When the personal becomes the judge, the political power of feminism wanes. As the election demonstrated, one can vote for Trump while still feeling self-empowered, and so a feminist. As Jessa Crispin notes, that misses the boat.
Verbal fun has its place yet often we use it to hide our own thoughts. In the context of conflict, such fun can create problems, particularly when if goes into ridicule.
In a follow-up to the previous post, What and How We Say It, Alstair Roberts comments
Pastor Wilson has a sort of playful detachment from the whole conflict, a detachment that his opponents do not. He is not really peddling serious outrage in his post, but ridicule. While the outraged individuals are intense and serious in their exaggerations, Pastor Wilson is just purposefully getting a rise out of people. It isn’t about serious arguments for him, because he doesn’t seem to think that his opponents are making serious arguments.
As to the jocular, playful style — I would offer five observations on such ridicule:
- We use the style as a form of group identity. The mutual playfulness and ridicule is part of our belonging. You can see this with sports fans and their happy trash-talking of the other side;
- A playful style is often the stuff of long relationships, such as between spouses or debating partners. Again, we enter into the jocular style because of a mutuality;
- When directed outward, when the playfulness is focused unilaterally on another as ridicule, it functions as an assertion of social position, status, or “lording it over” the other in biblical terms. Benignly as parent to a child’s tantrum, but the same mocking voice also becomes the word of put-down as any high schooler will tell you. The assertion of ‘fun’ — “I was just joking” — becomes the excuse we tell ourselves. When expressed towards the weak, such fun easily wounds. This use of ridicule in particular lies in substantial tension with the call to servanthood;
- The jocular, ridiculing tone in blogging/arguments strikes me as especially gendered; it’s something guys do. See point one in the sports bar; and
- This jocular, scornful style is something for the young. And that’s fairly reasonable: the jibe is easier to execute than the analysis. Our humor moves from the superficial and external to the humane, Mel Brooks, perhaps, excepted.
Taken together, the jocular style is a way of holding people at a distance rather than engaging — I suspect this is one reason by Benedict’s Rule counseled against laughter. Or, to return the question to the Rev. Wilson: having spoken “playfully”, has he spoken wisely?
The language is troubling. But then again it’s not the first I’ve encountered this postured Valiant-for-Truth rhetorical style.
Perhaps because I deal with rhetoric a fair amount, in school and in marketing, that I found a certain irony in the Rev. Wilson’s response. It strikes me as a wee bit odd to decry the feminists as bed wetters with their manufactured offense — a matter of rhetorical persona as it were — while delivering it in a style that is itself more than a little rhetorically overblown. It’s easy once having assumed a highly manner style to fall into the necessity of continuing that same style. We become prisoner to our own outrage. In short, the Rev. Wilson did not strike me as particularly helping his own cause, or the broader one of faithful living.
Roberts adds this comment:
We must go to whatever lengths we can to protect the vulnerable and the weak from genuine spiritual or psychological harm, while seeking to present those employing the human shield to tyrannize their opponents and get their way in the debate for what they are. This demands far more careful, measured, and guarded rhetorical approaches than Pastor Wilson is giving us.