Typically, an informative critique incorporates several characteristics. First off, the piece should not rehash the topic from the same-old point of view. If variants of the critique can be found in dozens of publications, why would anyone want to read another reiteration of it? This is especially true if the publication receiving the pitch already has a version of said argument.
Secondly, the critique should have an intelligent grasp of the subject it is critiquing. Unintelligent, or uninformed critiques are simple, and boring to anyone with a mediocre understanding of the topic. Uninformed critiques typically generalize and stereotype, while utilizing a whole-host of fallacies.
Thirdly, personal vendettas should be off limits. This could be taken to simply avoiding bias. But bias is a fickle word used (ironically enough) by those with a personal vendetta. I might not like my neighbor’s landscape aesthetics (lawn gnomes are so tacky), but my past feud with them over our lawn’s boundaries should not be evident in my landscape critiques.
In this world of irate lawn owners, Quillette is that neighbor with a personal vendetta. The online publication, famous for its focus on free thought (even “dangerous ones”), has made a killing criticizing the social justice, politically correct, feminist left. Associated with the Intellectual Dark Web – a group of self-declared victims of a media blackout and censorship who have been featured in almost every major publication and news site – Quillette too has its roots in “censorship.” Editor-in-chief and founder, Claire Lehmann, has her own journey of exclusion and censorship at the hands of feminists. In an interview for POLITICO, Lehmann claims that “I particularly wanted to criticize feminism, and I couldn’t get published in the Australian media if I was critical of feminism. … I was blacklisted.”
This personal vendetta is clearly seen throughout the mountains of articles and essays that pick a fight with feminist theory. It is also where Quillette’s sordid reputation for serious intelligent questioning and dissection is most evident. Not only is Quillette’s criticism of feminism steeped in vendettas and bad-faith arguments, but it butchers the other two rules of a solid critique: uninformed reiterations of the same-old takes.
Each article critical of feminism, feels like it went through an Intellectual Dark Web PR firm before publishing. IDW lingo pervades the articles. Social justice activists, Twitter mobs, “cult of victimhood,” indoctrination, propaganda, and my personal favorite “Orwellian” are everywhere. Feminism has its origins in Marxist, Post-Modern, Frankfurt school ideology, they argue. Yet, little to no effort is made to provide the connection between Feminism and its predecessors. The connection is just assumed.
In a piece titled, The Brains Trust of Intersectionanlity, the author claims the Frankfurt School – a group of Western Marxists, during the interwar period, critical of both Soviet communism and capitalism – opted for subversive tactics to implement their “social engineering.” “These are the same corners of Western academia,” the author adds, “where such ideology gives rise to conspiracy theories about the Iraq war, or 9/11 being an inside job; ideas which are now proliferating into society, the ramifications of which we are now observing around us.” Referencing conspiracy theories is ironic when the Frankfurt School as destroyer of the West is a conspiracy theory pushed by many a conservative and IDWer.
Other phrases and parlance obsessively used by the IDW include Feminist outrage mobs, deplatforming, and man-hating feminists. If Quillette is good at anything it is finding every example of feminists run amok. One striking example is this story of a student and professor devolving into “oppression Olympics.”
“…after weeks of throbbing tension between the (white) professor and an outspoken (black) female student, the student accused the professor of being racist. (In contemporary intersectional feminism, notions of class and race are collapsed into the struggle for gender liberation). The student claimed that the professor was singling her out for inappropriate use of her laptop because she was black. Instead of defusing the student’s accusations, (as was her responsibility as an adult and teacher) something extraordinary happened. In a paroxysm of indignation, the professor defended herself by saying that it was she that had experienced “the most” oppression in life, since she ‘once was a woman in the STEM field.’ The professor then claimed she could not have been racist, because she was ‘from Italy.’”
It is almost impossible to judge the situation the author lays out here. It is supposed to be an incriminating portrayal of intersectionality, but even then the author does not get it right. Intersectionality is the theory of how social categorizations and power systems interconnect to impact marginalized people. It is not a hierarchy of opinions, as one Quillette author claims in a post titled, “On Toxic Femininity.” The author, the self-professed “professor in exile” Heather E. Heying not only mutilates the idea of toxic masculinity, but offers up some interesting ideas on female beauty and the male gaze.
“But when women doll themselves up in clothes that highlight sexually-selected anatomy, and put on make-up that hints at impending orgasm, it is toxic—yes, toxic—to demand that men do not look, do not approach, do not query. Young women have vast sexual power. Everyone who is being honest with themselves knows this: Women in their sexual prime who are anywhere near the beauty-norms for their culture have a kind of power that nobody else has. They are also all but certain to lack the wisdom to manage it. Toxic femininity is an abuse of that power, in which hotness is maximized, and victim status is then claimed when straight men don’t treat them as peers.” [Emphasis added]
Heying goes from acknowledging humans are more than animals, to dismissing demeaning male behavior as legitimate male behavior, to labeling women who dare push back against the male gaze “toxic.” Heying argues she is not victim-blaming. She’s merely stating that “display invites attention.” If men are dogs, then yes; presenting a treat in front of a dog will elicit a reaction. But men are not dogs; they are not slaves to their animalistic behaviors. But when you say that revealing flesh communicates “signals of sexual receptivity,” and that if a bikini-clad colleague did not want men to stare at her she should “put on more clothes,” you are victim-blaming. She is not stating a fact. She is focusing on it as a cause.
It doesn’t help that her definition of toxic masculinity is limited to men who harass and assault women. A cursory look into what toxic masculinity is in feminist terms, makes it clear how subtle behavior and mindsets play into its conception. Toxic masculinity can downplay female voices and opinions, focus on male achievement as a sign of power and dominance, or use derogatory and pejorative rhetoric to describe female behavior. “Boys Club” work environments are outcroppings of toxic masculinity. As is excusing ogling behavior as the responsibility of a woman to prevent (although that is typically referred to as sexism and victim-blaming).
It is this continual botching of fundamental feminist theories that rips all hope of an honest discussion out of the hands of Quillette’s writers. Plenty of substantive and fascinating critiques exist of feminist theories. Many of them originate from within feminism’s ranks. But the best are always free of the in-your-face chip-on-their-shoulder that Quillette routinely publishes.
Does femininity become toxic when it chastises men for responding to a “provocative display,” as Heather Heying would have you believe? Or is it justified frustration at the inability of some men to not sexualize every woman in their path? Is a woman being toxic when she pushes back against a man catcalling her?
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Are feminists being hypocrites when they do not denounce oppressive foreign patriarchal societies to an equal degree as they do at home? Quillette would like you to think so. All nuance and differences between fighting toxic social standards at home versus abroad (when you are unversed in the foreign nation’s culture and practices) is lost. Is feminism dead because some feminists refused to partake in the xenophobic and Islamophobic vitriol that many on the right do toward Syrian refugees escaping to Germany? Or, are do some people use any tragedy to kill two birds with one stone: feminists and Muslims?
Positioning a tragedy in Europe as a checkmark for the validity of American feminist concerns is malicious. It is a pernicious combination of whataboutism and red herring. It is inherently a bad-faith argument. Couched in a hierarchy of problems to be solved, Quillette writers argue that the “most ruthlessly misogynistic force in the world today” – that is, Islam – should take center stage to the detriment of smaller incidents back home. This is like criticizing Christians in small-town Georgia for focusing on eliminating poverty in their community instead of eliminating it in Africa. Poverty is obviously worse in third world countries. But criticisms like this disregard the effectiveness of American anti-poverty programs overseas vs locally. They disregard the harm that foreign charity can have. World problems and injustice do not exist in a vacuum of the worst comes first. Subjectivity is a concept for a reason.
Feminists have not forgotten global sex slavery, patriarchal Islamic societies, etc. Quillette’s writers acknowledge this:
“There are wonderful charities dedicated to fighting female genital mutilation, human trafficking, and child marriage; many of which were doubtlessly started by feminists. Why doesn’t this translate to genuine global support? It’s important to state that #NotAllFeminists suffer from this sin of omission, but #FarTooManyFeminists do.”
Often, the criticism comes across as frustration that the feminist bloc is not up in arms to the extent some right-wingers and IDWers are. Let us not forget the added failure of Quillette essays to recognize the diverse and sectarian makeup of the feminist intellectual and activist landscape. That Quillette addresses a nonexistent singular feminist image is indicative of their malicious aims, and shortcomings. Correctly communicating feminist theories is not a priority when the goal is to discredit feminism entirely. With this goal in mind, it makes sense why they would focus on instances of feminist misbehavior and erraticism. Every small ridiculous situation of students yelling at their professors, or screaming their utter hate for men is another nail in the coffin.
It does not matter then that an author would have a “hard time understanding why an unmarried woman would stay with a man she claims has raped her.” Or that an author would equate men sexualizing women as “something exciting, spicy, [and] fun!” Even mental illness is not off the table, as one author argues how society’s increase in mental awareness “creates more problems than it solves.”
It is this utter obsession with a strawman, based on the actions of a few social media accounts, that informs Quillette’s anti-feminist ramblings. Everything from #MeToo, to intersectionality, to campus rape incidents, to transgender people is another arrow fired at innocent men, women, and children. Conspiracies that #MeToo is providing a blueprint for baseless accusations against innocent men is just a result of this mindset. The article in question purely theorized that that was going to happen, based off an anonymous court case the author witnessed. The level of hyperbole is astounding.
Quillette offers no rigorous or substantive writing on the feminist ecosystem. At the very least, nothing that could not be found at any number of conservative publications. Which is telling since they brand themselves as ideologically separate, and academically minded.