Question of the day: Skirmishes with strawfeminism

Today, I was asked about straw-feminist stereotypes, about the ongoing battles we have knocking them down, and about how tedious and tiring it is fighting the same crap over and over and over again.

The skirmishes tend to be conducted along the same tired old culture wars lines: ‘single women’ vs ‘mothers’, ‘raunch culture’ vs’ puritanism’, ‘hairylegged fat ugly dyke feminists’ vs ‘ … ARGH. I can’t even do that bit today, I’m so sick of it.

So: why do we keep responding to the Pamela Bones and Miranda Devines and John HowardsGONE and Camille Paglias and Ann Coulters and the unending sea of cookie-cutter MRAs and evpsychs and libruldewds and douchebags and chestpuffers and Rorschach-scientists and bilehowlers and glibertarians and knobjectivists of this world?

How important is vigilance?

My off-the-cuff answer is here. I’d love to hear yours.

This is a good question, and one that may well get quite a different answer from me from day to day depending on my mood. And that’s, perhaps, an important point; engaging with the myths and strawfeminists should be done on our terms, not on the terms of the antifeminists who love them so. Sometimes it’s a quick snarkly smackdown, other times a long dissection, sometimes studied ignoring ; either way, though, it’s up to us to decide, not them.

Much of the time, I find these debates downright tedious and far, far too dichotomous. They rely on stereotypes and a complete lack of nuance, and they tend to rely on uncritical, unexamined assumptions of unalloyed individualism and ‘choice politics’. I find that the debates around them focus way, way too much on women and on women’s behaviour, and nowhere near enough on men and the patriarchy, and the ways in which society shapes our life chances and opportunities, and subtly or not-so-subtly punishes those who do not comply.

Have these debates peaked? I don’t know. I don’t see any sign of it, and if one aspect of the backlash does peak and fall, another will come to take its place. All of these debates are ways to distract us, to stir up dissent between women. If I had to choose one thing to learn from Twisty’s blog, this would be it: blame the patriarchy, not the woman. Women are NOT their own worst enemies.



Categories: gender & feminism, Meta

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9 replies

  1. As I said when I read this response as part of that discussion, APPLAUSE.

    The lack of nuance generally does become so tedious, yet vigilance is still so necessary.

  2. The thing that I find really hard about straw feminist arguments is that they are often used to prevent me from defining the argument on my terms. I’ve had the experience where I’ve been discussing certain feminist ideas with others, and they’ve been convinced by what I say– and then they go on to say “Well, you’re one of the good feminists”– implying that feminism as a whole is typified by bad feminists. I find this really hard to respond to, because I need to assert that they’re invoking a false dichotomy (and of course, I often have more in common with these “bad” feminists than they realise), and addressing that means I need to talk about their perceptions of feminism, which inevitably means talking about the women rather than the patriarchal structures that hurt women.

  3. Not much time to comment today, but I’m still reeling from reading this story in the Age today. The internalisation of blame is so extreme.
    Stockholm syndrome?
    Helen’s last blog post..A silent, underground river of misogyny and racism

  4. Lauredhel:
    A thought about your “single women” v “mothers”…
    These are intersecting sets, and it shocks me that the intersect (single mums) is associated with very negative overtones, when compared to women outside that intersection, or, even more, single dads, who are regarded as extremely virtuous.
    Illogical, and/or hypocritical, I know. Those who “rely on stereotypes and a complete lack of nuance” however, don’t appeal to logic (and usually, that doesn’t worry their readers).
    Thus, in this one example of “easily attacked stereotypes and a complete lack of nuance”, I’ve got a minor quibble with your argument: married women generally put down single mums as much, if no more, than what Bluemilk labelled “smug married guys”. In this one case, I’d argue that a subset of women (“smug married women”) deserve more blame than the “patriarchy”. But even in this case, your argument to put men into focus as part of the solution is correct.
    In a response to a bluemilk request, I posted saying …

    At the same time, those who advocate better treatment of single mums should use language that forces listeners to think about the propositions rather than stick in prejudiced ruts. If advocates used “single mums and dads” rather than “single mothers”, the arguments would get much more traction.

    Unfortunately, the loyal audiences of polemicists don’t like thinking about any proposition and enjoy their prejudiced ruts, not matter what the topic.
    Dave Bath’s last blog post..2020 Submission: Topic 5: Health Strategy

  5. I’d argue that a subset of women (”smug married women”) deserve more blame than the “patriarchy”.

    No, Dave, I’m not going to argue with you on your terms. Not on this thread.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Question of the day: Skirmishes with strawfeminism

  6. Beppie:

    The thing that I find really hard about straw feminist arguments is that they are often used to prevent me from defining the argument on my terms.

    Exactly! And “good” feminists? I don’t even know if I want to know what is meant by that. Different things for different circumstances, I suspect.
    Helen, that story is absolutely horrendous. This gave me chills.

    Later that night he turned himself in, telling police he had drugged his wife and raped her because he was sexually frustrated. He said he had left her unconscious in the house but hoped she was still alive. “I love her to death,” he told police.

    Hoped she was still alive? HE SET HER ON FIRE. Argh.
    And yet more factitious rape disorder:

    Steve Anger, for the man, said his client had been severely depressed at the time.

  7. The other thing that got me about the way that woman blamed herself in that story Helen linked to? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her blaming her gambling etc for contributing to their marital separation, and owning her responsibility for that, but for her to extend her responsibility on to his later decision to rape her and set fire to her bed? That’s seriously twisted thinking on her part. You could be right about the Stockholm Syndrome, Helen.

  8. A fascinating post and I’ve been wondering about this question of late too.
    blue milk’s last blog post..Why yes..

  9. Lauredhel: the term used isn’t always literally “good” feminists– often it’ll be something more along the lines of “You’re intelligent/rational/open minded, unlike some feminists”– but the implication is that feminism itself is incapable of providing a coherent frame for an argument, that I’m bringing that frame in from “outside” feminism somehow.
    Of course, the other tactic that some people like to use is simply assuming that feminist=irrational no matter how well you frame your argument. Then when we get frustrated because we’re up against a brick wall, they’re all “See! I told you she’s irrational!”

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