Reductio ad Phobium: Logical fallacies for today’s feminist

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It’s not easy being a feminist in 2016. Your Twitter mentions are blown up regularly with the same arguments over and over again:

“You’re whorephobic!”

“Stop erasing me!”

“Well, I’m happy in patriarchy…”

Don’t you wish there were shorthand descriptions of these logical fallacies we see everywhere in mainstream discourse and media? Well now there are, with this updated list of logical fallacies for today’s feminist. Enjoy.

Reductio ad Phobium: The logical fallacy in which a feminist critique of systems of power is reduced to fear/hatred of individuals.

For example, in response to bell hooks’ cultural critique of the commodification of sexualized female bodies in media, Janet Mock accused her of “femmephobia”:

In response to Gail Dines’ critique of the porn industry, she is routinely labeled “whorephobic,” and accused of “slut-shaming”:

Why it’s a fallacy: First, this tactic reduces the opponent’s critique of systems of power to a nonexistent attack on an individual. Second, accusations of ____phobia do not engage with the critic’s arguments, but instead resort to pathologizing one’s opponent (not unlike when men accuse feminists of being hysterical instead of refuting the actual content of feminists’ claims).

Silentium est Liberatum: The fallacy that erasing references to “woman” and “female” from language will end sexism.

Why it’s a fallacy: Instead of arguing against the content of feminist claims, this tactic resorts to attacking the very ability of the speaker to make the argument, by erasing the political categories used to name sex-based inequality. Women are told that the act of naming the oppression they face creates that oppression by “perpetuating the gender binary.”

Pueri erunt Pueros: Boys will be boys, aka predators will be predators. This is used to argue that laws/policies should not be put in place to curtail male violence because violent males are… violent males.

Why it’s a fallacy: “Boys will be boys”/“predators will be predators” is a tautology, meaning that the statement is devoid of content. It’s basically the logical equivalent of shrugging one’s shoulders.

Non Sexquitor: The belief that nothing oppressive could possibly follow from something involving sex and that anything involving two consenting adults cannot be harmful:

In fact, even if the sex-thing doesn’t happen between two adults, it’s not sex acts, but just thinking about sex negatively that is harmful:

It is acknowledged that gaslighting happens in abusive relationships, which can convince women to accept abusive behaviour:

But, if violence happens within the context of sex, it is always acceptable because “consent,” which makes the violence totally feminist:

Why it’s a fallacy: There is a disconnect between liberal feminism’s basic premises and its conclusions about sex. Sex is given special status that disappears power relations between men and women. For example, women are systemically barred from high paying, male-dominated industries, such as STEM, and compelled into lower paying, female-dominated industries, such as caretaking. This is called sexism. But when women are systemically barred from the same professional opportunities and instead compelled into the female-dominated sex trade, this is called empowerment.

Identitus ex Machina: When a person is losing an argument, so claim their identity/experience/very existence is being erased by the act of their opponent disagreeing with them, in order to end the conversation.

Why it’s a fallacy: This is an interesting one. Rather than addressing an opponent’s arguments, this fallacy resorts to attacking the legitimacy of argumentation itself. The very act of disagreement is said to violently erase the one whom is being disagreed with.

Et tu, Cuté?! Not technically a fallacy, but what happens when someone you just met and think is cool and/or attractive says something like:

Buzzkill.

Habeus Porpus: The idea that because a patriarchal structure works for one woman’s individual purposes, it isn’t oppressive to women as a class.

Why it’s a fallacy: This is a more specific version of Ad Verecundiam (Appeal to Authority). In this case, the appeal is to individual experience as the ultimate authority. But relying solely on individual anecdotes or experiences isn’t a reliable way to analyze systems of power.

Dicktum Factum: The argument that, because male supremacy has been around for a very long time, it is an inevitable and immutable fact.

Why it’s a fallacy: This is a more specific version of Ad Antiquitatem (Appeal to Tradition). It argues that there is nothing that can be done about male supremacy because it exists. It is the phallus declaring: “I am who am!”

So there you have it, a definitive list of logical fallacies for today’s feminist. Perfect for saving time and space, whether you’re running low on characters in the Tweetosphere, or responding to an argument on the fly. Happy patriarchy smashing!

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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