From top The Irish Times, August 17 and August 26; Eamonn Kelly
It was never my intention to become some kind of ongoing critic of radical feminism. But I have noticed a pattern in how radical feminists deal with criticism, a pattern that others don’t appear to be reporting on or discussing.
The strategies radical feminists use to counteract criticism seem to be mainly concerned with tarnishing and maligning the critic. What used to be called, shooting the messenger. At least this is my impression.
The Irish Times in recent weeks has become an active outlet for this type of strategy, in the wake of what radical feminists are calling “the backlash”.
On August 26, The Irish Times published an article by The Guardian writer Laura Bates, with the rationally balanced, impartial, benign and non-inflammatory title of “The Rise of a Toxic Male Separatist Movement Who Hate Women”.
The piece was a promotion of Laura Bates’ new book maligning some men for taking the decision to avoid women who seem to those men to be overly hostile towards masculinity.
To put it absurdly, her book maligns men tired of being maligned by people like her for now avoiding people like her. Their dislike of being maligned now worn as a badge of victimhood by Bates to justify further maligning.
Ironically, a week or so earlier The Irish Times published one of those now jaded, supposedly humorous articles about “mansplainers” and so on, titled “Men To Avoid”, taking the ridicule angle on masculinity.
It seems it’s okay for women to avoid some men, but not okay for men to avoid some women. It would make you wonder what manner of machinations are going on in some back office in The Irish Times.
The failings of this strategy to discredit critics, or just people tired of being maligned, were most clearly and cruelly revealed a couple of years back in Channel 4’s now infamous 2018 interview of Dr Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman. What the interview revealed was a startling lack of ability by Newman to engage in a fair debate.
Instead her strategy appeared to revolve around a determined effort to ignore references to scientific studies, accompanied by an equally determined effort to personally discredit the interviewee and provoke him to anger, which, if successful, could then presumably be framed as male anger and construed as an indicator of latent violent tendencies.
After that interview, a sympathetic Guardian journalist, Nosheen Iqbal, interviewed Cathy Newman about the interview and used the occasion to malign Peterson as “alt-right”, a charge he by now wearily denies. Newman used the same Guardian interview to assert that all men who critique feminism’s maligning of masculinity have hidden agendas.
Jordan Peterson came to prominence in his opposition to Canada’s bill c16, which, he claimed, would mean that the improper use of a pronoun could be construed, in certain contexts, as hate speech.
Peterson’s opposition to the bill became controversial because the issue that had prompted the bill was a trans/gender issue.
This resulted in an invasion by student protestors of a lecture Peterson was scheduled to give at McMaster University in Ontario in 2017, on the grounds, in the estimation of the protesters, that anything Peterson said was hate speech.
This allowed the protesters, in their own estimation, to cancel his right to free speech, which they did by yelling slogans and standing in front of him at the head of the lecture theatre, drawing a banner like a curtain between him and his audience.
Peterson responded by taking the lecture and his audience out to the car park where he advised his audience to resist being provoked to anger by the protesters, and to simply allow them their freedom of expression so that the limitations of their expression could be clearly seen and heard.
So You’re Saying…
Feminists often counter criticism with similar obstructionist strategies and name-calling. The critic is framed as a misogynist, or is ridiculed, or is accused of having a hidden agenda and so on.
The strategy seems to be to simply silence and malign the critic, without making any attempt to debate the questions posed by the critic.
In the case of Cathy Newman’s interview with Jordan Peterson, Peterson undermined the strategy by keeping his cool and concentrating on the debate. Once he refused to respond to name-calling, Newman quite literally had nothing to offer the debate.
Many saw Newman’s repeated “So your saying…” approach as an attempt to misrepresent the interviewee by reframing his comments. But another take on this by cartoonist and satirist Scott Adams is far more interesting.
Adams saw Newman’s constantly repeated “so you’re saying…” as evidence of cognitive dissonance in the face of an irrefutable argument backed by science, and the dismantling of what Newman had taken to be a rock-solid belief system, (the patriarchy), clashing with her own professionalism as an objective journalist.
This collision of conflicting ideas and loyalties had the effect of causing Newman to kind of mentally short circuit, falling into that loop of “so you’re saying…” in the vain hope of somehow re-framing a losing position.
(Credit must go to Channel 4 for choosing to broadcast the 30-minute interview in its entirety. It is one of the best available demonstrations of the limitations of this destructive mode of discourse favoured by radical feminists.)
After that interview, as already mentioned, The Guardian helped to paper over the cracks by suggesting that Peterson is a product of the alt right.
But this attempt to tarnish Peterson after the fact was the same strategy that failed for Newman in the actual interview; was the same strategy employed by the students in McMaster, and is the same strategy currently being pursued by The Irish Times in a misguided attempt to counter the supposed “backlash” being suffered by the feminist movement.
But there is no “backlash”, there is simply criticism which is not being responded to, apart from the by now routine attempts to malign and discredit the critics. In fact, this is the main criticism: that these attempts to discredit masculinity seem to many men to be overt expressions of misandry.
The impression you’re left with is that this is a mode of argument – a deliberate undermining of debate – that has worked quite well in university women’s studies group, but when exposed in the real world its shortcomings are evident.
The inevitable response to a debate that cannot be dominated by either post-modern re-contextualising or attempts to discredit the opponent, is to simply shout down the opponent so that no debate is possible, as happened in McMaster.
After the incident in McMaster, Jordan Peterson said that he felt that the students had been let down by their own teachers and had been misled into an intolerant ideology.
Similarly, readers of The Irish Times and The Guardian are being let down and misled by editors in those newspapers who appear to feel justified, in the interests of gender equality, to publish articles maligning and ridiculing masculinity.
But it is disappointing that both papers seem blind to the fact that what they are participating in is the dissemination of gender prejudice and the deliberate undermining of rational debate.
Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.
Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet