Why Feminists Hate Debating Anti-Feminists

Caitlin Johnstone

There's a lovely term now called pigeon chess, which describes the frustrating experience of trying to debate someone who refuses to engage you in a sane or rational way, instead filling the dialogue up with logical fallacies and obfuscations, and often declaring themselves the winner of the "debate" thereafter.

The term was originally coined by Scott D. Weitzenhoffer, who in a 2005 Amazon book review comment titled "Problem with debating creationists," remarked:

Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon -- it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.

I recently wrote an article about Jill Stein, the headline of which contained the word "mansplaining." I wrote that I liked that word because it finally provided a word for that weird, creepy thing men do when they assume authority over you when they have none.

In the ensuing interactions, I found myself quickly shrinking away from the machinegun-like onslaught of men insisting that I debate them about my way of describing my experience as a woman.

Whoa. That was weird to write. Let me type that out again:

Men kept insisting that I debate them about my way of describing my experience as a woman.

Pigeon chess.

Feminists want collaboration. Deep down, I think that's what pretty much all of us want. The masculine, competitive beat-you-up-and-dominate-you approach to culture hasn't been kind to women over the millennia, and that's the entire approach the pernicious debate culture that sprouts up all over online forums depends upon. Competition is what all the sickest aspects of the patriarchy are built on; war, greed, socioeconomic hierarchy, ecocide, all of these things are about stomping out competition, whether it's enemies on the battlefield, competitors in the market, or the natural world needing to be conquered and subjugated, all society's greatest ills can be traced back to its patriarchal bias toward competition over collaboration.

Men, we want your curiosity, not your combativeness. We want you to understand the way we see our predicament, not explain to us how our perspective is wrong. By engaging us from a desire to out-debate us, outwit us, and beat us into submission, you're already starting the interaction off on the wrong foot.

This is subtle stuff we're dealing with here. Female subjugation is to our culture as water is to fish; it's so pervasive and ubiquitous that it's almost impossible to see unless you know what you're looking for. But it's there. And we can't show you it's there if you're leaning back demanding that we somehow debate you into seeing it; it doesn't work that way. We need to take you by the hand, walk you through it, we need you leaned-in and open-hearted, not pulled back and critical, otherwise you won't be able to come to these subtle understandings we've spent the entire history of feminism trying to figure out ourselves.

No one can debate you into understanding their point of view. It will never happen, and I think we all know that, if we're honest with ourselves. All we can really do is keep extending the invitation for you to give us your sustained curiosity, and hope that you accept that invitation someday. Until then, you can hold out in your unassailable "debate us or be wrong" fortresses for as long as you're determined to.

No more. You don't get to demand we use different words to describe our own experience. You don't have that authority. You don't get to over-write our way of describing ourselves and what is happening to us. That is not up for debate. There is an opportunity there for exploration, but only if you show us genuine curiosity and make us feel safe enough to open up. But that's not your right either. That's a privilege. This is open for discussion, but closed for debate.

Until then, we will tell you how it is.

[Image via Shutterstock]