Define and Conquer

I’ve been thinking a bit about people not wanting to call themselves feminists because they don’t really know what the term means nowadays, as Bill Maher more or less put it. The thing is, I have to wonder if that’s letting the opponents of feminism define the term. I think it’s becoming thankfully less common for women to say, “I’m not a feminist, because I shave my armpits and don’t hate men!”, but that stereotype still exists.

“I also don’t need to check the definitions of words or do even the most basic research, because thinking too much gives you wrinkles.”
When was feminism EVER about hating men, though? Sure, you might be able to pull out a few examples of women who identify as feminists and genuinely hate men, but I’m inclined to think they’ve always been the exception rather than the rule. It’s a straw man argument (well, maybe a straw WOMAN argument in this case) that people take seriously for some reason. That seems to happen a lot, though. Along the same lines, I’ve seen some online criticism of “social justice warriors,” as if social justice is somehow a bad thing. Okay, maybe the “warrior” part is, but it seems like part of that mindset to insist that everyone who disagrees with you is fighting a war.

The prime example here is Bill O’Reilly with his Culture War and War on Christmas, in which he might well be the only participant. Actually, I think I’ve heard of some people with the opposite opinion of O’Reilly’s using the term “culture war,” as well as some who use the term “sexual revolution” when they think it was a good thing. I doubt it’s all that common, however. I’m guessing that most of the people O’Reilly thinks are fighting against him in these imaginary wars have never even heard of them.

He calls them secular-progressives, because I guess progress is a bad thing now. Well, I suppose it is if you’re a cranky old man who’s set in your ways. When you get right down to it, though, does anyone really think progress is bad, or do they just think that some cultural changes aren’t actually progress at all? It’s kind of a significant distinction. I also have to think back to when John Kerry was running for president, and people kept calling him “liberal” like it was a bad thing. Instead of arguing that point, however, he more or less said he WASN’T a liberal, thus allowing his opponents to set the playing field. I don’t know. Language does change, but I feel that letting people who are against something define its key terms is problematic. Just ask the heathen.

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6 Responses to Define and Conquer

  1. Joe says:

    Good points raised here about how those who oppose something redefining what the term means. This is especially true in the political arena, and in recent years, with everything being politicized, words that had certain meanings have come to be given pejorative definitions that were never part of the original meaning. So, yeah, feminist, liberal, libertarian, anarchist, environmentalist, all have negative connotations that have little to nothing to do with their actual meanings. Even the word Christian has become associated with the intolerant far-right to the point that Anne Rice stopped referring to herself as a Christian to disassociate herself from that conception. I’m sure we can find more examples of words and terms that have been hijacked by those who hate the ideology and are committed to demonizing it. And with prevalence of echo-chambers and corporate controlled media, demonizing something is far easier and more lucrative (ratings-wise) than trying to engage in an honest discussion about it.

    That makes for a needlessly and far more complex discourse with anyone whose not a bit more aware of what’s going on, and I’m tempted to think that the divide and conquer model has worked wonderfully for the powers-that-be. But it’s one of many discouraging situations.

    • Nathan says:

      Adding in Christianity is interesting because that’s an area where it seems quite common to say certain people aren’t true Christians. As far as I can tell, Christianity means you believe Jesus is the savior of mankind, which is a pretty either/or proposition. As for anarchy, it’s gotten such a reputation as a violent movement, when people killing and blowing things up is just about the best argument there is FOR government and law.

      • Joe says:

        Yeah, that’s unfortunate, as anarchy basically means “without a ruler” or “without a State.” It’s an ideological concept that has been by and large approached through non-violent means. It comes as no surprise that the term would be conflated in the public imagination with very few exceptions that have included violence since that’s exactly what the State would want the public to think: “You need us. There are dangerous forces out there looking to cause you harm and steal your money.” Never mind that they are those very dangerous forces.

      • Nathan says:

        Anarchy and nihilism are definitely not the same thing.

  2. Dylan says:

    You complain about strawmen, yet you fail to address the prominent reason why sjw are criticized. It’s not because social justice is bad, it’s because a lot of them are hypocrites who seem more interested in getting back at others than promoting justice, warriors only know how to fight, activists prefer to talk and do when it’s precise.

    Feminism doesn’t have a monopoly on gender equality and people obsessing over how you decide to label yourself and bullying those who don’t embrace theirs are not helping their cause, even if they think it’s okay because they’re too dumb too look up a definition, are gender traitors, suffer from internalized misogyny, et cetera. Definitions are important, but actions are even more important.
    I don’t know, maybe I’m set on my ways, but I don’t like pretending a movement or ideology is flawless, thus should be exempt from criticism, specially those I follow, that has never led to anything good.

    • Nathan says:

      If the problem isn’t social justice, though, why even use that term? Every philosophy has its hypocrites, but that doesn’t necessarily make the philosophy bad. As for feminism, isn’t gender equality what it IS? That’s like saying Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on believing Jesus is the savior.

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