerous to individual women. Let’s take these assumptions forward logically and see what happens.
If men are basically motivated at a natural level to dominate women, then our world history should reflect this pattern. Feminists of this vein like to cite historical points such as the delay in achieving the female right to vote or the delay in achieving abortion rights. Yet, if we begin with the assumption than men are motivated to dominate, and that men currently (and historically) have political power over women, then men should be using this political power to prevent any change that would weaken that power. Yet, both the female right to vote and abortion rights were achieved at times when men overwhelmingly held political power. Indeed, virtually all specifically female rights have been bestowed by male judges and lawmakers. If men hold the power, and if men are fundamentally motivated to dominate women, this could not happen. When the conclusion and the assumptions are viewed together, we get another absurdity.
Let’s proceed by using this approach in a slightly different way. If feminism can be shown to resemble another oppressive line of thought, that has already been rendered absurd, then feminism is at least logically suspect (if not actually proven absurd). One very valid point that anti-racist thinkers have made is that our nation’s prior racist ideas about African-Americans were internally contradictory, and thus illogical. (These ideas were also proven illegitimate by observation/research.)
If you examine this nation’s history of racist ideas about African-Americans, you find a set of statements that are –when aligned—glaringly contradictory, but which white people of this nation long held as true. As an example:
“Black people are not very intelligent.”
“Black people are clever liars.”
It doesn’t take much examination of these two statements to see the contradiction. Yet it is not uncommon to hear these kinds of assertions from racist thinkers (often in the same conversation). Why does this go unnoticed? Because both statements agree with something else: the speaker’s feelings about the topic. When two differing assertions both trigger the same feeling in the speaker/listener, the logical inconsistency can go unnoticed.
Does this occur in feminist thought about men? Let’s see.
Here are two assertions I have heard repeatedly from feminists about men:
“Men don’t know their own feelings.”
“Men use anger to intimidate and control women.”
If men are largely unaware of their own feelings, then they should be essentially ineffective at either recognizing or utilizing a feeling. But we are told men routinely (and presumably effectively) employ anger to control women. This is not very different from the kind of inconsistencies that were once spoken about African Americans.
Thus, feminist thought about men is disturbingly similar to racist America’s historical thoughts about African-Americans.
Are there any lines of thought that are even more irrational that feminism also resembles? Let’s see.
Hitler: “Why does the world shed crocodile’s tears over the richly merited fate of a small Jewish minority? …”
Feminism: “I bathe in male tears.”
Hitler: “Don’t be misled into thinking you can fight a disease without killing the carrier, without destroying the bacillus. Don’t think you can fight racial tuberculosis without taking care to rid the nation of the carrier of that racial tuberculosis.”
Feminism: “The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race.” Sally Miller Gearhart, in The Future – If There Is One – Is Female.
Feminism: “If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males.” Mary Daly
Hitler: “From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience the two million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds and thousands more. Let nobody tell me that all the same we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing.” (quoted in John Toland, Adolf Hitler. London: Book Club Associates, 1977, p.702-3).
Feminism: “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.” Robin Morgan, Ms. Magazine Editor.
I think the reader will see the pattern of similarity. I also think feminists—radical or otherwise—should pause and consider their path.
So what do the sophists, Nazi’s and feminists have in common? In summary: logical manipulation, hostile intent and extremism.
Let me close with a quote on this kind of manipulative extremism from a very old source.
“When a man is unanimously condemned to death, you must release him at once.
Reflect on this.”
Talmud (as cited by Samuel Paul Veissiere, PhD in Psychology Today, 2/16/2018)
(An offered interpretation of the above quote: when a group gives you uniformity of opinion about anything, it is time to consider whether this uniformity is due to the facts or to social/political pressure within the group to conform.)
Well, alright—one more comment to close on a lighter note:
A vociferous thing is the Radical,
Who insists that men are so badical.
Her opinions get jawed,
Though her logic is flawed,
And her conscience seems on sabbatical.