Education, Features, Politics

Why No One Cares About Feminist Theory

Let’s be real about something important: nobody actually cares what feminist scholars think or why they think it. Truth be told, this isn’t surprising. Feminist scholarship is a peculiar academic backwater that nobody should pay any attention to—and it’s probable that nobody would if it weren’t becoming so painfully influential.

That outsized influence is also unsurprising. People care very much about gender equality and about women’s rights — in both the US and the UK, gender equality enjoys the support of roughly four out of five people. This sets up a problem. With the exception of other feminists, more or less the entire world completely ignores feminist theory, and they have done so for decades, which has let it go quite far down its own self-referential rabbit holes. That this scholarship has gone ignored while developing what looks like a storied academic pedigree is why feminist theory endures and exerts so much control over academia and society, which is to say it’s a rather huge problem.

You may think I’m exaggerating to say that it’s a major problem to ignore an apparently relatively inconsequential corner of academic pursuit. Well, check your privilege and look around because it’s leaking out of the theory departments.

It is true that gender studies, which conceptually encompasses feminist theory, maintains almost no representation within the one thousand most significant academic journals (Gender & Society, the top among them, proudly ranks 824 among all academic journals), but it’s difficult to ignore many of the more recent real-world applications of feminist theory. I could point to obvious egregious abuses here, like the shameful excesses on college campuses and outsized moral panic about sexual harassment, yet I’m even more compelled by “shrill” feminist popularizer Lindy West’s recent tirade against men in the the New York Times. Even more worrying, this screed echoes feminist scholar Lisa Wade’s weeks-earlier definitely-not-man-hating assertion that “the problem is not toxic masculinity; it’s that masculinity is toxic,” and that “we need to call masculinity out as a hazardous ideology and denounce anyone who chooses to identify with it.” For those who don’t realize, “toxic masculinity” is a technical term originating from within feminist theorizing, not some cute turn of phrase invented by edgy writers with an axe to grind.

At this point, we must really pause to ask ourselves how feminist theory is leaking into popular culture, and the reason is that it’s activism-driven scholarship. It has an agenda: this agenda, to remake society in its own image. Though the wide support for gender equality does not filter efficiently into support for feminism of this sort (only roughly one in five Americans and fewer than one in ten Britons identifies as a feminist), it provides an entryway for feminist theory to reach the public. The gateway through which this happens has mainly been the university, where feminist theory is not only generated but is applied in practice. This has occurred primarily in two ways. First, as centers of culture and learning, feminist theory has slowly (and largely intentionally) leaked into the educational curriculum and university culture, which has led to it spreading into media (which preferentially showcases it), business (with its new emphasis on diversity and inclusion), and society at large (which has broadly internalized a surprising amount of critical theory). Second, it gets applied directly through the frighteningly expansive applications of Title IX, which originated as part of the Civil Rights Act but was expanded under President Obama’s tenure in ways that seem both distinctly illiberal and at odds with the overarching goals of the university.

Given the overwhelming positivity for gender equality and its applicative epicenter within the university, it is remarkable that everyone, especially non-feminist academics, is so demonstrably underwhelmed by feminist theory. Granted, it’s seemingly a bit dull and arcane, as it is the complex academic theorizing, largely philosophical in nature, that seeks to understand the nature of gender inequality. This isn’t the reason feminist theory has proven successful, however. That honor goes to it having made itself insular and, for lack of a better term, un-care-about-able. The solution to this consequential problem therefore is not to start caring about feminist theory because that’s all but impossible. It isn’t just that feminist theory isn’t something people care about; it’s that it’s the kind of thing almost nobody can care about. Worse, even if you manage to somehow care about it, nobody will care about that, and you’ll suffer alone.

Like the myriad details describing the island universe of a video game you’ve never played, or the theological nitty-gritty of a religion you don’t believe, or the explanation of a really trippy dream someone else had and insists on telling you about (“we were together at our house, but it wasn’t this house, it was some different house, but it was our house in the dream, and you had two forks…”), feminist theory bears almost every hallmark characteristic of the un-care-about-able:

  • It’s properly esoteric like many well-developed academic disciplines.
  • It seems to describe an alternate universe that looks kind of like ours but fantastically distorted in a way that makes it hard to suspend one’s disbelief (and this is consequential).
  • It involves tragically two-dimensional Manichean struggles of good (allegedly emancipatory feminism) against evil (human nature, masculinity, men, “patriarchy,” women being themselves, “oppression,” science, pornography, media portrayals of essentially everything, emojis, and so on).
  • It sounds like conspiracy theories (because it utilizes several, such as “patriarchy,” “hegemonic masculinity,” “rape culture,” and “hegemonic femininity”).
  • It gets presented in obscurantist technical jargon (like that you only disagree because of your “privilege-preserving epistemic pushback”) and its own specialized colloquial language that excludes the uninitiated.
  • It’s filled to the brim with confusing turf wars (materialist/Marxist feminist, radical feminist, intersectional feminist, gender critical feminist; liberal feminist).
  • It goes almost completely unread, not only by everyone outside the field, but also by almost everyone inside the field too (more than 80% of its papers do not receive a single citation).
  • It absolutely refuses to listen to anybody else.

Perhaps the first truly overwhelming criticism applicable to feminist theory came from biologist Paul Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt in 1994 in their book Higher Superstition, which sought to save the academy from the growing excesses of the academic Left. The problem, ultimately, (and here I know I might lose half my readers for the thematic reason behind this essay) was that feminist epistemology and feminist science studies had blossomed under such apparent luminaries as Evelyn Fox Keller and Sandra Harding. These women, inter alia, sought to expose science and knowledge production as sexist and to remake them bent more firmly to the feminist will (Harding even referred to Newton’s legendary Principia as a “rape manual” (p. 113), though she later regretted saying so).

Thus, arose “the Science Wars,” and the first major salvo on the side of sanity was Gross and Levitt’s admirable stand against what can only be described as a serious bid to initiate a new feminist Lysenkoism. Gross and Levitt, in turn, inspired Alan Sokal, famous for writing the academic hoax that inspired our own and leading to a book with Jean Bricmont called Fashionable Nonsense — a brilliant title which also succinctly describes why feminist theory lies beyond human concern.

These Science Wars should have been definitively ended by Steven Pinker in 2003, when he published his devastating book The Blank Slate. As you’ll no doubt have noticed, feminist theorizing did not stop in 2003, or 2004, or even 2005, though the Science Wars did slide out of the spotlight. Rather than ending the strains of feminist theorizing that it should have thoroughly embarrassed, The Blank Slate more accurately ended any reasonable belief that serious engagement with or criticism of feminist theorizing would slow it down.

Far from being fatalistic histrionics on my part, by the way, this result was recently demonstrated by Charlotta Stern, using Pinker’s book as a benchmark. Stern’s discovery? Feminist theory is very insular and guarded from outside criticism — to the point of fittingly being the academic equivalent of Themyscira, the inaccessible island of the Amazons in DC Comics Wonder Woman universe. It isn’t merely that feminist theorizing isn’t interesting or intelligible to outsiders, it’s that it evolved in a way that sequesters itself away from the majority of other rational thought. Put another way, feminist theorizing has never been short on critics, but, through the deflective power of accusations of potential sexism, it responded to this selection pressure not by responsible academic correction so much as making itself un-care-about-able to the outside world while blinkering itself so that it might continue as though all criticism of it is, indeed, too sexist to be worth noticing.

As a result, in May of last year, working with philosopher Peter Boghossian, I attempted to bring attention to the problem of academic feminism by publishing a ridiculous satirical academic hoax called “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,” which proved slightly controversial and drew many criticisms. Among other criticisms of the hoax of varying worth, many scholars became upset with us that we attempted to do a hoax at all rather than engaging feminist scholarship directly and in an appropriately dignified and scholarly way.

This is where the high-minded theorizing of the academy runs headlong into the brick wall of reality, however, for three significant reasons. Firstly, feminist theory is un-care-about-able, so had we engaged with it more seriously, no one would care. Secondly, high-minded scholarly engagement with feminist theory fares poorly against the reality of the situation: all charlatanry benefits from serious engagement with the peers it hopes to emulate. Creationists want to debate biologists for the simple reason that some of the imprimatur of biology accidentally scrapes off on the creationist from the moment the debate is scheduled. “See, I’m doing science too! This scientist wants to debate me!” Feminist theorizing, not unlike theology, in this way benefits but is not injured by engagement with mature philosophy and science that attempts to treat it on its own terms. “We’re feminist philosophers and sociologists! We inspire and participate in academic debate in those fields!” We need to think very carefully about whether this is something we want to do. The alternative, by the way, is to refuse to engage its premises on its own terms and to reveal it to be an unsophisticated and inadequate model for understanding reality.

Thirdly and most importantly, criticism of feminist theory, from within feminism itself, is worse than un-care-about-able. It’s arranged so that substantive criticism makes no impact. How could it? It has set up a self-protective system (as do nearly all conspiracy theories) in which criticism of feminist theory is understood to validate feminist theory. Take, for example, the commonly heard claims that “criticism of feminism is why we need feminism.” Under feminist theory, which is deeply dependent upon postmodern thought, knowledge is believed to be constructed by “dominant discourses,” and feminism, particularly intersectional feminism, is taken to be the true defender of marginalized voices, including those allegedly of women. Worse than this, because of its beliefs about these structures of power, to criticize feminist theory is to violate a moral taboo against gender equality. Critics of feminist theory, even in purely scholarly terms, are easily derided as being complicit in sexism, and the moral architecture of the post-1960s academy left other academics (and administrators) particularly weak against these charges. Thus, feminist theory perpetuated and concentrated, making itself simultaneously less connected to reality and even more un-care-about-able.

Criticism of feminist theory therefore cannot work in the normal way. From within, it can only be seen as evidence that the dominant discourses it seeks to overthrow are still dominant, thus need opposing even more strongly. Interpreted from within the scholarly architecture of feminist theory, critics like myself, Peter Boghossian, Paul Gross, Norman Levitt, Alan Sokal, and Steven Pinker are just white males exercising our epistemic pushback, like every other man who disagrees. (Nota bene: Women who disagree suffer from “internalized misogyny” and, in an attempt to maintain favor with “the mens,” engage in the same epistemic pushback, once removed — so there’s no winning here, only agreeing with the feminists, being used as evidence of the rightness of feminism and the need for more feminism and feminist theory, or being ignored.)

This makes two potent forces that have allowed feminist theory to endure beyond the endurance of responsible scholarship. First, it deflects all criticism by abusing a loophole in the academic and cultural Left’s moral architecture: an overwhelming need to distance itself from anything anyone could conceivably call bigotry, which is a need outdone only by an even stronger impulse to throw clear virtuous signals proving the uncrossable magnitude of that distance. Second, it makes itself un-care-about-able by retreating to a fantastic academic island, like theology. The trouble is that the island has made itself well-armed and we’re well within range of its missiles. Given that this is occurring within a wider environment of almost complete indifference to feminist theory for the very good reason that it is producing very little that is comprehensible, coherent or substantive, this is indeed a problem.

The upshot of this grim view is that it gives us an out. It doesn’t leave us in the position of trying to care about feminist theory — that’s almost impossible and then worse. Rather, it should leave us asking some serious questions about what it means that feminist theory is simultaneously un-care-about-able and yet enormously consequential in the hands of the activists it churns out.

I’ll suggest that the answers to those questions render it outside the demarcation of responsible scholarship, however scholarly it appears. Scholarship that refuses to be criticized isn’t scholarship; it’s an age-old mimic known as sophistry — the kind of philosophical-looking poppycock that assumes its conclusions and writes endlessly in circles trying to hide that fact. It doesn’t need to be this way. Feminist theory and gender studies more widely could be both worthwhile and interesting if they valued evidence and rigor and accepted criticism. Currently, they do not. If we can accept this, then the way forward is clear. If feminist theory isn’t scholarship at all, we have no obligation to treat it as such.

 

James A. Lindsay has a doctorate in math and background in physics. He is the author of four books, most recently Life in Light of Death. His essays have appeared in TIME, Scientific American, and The Philosophers’ Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @GodDoesnt

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72 Comments

  1. yandoodan says

    “Nobody actually cares what feminist scholars think or why they think it … it [is] … becoming so painfully influential.”

    I would like to have seen more discussion of how something being ignored by everyone becomes painfully influential. Perhaps the theory is being ignored but the theorizers are not. But why should we pay attention to theorizers whose theories we reject out of hand, when we bother to learn about them at all? How could they even become known, much less influential?

    An example from my youth: Köppen-Geiger climate classification is completely ignored outside its narrow field, and, as a result, its researchers have no influence on the climate wars now going on. No one even knows what it is. (http://bit.ly/2kYB8bw if you’re curious.)That’s what you’d expect. Is it even possible that K-G theorists would dominate global warming debate even as no one has any idea what K-G theory is? It seems unlikely. So does the proposition that feminist theory is widely ignored even though feminist theorists have outsized influence.

    • > I would like to have seen more discussion of how something being ignored by everyone becomes painfully influential. Perhaps the theory is being ignored but the theorizers are not. But why should we pay attention to theorizers whose theories we reject out of hand, when we bother to learn about them at all? How could they even become known, much less influential?

      I don’t have a great answer for you, but I’d look at three things:

      1) Catharine MacKinnon and the evolution of Title IX
      2) Western society’s modern, progressive, enlightened natural caring about victims of any sort, and the hacking of that by identity politics
      3) Empire building at Universities

      One huge factor that has helped the feminists is the vast number of women who took gender studies and not critical thinking and then went into journalism and law. And the men alongside them who a) see 2) above, and b) wanted to get laid, and c) got laid.

      And then at companies and in congress and in the courts, you’d have to be a real Simon Legree not to impose rules to help the victims and punish the aggressors.

      • Greg Allan says

        “I don’t have a great answer for you, but I’d look at three things:”

        I would add that feminists have long marched institutions for decades and many are entrenched in quite influential positions. I’ve come to a conclusion that the only way to undo much of the damage is for others to do the same.

        Mary Koss is probably worth inclusion alongside MacKinnon for her excessive influence on work being done by the US Centre for Disease Control.

      • Andy says

        Pretty close I’d say.

        Most Christians haven’t read the Bible, for example. How you get from that to “Therefore the Bible doesn’t influence people” is simple but wrong.

      • <>

        By playing the victim card. It’s intriguing that you can be so strong and so vital and so equal and so influential and all the superlatives that you wish to apply and yet still be the victim.

    • Greatly concerned... says

      All apologies, straight from wiki, yet…

      The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noted the 80/20 connection while at the University of Lausanne in 1896, as published in his first paper, “Cours d’économie politique”. Essentially, Pareto showed that approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

      It is a common principle in business management; e.g., “80% of sales come from 20% of clients. ” Richard Koch authored the book, The 80/20 Principle, which illustrated a number of practical applications of the Pareto principal.

      Also see “The tipping point.” Malcolm Gladwell.

      Also… think about how your feminist influenced partner derides you in small ways a couple of times every day over years and how this greatly harmed your life! And as this articles states how you’re supposed to be “man enough” to just suck it up and take it – Flattering you on one hand for your strength, reinforcing the feminist theory, while completely attempting to undermine you, your sanity and comfort effectively with the other…

      Feminism is the end of equality and reason.

      It’s domestic terrorism and should be outlawed as the sophisticated, cunning abuse it actually is.

  2. I found this very interesting, but I do think Massimo has a point, even if his own take on it is bathed in his own self-aggrandizement.

    There are ways your hoax could have been better, and it would have been even better still had you and Peter faithfully examined and reviewed a few feminist papers. Maybe the most influential.

    Re: not debating with charlatans. Careful, because feminists play that game too. Basically any one is at any point part of the establishment plays that game. But it’s a foul game. It’s one of the chief ways that feminists use when refusing to debate critics and men, and egalitarians.

    • Stephen J. says

      And it’s the most common reason given why AGW alarmists refuse to debate AGW skeptics, as well.

  3. Oh, I would also have liked to have read in this essay, what can be done about this.

    Specifically, if

    > This sets up a problem. With the exception of other feminists, more or less the entire world completely ignores feminist theory, and they have done so for decades, which has let it go quite far down its own self-referential rabbit holes.

    If other scholars in the university agree or are concerned that the gender studies department has gone down a rabbit hole, what is their duty as members of the academy, to correct it, and how can they?

  4. Jane says

    “It absolutely refuses to listen to anyone else”. This was the point where I started laughing out loud (and, in full disclosure, stopped reading). James, many of us care. We try to tell you why we care. You refuse to listen. You talk over us and you mock us. I’m not convinced you even realise you do it. At a recent meeting in Sydney where you alternately ignored and mocked, the silences and the subsequent connections made with like minded colleagues – the majority in the room – were much more valuable than the bluster. You can rail all you like, but people who care about feminist theories and use them in their everyday work are everywhere.

    • Charlotte G says

      Jane — why *do* you care?

      Why do you participate in the academic version of a conspiracy theory?

      How do you justify it?

    • Helen Pluckrose says

      In what context are you speaking? James has carefully explained that there is little interest in academic journals but that these ideas are seeping out into activism and affecting mainstream society anyway.

    • Peter Murphy says

      That snarky, defensive tone and complete lack of any actual point, aside from bemoaning – life a scalding fishwife – that the author is ‘just not listening’, rather proves his point.

    • Paolo says

      You seem to say that you and other people care. Do you have also something interesting for others to read?

    • Fish says

      If you do care – as your post suggests – please answer one (or both) of these simple questions:

      What observation (perhaps hypothetical) would convince you that sex differences in humans are caused by something other than “the patriarchy”?

      or

      Why is a feminist theory explanation of sex differences more likely to be correct than a biological explanation?

    • The refusal to listen is mutual, since you never listened when we debunked your silly blank slate theories why should we continue to listen to you? You never wanted a dialogue, you just want to lecture.

    • Taupe Pope says

      Feminists care about how they are perceived and the results of their activism but they don’t adopt or adapt to outside information. See feminists’ continual rejection of commonplace psychological and biological facts which point to general, innate differences between the sexes. See feminist activists’ continual underlying assertion that any disparity is caused by unjust discrimination. Without this the women in STEM movement would be non-existent

    • J. Pascal says

      I can’t speak for the academic, but the popular feminist demands that people shut up, listen and understand, would suggest that an exchange of ideas is not on the table. And of course understanding means agreeing with, it’s not possible to understand and still disagree. More, people and men in particular are required to listen and understand and accept attacks on their identity and person without becoming defensive or angry, although being falsely accused ought to make anyone angry. And there again, as the author of this piece mentions, getting angry at false accusations and dismissal of one’s experience and person and identity, is proof that you’re guilty. It’s proof of male fragility.

      And that’s just on the rhetorical side, not even addressing objective observations of real life (as opposed to fantasy) power dynamics.

    • David Hoyong Jeong says

      Do not lie, Jane.. You tell other people about those feminist “theories”, without you ever understanding what you are saying.

      You just pretend that you understand what you are saying, but you don’t, because no sane human being could ever even pretend to understand a big web of nonsense, falsehoods and lies, the feminist “theories”.

    • Peter Kriens says

      I think you have a very good motivation to write an article for Quillette reasoning why the author of this article is wrong?

    • Finn says

      “This is the point where I started laughing out loud (and in full disclosure, stopped reading.”

      You just proved his point.

  5. Fascinating article.
    Keep thinking what on Earth happened to these feminist theorizers to build a “scholarship” based entirely on men hate.
    Are any of these “scholars” married to men?
    If yes, how do they relate to their husbands?

    • Greg Allan says

      “Are any of these “scholars” married to men?”

      Of greater concern to me is whether they have sons.

      • Steve Humann says

        Feminist journalist Julie Burchill, Fri 15 Oct 1999:
        “That young men succeed in suicide more often than girls isn’t really the point. Indeed, the more callous among us would say that it was quite nice for young men finally to find something that they’re better at than girls.” And: “The last time I suggested that suicides should be left to get on with it, I received a small number of letters from people whose sons had killed themselves. All of them demanded an apology. I’d advise them this time to save their stamps because, you see, I don’t care.” http://archive.is/s1VPH

        It took her son another 15 years to kill himself after she wrote that. If you think it couldn’t get any more disgusting you only need to read her self-aggrandizing post-suicide articles where she describes herself as her son’s “primary care-giver” before admitting that not only had she thrown his privileged mentally-ill inconvenience out nearly a year prior to his suicide, but that she’d also maintained very little contact after throwing him out. Mom of the year right there.

        http://archive.is/Is5zm

        Even as she proves herself to be the *most* “callous among us” she has enough self-awareness to imagine him cringing at her opportunistic media presence after his death. “You can sleep now, little bear, and when you wake up, I’ll tell you once more how much I love you, and you will pat my head and say, ‘Likewise. But did you have to show off so much when I died? Those prayers? That Facebook stuff? That Sunday Times Magazine piece? Cringe!’.”

      • Travis says

        You should see the feminist journalists who are openly misandric that also have sons. Julie Burchill’s son commited suicide.

        edit: Welp looks like Steve beat me to it by a day. Oh well, worth keeping this comment I guess

      • Fixpir says

        “Of greater concern to me is whether they have sons.”

        Absolutely.
        I have a very close example in my own extended family, a feminist’s son, attempted suicide à 20, living a handicapped life. Away from his mother.

  6. Ryan says

    I agree with some of this and find it all interesting to consider, but even apart from its connection to feminist theory, I find many recent (and some not so recent) critiques of masculinity as, at least in part (of course, biology likely plays some role), a social construction that limits men (causing them to repress much of their full humanity–basically anything that can be seen as “feminine”) and often leads to negative male attitudes and behaviors towards women to be rather compelling.

    It also resonates very well with my experience growing up as a man–much of boyhood and male behavior seemed to revolve around constantly policing masculinity in ways that perhaps benefited some but in general seemed to limit men and push constant desperate attempts to adhere to unrealistic and unhealthy standards.

    And while some female feminist writers have made this case (bell hooks especially powerfully in A Will to Change), I’ve heard many men (in some cases men completely outside of academia/feminist studies) make it as well: Jackson Katz in the film Tough Guise, the film Hip Hop: Beats and Rhymes, Tony Porter in a recent TED talk, Arthur Chu in a series of essays about nerd culture and masculinity, etc. And I’ve talked to many men who see how masculinity as a construct or ideology (not merely their biology as men) has and continues to limit them as well as men who feel they’ve broken free of it in part.

    While feminist theory’s ideas and position as a field of inquiry are definitely open to some of the criticisms leveled here (and I’m supportive of such a discussion), I think it’d be disappointing if that becomes a reason to cast aside the masculinity issue as yet another of the “obviously wrong, anyone can see it” type problems, since, again, it’s not something only super invested feminist scholars (and only female writers and thinkers) have observed and critiqued. I’ve noticed other writers and thinkers I generally admire (such as Sam Harris) use general criticisms of feminist theory and gender studies to evade giving discussions of masculinity and its impacts on men and women a full and good-faith hearing, and I’d like to see that change.

    • Sabrina says

      Another reason feminist theory is often ignored is because it is often centered on the West, and so is the audience. Your average Westerner does not see women in the West the way a feminist does, so they have no interest, but when it comes to girls in other parts of the world, I’m sure their perspectives has some things in common. Transnational feminist analyses on the status of women in Asia and Africa can certainly be worth reading, in my opinion, but as the author points out, all the different ‘factions’ within feminism can get unnecessarily confusing (I think certain schools of thought within feminism are a lot more valid than others).

    • Lee Moore says

      I feel a bit like I’ve wandered into the 1950s. The idea that in 2018 society is promoting “traditional” masculinity rather than trying to suppress it with a mallet is – Christ what’s the polite word for “deranged” ? – Ok, “problematic.” Why do we have boys doing much worse than girls in school, and “attention deficit” disorders ? Because society is desperately trying, fit to burst, to make boys behave like girls.

      Back in the real world, “masculinity” or in plainer English, ideas of how men ought to behave in society are obviously a social construction. But equally obviously not a social construction made out of whole cloth – a social construction built on millions of years of biology. It’s the male dominance hierarchy.

      The particular form that it takes depends on the society, and until relatively recently “being good with a club” was a good way to get you near the top. Though not all the way. Being “good at leading men with clubs, by persuasion as well as brute force” could get you right to the top. Most of the traditional “toxic” elements of masculinity – toughness, apparent indifference to pain and hardship, a veneer of invulnerability, taking the lead, willingness to do (just) violence, a protective attitude to women and children – are more or less universal across all societies.

      The main exception to this traditional masculinity is the fairly recent Western world which has invented new male hierarchies in which men with non traditional skills can excel – sport, pop music, the arts, business, science, pop culture, writing, being a TV pundit. The multiplication of hierarchies in which men can demonstrate competitive competence has greatly expanded the opportunities for men who didn’t do well at the traditional soldier-politician hierarchy.

      So you want to complain about toxic masculinity here ? This is completely…….problematic.

      • Deafening Tone says

        I endorse this reply 100%. If you can’t compare across cultures to identify male universals, if you cannot observe the male characteristics of our closest evolutionary ancestors such as orangutans or gorillas, you have, a priori and with near certainty, eliminated biology as a frame of reference. You’ve kicked Darwin in the face, at least. And we haven’t even touched history yet. Or real, actual scientific gender research: DNA, fMRI, biology, the list goes on.

      • Travis says

        “Because society is desperately trying, fit to burst, to make boys behave like girls.”

        Exactly correct. I think most men realize that they’ve been mislead by their mid 20s, though I could be wrong about that. Women don’t want feminized men, they want successful resourceful men who aren’t vulnerable. I wonder why mothers and especially teachers and the entire school system are teaching boys to be girls…

        Well I think a large part is the mainstream thinking (not the identification with the label, as was mentioned int eh article) with feminist ideals: girls are better, smarter, more capable pure beings than boys and boys should sacrifice themselves for girls. Male disposability and gynocentrism are I think the main problems, and feminism amplifies that x100.

    • most discussions of masculinity by feminists centres around what they think a man should do and most of those discussed by blue pill males also miss the point.

    • “It also resonates very well with my experience growing up as a man–much of boyhood and male behavior seemed to revolve around constantly policing masculinity in ways that perhaps benefited some but in general seemed to limit men and push constant desperate attempts to adhere to unrealistic and unhealthy standards.”

      Ryan, what you are describing here is male intrasexual competition. Without acknowledging the basic evolutionary roots there is no way of addressing this phenomenon in a constructive way.

    • Taupe Pope says

      If you’re interested non-feminists such as Dr. Warren Farrell and Tom Golden have tackled masculinity in constructive and nuanced ways. The documentary, The Red Pill serves as a good introduction to their ideas.

    • Razz says

      The limits you mention are in place for very good reasons. Masculinity is bound and policed for very good reasons. But be safe in assuming you know best.

    • David Hoyong Jeong says

      Any talk about masculinity or femininity that is not based on the physical, chemical, biological evidence discovered in nature is only a talk filled with fantasies. Yet, feminism is doing exactly that.

  7. Sabrina says

    Wow, I made a lot of spelling/grammar mistakes in my previous comment.

    *Another reason feminist theory is often ignored is because it is often centered on the West, and so is the audience. Your average Westerner does not see women in the West the way a feminist does, so they have no interest, but when it comes to girls in other parts of the world, I’m sure the perspectives of feminists and non-feminists have some things in common. Transnational feminist analyses on the status of women in Asia and Africa can certainly be worth reading, in my opinion, but as the author points out, all the different ‘factions’ within feminism can get unnecessarily confusing (I think certain schools of thought within feminism are a lot more valid than others).

  8. Deafening Tone says

    “It isn’t merely that feminist theorizing isn’t interesting or intelligible to outsiders, it’s that it evolved in a way that sequesters itself away from the majority of other rational thought.”

    I think you had a typo: “It isn’t merely that feminist theorizing isn’t interesting or intelligible to outsiders, it’s that it evolved in a way that sequesters itself away from the majority of RATIONAL THOUGHT [full stop].”

  9. Joe Halstead says

    “The alternative, by the way, is to refuse to engage its premises on its own terms and to reveal it to be an unsophisticated and inadequate model for understanding reality.”

    I agree with this, but the way to accomplish this, unfortunately, is for feminism to attempt to graduate out of academia, and beyond the corporate whores and political whores (who simultaneously signal to the rest of us what is morally virtuous AND claim that they’re only doing what the masses think is morally virtuous!).

    That is to say, the lives of ordinary people must continue to be affected (read: HARMED) in tangible, quantifiable ways, so that the overwhelming majority, disinterested in feminist theory that they are, so busy actually living and working and producing things as they are, push back and say, THIS IS WRONG.

    In fact, I believe this to be true for all forms of SocJus. For example, in terms of pushing back against blatant anti-white racism, it doesn’t suffice that two professors have been ousted for wishing for white genocide and for imploring everyone to let suffering white people die, respectively. The problem, in each case, originated in academia and was taken care of within academia. But it only served as a rear-guard retreat for Black Lives Matter and their racist cousins, back to academia, back to where they can resume poisoning the real world at a slow, barely-perceptible drip, just as feminism does as described by the Mr. LIndsay.

    I hate to repeat this, but it seems clear that real harm must be done (such as the unfair expulsion of male college students, who have responded by racking up legal victories) so that we care about the real-world application of feminism, race-activism, gender activism, and more.

  10. Pingback: Resolutions Work. Does Yours? — Freedom Today Journal

  11. thebibosez says

    The assertion that Harding somehow “regretted” her assertion that Newton’s Principia was a rape manual is ludicrous. It is more likely that, instead of feeling genuine regret as an errant man might, she wanted to stoke the controversy. Feminists do not apologize – the feeling of regret is entirely alien to them. They NEVER express regret unless it is to reignite a dying fire.

  12. Paolo says

    The main points of criticisms of feminist and gender theory reiterated here are already familiar and probably clear to the readership of Quillette. I have two main issues with this article.
    First its author. Beyond the factual side ofor the story – well documented in the links – there is a layer to it that is opinion and own expertise, for which we need to trust the honesty and indeed expertise of the author. And here I can’t forget that Lindsay never took serious notice of the main criticism to his hoax: i.e., that it didn’t work. The matter is analysed in depth in a podcast of the Very Bad Wizards, where it is painful to witness Lindsay doing his utmost to avoid retreating the most extravagant claims he and Bogossian made to the merits of the ‘feat’. Amazingly, Lindsay here takes the occasion to promote his hoax, but again misses the chance to even partially straighten the record. Until that happens I cannot trust the intellectual honesty of this author.
    Second issue, which I swear is independent from the first, is that the piece is very badly written. For example, the evident contraddiction between ‘no one cares’ and ‘it’s dangerously influential’ should have been resolved immediately.

    • I kept thinking the contradiction between no one cares and dangerously influential was a deliberate satirical set up…but alas, it was not.

      Also, some discussion of Nassim Taleb’s work on the influence of a tyrannical minority over a majority would have helped things along here.

    • Markus says

      Yup. Completely agree. There are many high quality assays on Quillette, but this one is a bit painful to read.

    • Mark says

      I thought the message was clear; No one cares about the theory itself as it’s self-referential twaddle. But it’s protagonists have managed, by exploiting the desire to ‘virtue signal’ in influential parts of society to give the general ideas such as ‘toxic masculinity’ a degree of acceptance that they don’t deserve.

  13. thebibosez says

    Easy solution – just accuse feminist scholars of rape or sexual harassment. This could all be done online – a series of one-by-one isolated claims, in the spirit of #MeToo, (true or false does not matter) – by their own rules, accusations are all that matter to feminists, even anonymous ones made falsely. Some, like Lena Dunham, may try to defend the accused but they, like Lena, will quickly recant. Once all those rapist profs are arrested and/or booted out of academe, the healing may begin.Yes, this seems ethically wrong but in fighting sophistry a case can be made that using the benighted rules of opponents in turnaround is fair game.

  14. Shai Landesman says

    ” (and here I know I might lose half my readers for the thematic reason behind this essay)”

    Beautiful beautiful point. You sold me on your thesis with this demonstration.

  15. Scholar says

    In a way or another, the criticism should be done for the sake of science and academia. In recent years, it has become clear that there exists a correlation between this feminist nonsense and the anti-science movement (creationists, denialists, anti-vaccine people, etc.; make your pick). Both are essentially using the same tactics.

    The end result affects us all; funding and budget cuts, inflation of academic degrees, public trust in science, etc. Given these constraints, I really fear for the humanities and social sciences, which are necessary and which do produce quality research.

    The problem is that criticism does not come from within humanities and social sciences. Actually, as you write, it cannot come within; no one dares to engage with the nonsense. Nor can it come from outside. This leaves the public, but the danger is that the whole scientific enterprise will be affected. Maybe this is exactly what these academic feminists want, but I sincerely hope not.

    PS. I would gladly use my real name, but I have too much to lose for reasons noted also in this reply.

    • Marshall Gill says

      “Funding and budget cuts”

      It is telling how you mention the “anti-science movement” before bemoaning the loss of ability to steal from the productive. Since you call yourself “scholar” I might ask, who pays your salary? Do they do so freely, or at the point of a government gun? Don’t bother replying, I already know the answer.

  16. Douglas B. Levene says

    My question is, where were the college presidents and trustee who approved tenure for these charlatans? What were they thinking? Where are they today?

    • Peter Kriens says

      Lookup the Larry Summers’ story when he was president of Harvard …

  17. Ed Lonegan says

    Breezed through it. In conjunction, did you know there are only two metaphysical possibilities. But specifically regarding your point see these two links about one of Feminism big money makers.

    http://archive.li/Ns35n

    https://imgur.com/a/MQjlg

    These two always throw feminist into a spectacular frenzy whenever I post them.

  18. As conspiracy theories go, the one concocted in this article is pretty weak. Lindsay argues that even though no one cares about, reads, or understands obscurantist feminist philosophy or theory, it nevertheless exerts way too much control over academia and wields too much influence in the mainstream media. According to Lindsay, feminism theory is “leaking into popular culture” and remaking “society in its own image.” As evidence for this claim, Lindsay links to a single bizarre article about “Women’s Studies as Virus,” which as far as I can tell has exactly zero citations, but is somehow representative of a nefarious and widespread plot by feminists to “infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.” And so, Lindsay concludes, feminism, because no one is paying attention, advances stealthily like an infectious virus and has led to moral panics, the popularity and acceptance of “shrill” feminist screeds, and a draconian expansion of anti-discrimination Civil Rights law in U.S. Colleges (sigh). As so this is feminism; a scary, shrill, and authoritarian conspiracy to remake society in its own illiberal image.

    One might be amazed at how it is that a marginal and underfunded academic field, that produces a tiny fraction of U.S. college graduates each year (<1%) wields so much power. Perhaps, feminist scholars are evil geniuses! But I will offer a more straightforward and reasonable explanation for feminism's popularity. Feminism advocates for the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. So, feminist theory uses sex/gender to analyze social, economic, and political relations, and therefore it is of practical interest to many women who make up half of the population. Gender equality has not been achieved anywhere in the world, as even a cursory glance at some of the research and statistics compiled by various women's groups, the U.N., or W.E.F show. Rigorous and evidence-based feminist research has documented that many women are likely to have experienced some form of sexist discrimination, harassment, gender-based violence, or sexual assault. Thus, even though feminist theory or philosophy is unlikely to have been read by most people, its overall goal or message likely resonants with a large percentage of the population (again approx. 50% of the population are female!). And so this maybe is a more reasonable explanation for a marginal and underfunded academic field's influence and popularity than a bizarre conspiracy theory of about obscurantist feminist scholarship that seeks to insulate itself from criticism.

    Further, the idea that feminism is not accustomed to or cannot accept criticism is silly. Feminism is subject to scathing criticism and fierce backlash from conservatives, so-called skeptics, the religious right, and other academic fields, so that doesn't make much sense either.

    • Bartek says

      Your assertions are incoherent on several dimensions, for example:

      No one said that feminism is underfunded, only that it is marginal. In fact, it is perfectly possible (and happens in practice) to be marginal (in terms of scientific significance) and overfunded, especially when the area of research is heavily ideologically loaded. Also, the power to influence has little to do with the size of the group. For example, in my country, many scholars consider the Catholic Church to be extremely influential over politics, media and essentially everything and this is definitely not based on the number of academic theologians.

      The fact that feminists philosophy “resonates” (whatever if means) with 50% of the population does not explains its influence, as there are dozens other disciplines which resonate with 100% of the population and still lag behind feminism. Also, in fact, there are dozen different variants of feminism (e.g., equity, evangelical) that may resonate with larger number of women than academic gender feminism.

      Finally, the argument that feminism can accept criticism because it is heavily criticized is utterly illogical. Replace “feminist” in your last paragraph with, for example, “creationists” or “conspiracy theorists” (and “conservatives” with “liberals” and so on) and you will see the absurdity of this argument.

      However, the main problem with academic feminism, as already stated by some commentaries, is not its perceived or actual influence, but the fact that it goes contrary to what we expect from science. Actual scientist should gladly accept the challenges to their theories and be able to defend them on the basis of the impartial and sound evidence. The academic feminism defends itself by “psychoanalyzing” the critics – it is exactly the same situation when a theologian claims that if you criticize his argument you have you be possessed by the devil (note, however, that good theologian will not restore to such argument, thus academic feminism is, in fact, scientifically inferior to theology…)

  19. As conspiracy theories go, the one concocted in this article is pretty weak. Lindsay argues that even though no one cares about, reads, or understands obscurantist feminist philosophy or theory, it nevertheless exerts way too much control over academia and wields too much influence in mainstream media. According to Lindsay, feminism theory is “leaking into popular culture” and remaking “society in its own image.” As evidence for this claim, Lindsay links to a single bizarre article about “Women’s Studies as Virus,” which as far as I can tell has exactly zero citations, but is somehow representative of a nefarious and widespread plot by feminists to “infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.” And so, Lindsay concludes, feminism, because no one is paying attention, advances stealthily like an infectious virus and has led to moral panics, the popularity, and acceptance of “shrill” feminist screeds, and a draconian expansion of anti-discrimination Civil Rights law in U.S. Colleges (sigh). As so this is feminism; a scary, shrill, and authoritarian conspiracy to remake society in its own illiberal image.

    One might be amazed at how it is that a marginal and underfunded academic field, that produces a tiny fraction of U.S. college graduates each year (<1%) wields so much power. Perhaps, feminist scholars are evil geniuses! But I will offer a more straightforward and reasonable explanation for feminism's popularity. Feminism advocates for the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. So, feminist theory uses sex/gender to analyze social, economic, and political relations, and therefore it is of practical interest to many women who make up half of the population. Gender equality has not been achieved anywhere in the world, as even a cursory glance at some of the research and statistics compiled by various women's groups, the U.N., or W.E.F show. Rigorous and evidence-based feminist research has documented that many women are likely to have experienced some form of sexist discrimination, harassment, gender-based violence, or sexual assault. Thus, even though feminist theory or philosophy is unlikely to have been read by most people, its overall goal or message likely resonants with a large percentage of the population (again approx. 50% of the population are female!). And so this maybe is a more reasonable explanation for a marginal and underfunded academic field's influence and popularity than a bizarre conspiracy theory of about obscurantist feminist scholarship that seeks to insulate itself from criticism.

    Further, the idea that feminism is not accustomed to or cannot accept criticism is silly. Feminism is subject to scathing criticism and fierce backlash from conservatives, so-called skeptics, the religious right, and other academic fields, so that doesn't make much sense either.

    • Gary Goodman says

      Boys and men experience discrimination, harassment, violence, and assault. Sometimes that’s sexual and/or gender based. Not only women. Sometimes women cause or initiate.

      Since bullies pick victims, and women tend to be physically less strong, apologies to Ronda Rousey, women are probably more often victims of physical and sexual assault.

      On the other hand, men are expected to fight physically so women have some expectation of defense from bad men and an honorable man will refrain from being physically violent with a rude woman where he might beat the crap out of a dude.

      And the other other hand, where women initiate domestic violence because (a) less fear of causing serious injury or death (b) less fear of retaliation (c) knowing the system will charge him with DV.

      I know of a few women who apparently know how to initiate DV as a handy tool for ending relationships.

      In high school, I was pushed to assault a guy (mildly, mostly scared him) by a new girlfriend to defend her helpless honor (some story). I was a chump, she lied to me. He never did anything. I was compelled to apologize to him. He was a truly nice gentle kid. I felt lousy.

      The PROBLEMS I am now recognizing with feminism are certain arguments such as “believe her”. This made more sense decades ago, but the problem is throwing out fundamentals like “innocent until proven guilty” (that’s just White male Euro patriarchy?) and the presumption that women never lie, when y’all KNOW some women lie to other women and some get off on drama … some men do the same.

      Framing of EVERYTHING thru a concept of patriarchy and evil of all men.

      Veblen (social-political economist) explained, men who rose to dominance in tribes or groups were strong, fast, cunning, organized as teams, able to hunt and obtain high quality animal protein. Vegan aesthetics aside, this was for the entire group to be stronger and flourish. They were literally bringing home the bacon or whatever animal they could catch.

      That propensity for useful violence could conquer other tribes or prevent being conquered. Aggressive tendencies have been both destructive and life-saving, promoting survival.

      Civilized cooperation and justice also has high level merits for survival, otherwise it never would have been developed.

  20. this is so very true

    benevolent sexism has made it so that the development of feminist theory was largely treated with kid-gloves and as such it has been left to mature in a way lacking hard critical engagement. moreover, abandoning the notion of objectivity nearly altogether and placing activism above scholarship and effectively merging the academic with the political, voicing dissent within feminist ranks was seen not as a call to a better understanding as scholars but as a loss of solidarity within the movement and a signaling of political disagreement

    and the sisterhood did not tolerate it well

    in other words, if the defining feature of the university is institutionalized disconfirmation, where high honors and positive social sanction goes to the theorist who proves others WRONG, then feminist theory as has been practiced in the anglosphere for roughly a half century is at odds with the goals of higher education

  21. There is no such thing is feminist theory, because feminism is not a science; it’s a political party.

  22. Stephen J. says

    Arrogant as this suggestion may be, I’d remark that perhaps this essay’s specific focus on academic feminism as a field is missing the forest for the trees; I think the real problem is the fundamental dishonesty of all forms of critical theory, as encompassed in the phenomenon Eric S. Raymond has brilliantly called the “kafkatrap”. (http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=2122)

    Summarized briefly, a kafkatrap is when somebody claims that any challenge, criticism or rejection of an argument only affirms the argument’s validity; questioning the discourse that condemns you is taken in itself as proof you deserve condemnation. “Criticism of feminism is why we need feminism,” as Lindsay himself quotes. It is a way to delegitimize disagreement by definition, and critical theory in general is almost toxically dependent on the kafkatrap for all of its basic arguments.

    Feminist theory specifically is, I think, most prone to relying on it because the emotional blackmail effect by which it gains most of its power (“if you resist this argument you want ALL WOMEN TO SUFFER!”) is not only culturally more plausible and universal — most men are, in fact, aware that in general we have significant physical advantages over most women that morality requires us not to exploit — but also, like most male-female dynamics, is perceived to offer a context for negotiating potential sexual intimacy; or, as noted more bluntly above by others, men bought into feminism because it created an environment where the right buzzwords could get you laid more quickly, easily, cheaply, and noncommittally than the old-style courtship rituals did.

  23. Predictably, almost every piece of evidence the author produces in asserting that obscure feminist theory has become “painfully influential” has to do with college campuses; one wonders how many more lunatic right-wing conspiracy theories these places can hold.

    Once again, we have somebody who can’t seem to differentiate between “things that annoy me” and “things that pose an existential threat to society.” A pretentious article in the New York Times and a bunch of nineteen-year-olds carrying mattresses on their heads does not indicate that “society at large” has “internalized” radical feminist ideology. It is not something that anyone needs to mobilize against. No matter how much it pisses you off, it simply doesn’t matter.

    Instead of spending your time writing satire about penises, why not write about the fact that low and middle-income Americans have literally no impact on policy? Or that real wages haven’t risen since the eighties? Or that three people have as much wealth as the bottom half of the country? Or that the ecosystem is dying? Or that corporate lobbyists write virtually all of our legislation? Don’t all of these things indicate that some small, insular group of people is wielding undue influence over society?

    Get a life and stop obsessing over a bunch of kids. Care about something that matters.

    • Except, if you happen to be a Biology Professor and risk Jail for suggesting that there are only an male and female gene which preventing one from Identifying anything else as a mammal, which is now considered hate speech under C16 of Canadian Law.

    • Taupe Pope says

      How are these for feminist influence:
      The Duluth Model of Domestic Violence – a guide which has been implemented by police forces virtually worldwide.
      VAWA legislation
      Title 9
      Prostitution being legalised but made illegal to solicit in many European countries.

      It’s been going on for 60 years. Stop being ignorant and facetious.

    • Sam Butler says

      Some of the men who’ve lost their jobs as part of the #metoo movement – Ryan Lizza, Garrison Keillor, Rupert Myers – are victims of extreme and novel definitions of sexual harassment advocated by radical feminists in universities, as well of the erosion of due process encouraged by the same groups. A few years ago it looked like that extreme view of sexual harassment wouldn’t get out of the universities (the new definitions, after all, conflict with democratically-enacted laws); now they’ve gone mainstream.

  24. Maurice says

    There’s a saying, Ideas have consequences. Universities are pushing this crap on kids just out of high school. And at least some of them are buying into it. They will leave college, and go work in government, law, media, HR departments… And then it WILL matter. You’re just too full of righteous indignation to see it.

    • I have no doubt that many radical feminists will enter those fields in coming years. And by the extreme nature of their beliefs, they will continue to conceal the real threat: the plutocracy they serve.

      We all have a common enemy.

  25. Philip says

    “ it makes itself un-care-about-able by retreating to a fantastic academic island, like theology“ only quibble is theology is outward looking, properly done it doesn’t retreat to an island it engages the world head on, what you’re describing is a cult, not the same thing (although some boorish people think all religions are cults).

  26. Two years ago, I published a Danish book with the title (translated into English): “Humaniora – science or hot air?”. This was mainly an attack on postmodernism, including an attack on feminists like Evelyn Fox Keller, Sandra Harding, and Judith Butler, with the main point that there is no evidence supporting postmodernist claims. It contains thorough and detailed criticism of some of the most crucial books and papers in the postmodernist humanistic tradition.
    This book was reviewed only once – viz. in the engineers´ weekly magazine, where the reviewing engineer liked the relevant criticism of “science” based on no evidence. But all attempts to have anybody in the humanistic sciences read it and comment upon it, failed completely. Here, the humanistic postmodern “science” appeared to be an isolated island, cut off from all communication with other scientific disciplines, and completely repellant to all outside criticism. Postmodernism is one gigantic version of The Emperor´s New Clothes, and it cannot be defended, because it has no evidence to support it. Therefore, to survive, it cuts off all external criticism.

  27. StallChaser says

    The main reason nobody should care is that all it is, in its entirety, is an ex post facto justification of any possible conclusion the user wants. Everything is either circular logic or doublethink, so no matter where you start, you can get yourself to anywhere else, and that anywhere else is always going to be whatever the feminist wants. It’s either evidence based if the evidence happens to support the conclusion, or conspiracy theory logic (evidence against the conclusion is actually evidence for, because it’s evidence of a bigger conspiracy to cover up the truth). Fake outrage follows a similar pattern, where two opposite things are both bad and therefore selectively applied (racism vs “whiteness”, cultural appropriation vs multiculturalism, etc). There’s no intellectual foundation to any of it, so it should never be taken seriously. It should be defunded completely, because it can’t support itself. It never produces anything of value, so it’ll just circle itself down the drain once it’s left unsupported. They eat their own, but (this is important) only after there’s nobody else they can parasitize.

  28. Camille Paglia was discussing this around 1992 in “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders” article and her lecture at MIT.

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