Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless. Today’s Doggerel entry would be simple to write in a fair and just world, but there’s a lot of nasty sentiments that are typically involved. Though I resolved to write the series in a calm tone, I think this is an important entry worth making an exception.
The simple response is this: An arguer’s gender has nothing to do with the validity of his or her arguments or the quality of evidence presented.
The more in-depth response:
This is extremely sexist and childish.
First, treating women’s arguments differently from men’s arguments reinforces sexual stereotypes. There’s a sexist idea in our culture that men are somehow inherently more rational, and that women are inherently irrational and emotional. Many irrational people use this idea to jump to the conclusion that a woman can be treated as irrational if she shows the slightest bit of emotion, and believe her arguments can be summarily dismissed by the ad hominem or poisoning the well fallacies. It also contributes to the idea that emotion and rationality are incompatible, but that’s a topic worthy of a separate post.
If you know something about human nature, you should know why this behavior is self-defeating. Our nature as a cultural species means that we can easily mistake cultural tendencies for biological ones if we aren’t careful. If you raise a person to believe he or she is inherently irrational, they’re likely to excuse themselves for irrational decisions, rather than hold themselves to high standards. When discrimination is made into dogma, it can become self-reinforcing. Another important reality is that humans are very plastic creatures. Upbringing has a much more profound effect on our critical thinking than biological tendencies, and a person’s gender doesn’t actually tell much about his or her upbringing. For these reasons, dismissing a woman’s argument on the basis of an unproven biological tendency is quite irrational in itself. That’s why you should focus on the arguments, and not trivia like it being presented a woman. To do otherwise is to deny human individuality.
Second, sexist insults are pointless to use in a rational argument. Trying to distract people with general insults is bad enough on its own. Sexist language often adds to the propaganda power of the insult because many people are already irrationally dismissive and it gives them a cheap excuse to ignore the opposing arguments. People who throw out sexist insults often apply double-standards in choosing the insult. Sexist insults reinforce closed-mindedness. That’s how many of us see it. If you have to use sexist language to deal with your opponents, it makes you look weak. It signals that you can’t deal with the arguments on their own merits. It signals desperation because it’s a sudden subject change. It signals irrationality because it dismisses an argument based off of your obedience to a cultural dogma instead of logic or evidence.
Third, it’s pointless to pass judgement on a female arguer’s appearance. It’d be an irrational ad hominem fallacy to judge a man’s arguments based on his appearance. Why would it be rational to bring up a woman’s appearance? Given all the objectification women have to deal with in everyday life, this sort of thing reinforces the idea that women exist solely to be sex objects. It’s a way of dehumanizing them so that misogynists won’t see them as people capable of autonomous thought. If they see women as objects instead of people, they can go on being irrationally dismissive.
Fourth, in another version of this doggerel, sometimes male arguers are dismissed as being “girly” as if that were an inherently bad thing. Again, this is a distraction from the logic and evidence and it reinforces sexist ideas and gender roles. Women may have it worse overall, but gender roles also hurt men. Gender roles value conformity for conformity’s sake over individual expression and desire.
This is all childish at best. Appealing to sexism marks you as someone who never grew beyond schoolyard taunts and petty bickering. Our lives are already full of people like that, lowering society’s expectations. Many of them are involved in running the country. Insults happen, and sometimes they’re healthy expressions of frustration, but at least mature people will prefer to insult someone for correctable things like bad decisions and silly ideas, not for “built in” attributes that result from accidents of birth or other circumstances beyond the indvidual’s control. Ridicule can be a force for good if it encourages correction. Sexist language can’t used for that, because there is nothing wrong about being female or even “feminine.”
Advice to my opponents: Do not go there. All you’ll do by appealing to sexism is hurt your reputation among rational people and help contribute to an oppressive cultural climate that hurts society as a whole. Are the lulz really worth it?
For my readers: I’ve tried to cover several angles and issues about the sexism behind the doggerel, but being a man, I recognize I don’t get the full experience when I witness misogyny in action. If I’ve left out an important issue or need to fix something, leave a comment so that I can improve the post. If you’ve got your own take on the issue, let me know so that I can link to it.