Feminism Friday: “You’ll catch more flies with honey”

flies with honey

I hear this a fair bit. People who are angry, passionate, non-submissive, resolute, intense – we get shocked looks, and exhortations to compromise, and remarks like “You’ll catch more flies with honey, dear“.

I’ve been vaguely wondering why that particular reprimand makes my teeth itch so much. There is a lot to dislike about it: the patronising nature of the rebuke; the scandalised remonstration about tone; the expectation of yielding submissiveness and manipulation as a woman’s natural place in an argument.

But I think I may have just hit on another major reason why it bothers me, and that’s because the scolder is, oft-times, drawing a conclusion from a faulty premise.

Why the assumption that everything I do here, every feminist post I write, is all about teaching antifeminists about feminism?

Feminists say this over and over again, but it bears repeating: it’s not my job to teach other people, particularly antifeminists, about feminism from scratch. I’m not always interested in reasoning people step-by-step into the fold. I’m under no obligation to coddle their feelings and give them cookies and be kind and attentive and safe. Sometimes I might do that. Sometimes I might not. It’s my choice.

Ofttimes, I write a feminist post with no interest whatsoever in how antifeminists will read it.

Guess what – sometimes, just sometimes, we feminists like talking amongst ourselves. The fact that the conversation is publicly visible doesn’t mean that I want every Tom, Dick and Harry wondering along and putting in his ignorant opinion without listening first. The comments are open because Hoydenizens, random passing feminists, and people interested in feminism are invited to join in.

But antifeminists have a problem with that. Because all of a sudden, it isn’t about them. Their world turns upside down. Feminists are talking amongst themselves without constantly watching and adjusting every word to cater to antifeminists. Feminists are doing their own thing. Women are engaging in conversations that aren’t about men, and aren’t particularly intended to include men. We’re sharing the honey, and the vinegar, and the gin & tonic, amongst ourselves.

It’s a prime example of “If it isn’t about you, it isn’t about you”.

Sometimes, I’m look like I’m not trying hard enough to catch flies simply because I have no interest in catching flies. I don’t want to waste my honey on a bunch of filthy flies. I don’t want to lure them into a sticky trap and then wonder what to do with the dead bodies. I want them to stay outside and go do whatever the hell flies do for fun – eat shit, I suppose.


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24 replies

  1. Oddly, I really like the phrase “you’ll catch more flies with honey”. I’ve generally used it to remind some of my more aggressive male collegues that they’re not getting anywhere, particuarly when addressing wait staff or sales staff in a demanding, agressive way.
    Of course, I do believe that you need to back it up with some serious power and authority – its no good being nice beyond a second attempt, really, that’s when you need to get a TONE that says “do not mess with me, it won’t end well”.

  2. Oh, this is beautiful Lauredhel– I agree with everything.
    My dad (who, much of the time, holds beliefs that are consistent with a feminist worldview) likes to tell me that I should take a “softly, softly” approach, without recognising that this approach only reinforces the hegemony that I want to subvert. “We’ll listen if you act submissive” is meaningless when the whole point is that women should have no obligation to be submissive in the first place. I bloody well hate the idea that feminism is only valid if it’s delivered with an accomodating smile.
    And of course your later point, that it’s not always for the benefit of anyone who might happen to listen in is also extremely valid.

  3. The assumption behind this analogy is that one is actually trying to trap something or someone. My feminist life as lived has been very much about precisely not doing that.
    Besides, it doesn’t even work. Once when I found myself the lone woman on an arts funding body with six men (funny, that), I was very aware of two things: (a) that women were my constituency, as it were, and (b) that I needed to be very careful and very positive in the way I framed my pro-woman interventions. But it didn’t matter how honeyed my tone nor cunning my trap; what I got on about Day 3 of trying to keep women in the conversation at all was an exasperated, impatient ‘You never let up, do you.’
    After that I was as vinegary as I liked. Saved a lot of energy and time, particularly since I felt justified in maintaining the rage.

  4. While I think sometimes there’s something to be said for civil interaction as opposed to attacking an attack, and sometimes it is necessary to work from someone else’s POV for argument’s sake, there’s never really been any sense in always catering to others who are hurting you, especially on your own turf.
    (Unless it’s a survival tactic, in which case it is understandable.)

  5. Long-time lurking, first-time posting.
    Mickle mentioned, upon hearing this phrase for the thousandth time in the epic Fat Princess thread at Shakesville:

    I DO NOT LIKE FLIES. Why the hell would I want to catch any of them?

    Which may possibly be the best response I’ve ever heard.
    MsFeasances last blog post..In which the normal posting title format is abandoned for BREAKING WTF????

  6. I can be a very abrasive person (I like to think it’s a combative, no nonsense style, but I don’t think my colleagues would agree). What’s worse than actually being told this, is that I’ve been told this so many times that now it pops into my head of its own accord. I’m constantly torn between trying to be a “nice person”, and avoiding pretend to be someone I’m not.

  7. Gah, I meant “pretending”.
    My theory, at least with me what you see is what you get.

  8. @MsFeasance: Erm, that does sort of rely on a misunderstanding of the phrase. No one really likes flies. You’re trying to catch them so that they, you know, die. I understand and agree with the sentiment, but wouldn’t advocate that turn of phrase.

  9. I love you Lauredhel!
    I just finished writing a post and I’m so freaking angry with the world right now. It got me to thinking about another ‘beef’ people have with feminism – that it leads to anger, as if anger is destructive in and of itself, as if we ought only to think happy thoughts that will lead us to be nice-y nice nice-nice NICE – like good women should be.
    So this was the perfect antidote.
    I particularly love the ending of “I want them to stay outside and go do whatever the hell flies do for fun – eat shit, I suppose”. 🙂
    Beppie @ 2: Yeah, the “We’ll listen if you act submissive” seems the other side of the “If you do what I tell you you won’t get hurt”, or the “If you didn’t make me angry I wouldn’t hit you” coin.
    P.C – wow…the ‘you never let up’ thing is so depressingly familiar. I wonder if next time my rejoinder might be ‘Yeah, like the Patriarchy’. Sigh.
    fuckpolitenesss last blog post..A post of half-formed thoughts…

  10. We’re talking about two separate concerns here: Principle and policy. As a matter of principle, you have every right, and more than ample justification, to be angry. But politically, as weaselly as it sounds, you have to consider how the message will sell.
    I’m not talking about winning over ardent anti-feminists, but the great muddled middle. There are plenty of folks who do not consider themselves feminists but are receptive on issues like equal pay, maternity leave, making women’s rights a foreign policy priority, and so on. Driving those people away does not help the cause.
    By way of analogy, consider PETA. They could do a lot of good on issues like veal and foie gras, serious issues of animal cruelty, but they lose their audience when they tell folks that owning their cat Snoogums makes them the moral equivalent of slaveowners.
    The advice that “you catch more flies with honey” is not limited to feminists, though that’s the use that hits you where you live. Laissez-faire capitalists won’t get far with “fuck ‘em, let ‘em lose their homes,” and environmentalists don’t win a lot of hearts and minds with the government needs to take away your cars.”

  11. Thankyou for the splendid comments. Writing semi-stream-of-consciousness at 3 am’s always a bit of a risk. Who knows what you’ll get next time?
    Notgruntled: I think you might be in the running for a Missing The Point award here. Last time I looked, this was a private blog, not a huge registered non-profit org with a mission. And if you see me engaging in any PETA-like blatant racism, ableism, or other isms in the course of my feminist writing, I expect you to call me on it, and I hope to respond in a way that in no way resembles PETA’s responses.
    PETA throw already disadvantaged and denigrated groups under the bus. Sometimes, I’m not as submissive and deferential to people in dominant groups as they’d like me to be. Knowing you, I expect you to be able to see the difference.

  12. That’s not an analogy, notgruntled. PETA lose support not because they sell their message badly but because their message is so wrong in and of itself. Owning a cat, obviously, is in no way like human slavery/trafficking, sticking a woman in a cage in Martin Place for public view has little or nothing to do with agribusiness, and so on. It’s not because they’re militant, it’s because they’re incorrect and offensive.
    The problem L has with the flies-vinegar-honey cliche is its double standard. I’m a bloke. I enjoy arguing on the internet punchily. I never get called out for that because of my gender; and neither should women.

  13. Yeah. And if anyone is the slave in the cat/human relationship, it’s not the cat.
    Let’s see, I go out to work, to earn money, to buy chicken, fish and the cat’s preferred brand of chicken-flavoured crunchy pellets, which she is fed on demand approx eleventy-three times a day by my partner (the cat has a sensitive tummy and needs small meals often).
    She has a small couch of her own, right in front of the heater. Wheat bags are heated in the microwave for her. Fresh glasses of water are given to her. The curtains are opened for her in the morning so she can sit in the window.
    Human slave. Cat mistress.

  14. Great post about something that really grinds my gears and, as Liam points out, is a massive double standard. Apparently civility isn’t enough–we have to be nicey-nice above all.
    One of my more memorable experiences with this phrase was at a conference round-table group. I was arguing a point (with gusto) and it was said to me by a (male) accquaintance. He followed it up with the assertion that I was “spoiling my pretty looks”. Nice powerplay to derail a discussion–and it did, because yes, I was gobsmacked.
    I also dislike the ‘play nice’ connotations because that’s what is said to childen.

  15. Rebekka, I’m a human slave, dog mistress. She doesn’t walk around carrying my poo in a plastic bag.
    PC, I hear you. I’v been in the same position and worked out you may as well just say what you think. It’s less stressful and it’s probably just as successful.

  16. I think it’s the dismissiveness of that particular rebuke that makes me want to choke people who utter it. It smacks of “I don’t have to listen to you because you’re not being nice” and “niceness” is such a loaded concept when speaking of women.
    As for quadruped/human relations, I haven’t had a moment to call my own since getting cats 5 years ago. At 4am when I’m being meeped at half an hour before my alarm goes off, and then nudged by large dogs who think any ambulatory human should be dishing up the kibble, the only one of them I really love is the tortoise. Because Clover is still asleep at that hour and would like me to leave him alone.

  17. First time commenter here!
    I agree with this. Feminists are under no obligation to hand hold anti-feminists through the basic tenets of feminism. Feminists are accused of always ‘preaching to the choir’, but the thing is, when anti-feminists actually take the time to get really grounded in feminist theory, they tend to become…well, feminists.

  18. Women are engaging in conversations that aren’t about men, and aren’t particularly intended to include men.
    I had this happen once in real life (well, more than once, but this instance was just the most memorable). Another woman and I were talking with each other while a man we both knew and were hanging out with was on his cell phone. He hung up and started whining that he felt left out and sad, because we were having a conversation between ourselves. How dare we not pay attention to him, OMG!

  19. Talk about a right on post. I could not agree more. Nothing irritates me more than the what about me whine. Why is it necessary for people to force themselves into conversations that they know nothing about or are not about them. The fact that they then have the temerity to express outrage astounds me. I took all kinds of shit when I wrote dear God what about the men. But seriously why are we not entitled to a space to engage without ever little word being analyzed. It’s like we are not entitled to a safe space. How many blogs are out there and some trolls persist in slamming feminist blogs. Hello..we’re not listening to you and unless we are feeling generous your comment is going to be deleted anyway.
    Renees last blog post..My Kingdom For An Orange

  20. I’m glad I read your post. I absolutely agree with you on this point…I have a feminist blog too, and while many of my posts are easily understood by anyone (feminist or not), I often get comments that indicate that people are feeling left out. They don’t know why I’m writing about these topics and they definitely don’t understand my point of view.
    My response? Too bad. The point of my blog, in my mind, is to have a means of talking to other feminists or those sympathetic to women’s issues. Of course there are topics that will appeal to anyone, but that’s beyond the point.
    In my real life as well, I get a lot of condescending remarks such as “You’ll catch more flies with honey” and “Just chill out…why are you so angry/upset/emotional”. I feel that when a woman is passionate, motivated, or opinionated, she is perceived as neurotic, overly ambitious or argumentative.
    This is why I have a blog…I can say whatever I want and moderate the comments 😉
    Dollfaces last blog post..Femme Fatales and Some Crazy Bitches: The Top 10 Female Serial Killers


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