“So you think it’s only because…”

It’s only just hit me how frequent a certain form of misinterpretation is for feminists. Some of these are real examples I’ve encountered recently, others are variants on real ones. I’m sure you can supply more.

1. So anti-porn feminists think it’s only because there’s pornography that rape exists.
2. So you’re saying that it’s only because X is a man that he was invited to speak at conference Y.
3. So you think that there wouldn’t be any differences between men and women if it weren’t for pink and blue toys.

What’s fascinating to me is that these often come from people who are otherwise careful, subtle thinkers– the sort perfectly capable of recognising the distinction between citing one contributing factor in a complex collection of causes and giving a necessary and sufficient condition for something.

12 thoughts on ““So you think it’s only because…”

  1. charity clearly does not apply when interpreting the claims of feminism. i wonder how telling is it, wrt the interpreter’s estimation of the speaker?

  2. My reply to such utterances: “So you’re saying that because you’re a sexist jackass, you can’t be trusted to be reasonable or just on these matters.”

  3. i think the worrying thing about this sort of misunderstanding is precisely that it often comes from people who *aren’t* sexist jackasses. i wonder is it the sort of (life) evidence one has available as a member of a privileged group: is it just that some feminist claims contradict so badly the way one experiences the world as a (say) white, middle-class man, that the claims just seem ridiculous to him? white man has a whole lifetime of (first-hand) evidence that seems to contradict the claims of feminism, and when one has massive evidence to support not-x, one takes the utterer of “it seems like x” to be, well, silly. and interprets all the rest of her utterances that way, too.

  4. Suspect it has at least partly something to do with way that feminist claims portrayed in popular media, where much nuance and subtlety lost.

  5. but this sort of thing happens even in the course of conversations with people about feminist topics.

  6. I was imagining that those people are affected by exposure to popular portrayals of feminist claims. (Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you?)

  7. Recently, when talking to a couple of (white female) friends, who, I believe, have quite independent minds, it came as a bit of a surprise (shock, actually) to know that one of the chief reasons they don’t like being called feminists is because they don’t like the word “man-eaters”! I was kinda speechless when I first heard that.

    On the subject of this post, I would like to add that more often than not, many critical thinkers forget the fact that what “logic” they subscribe to has great impact on the kind of conclusions they reach through discursive thinking. Most will, consciously or unconsciously, subscribe to some form of “boolean-valued” logic, and thus, it isn’t surprising to see principles of classical logic such as the “Law of the Excluded Middle” (LEM) being used all the time. All three of the statements you listed when viewed through the prism of LEM would make a lot of sense.

    On a metaphysical level, one could say that logic is the essential glue that connects the ontological domain to the epistemological one. In other words, the kind of knowledge one can derive from any given ontology heavily depends on what logic one uses. This is certainly true of mathematics, and I believe, even more true of everything else.

  8. Vishal, I’m not really seeing how the misinterpretation can be attributed to LEM. To take one example… I say, “Implicit bias against women helps to bring about all-male conferences.” I get the response, “So you’re saying the only reason X was invited is that he’s a man?” This misintepretation doesn’t have anything to do with LEM, as far as I can see.

  9. Jender, of course, you are right. The misinterpretation (“error in translation”, I would call it) has got nothing to do with LEM per se. I was merely pointing to the fact that the content of the statement/remark “So you’re saying the only reason X was invited is that he’s a man?” demonstrates the use of LEM.

  10. I tend to take such utterances as at least being partially constitutive of being a sexist jackass…but then I think we can exhibit quite mixed behaviors. This is not the worst, just very annoying.

    Of course, if it’s false of them, then it fits perfectly as it’s exactly reflective of the utterance they’ve made. Now, of course, just saying it will piss them off, so I think offering it as a hypothetical is probably strategically better :)

    This past week I was wearing a “Feminism Rocks” button and got a wide array of obnoxious comments from random people from “Feminism seems on the wane…er…even though the problems are still theres!” to “Feminism doesn’t rock…HUMANISM rocks!!! I should get a button for that” to “Are you trying to pick up women?” to “Feminism means that we can have a woman’s group but not a men’s group! Which is against the whole idea of equality!”.


  11. I was merely pointing to the fact that the content of the statement/remark “So you’re saying the only reason X was invited is that he’s a man?” demonstrates the use of LEM.

    Still don’t see it.

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