This review of Roy Baumeister’s book Is There Anything Good About Men* is typical of the quarrelsome and eristic way in which most feminists argue. The reviewer criticizes Baumeister for not talking about what feminists talk about. Yes, that’s it. Because Baumeister wrote a book about his own ideas rather than merely responding to feminists, his book is worthless.
The sneering tone of the review evinces the feminist concern with silencing dissent. Rather than presenting an argument, the reviewer simply points out that Baumeister doesn’t engage in a detailed refutation of every feminist idea. Reasonable people would probably find this acceptable, since no one book can hope to be the final word on such a big subject. Reasonable people would welcome the debate that dialogue between people holding different views brings. Not so feminists. Going on the attack, the reviewer accuses Baumeister of attacking a strawman caricature of feminist beliefs, but doesn’t bother to explain how any real feminists differ from Baumeister’s rhetorical feminist opponent.
Claiming that your opponent oversimplifies things is a useful tactic for muddling through a debate when you don’t have any actual ideas, and the reviewer makes good use of it, claiming that Baumeister oversimplifies feminist history:
According to [Baumeister’s] story, in the good old days, idealistic, noble-minded women promoted equality and positive views of both genders, in a spirit of freethinking openness. But then, feminism was “stolen” by antagonistic, anti-male female Stalinists, who immediately instituted a radical feminist doctrinal rigidity and condemned all dissent, and men as well, to the gulag. Not to say there might not be a kernel of truth in this picture, but it is evidently so simplistic as to depict a movement that never was.
Is the account an oversimplification? Yes, but so is any concise account of anything. “The axis made huge early gains, but eventually the tide turned sometime around the battles of Stalingrad, Second El Alamein, and Midway, and the allies were everywhere triumphant afterwards” is a gross oversimplification of the time-line of WWII battle outcomes, but it’s still broadly accurate and useful as a general guide. Of course, there’s a special irony in complaining that your opponent caricatures your position while putting the words “Stalinists” and “gulag” into his mouth.
The main complaint, however, is that Baumeister is talking about things feminists don’t want to talk about – about biology, evolution, and human nature. This is typical of the conversations you end up having if you try to talk to a feminist about anything that’s not part of the feminist orthodoxy. The debate usually goes something like this:
Feminist: Why do you keep talking about Y? There’s also X.
Thinker: Ok, there’s X, but there’s also Y. Don’t you agree that there’s Y?
Feminist: Y has been refuted by feminism.
Thinker: How has it been refuted? What you’ve said about X doesn’t refute Y.
Feminist: X, X, X, X, X
Thinker: That’s not a refutation. You feminists have been talking about nothing but X for 50 years. Don’t you believe in being open minded?
Feminist: You’re a sexist pig.
To be perfectly clear, if Baumeister does not respond to all feminist arguments, there is a valid critique to be made of him. It goes like this: “Roy Baumeister has not written a comprehensive book refuting every argument ever made by any feminist.” Unfortunately, feminists tend to garble this in translation and end up saying “He’s been refuted – let’s ignore him.”
The claim of refutation by confusing argument and assertion is very common, but the disease has a special affinity to feminists. The reviewer sums up his piece by writing off Baumeister’s book as “a glib, superficial recitation of half-truths that are now long familiar in any case” and claiming that “Motivation and differences in preferences between men and women have been cited frequently to explain gender inequalities, and have been refuted time and again in feminist theory.” Labels substitute for analysis, and assertion of refutation substitutes for a serious evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of an argument. Onward marches ideology.
* For the impatient, Baumeister also has an essay on the the subject of the book here.