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June 15, 2006


Barbara P

I really like the quote from William Lloyd Garrison above, but...

When I think back to what has really made me change any significant ideas that I had, it was almost never caused by a confrontation. Instead, it was gentle persuasion, premised by an inherent respect for me and an assumption of my good will.

I think patience and kindness works better with people who are actually likely to come to your side and confrontation works better when you need to defend yourself.

Usually, in a classroom, gentle persuasion works better because there is already a context of learning and an implicit authority in the professor.

Feminist men speaking about feminism will be more successful with persuasion because of *their* implicit authority. Plus, their anger in these issues is usually far less personal, so it's not as hard for them.

In many personal relationships, persuasion may be a better strategy because the other party has some vested in the relationship and will be more likely to respect what you have to say. Not always, however.

But it definitely doesn't work when you're being ignored and/or have no particular authority. Then, it's confrontation time!

In fact, I was thinking recently about some stuff Miss Manners wrote lamenting the lack of politeness in politics. Sort-of a "can't we all just sit and have some tea and talk these things through"/"agree to disagree"/etc. And on one hand, she's SO RIGHT. My personal style (on the internet and IRL) is most often like Hugo's (earnest, careful, considerate).

But then I imagine a scenario where you're sitting in a room with a bunch of other people who are in the process of deciding whether or not you should be put to death. You start to realize that the discussion is not exactly going your way and you become more and more emotional about it, yelling and such, maybe calling people stupid, crying maybe. And they keep saying "hey, if you want us to agree with you, you're going to have to stop that foolish behavior. We're trying to have a polite conversation here and you're certainly not convincing us that we should spare your life!" How insane is that? Yet, I see that sort of dynamic on so many of the internet discussions about feminism that it drives me up the wall.

So I start to really relate to the "angry" feminist blogs that don't put up with any BS any more (we all know which ones those are...). Yes, there are plenty of times where I think they're over the top and it puts me a bit into PHMT mode. But oh, how I love the "calling it as you see it" thing. It is so wonderfully refreshing!

What's my conclusion after all this rambling? We need Hugo's blog with all it's disclaimers and apologies and second-guessing and we need Twisty's blog with it's "Why exactly do I have to deal with this crap?" attitude. The End.


As if righteous anger is somehow empowering. It is not.

Right. Because sexism is nothing to get upset over, poor dears. Christ.

Damn, your good. How do you come up with stuff like that? Pretty colorful.. even if it has nothing to do with my statement.

I think you've made a classic mistake, here. You assume that the angry prose you may read on other feminist sites is a rhetorical tool. (Nice rhetorical choice yourself, classifying angry women as shrill, strident, etc. That's not at all angry or ad hominem, no sir.) I see it as expressions of actual anger. You remember that feeling you said you had of being insulted? Of having people assume that you, as a male, are or should be a certain way? Multiply that by about 1000, and then tell me how angry you are. Even here, in a wealthy, "first world" country women are treated rather shabbily much of the time.

First of all, I'm not describing all angry women as shrill or strident. But some are. An apparently, quite a few are creating feminist blogs, though it certainly isn't limited to that subject or that gender for that matter. And yes, I get angry about a variety of things in my life. To coin a phrase, life is unfair. But I don't turn on allies or potential allies because of that anger. I'm sure someone will pipe up and say that it is because of my privilege, but frankly I think it has more to do with how I think potential friends and allies should be treated.

Second, I can separate the content from the delivery method. I understand rallying the troops with the colorful angry message. Get everybody pumped up and mad enough to do something about your issue. Its just that, I personally don't respond well to that. It's my experience that many others, that are not already wound up for the cause don't either. They flip the channel and go watch another show.

Of course, if you don't need allies or care how outsiders perceive feminism through those who claim to be a part of it, by all means.. use whatever style is your own. It's your blog and your movement.

Do some women refuse to re-discuss basic concepts of feminism every time a confused or antagonistic person shows up and demands explanations? Yep. But, see, as women and as feminists, we've been dealing with your issues and viewpoints for more than half the class already, and it's time to move on.

Yeah, I’ve heard that said on a *lot* of different feminist blogs, but I suppose that really depends on the blog and the audience it's aimed at. I've always thought of Hugo's blog as being aimed at a different group than a lot of Feminist sites that are specifically by and for feminists. Hugo has always assumed a teaching tone here (when he's not fending off attacks from other Feminists). Not everyone that has taken an interest in Feminism is an all-knowing "real" feminist. Some are just interested in the subject, or
just starting to get their feet wet. But they are interested in doing more to help the cause of women's rights. Too bad they don't deserve the time of day on your type of blog.

....but it does not require faith to be convinced that women's equality matters. And Hugo, since you're (not unreasonably) concerned with tactics and appearances, I'd point you to the many, many, many times anti-feminist commenters in your own blog have tried to wave away feminist principles as "articles of faith."

I would add here that "anti-feminist commenters" are not pointing to women's equality as an "article of faith" per se, but to the fervency with which many questionable facts supporting feminism are defended. As in many religions, some ideas and concepts are simply not allowed to be debated. They are simply undeniable facts not open for discussion. I think the word is “Heresy”. This is unfortunately pretty common in most politically active movements. Not just Feminism. To say that the commenters here “many, many, many times” think that women’s equality is somehow an intangible theory, or that women are “somehow less human” as I have read over and over, is simply more rhetoric.

Douglas, Friend of Osho

"[G]ive me earnestness over subtle wit." That, Hugo, is what people seem to construe as a "saint complex", not that I claim to fathom every readers response. But, hey, it's your blog; if you can't be true to yourself there, where can you be? If readers want all bite, all the time, the blogosphere is awash in folks who gladly peddle it. That said, I look forward to biting you here and there. I know you can take it and there's something worthwhile in that. Cheers.


Hi Hugo. Maybe some of the criticism you get about your personal style is because so many people around the feminist and left-wing blogs are used to sarcasm and anger as some sort of default position. You are therefore "suspect" because you diverge from that.

Now, I am a cynical and sarcastic old sort myself, but I recognise that is not the case for everyone, and so I like reading your stuff partly because of the different tone. I certainly wouldn't be asking you to change the way you express yourself on your blog.

Where I do take issue with you though is the on question of feminism as a harsh and miserable existence: a struggle of faith while drowning in a cold pool for instance, rather than as freedom from the prison that is patriachy, based on the reality of the humanity of all people. Others have said it better than I can, in this and the other related thread, but at the moment you don't seem to be acknowledging this as the fundamental issue that it is.

Hope you come back to it and do a post when you have time, because it is an interesting topic.


Let me say again for the tenth time: getting into a pool is not harsh and miserable: it is uncomfortable and challenging, especially when the pool isn't heated. But you'd of thought I wrote "becoming a feminist is like getting into the North Sea on the winter solstice"!

Rad Geek


I agree with you that different rhetorical postures are appropriate to different circumstances. My point in quoting Garrison was to reply to Uzzah's claim that "If you have to resort to the angry rhetoric to make your point, maybe its a point that doesn't hold much water." I think this is false, and obviously so. Sometimes it's worth pulling punches to get a point across and sometimes what the matter deserves is more severity and harshness in our language. When that's the case it does absolutely nothing to undermine or to delegitimize the point that you are making, whether or not it makes individual listeners more or less likely to agree with you. (As I take it you agree, from your comments.)

I also think it's worth noting, though, that whatever sort of language is most conducive to persuading people, the point of feminist writing is not always to convince sexist men to become less sexist. Persuading more men (or for that matter more women) to become feminists is one way that feminism can make progress towards its goals, but it's not the only way, and sometimes neither the most important nor the most beneficial.

Barbara P

Uzzah says:
"First of all, I'm not describing all angry women as shrill or strident. But some are. An apparently, quite a few are creating feminist blogs, though it certainly isn't limited to that subject or that gender for that matter. And yes, I get angry about a variety of things in my life. To coin a phrase, life is unfair. But I don't turn on allies or potential allies because of that anger. I'm sure someone will pipe up and say that it is because of my privilege, but frankly I think it has more to do with how I think potential friends and allies should be treated."

This is what I'm talking about with the "people calmly discussing your death" example: Again, imagine yourself as that person in the room where people are discussing whether you should be allowed your rights as a human being. There are people who claim to be on your side, but they are not arguing the way YOU would argue, and in fact are conceding points that *you would not concede*. And they keep saying they're your ally. When you get snippy/emotional/strident/whatever with them, they say "what a terrible way to treat your ally! Don't you know you're hurting your own cause? In fact, because you're so mean to me, I might just join these people who are against you." Kind-of makes the person seem like not such a great ally, no?

The reason I use that analogy is because feminism (and other identity-based issues like race or homosexuality) are not at the same level of abstraction as say, the debate about free trade vs. protectionism. While the latter kind of discussion can be connected to personal experience in many ways, it's not about the debaters *as individuals*, or their inherent traits. But the things discussed on feminist boards are things that are affecting women's rights and/or social standing every day, whether they like it or not.

Finally, I (as a feminist) have disagreed with other feminists on blogs and have had nastiness returned to me at times. (Including the assumption once that I was a troll!) But I always responded gently. Why? Well, because I assumed that their anger was valid, if extremely unpleasant. I didn't go away thinking, "because they got angry at my disagreement, they have nothing worthy to say - it's all just one lockstep mindset" If someone is drawing that kind of conclusion, they are not much of a potential ally.


Still not in the mood for comments, although I'm better than I was this morning. Thought I'd say hi to y'all.


I don't know any other way to get into a pool than to jump in! If you do the step by step approach you will most likely reject the cold and back off. Sorry if I disagree with all of you.


People are STILL going on about the swimming pool?

I always get the feeling, Hugo, when debates like this occur, that some of the people piling on are reading a different blog than I'm reading. Because I don't see you as sanctimonious. I see you as a cheerful, positive guy who's cheerful and positive about the work he does--swimming pool or no swimming pool. Which, about that metaphor: Acknowledging that getting men to identify and yield their privileges under patriarchy is a tricky and potentially uncomfortable process is not, in my view, taking the view that feminism is cold, wet, and icky. It's dealing with reality.

That's not to say that I don't think you could have handled Pete better, and in fact I think zuzu did an excellent job of explaining how. But speaking of tone, I think some people are taking advantage of the whole "Hugo's a Christian" thing; i.e., "Hugo said something I thought was dumb. Instead of just saying why I think it's dumb, I'm gonna take it many steps further and call him an apologist tool, because what can he do about it? He can't tell me to piss off, because if he does, I can just point out how un-Christian and lacking in humility that is of him. Yay, I win! P.S. Fuck civility!"

And having gone in for a penny I'll go in for a pound: I didn't mind your "I'm on the front lines" remark, either. What I took from that is that you deal daily with the unconvinced and unconverted which, duh, you do. Yeah, so do women, but women aren't in much position to be role models for guys. It's not the same undertaking.

I think I identify with your argument that sometimes you have to take it slow with guys because of my own experiences online. I started out a wannabe warblogger and attracted, as a result, some very conservative readers, some of whom I'm still trying to chase off, but that's a whole other thing and this isn't about me.

My point is, it's an eye-opener, or it was for me, to realize EXACTLY how much ignorance of feminism abounds in those circles. You can do one of two things: Throw up your hands and go, "These tools are hopeless," which I certainly do on occasion, or try to engage them, which I also do on occasion.

But when I do try to engage, I have to go v-e-r-y slowly, and even when I think I'm starting at square one, I often realize that, no, there're still so many layers of unconscious conditioning and indoctrination to peel back that what I thought was square one is actually square 10 or square 20. I don't doubt I get it wrong often, especially compared to the people I'll just term advanced patriarchy-blamers. I don't make perfect arguments and maybe sometimes I let too much slide and probably there are times when more aggressive confrontation would be better.

Then again, I'm usually dealing with someone who can't keep a straight face if I even use the term "patriarchy." These guys are well below Pete's level. One day when I was feeling particularly bitter about it I think I even told Lauren that it was like trying to do Remedial Feminism--not even Feminism 101, because these fellas couldn't pass the placement tests for that.

I don't say all that to pat myself on the back for how wonderful and persevering I am; not anything of the sort. I say all that because I'm not sure everyone realizes how many people (I shouldn't even say "guys," because it's women too) are just not ready to be dealt with confrontationally, because they're only going to use being called out as an excuse to reinforce every negative belief they have about feminism ALREADY. "See, I told you, feminists are always so angry," or "See, I told you, feminists hate men."

A strategy that doesn't work is a strategy that doesn't work. It's worthless, no matter how high-minded and pure it is in theory.

I don't know. This whole thing frustrates me, a lot. I always see you copping to your failings and mistakes and it just seems like that only encourages the hipsters to be as vicious as possible in pointing out your failings and mistakes. If it were me, I'd be sorely tempted to tell those people to read another blog.

Delurking for a minute

ilyka, I take issue with your statement that "women aren't in the position to be role models for guys" precisely because men often serve as role models for women! In college I had male professors who were feminist/pro-feminist and interested in all the subjects I was interested in, had tons of books for me to borrow, invited me for lunch, etc. They were my mentors and I wanted my life to be just like their's. I find the idea that women can't be good role models for men incredibly sexist. If women aren't appropriate models for men, how come so many men are for women? How come women writers/politicians/business execs, etc often list men as role models? I guess a man is worthy of respect and adoration from both men and women. But a woman should only mentor another female.

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