This is our truth, tell us yours
This is an intensely personal post; please take it for what it is – a thought in progress rather than a manifesto
It’s hard to tell, but I think Glosswitch has called me ‘surprisingly misogynist’ in this blog post. It’s hard to tell because it’s written in the usual Glosswitch style; no names are named, because her clique (and their attendant claque) are expected to know who is being referred to, and no evidence is offered. It’s almost as if the casual ad hominem attack is an aside, an attempt to motivate the audience without diverting from the rhetorical momentum being built round the main force of the argument.
Am I surprisingly misogynistic? I’m not sure, because I’m not sure what that carefully weighted phrase means. Is it a surprise that I am a misogynist? Or a surprise that some people have, as supporters, someone who is a misogynist? And what, in this context, does it mean to be a misogynist? All of that is glossed over; the clique and the claque know that it is a bad thing to be a misogynist, and that’s all that needs to be said as the crowd is worked up and the dissenters worked over.
Take careful note here; the same point about Glosswitch’s style of debate applies, even if she isn’t accusing me of misogyny. It’s a casual use of ad hominem atacks, the labelling of unnamed enemies, that serves mainly to draw her audience into a position of solidarity with the embattled author who bravely stands against the anonymous enemies of all that is good and decent.
There’s a good deal that’s wrong with Glosswitch’s style of debate, including a fine and shining example of the ‘I’m not a thought criminal but’ style of argument in this para;
I don’t have a position on whether one should be openly discussing sex or having lots of sexual partners or none at all. I don’t see why I – or, in an ideal world, anyone else – should. I do, on the other hand, have strong opinions about objectification and about how we weigh up the cost of broadcasting particular messages within an unequal, patriarchal society.
So, on the one hand she doesn’t have a position about whether we should be discussing sex, but on the other hand she does have a position about whether we should be broadcasting particular messages. The two statements are incompatible, but made to look like a reasoned argument by a subtle juxtaposition and the suggestion that the principle (free speech) is trumped by the special circumstances of the current context. This is, of course, one of the techniques male trades union leaders used to use to argue against equal pay. Try it out for yourself; ‘Of course we all support equal pay, but the company’s on the verge of bankruptcy, and if we pay the women extra it’ll tip it over the edge.’
Is it surprisingly misogynistic of me to frame the argument in that way? I don’t know. However, I do know that I believe Gloswich’s approach to be a spectacularly cheap and nasty way to argue, and it gets worse. The very next sentence is what those of us who like to coin neologisms call a Blunkettism; take a look at this sentence-
It’s a cost that isn’t necessarily offset by the free choice of individuals to participate in the creation of these messages, at least if these messages risk having a far broader impact on the freedom and safety of others.
It’s the classic Blunkettism; some human rights have to be ignored, or overruled, because of an unspecified, unmeasured, undefined intangible risk to the ‘freedom and safety of others.’ Try that style of argument out – think about someone arguing that X has to be supported, whether it’s the silencing of people wishing to broadcast their views about sex or the silencing of students wanting to protest on campus because of the impact on the freedom and safety of others. I’ll give a clue to Glosswitch; when you find yourself using the same style of argument as a university vice chancellor justifying silencing students, or Jack Straw justifying Guantanamo Bay, you’re in a pretty shitty place, irrespective of whichever label you give yourself politically.
There’s far more about the Glosswitch style that I could cite, including un-evidenced accusations of falsehoods; take a look at this sentence –
The more unusual you can make your sexual habits appear through fanciful description, the more authoritative you become (regardless of how mundane said habits actually are).
Note one important fact about that sentence – you’re not told whose descriptions are fanciful. It is impossible to rebut, and leaves behind it the classic mark of a smear – it can’t be rebutted and it hints at secret knowledge that the author has that she, as an honourable woman can’t share with you, the reader. To paraphrase Glosswitch, if I may, it’s not just a smear but a repressive, disingenuous one at that.
I don’t want people to think my sex life is exotic, or weird. I want them to think it’s mundane, so that my kids can grow up in a world where no-one gives a flying fuck who they have a flying fuck with.
Let me close with Glosswitch’s final paragraph. It begins with another classical rhetorical trick, the expression of false humility. I’m not particularly precious about coining words or phrases and guarding them with my life (just as well, because all evidence is suggesting I’m crap at it). Given that the entire blogpost is precisely a defence of the author’s previous words, you may have to form your own conclusions about the authenticity of that humble beginning; I can’t get Uriah Heep out of my head. By the end of the para Glosswitch has reached a conclusion; that the correct word for the behaviour of the smugsexual women she is debating with is misogyny. Surprising misogynists indeed. A quotation from Athenaeus fall easily to hand “When some one told Sophocles that Euripides was a woman-hater, ‘He may be,’ said he, ‘in his tragedies, but in his bed he is very fond of women.'”
I don’t know if the women Glosswitch is debating with are misogynists, because I don’t know what misogyny means. Does she really mean to say that smugsexual women are self haters? The word is at risk of being stripped of all its meaning by over use, by its casual abuse as a catch all to rally the faithful to Glosswitch’s call to arms. And of course, that means I don’t know if I’m a misogynist in her eyes either. And that’s the key weakness in Glosswitch’s rhetorical style, and its strength – it can’t be rebutted, it can’t be debated with in any forensic way, but it will bind the true believers around her just as Senator McCarthy sought to bind his supporters around him in the 40s and 50s, with a nudge and a wink and a hint of something alien in the background.
I don’t know if Glosswitch thinks of herself as progressive in her politics but I know this; her style is not one I associate with progressive politics as I know it.