At Feministing, Juliana Britto is impatient with privileged white males who, in conversation, play the “devil’s advocate” for non-feminist perspectives. Here are three quotes from her essay (as a representative taste):
- These discussions [surrounding patriarchy] may feel like “playing” to you, but to many people in the room, it’s their lives you are “playing” with. The reason it feels like a game to you is because these are issues that probably do not directly affect you.
- It is physically and emotionally draining to be called upon to prove that these systems of power exist. For many of us, just struggling against them is enough — now you want us to break them down for you?
- Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth. But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time. So dearest devil’s advocates: speak for yourself, not for the “devil.” Teach yourself. Consider that people have been advocating for your cause for centuries, so take a seat. It’s our time to be heard.
I don’t like this. This way of talking sounds too much like the complaints a religious fundamentalist might make on hearing skepticism directed at religion. “What, you can make critical observations and walk away? It’s because you haven’t had my experience. You’re an outsider. You cannot possibly understand.” Well, yes, of course. That’s it. I am obviously not capable of imaginative sympathy, otherwise I’d agree with you completely. It’s not because your claims are in need of sustained critical scrutiny.
And no one is responsible for other people’s education. The breaking down of a point for others in conversation is fine only insofar as you actually want to do it (or are being paid to do it as a teacher). If you don’t want to do it, you can point them to a book and be done. If they don’t read it, that’s their choice.
I’m a feminist, I’m raising feminist daughters, and the surest way to make more feminists is to encourage, not discourage, persistent interrogation of claims, however dearly held. All claims. From any person that makes them. The hope of the world is in critical thinking.
Feminism is on the side of critical thinking and reason. It will win wherever it is in contact with reality and given space to speak in competition with other ideas. It can endure questioning and will evolve in the furnace of hard questions, even questions delivered ironically, in bad faith, or accompanied by a lack of empathy.
What we take seriously can be in the same room with another’s resistances and ironies. Coming out of closets (as gay, feminist, religious, conservative, fundamentalist, atheist, liberal, Marxist, libertarian, Muslim, etc.) doesn’t mean that this creates a social obligation upon others to step into closets themselves. Coming out of closets is not a zero-sum game. We can all be out of the closet about our thoughts and stay in the room together. We can work with each other’s perspectives. And if we don’t want this–if we want to cloister ourselves with the like-minded (as, say, the Amish do)–we can do that as well.
But dialogue requires patience and raising questions, including questions posed in the form of “devil’s advocate.” Nobody needs to shut up or temper such questioning. Adults can hear words, ideas, and questions–even irreverent and seemingly gratuitous ones. It may seem like a distraction or the long way around, but it’s actually the path of progress. If feminism is true, there’s no reason to especially fear or loathe questions and skepticism directed toward it.