Tolerance has taken over feminism, and it threatens to destroy the movement

Under patriarchy, women have been groomed into a perpetual state of tolerance; today, “tolerance” has been taken up by certain feminists, making it impossible to define a set of collective values or assert shared goals.

“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.

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  • WBWRESISTER

    It is NOT bigoted to want women only spaces/events without men. This kind of thinking is another concept of tolerance for males who are our oppressors. Pick supporting wymn not uplifting the male dogma and patriarchy

  • Mexican American Lesbian

    This is basically the same thing as Mao’s “Combat Liberalism”. The kind of “tolerate others’ ideas no matter how oppressive” is one of the main ways the oppressive structures of capitalism justify themselves.

  • I don’t think I can recall any man calling me “judgmental,” but it has been, over many decades, the most common word hurled at me by women as a dismissal or put-down. This is that iffy juncture for the pro-feminist male who supports radical feminism. How am I supposed to react when a feminist calls me “judgmental” (or “moralistic”) for opposing prostitution, transgender, reproductive technology, even the wars on Afghanistan?

    And apolitical women use the word for all kinds of more mundane attitudes they spot in others, whether men or women. It’s like having any definite opinion, large or small, subjects you to this “judgmental” judgment. I don’t know where the hell this comes from… maybe Buddhism, New Age-ism, post-modernism, but I do know that for me “judgmental” always referred to a character flaw often applied to a family’s authoritarian father.

    The newer meaning (it’s now many decades old) belongs to this female=toleration category by Mundt-Leach, and to this broad move to psychologize and de-politicize women’s culture. You know… like no anger, no strong opinion, no arguing, no discussing of politics, religion, or sex. No doubt, this “toleration” thing is one more male ad-on to his toolbar for enforced femininity.

    • Zumzum

      Not being judgmental is supposed to be a Christian value, I thought.

      • Tobysgirl

        Wow, read the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus spoke of not being judgmental of the poor and marginalized, but he was way judgmental of the rich and those who parade their religion in public. He wasn’t very kind about proselytizing either.

    • ohffs was namesareirrelevant

      Men constantly say women should be non judgemental. I have literally never heard a single insult or minimisation used by women against women that isn’t also used by men. And of course much, much worse.

  • Hanakai

    Herbert Marcuse, a philospher and political theorist who was Angela Davis’s philosophy professor and who greatly influenced her thinking, in 1965 wrote a book titled Repressive Tolerance: A Critique of Pure Tolerance, which made the following point:

    “Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.”

    As I see it, the tolerance for untruth, for believing nonsense (e.g., the ridiculous notion that one can change his sex), for immorality in the form of sexual misconduct and sexual irresponsibility and widespread porn and advocating for prostitution, for inequality, for “anything goes” contributes to the continuing oppression of women, children, the poor, people of color, animals, wildlife, the Earth and air and seas.

    “People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography

    Look at what humans tolerate: war, poverty, discrimination, the oppression of women and children, rape, violence, the destruction of the planet and her lifeforms . . . . . endless. What a horrid and rapacious species are the humans.

    “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” William Shakespeare

  • Unree

    #MeToo is a good example of the kind of feminism this excellent article is talking about. “Me too,” says the nice lady, sweetly following someone else rather than starting a sentence with “I.” And the MeTooer mustn’t appear angry, demand any redress for her injury, or blame anyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with Barvey Schmeinstein.

    • ohffs was namesareirrelevant

      No. It’s not.

  • Zumzum

    Wow the UK has few murders compared to the US where thousands of women are being murdered each year by men. Not that 136 is a small number. It’s atrocious either way. Good article, by the way.

  • Can’tUnseeIt

    I watched the full video of Crenshaw on YouTube, not just the exerpts linked to in the above article, wherein she explains the concept of intersectionality as originally conceived 30 years ago. It was interesting to me and makes a great deal of sense in the context she describes. However, later in the talk she refers to women as “cisgender” and this troubles me. I see this label “cisgender” as yet another male-centered attempt to erase or define women according to THEIR wishes. It matters not one bit to me that the males doing this are wearing skirts and heels. Crenshaw seems not to have noticed that the men have slipped into the women’s room. She also uses “gender” as interchangable with or instead of “sex”. I guess terminology matters, just as she rightly insists that the names of black women who are also victims of institutional and State sponsored violence, whose names we rarely hear, matter. The lines blurred between men and women under patriarchy will only doom the efforts to free women from it’s stranglehold on our lives.
    As for the notion of tolerance as addressed in this excellent article: it is a pox on the culture. It is a tool in the arsenal of those who oppress others to gain their collusion in their own oppression, and above all, is used to silence debate. How “tolerant” is that?

  • Andrew Cole

    I haven’t been here for a while, but this was just what I needed to wash the bad taste out of my mouth from Cassie Jaye’s TEDx talk equivocating the MRA and feminism and telling people they should spend more time listening to men and being tolerant of men’s complaints. The comment section of that video is overflowing with gaggles of mouth-breathers who are “refreshed” by a feminist who “finally gets it”. I wanted to vomit. I’m an Atheist, but thank god for Feminist Current for helping me to pull my head out of my ass a couple years ago.

    • Tobysgirl

      How can we spend any more time listening to men and being tolerant of their complaints? They already fill 24 hours a day — is Jaye thinking about changing the system of time we are familiar with?

  • Nan

    This article makes many great points about the distortion of the beautiful idea of tolerance from accepting alterity to shying away from critical think.
    I’d like to know more about what the author (or Dworkin) means by “construct our own woman-centred system of values and ethics”. I personally can’t imagine an ethical philosophy that wouldn’t have a universal reach.

    • Can’tUnseeIt

      I suggest reading Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s short novel, Herland. It is a good exercise in imagining something else.

      • Yisheng Qingwa

        The Gate to Women’s Country by Joanna Russ.

    • marv

      A feminist system would have a universal liberatory reach.

  • Tobysgirl

    I am extremely judgmental and make no apologies whatsoever for being so. How can one actually live in the world humans have created and have no judgment? Every moment of every day calls for judgment: What food do I eat? Do I sign this petition? What organizations do I give my pennies to? Do I allow the doctor to do another procedure on me? And I don’t have to deal with the constant judgment required in a responsible job because I am disabled.
    The 12-step agenda of not responding to what people in a group say has infected all areas of life. Some bullshit session was held locally so people could sit down with Republicans and Democrats and listen to each other (no reactions allowed). I don’t want to listen to any of them — they’re brutal if they support someone like Trump and they’re clueless if they’re Democrats. I was in church once and the Unitarian minister talked about how we must sit down with anti-abortion types and have discussions. What planet does she live on? How can you have a discussion with people obsessed with women’s reproductive systems who want to deprive women of basic choices? I realized a while ago I cannot have discussions with people who are IRRATIONAL or WILLFULLY IGNORANT. I can stay home and bang my head against the wall.

  • Jani

    There’s also the other side, the men who say they “love women” when what they really mean is that they love porn and take upskirt photos whilst pretending to be “street photographers” and live under the delusion that lap dancers are astute professionals when in reality they have to hand over most of what they earn in either “fees” or “fines”. Suggest for one second that they are women-haters and they’d deny it and call themselves “feminists”. Doublespeak doesn’t even come close to describing this mindfuckery.

  • corvid

    “​At present, Doll House offers five sex dolls in four differently-themed rooms — a doctor’s room, a classroom, a living room and a sado-mazo room, equipped with a swing, a rack, a crucifix and other tools. Incidentally the latter room drew the most customers.”

    Tell us again, BDSM people, how “vanilla” society is. Tell us again, how it isn’t a creative way of glamorizing old-fashioned sex-role norms.

  • Wren

    Great article! I’m saving it so I can reread it whenever I’m feeling lost in the existential crisis that is liberal feminism.

    I have been told many, many times that I am judgmental and a moralist. When accused of the former, it’s usually due to me being outraged at some form of sexual exploitation. I have had friends (who are no longer my friends) who told me that I only felt that way because of my personal experience, which is another handy dandy way to dismiss real critical awareness of abuse. “You just feel that way because YOU had a bad experience being exploited, but other women LIKE it!!” kind of bullshit. As far as anyone telling me that I am a moralist, I feel it’s a compliment. Are there people who don’t have morals?? How horrifying but unsurprising.

    • corvid

      Also enraging are the terms “daddy issues” and “drama.” So dismissive of women’s experience, implying that the problem is just the way we react to or think about male abuse.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Janice Raymond is wonderful.

  • Meghan Murphy

    She is so smart and lovely. Her book on prostitution is excellent, if you haven’t read it.

  • Tobysgirl

    The fundamental quality needed to be on the radio or television is DO NOT ASK INCISIVE QUESTIONS. There was a broadcaster on WBUR (Boston University) who actually talked back when interviewees said stupid shit, such as “We tried welfare and it didn’t work.” You can imagine how long the BUR broadcaster’s job lasted.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Tolerance = BE NICE, LADIES.

    I am not nice. I have never been nice. And if I were going to be a “nice woman”, I would not direct it at males, who feel entitled to everything about me.

    But when I tell males to go fuck themselves, I attempt to say it nicely. That counts.

  • ptittle

    Good topic! We really do need to expose ‘tolerance’ — it’s NOT a virtue!

    I used to teach Critical Thinking and Ethics, and I failed miserably, partly because (and I didn’t realize this at first) ‘critical’ and ‘judgmental’ are considered bad things. WTF? There was such a resistance to, essentially, the skills I intended to teach. (Don’t know why the students signed up for the course then…!)

    And, just now, I’m thinking this embracing of tolerance is connected to eschewing evidence-based thinking; I mean, who needs evidence when you’re not going to judge anything?

  • Can’tUnseeIt

    Thanks, I’ll check out these two.

  • Alienigena

    “Last month, Denmark opened its first sex doll brothel.”

    I don’t really understand the reputation that Scandinavian countries have for all things progressive. They have some pretty abysmal statistics re: sexual harassment.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/sweden-and-denmark-have-highest-number-of-sexual-assaults-in-europe-a6800901.html

    Disclosure: My mother’s parents were both Danish immigrants to Canada and her philosophy that all things Danish are great has galled me for some time. She subscribed to a very liberal feminist, choicey choice philosophy when I was growing up except when it came to my sister and my sexualities. My brother was allowed much more latitude and received few if any injunctions to ‘control’ his own behaviour. His girlfriends slept in his bed at our house. A fact my mother refused to acknowledge. When my sister was taking birth control unbeknownst to my mother and my mother discovered this fact, screaming ensued. When my sister later became pregnant it was like a return to the fifties (my mother tried to convince the pastor of a church we didn’t belong to, to marry my sister to her impregnator).

    I think Scandinavian countries like other western countries have been whipped by the idea of cultural relativism, often considered a positive influence on a society. In reality it is not so positive if it does not allow us to be critical of cultural institutions that impact women negatively. If everything is relative then there can be no universal human rights (which include women, children, indigenous peoples, disabled, etc.). And a culture can apparently engage in slavery if slavery is described as a cultural value. I have never heard that argument made for the trafficking of women but I wouldn’t put it past pornographers and pimps to use it as a justification. The UK academic John Davies implied that western women are imposing their values on poor women from the subcontinent of India by depriving the latter of their right to be prostituted. Yeah, right John.

    https://www.feministcurrent.com/2016/06/10/john-davies-pro-prostitution-academic-trafficking-denier-jailed/

  • Wren

    No one gaslights me anymore. I’m way beyond that in experience and years.

  • corvid

    There’s also nothing “vanilla” about vanilla itself! It’s an exotic plant, difficult to cultivate and harvest. The term “vanilla” is largely a misogynistic jab at women who seek egalitarian sexual relations.
    “Submissive” men get a masochistic thrill from temporarily placing themselves in the role of the oppressed. But it’s fake, staged, they know they are ultimately in control given the conditions of patriarchy. These “submissive” men can sometimes be found whining here at Feminist Current in the comments whenever Meghan runs a BDSM-critical piece, making it obvious how uncomfortable they are with *real* female rage.

    • Matthew Steenburg

      I’ve met submissive men, all of them were abused as children. I’m not sure if that means much, but I’ve known fewer men that were survivors of child abuse than women, though I do think that re-enactment of trauma might play a role. It was something someone brought to my attention once that I sort of brushed off with discomfort.

      I was agreeing with Jani, to be sure. Is rage ever comfortable?

    • Topazthecat

      And not only does pornography unjustly sexualize and therefore legitimize male dominance and female submission which are the epitome of gender inequality,but when men outside of pornography (or rarely in it) are submissive,and a woman is dominant,he’s only temporarily reversing the sexist male dominated unequal gender roles,and playing the “female” role as object and or victim which only helps keep these sexist unequal male dominated roles in place,instead of getting rid of them in place of gender equality!

      And as gay male anti-pornography educators and activists John Stoltenberg and Australian Christopher Kendall point out,not only everything I said above too,but that in gay male pornography there is the same femiphobia,and woman-hating,with one of the male partners treated with contempt in the “female” role as a passive,submissive,used and abused sex object.

  • Blazing Fire

    Exactly. So well said!

  • deci

    If a woman insists she chose prostitution, and whether it was a “good” or “bad” choice; What gives other people the right to deny her agency and make her choose between jail time or a “voluntary diversion program” where they attempt to convince her that she is a victim in spite of her steadfast insistence that it was a choice she freely made? Is that not Tyranny? In the Soviet Union, dissidents were routinely confined in mental institutions for treatment because of their “anti-social” beliefs. What is the difference?
    Tolerate does not mean approval but respect for other people’s values whether or not you agree with them.

    • Meghan Murphy

      What are you talking about?!? Feminists don’t advocate to criminalize prostituted women…

  • Jen Miller

    Yes, I’ve been quite frightened by the way neoliberalism – and I think that’s where it starts – is rendering women (much more so than men) too afraid to express opinions on anything. And the weird postmodern idea that “if your statement doesn’t apply to one particular person or circumstance then it’s all wrong!” is equally frustrating. It has the effect of stopping us from talking about systems or classes of people at all.

  • Cassandra

    Fuck off MRA.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Never listened…

    • Annamaria0

      It is very popular. I recommend Minefields episode ( it is a two part episode).