ONTD Political

Sisterhood beware - silencing ideas stymies progress

10:46 am - 01/25/2012
When debate is marked by personal vitriol, people opt out and keep quiet.

I have long considered myself a feminist and been disturbed by the parts of the sisterhood who operate like the nasty in-group in primary school. You can't be our friend because you don't wear the right pink dress. You can't be our friend unless you toe the approved party-line on abortion, childcare or sexual clothing. It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10.

But they have been at it again in the debate over the feminist credentials of Melinda Tankard Reist.

Anne Summers wrote in The Sunday Age that Tankard Reist can't be in the feminist club because she is pro-life. Summers said the core principle of feminism is women's independence, financial and reproductive. That might be Summers' definition, but it's not mine, nor would it be many other women's. Definitions aside, why can't Summers just reiterate the arguments in favour of free, legal and safe abortion, instead of seeking to ostracise someone with whom she disagrees? "You're not my friend" does not counter any anti-abortion argument. It is a non-sequitur.

Kate Gleeson, an Australian Research Council Fellow in politics at Macquarie University, then called for Tankard Reist to explain herself in The Age - in particular her work for former senator Brian Harradine.

Gleeson said that many feminists were "suspicious" of Tankard Reist because she "identifies as a pro-life feminist". Lots of people have advised politicians with whose policies many of us disagree. Why Tankard Reist has to explain herself any more than any other adviser is beyond me. And why any of us should be "suspicious" of her just because she thinks differently from us beggars belief. I don't believe in god but I feel no need to be suspicious of those who do.

Like Tankard Reist, I have been on the receiving end of the self-appointed sisterhood's ire. I used to write about motherhood and childcare; about the importance of women having time away from work to care for their own children; about the need for child-friendly work practices, as opposed to employer-friendly long hours of care and short periods of leave. Ideas that are commonplace now, but 15 years ago, fresh out of '80s feminism, were rare, if not among mothers, at least in public forums.

I used to write about that, but not now. I stopped because along with other academics I know, I couldn't be bothered dealing with the vitriol, as opposed to refutation of ideas. The insistence on playing the player, not the ball. I stick to property law these days. My ideas on strata schemes don't seem to leave anyone reaching for their garlic and crucifix.

The problem with exclusionary vitriol is that it lowers the level of public debate.

First, many people, much smarter and more insightful than me, step out of the arena. Public debate is carried on by the small pool of people thick-skinned enough to weather, or perverse enough to like, the nastiness. Now that unaccountable bloggers, sneering and abusing from the safety of their bedrooms, have entered the fray, the pool of contributors to civil public debate is even smaller.

Second, shooting the messenger fails to engage with the question at hand. "You're wrong because you don't think like us" only convinces the converted.

Finally, silencing ideas stymies progress. The essence of any functioning democracy is the ability to get as many ideas on the table as possible and then thrash them out without fear or favour. The humility to admit that you might be wrong, that someone might be able to change your mind by presenting you with a new idea, is the hallmark of a healthy intellect.

The alternatives to democratic debate are cults or repressive religions. Devotees want to be told what to think and tenets of faith must not be questioned, on threat of excommunication. I have often thought this is what some women want from feminism.

I do not know Tankard Reist and I am not pro-life, but I defend her right to express her opinions, call herself a feminist and prosecute her beliefs. That includes her right to advise senators with whom I might also disagree.

The real test of tolerance is tolerating those with whom we strongly disagree. And we will never have a right to express our own contested ideas if we do not defend others' rights to do the same.

Cathy Sherry is a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at the University of New South Wales.


I do disagree with a lot of what is written in the piece. I really don't think you can be feminist and pro-life, myself.
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
lickety_split 25th-Jan-2012 03:28 am (UTC)
Tankard Reist and I

both need to take several seats please.
rex_dart 25th-Jan-2012 03:32 am (UTC)
proofrawk 25th-Jan-2012 03:44 am (UTC)
ceilidh 25th-Jan-2012 04:22 am (UTC)
So many Maggie Smith expressions are totally relevant for shit like this. She wins.
lickbrains 25th-Jan-2012 03:47 am (UTC)
eversofar 25th-Jan-2012 03:48 am (UTC)
um, if people have problematic beliefs, i don't think we should refrain from calling them out in the name of sisterhood~ and i really hate how people get so hung up on civility. people get angry about -isms and those who perpetuate them, and not everyone is going to be nice when calling someone out. get over it.
romp 25th-Jan-2012 05:44 am (UTC)
I find passivity, especially passive agression, to be way more damaging and silencing than honest and passionate disagreement.

But I may be an outspoken USer in Canada. :/
wikilobbying 25th-Jan-2012 03:54 am (UTC)

where do i even begin? for starters, how about... whether or not someone believes in god is really, really different than whether or not someone believes that other people should have access to safe, legal abortions.
angry_chick 25th-Jan-2012 03:56 am (UTC)
I don't consider myself a feminist, for some of these reasons along with their abysmal stance towards WoC.
ericadawn16 25th-Jan-2012 04:18 am (UTC)
Yeah, I've been yelled at before for saying that women should have the right to work or stay home with the kids and they shouldn't be looked down on for choosing either or trying to have both.

I have also been yelled at because it irritates me personally when pregnant women smoke and drink. I was told it should be their choice to do whatever they want.

Then,I got yelled at for not voting for Hillary so I guess I'm not allowed to be a feminist, whatever.
(no subject) - Anonymous
poetic_pixie_13 25th-Jan-2012 04:11 am (UTC)

Sorry, I wasn't aware I was supposed to be nice and and demure with someone who believes I should be stripped of my basic rights cause she calls herself a feminist and says she's on my side~

Also, fuck sisterhood. You're not my sister, you're not my friend and you are most definitely not on my side if you can't respect me and fight for what I need.
angry_chick 25th-Jan-2012 04:19 am (UTC)
I think that this tends to mirror a problem with progressives as a whole. Too many progressives are too scared to raise their tones and voices, lest they be branded as 'mean'.

angstbunny 25th-Jan-2012 04:12 am (UTC)
Feminists have every right to kick you out of the club when you hold views (ie: pro-life) that kill women. I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THAT.
sunhawk 25th-Jan-2012 04:17 am (UTC)
"Pro-life" = anti-choice = not feminist
That's it.

The problem with exclusionary vitriol is that it lowers the level of public debate.

Nah it just doesn't let you be a part of everything because you want to be, which is really the heart of the problem here. Some people can't stand the idea that there might be groups they are not welcome in and spaces they aren't welcome in, especially when they are privileged and used to having free access to everything based on those privileges. Some people want to have their cake and eat it too. You can't have beliefs that directly counter feminism and call yourself a feminist, you have to choose one or the other. Actually, what you have to do is learn to recognize what misogynistic social rhetorics you've internalized and work towards dismantling them and also work to check your privileges on these subjects as they intersect with other oppressed groups. Do some work on yourself, if that's not too novel a concept.
beoweasel 25th-Jan-2012 04:20 am (UTC)
Here's the rub, being pro-life doesn't mean the end of abortion, all it means is the end to legal, safe abortions. By ending legal abortions in this country, you're forcing thousands, if not millions of women to seek illegal, and quite easily dangerous 'back-alley' abortions to terminate their pregnancies. All you're doing is hurting women, you're not protecting life, because women that are truly desperate to get an abortion, will get one, and it's very likely that such a stance, will only lead to more deaths, that of the women involved. (But of course, many in the 'pro-life' movement see
those women as 'deserving of their fate')

And I'm sorry, I'm not going to pat Pro-lifers on the back and say, "We're sorry, please forgive us for using naughty words when referring to you." When the Pro-Life movement routinely uses misdirection, outright lies, violence and intimidation against women who seek to terminate their pregnancies.

But you're right, she's free to express whatever ideas she has, and it's my right to call her out on her bullshit.
kalikahuntress 25th-Jan-2012 04:22 am (UTC)
Hmmm... I don't do sisterhood or any kind of group actually. And I don't give a shit if your pro-life but don't you dare try to take away my fundamental right to choose.
endlos_schleife 25th-Jan-2012 04:38 am (UTC)
I completely agree with this.
nesmith 25th-Jan-2012 04:24 am (UTC)
I have been in on this argument so damn many times I have no patience for it anymore. I just can't. I have never yet encountered a single argument that is the least bit convincing on how in the bloody hell you can be a feminist and pro-life. So forgive the fuck out of me for saying "You can't be both, sorry, and if you think I'm one of the Mean Girls for being that way, tough."

kyra_neko_rei 25th-Jan-2012 06:50 am (UTC)
They're downright painful to listen to. I've heard so many straw-arguments about "abortion doesn't fix the rape so it serves no purpose" and so many herwaycentric "women deserve better than abortion" yammerings that I'd rather hear straight-up outright misogyny than anything a "pro-life feminist" has to say.
obscure_abyss 25th-Jan-2012 04:26 am (UTC)
How funny this would show up today. An ex-friend contacted me today. I say ex-friend because she spewed her anti-choice bull shit at me every time she had the chance (posting those fake abortion images all over my facebook any time I linked to a petition or something) and I eventually just had enough. Here's how tonight's convo went:

Her: Heylo~ from an old friend. I've thought of you recently and just wanted to say I still care about you and wonder how you're doing. We really struggled to ignore the vast differences of opinion back when- but for my part anyway- I never liked ya any less for it. If you ever want to just chill for tea or coffee @ SPoT or do something fun...I don't always have extra cash but I happened upon an unexpected $50just for me to play with~ and if you wanted to do something- like, if we could find a cheap play or shoot pool, or..?..It would be my treat. Despite whatever side of issues we are on I have always respected that you endeavor to educate yourself on them- and that you are passionate about what you believe in, that's far better than mindless sheep on either side of the aisle.
Me: My conscience will not allow me to be friends with someone who believes women should be tortured and killed due to outdated patriarchal norms.
Her: I'm truly sad you think that. I believe in life and human rights for all of us- from the smallest. I don't advocate for the torture of anyone. Goodbye it is.
beoweasel 25th-Jan-2012 04:34 am (UTC)
She doesn't 'advocate the torture of anyone' but that's exactly what will happen. And again, it must be pointed out, that outlawing abortion won't lead to an end of abortion, people will still find ways to do it.
evil_laugher 25th-Jan-2012 04:29 am (UTC)
Yes, upholding abortion rights and bodily autonomy is exactly like "On Wednesdays, we wear pink."
sammet 25th-Jan-2012 05:40 pm (UTC)
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
This page was loaded Jan 22nd 2019, 3:35 pm GMT.