Not all feminism is toxic. There are feminists with whom it is quite possible to agree on some points and respectfully differ on others. In practice, that is not a problem for either party – it is easy to maintain friendly engagement. Then there are the others, the sort of feminists who have established a beachhead in large parts of the mainstream media. So here is an incomplete list of characteristics that can make feminism toxic. Let me know if you think I have missed anything out.
1. Belief in an infinitely elastic and all explaining theory to explain any difference in outcomes between men and women: the patriarchy. In any field, beware of all encompassing theories that appear explain everything. Are feminists saying that evolutionary psychology has no role? Most likely, there is a complex and poorly understood interplay of social factors and evolutionary imperatives. Are feminists saying that choices, freely arrived at by both parties, do not also play at least some role in differential outcomes?
2. A belief in original sin (of sorts) that is only applied to one half of humanity, called toxic masculinity. The concept of original sin in the religious sense can be quite useful. It is good to remember that we are all imperfect because that encourages humility and makes it easier to forgive others. Toxic masculinity, in the way feminists use the term, implies that one half of the population but not the other has some form of original sin. It is a spiteful and divisive concept.
3. All disagreement constitutes misogyny. There is no such thing as a good faith disagreement with any aspect of feminism. This belief is quite deeply entrenched in mainstream feminism. For example, Laura Bates who wrote the book Men Who Hate Women lumps all forms of men’s activism together with incels. Similarly, Andrea Dworkin stated ‘Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defence of women hating.‘ The charge of misogyny operates in a similar way to the charge of blasphemy when used by religious fundamentalists. The accusation of misogyny has become a tool to quell debate and suppress disagreement.
4. Any behaviour can be depicted as harassment. Harassment in the way most people use the term is a terrible thing. Persistent and unwelcome sexual advances for example. However, some feminists, the toxic ones, have broadened the definition of harassment to include hearing ideas they don’t like. For example, some of James Damore’s co-workers argued that it was a form of harassment being exposed to ideas, in an internal memo, that they disagreed with. Similarly, when Will Knowland was sacked from his post at Eton for producing a YouTube video called the Patriarchy Paradox it was argued that it would be a form of harassment for female teachers to have lead discussions around the ideas expressed in the video.
5. To disagree with any aspect of feminism is to condone rape culture. In many ways, this is similar to points 3 and 4 and is used as as a tactic to close to down argument and deny that there can be good-faith objections to any feminist point of view. Lumping your opponents together with rapists is a toxic rhetorical device.
6. Lack of belief in empirical methods or objective truth. For example, feminist ‘philosopher’ Kelly Oliver wrote, feminist theory cannot claim to describe what exists, or, “natural facts.” Rather, feminist theories should be political tools, strategies for overcoming oppression in specific concrete situations. The goal, then, of feminist theory, should be to develop strategic theories—not true theories, not false theories, but strategic theories. This mode of thinking is actually quite pervasive in parts of academia because it is useful to fundamentalist thinkers. Once you unshackle yourself from empirical methods and intellectual debate you are free to believe pretty much anything. You can also be more productive than your colleagues who have go through the arduous process of accumulating data and exposing their ideas to proper scrutiny. Better still, your theories can never be falsified.
7. “This idea of intellectual debate and rigor as the pinnacle of intellectualism comes from a world in which white men dominated,” This quote comes from a tenured academic in the Department of Geosciences at Williams College in the USA. It is a gross insult to the many brilliant female academics who have been quite capable of entertaining different perspectives. The notion that intellectual debate is a product of the patriarchy is wrong and the idea that the approach that has served us well since the enlightenment is not the way forward is frankly toxic. A wide range of perspectives should be heard and scrutinized and some of those perspectives may not view feminism, or at least some incarnations of it, in a favourable light.
8. Victimhood is a source of power and can be used to go after people you don’t like. For this reason, feminist journalists keep female victimhood at the forefront at all times. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the agenda was kept away from the greater number of male deaths (wrongly attributed to poor hygiene practices among men) and focussed on female victimhood. The narrative was skewed towards long-COVID that seems to affect women more than men. However, long COVID, at least in part, seems to be a socially constructed illness. Similarly, the supposed epidemic of domestic violence affecting women was kept in the foreground. An analysis of incidents of domestic violence obtained by David Collins using the Freedom of Information Act showed that the supposed ‘epidemic’ of domestic violence may never have happened – see here. Of course, even one episode of domestic violence is one too many but the evidence for an increase as a result of COVID lockdowns was thin to nonexistent.
9. Identity is the only lens there is and everything, no matter how unrelated, needs to needs to tie back to race and gender. Thus wrote Barri Weiss a refugee from the woke New York Times who is now writing on substack. For example, in the UK in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, you might have thought from large sections of the press that it was only a problem for women and girls. There are certainly differences in the way the takeover will affect the two sexes but it will be anything but a picnic for the majority of men and boys. Oppressive child labour in Afghanistan primarily affects boys.
10. History is selectively sieved to feed an aggrieved sense of entitlement. Only those aspects of history that support female victimhood are foregrounded and the rest is quietly ignored.
11. Apostasy. in common with other fundamentalist religious movements, toxic feminism views apostasy as the worst crime of all. Those women who are supporters of the men’s rights movement or who are skeptical of aspects of feminism are subject to some of the worst criticism and may even be accused of internalised misogyny. More commonly, however, they are simply rendered invisible. Figures such as Janice Fiamengo, Bettina Arndt, Elizabeth Hobson, Karen Straughan, Esther Vilar and many others do not appear in Laura Bates toxic little book as that would have necessitated a extra chapter ‘women who hate women’. (see post Women who hate Women?)
12. Kafka traps. Denial of guilt or any argument against feminism is proof of guilt and evidence of male fragility. Feminists are, of course, always right so any contrary argument must be evidence of a fragile male ego. Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made this pathetic claim about Boris Johnson the UK Prime Minister. His politics are not mine but I wouldn’t say his ego is fragile and pathetic sexist insults do nothing to improve the flagging reputation of the Scottish First Minister. As always, try reversing this insult and imagine the response from the left-leaning press. Suppose Boris Johnson had suggested that Nicola Sturgeon had a fragile female ego. Cue feminist outrage.