I read a lot of stuff online talking about the “tone argument” and how it’s used to silence feminists. The gist of it is that a feminist is angry about something and delivers a criticism of it, and the opposition points to the way the feminist is angry as a means of shutting them down without ever acknowledging the criticism as valid or that the person has a right to be angry. This is a problem, and I have seen it occur in threads, so the anti-tone-argument sentiment has a respectable basis. However, I believe the sentiment is often misused so that it ends up causing the same sort of problem where legitimate criticism is ignored simply because the tone argument is invoked.
First, let me share an incident from my own experience of angry feminists. I used to have a real problem with self-injury, so I spent a lot of time on these online self-injury support groups. Now, support groups, if they’re doing their job right, try to discourage self-injury and often put a lot of focus on maintaining a peaceful environment. You want to avoid triggers, which in this context refers to things that put you in a state of mind where you feel the need to self-injure. There’s also frank discussion of self-injury and often art related to such, so it is by no means a trigger-free environment, but there is at least the desire to keep the place from being overly triggery with trigger warnings posted and such.
And then one time, this feminist came in and she was angrily ranting about something—I can’t even remember what it was at this point—but she made me feel like I was being attacked. That was very triggering, and I decided I hated feminists, and it took a few years to get me to start thinking compassionately toward feminism. I think her anger was a problem. She should have been calmer. That was not a place to be upsetting. It ultimately made her look bad, and she probably lost others who may have been sympathetic if she wasn’t so antagonistic. I’m using a tone argument here, and I think it is fully justified.
Granted, that instance involves special circumstances. People don’t emphasize a serene environment for the health of others in everyday life, so maybe that’s not the best example. How about Fox News? My dad regularly watches Freedom Watch
, shows that may sometimes feature feminists but aren’t run by them. Sometimes the hosts have interesting things to say, but I’m often not listening because of their tones. Andrew Napolitano hosts Freedom Watch
, and oh my god, he is so unpleasant! He yells throughout his whole show, and he completely dominates the conversations he has with his guests. I understand that these talking heads have to cut off other people if they want the chance to speak in the short time allotted, but Napolitano goes on these long rants and doesn’t let people get a word in edgewise even when asking them questions so that he answers for them. I want to yell at him, “Dude, calm down! Let him [the guest] talk!” If Napolitano were a feminist, would this tone argument really be at all worse?
John Stossel is a little better, but he speaks in this snide, pretentious way, like he’s constantly calling people morons with his tone. He annoys me, but because he isn’t so angry when he speaks I actually pay more attention to what he has to say than Napolitano. Sometimes I agree with him. One time he was talking about something I completely disagree with—that rape is only rape if conducted with physical force—but the liberal opposition was so angrily yelling to drown him out and behaving uncivilly so far as to damage Stossel’s microphone
to keep him from spreading his beliefs, that I really had to side with him insofar as his tone argument. People shouldn’t silence each other and open debate should go on and remain civil, whether or not a tone argument is used. A tone argument can really be legitimate.
And then we have online feminist spaces. I was just reading a link
about the stigma around prostitution, when a radical feminist came in and seriously criticized the pro-prostitution nature of the original post. A commenter said in response that the radical feminist was in fact a troll and dismissively told her to get back under her bridge. And then a user with a male name came to her defense, saying that she wasn’t a troll and was a person with a different opinion, that different opinions should be respected, that the site shouldn’t be an echo chamber of agreement, and that people need to calm down. Well, apparently a man can’t tell a feminist to calm down, and he was attacked for using the tone argument, while told to shut up because a man shouldn’t comment on an issue that doesn’t affect men, ending with another angry nod to his maleness. What the hell? I mean, other people defended him further down the thread, but this indicates a little too much stress on semantics.
And then there’s the blog link
, by Twisty. I’ve tried to like this blog. I agree with some of the things she says, and I want to like her as a blogger, but she’s just so damn angry all the time. Not just angry-motivated, but angry-hateful. The blog threads tend to get very uncivil toward male users who disagree, with just plain nasty and misandristic insults thrown about. When feminists come in and comment to say that everyone should calm down and be civil, the fact that they’re using the “tone argument” gets used as an excuse to continue bad behavior.
At times like this, I recall my Savta (Hebrew for Grandma), the mother of the mother of my father. She was a very strong woman. She had a long life and died just before reaching a hundred. She was Jewish and survived through the Holocaust by fleeing to Israel and immigrated to the U.S. a few decades after the war. She escaped the Nazis herself, but had many family members and friends who were sent to the concentration camps, and those who survived the camps were dead inside and no longer found joy in life. (This, incidentally, makes calling me a feminazi really offensive.)
Despite this evil made very evident in the world, Savta never lost her faith in humanity. She embraced goodness. To her, everyone had good in them. The answer to strife was not hate, but love. Everyone should love. She was basically an old hippie. She preached love and serenity, and she loved nature and its beauties, and she made a living teaching yoga. She was the most pure-hearted human being that ever lived as far as I’m concerned.
So, I think we can all learn something from Savta. Serenity isn’t just a kickass link
; it’s a real value that should be sought. People really need to understand that sometimes they should just take a chill pill and try to relate to other people rather than snapping that they have a right to be angry. I think what it comes down to is whether your purpose is activism or sitting around and complaining with your buddies. Activism requires getting people to listen to you, whereas sitting around and complaining allows you to whip out the tone argument anytime someone disagrees with the way you conduct yourself. Twisty and Napolitano are definitely in the camp of sitting around and complaining, even though I believe they try to be activists. Feministe has something of a mixed bag as far as its commenters go, but it’s more of an activist site because of its posters. Stossel is a straight-up activist whose episodes are all structured as arguments to change opinions, even though he has an annoying tone. The liberal folks Stossel talks to in that one episode are obviously real activists, but their idea of being activists is to drown out the others’ voices and literally take away their ability to disagree, which is absolutely not the right way to get things done and will only steel the resolves of the opposition.
To conclude, I think the tone argument is an overused excuse that can be used to shut down legitimate criticism. That’s not to say that the tone argument isn’t ever as bad as people say. I’ve had people label me as an angry feminist so blinded by anger that I can’t see reason when all I’ve done to express this alleged anger is use the word “patriarchy” or other such jargon indicative of feminist-leanings, and I’ve seen people do worse with the tone argument. I understand that it’s something to keep in mind as a non-argument intended to distract; however, we should all be on the lookout for legitimate criticisms of our dispositions when they come. Remember: some people are sensitive and it’s always good to accept empathy and respect as a goal in being a human. Savta had undying love and respect for humanity, and we can all aspire to be like her.