In this column, I write about a lot of controversial stuff: Rape, abortion, transgender rights and even the ethics of breastfeeding as performance art.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people disagree with me — both in the comments that follow my column, and on blogs and social media feeds.
I’m cool with that. I don’t write what I do just to be controversial, but I do need to be challenging — to shed light on tricky topics that I think we, as a community, can be a little complacent in discussing fairly and honestly.
Sometimes I’m right. Often I’m wrong. More often that that, none of you can agree one way or another.
But because of these difficult conversations I start, I’m often painted as “the bad guy” (and sometimes, not without justification.) As a result, I’ve been given the opportunity to observe certain patterns in the way we give criticism to our peers online that doesn’t always reflect well on us as a community.
There are certain words and phrases that far too many of us seem to fling about without thinking how these words actually mean something and are not appropriate to use in the way we often do.
My favorite? Accusations of “misogyny.”
Since writing Devil’s Advocate, I’ve been accused of being a misogynist more times that I can count. In fact, my column Is There Such A Thing As Female Privilege? resulted in me being called a misogynist in the comments section, across Twitter and through five whole pages of commentary on somebody’s Live Journal.
Misogyny is an all-too-common accusation — not just aimed towards me (although it frequently is) but also to other sex bloggers who write things that don’t quite toe the line of the sex positive “consensus” (if such a thing even exists).
But the thing is: most of those accused are not misogynists.
Misogyny is a term that stems from the Greek words “misos” and “gyny” — meaning “hatred” and “women.” It is a literal hatred of women; softened in more modern translation to refer the belief that women are somehow inferior to men.
I certainly don’t feel that women are inferior to men, and have never written anything that would suggest that I did. In fact, I was raised in a family of remarkably strong, capable women, so would argue that my attitude towards women is the complete opposite.
Many of the other male bloggers who’ve similarly been accused of misogyny would probably feel they, too, were being slandered by this accusation.
You see, merely challenging dogmatic feminist theory, as I did in my article, does not make me a misogynist. Perhaps if you want a real example of misogyny, you should look to people who actually use sexist and derogatory terms to slander women — like those who accuse Sarah Palin of being nothing but an “idiotic cunt.”
The problem is: how many are amongst the crowd who accuse me of the same thing (Can Feminists Ditch the Misogyny?)?
There are other very serious, very offensive accusations that are thrown about just as casually. I was recently accused of anti-Semitism for my article Bad Science Doesn’t Justify Male Circumcision, merely because I was opposed to the practice of infant circumcision (not that I ever even mentioned the religious justification for circumcision – merely questioned the scientific one).
Sadly, it’s not even the first time — some wag made similar Nazi comparisons when discussing my article Birth Certificates and Transgender.
Now, I’m not writing this because I’m a wounded little soldier, offended by these mean accusations (or “butthurt”, as one critic once accused me of acting, which was funny since we’d been talking about rape, of all topics, and butthurt is a disrespectful reference to anal rape). I’m writing this because the casual way we embrace hyperbole and throw around these serious, meaningful accusations in a non-meaningful way makes us all look like idiots.
This casual name-calling is one of the chief reasons why the sex positive community continues to have difficulty engaging constructively with a more mainstream audience.
Just because these people don’t always concur completely with what’s considered the ‘right’ opinion on controversial topics doesn’t always mean they’re wrong — or, at least, completely wrong. It does not justify them being lumped in with the religious conservatives, right-wing pundits and dangerous social engineers who comprise the true sexists, bigots and women-haters of America.
There’s a spectrum of sexual positivity in this country and it extends far more liberally than just beyond what you think is right and wrong. Having an opinion that doesn’t match yours does not automatically qualify someone as a hater of all women or Jews or transgendered people (or which ever group is under discussion).
The ease and enthusiasm some members of the sex positive community have for name-calling and outrageous accusations is offensive, unwarranted and alienates the very audience to whom we are trying to reach out. It also serves to dilute the power and meaning of these words when they are used for any and all statements with which you might disagree.
So the next time you read something that offends your sensibilities, think twice before you casually throw off an accusation of misogyny, racism, sexism or worse. You could end up looking more close-minded (or worse, your audience will simply tune out your heavy-handed accusations) than the author of whatever offended you in the first place.