Critical Thinking Exercise

A tricky but important thing to teach critical thinking students is how to distinguish illegitimate ad hominem attacks from legitimate questions about a source of information. There’s a nice example in this article on Katie Roiphe.  Roiphe wrote a book back in the 1990s arguing that feminist claims about date rape were overblown and that feminism was monolithically anti-sex. A lot of it took the form of personal anecdotes well-summed-up by Rebecca Traister as “I’m too sexy for this movement”. She supported her claim that rape statistics were overblown by noting that none of her friends ever told her they’d been raped. Katha Pollit, in a review, asked, “if Katie Roiphe was your friend, would you tell her if you were raped?” Roiphe now says that she found this an extremely personal and inappropriate attack. Could be a nice exercise to get students to explain why in this case, but not in most, it is legitimate to talk about the nature of an author’s friendships. Of course, there’s also the weakness of anecdotal evidence to be discussed. Lots of good stuff here that could bring politically interesting material into critical thinking courses! On an interesting side note, I was pleased to read that Roiphe’s book is apparently responsible for making lots of young women into active feminists– they got angry and decided they wanted to do something.