A while ago I wrote about my misgivings about choice feminism, but I have since been coming around to choice feminist arguments. Today, while making my way through a backlog of blog reading, I came across a post at hermionestranger which gave me pause. The paragraph that caught my attention:
Accusing women of having a false consciousness/internalized misogyny reminds me of two things. It reminds me of how men have told women they do not know their own minds, and diagnosed them with hysteria; how white slave owners have had black slaves diagnosed with drapetomania for running away; how people that now fall under the LGBTQ umbrella have been pathologized, considered to have mental illnesses, and frequently, forced into conversion therapy; how our very understanding of mental illness is based on an ableist notion that mental illness prevents one from knowing their “real” mind and that’s why the able-minded have to take their rights and autonomy away from them. But mostly, it reminds me of my abusive parents, who managed to obtain a diagnosis for me that absolved them of any bad parenting and provided them with a psychotropic cocktail to subdue me, while whispering in classic Nurse Ratched tones “you only think you have a problem with us, but that’s just the mental illness talking.” Y’all, I cannot stress this enough: you have to be better than my abusive parents if you want me to be part of your movement, especially if anti-domestic violence activism is a cornerstone of that movement.
I never made the link between false consciousness/internalized misogyny and hysteria before. Who exactly pulls the false consciousness card these days? Well, anyone who is following what’s going on in the skeptic/atheist community is bound to come across it eventually. A recent example is Amanda Marcotte’s claim that there are “female misogynists” in the community:
There are other examples, but I’m more curious about why we keep returning to some version of false consciousness in our discussions of social issues. I always thought it was mainly Marxist feminists who used false consciousness, but the concept seems to have drifted away from its roots. Regardless, false consciousness is bound up with the idea that we are mistaken about their own best interests (some form of systematic/structural distortion). When it comes to misogyny, Marcotte appears to be responding to female skeptics who disagree with her about specific issues going on in the community. The female misogynist label is similar to a few other terms like ”sister punisher” and “chill girl,” which are meant to other those who supposedly work against women’s’ best interests. Another term, which has come up less frequently, is “female chauvinist pig,” the title of Ariel Levy’s book on the rise of raunch culture.
If we were discussing Western Marxist theory, I would probably say that while false consciousness is popular in some circles, it’s vaguely authoritarian and difficult to verify. The concept implies that there’s a true version of reality out there waiting to be found, which is maybe why the concept has been embraced by some feminist skeptics. The problem is that in order to claim that someone is being oppressed and that she holds beliefs contrary to her own interests, you have to do a heck of a lot of empirical work, and you have to account for her subjectivity. But no one is really doing that in the skeptic/atheist community, and that makes it bad social science. Additionally, it’s bad feminism because if you actually believe that individuals and groups suffer from some version of false consciousness, then you should see them as victims rather than enemies.
Instead, what you have here is straight up victim blaming. If you really believe that certain women in the skeptic/atheist community suffer from internalized misogyny, and you want to be taken seriously, you better be damn sure that you have a good a reason for pathologizing the very people you are trying to empower. You leave little room for individual agency, treating those you disagree with like gullible sloths, and then you attack them for not seeing the Truth. Among other things, you’re just plain mean, regardless of how noble your intentions might be, and perhaps most importantly, you do your movement(s) a great disservice.
Note: I am being generous in assuming Marcotte actually means internalized misogyny when she says female misogynist.