“We have become reluctant to be labelled as moral crusaders in an age when human potential has degenerated to “doing your own thing”. We are conditioned to making bland observations and cynical jokes in response to obscenities of a national scale and perversity of universal magnitude. We are numbed to the point of being at home with cruelty and despair.” – Hilde Hein, 1982
In her 1986 book, A Passion for Friends: Towards a Philosophy of Female Affection, Janice Raymond references Hilde Hein’s work in order to describe a curious phenomenon creeping into parts of the women’s movement during that time. “The tyranny of tolerance,” she argues, “dissuades women from tough-minded thinking, from responsibility for disagreement with others, and from the will to act. Worse, it allows oppressive values to surface without being rebutted.”
Raymond’s observation is full of insight that can (more easily than it should) be applied to feminism today. The totalitarian rule of patriarchy has enforced a particularly noxious stipulation on young women: no value judgements should be made about anything or anyone. Morals are for prudes, and critical engagement is deemed “exclusionary” of various groups or individuals. The term “patriarchy” is bandied around by many as if it is nothing but a strange object that occasionally falls from the sky, constantly mentioned in passing but never quite given the depth of analysis it requires.
The word, “toleration” is derived from the Latin tolerare, meaning “to endure, sustain, suffer” and, quite literally, “to bear.” In patriarchy, women have been groomed into a perpetual state of tolerance. The toleration of male customs, cultures, behaviour, and sexuality has historically been enforced onto women by the laws of male gods, male states, and male family members. From the “witch craze,” where hundreds of thousands of women were publicly tortured and killed for refusing to defer to the authority of the Church, to the often brutal forms of anti-lesbianism directed towards women who choose to have sexual relationships with women rather than with men, persecution is seemingly inevitable for the women who refuse to be tolerant of male rule. Today, tolerance training starts early — young girls are taught to endure the boys who humiliate them in the playground, to turn their gaze away from the online pornography, to close their ears to the misogyny they hear all around them.
Raymond describes tolerance as a passive position. It creates non-action, apathy, and a repressed sensitivity to the injustices done by men to women. In other words, conditioning women and girls to be “tolerant” is not unintentional.
It is not completely surprising, therefore, that women — particularly young women — are reluctant to form their own sense of right and wrong; of discerning what values can be considered feminist and what can not; and of articulating what needs to change, if women are ever to be free from male domination.
This tyranny of tolerance is most evident in what is today referred as “intersectional feminism,” and dominates in many a Western university. Misuse of Crenshaw’s original theory means that this brand of “feminism” more closely reflects a certain type of liberal individualism, which adheres to male dogma under the guise of progressivity and social justice. It is not coincidental that the choices this ideology frames as “feminist” represent, down to the very last stroke of mascara, the tools used by men to colonize women.
Prostitution, now named “sex work” by many student activists and academics, is defiantly presented in this framework as the result of a woman’s personal, empowered choice, despite the reality that most women in prostitution are there through lack of choice. The multi-billion dollar pornography industry records and distributes sadistic acts of misogyny, as well as pedophilia, homophobia, and racism, to millions of men and boys across the world — and yet using the guise of “sex-positivity,” these showreels of abuse are marketed as “feminist” by some, while women who criticize the industry are branded “anti-sex” or “whorephobic.”
It is clear that in order to be accepted into the new feminist gang, one must be tolerant of all systems in which women can (hypothetically) exhibit choice, regardless of the system’s intended purpose. The promotion in some contemporary feminist circles of what Raymond describes as “value freedom” — or as Hein puts it, “doing your own thing” — makes it near impossible to define a set of collective values or assert shared goals due to the desire to appear sensitive to and “respectful” of the opinions of every woman in the group. Maintaining respect towards other women is, of course, important, yet surely this should not come at the cost of being entirely unable to express disagreement about a particular point of view or political stance. Moreover, while it may be relatively easy to oppose values which are obviously patriarchal, the difficulty lies in speaking out against those which are more covert.
Under the popular understanding of “intersectional feminism,” women are told that they have sinned by having “cisgender” privilege, which positions being born female and continuing to call oneself a woman as a privileged position to be in. Crucially, females who hold “cisgender privilege” are said to have the ability to oppress males, if those males have decided that they would prefer not to be identified as such.
The idolized image of the “trans inclusive” feminist in Western identity politics has become a marker for whether a woman is truly apologetic for her female body — apologetic enough to render it meaningless and, in spite of its historical exploitation, objectification, and domination by men, come to view it as a sign of privilege instead. To be a tolerant feminist today is to publicly and endlessly repent for one’s supposed sins — the greatest sin of all being, according to some, in possession of a female body.
Last year, 136 women were killed by men in the UK. On average, one woman was killed every 2.6 days. In India, where the practice of female infanticide is particularly common, the female child population in the age group of zero to six years declined from approximately 79 million in 2001 to 75 million in 2011. Last month, Denmark opened its first sex doll brothel. It markets itself as “the place where all gentlemen are welcome and where girls don’t say no.” In England and Wales alone, 85,000 women are raped per year. This means that today, on average, 10 women will be raped per hour.
Women must reconsider what they tolerate, and what they do not. Though intolerant women are labelled “exclusionary,” “phobic,” or “hateful,” men have now systemically oppressed women for centuries, yet still remain tolerated by the majority of us. As women, we must begin to form what Andrea Dworkin calls “a moral intelligence” — an ability to construct our own woman-centred system of values and ethics. Looking back at the trail of violence, colonization, and death left behind by men across the world, there is no reason women should be tolerant of patriarchal dogma; no matter what form it takes.
May Mundt-Leach is a university student from the UK and member of the radical feminist organisation Kvinnorum, which strives to provide women-separatist spaces and gatherings. The opinions expressed here are only representative of her own.