Why are feminists intolerant? It’s age, not sex

7 February 2014

4:06 PM

7 February 2014

4:06 PM

There has been a lot of comment about a recent Michelle Goldberg piece in the Nation on feminism in social media and how incredibly unpleasant feminists are to each other.

That is not entirely surprising, in one sense. All political ideologies are wracked by internal struggle, especially those that reach an impasse in their goals. And Twitter is full of angry, self-righteous eejits. But there is also something uniquely intolerant about feminism in the online age.

Partly it seems to be because it is much more dominated by one-upmanship over victimhood; the ground war of the sexes was won a long time ago, but what has followed is a deluge of un-winnable everyday injustices, things that no amount of legislation will ever solve because they are a part of human relationships. Maybe the atmosphere of almost permanent anger and offence-taking reflects the frustration of living with this reality.


And it seems to me more likely to do with age rather than sex. Active feminism is rather youthful, partly because it’s a singleton-heavy ideology and so a lot of women lose interest when they get married (the Republicans have a big lead among married women, and the Democrats a bigger lead among single ones). And young people, by their nature, are intolerant.

In fact one of the major attractions to politics for young people is that they get to become the ideology police, driving out unorthodox thinkers and heretics. That’s the whole point – young people love that!

When they’re 10, kids want to ban smoking and drinking and meat eating; when they’re 20, they want to ban offensive ideas. That’s why social media is crawling with people ready to get offended and turn on a chosen badthinker; it’s ideology-based Lord of the Flies.

The young are idealistic, and intolerance goes hand in hand with idealism, because the compromises of age (lamented in art) also come with greater acceptance of other people’s views and imperfections (and marriage is the ultimate compromise). The older people get, the more they realise that every argument is vastly more complicated than they thought, no side is entirely right about anything, and identifying a problem is far easier than finding a workable solution.

That’s why every intolerant ideology in history has relied heavily on youth, and why you get more young people sporting T-shirts of Che Guevara than, say, Adam Smith. Che didn’t compromise, he didn’t give in to ‘The Man’; he just had The Man shot.

But when you have ideologies that refuse to accept compromises (say, for example, the trade-off between sexual freedom and equality) it’s not that surprising when its followers behave intolerantly towards each other.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Cloud Strife

    Spot on. I am curious though as to what is behind the emergence of today’s feminism, is it just because social media provides a platform that used to not be there or is there a more concerted effort by agencies who’s motives go deeper. Movements are not accidental, even if they appear to be.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Feminists have a point when it comes to British men. Consider all those time and money consuming free time activities so loved by men.
    The car; spending money on it but taking value off it.
    Football; what sort of loser would drag round the country supporting a football team?
    His mates; that immature bunch of childish degenerates that encourage drunkenness, vandalism, criminal damage and seriously stupid behavior.
    Even fishing has to be a massive waste of time and effort.
    But if he has no hobbies or interests she labels him “boring”.
    Face it, British men have to be the worst option for British women. Feminism primes women to recriminate, and they don’t have to look far for justification.
    Jack, Kathmandu

    • alexrobinson1991

      One word – shoes.

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      I think it is healthy for men and woman to have different interests. You can’t spend your whole time with the same person and, if you did, your relationship probably wouldn’t last long.

      I think British men rule the school. (for the most part).

  • rtj1211

    Would you compromise on the right to work where you choose to, make the friends you choose to, over compromising with a control freak fascist sibling who thinks that they can do anything but you have to submit to them??

    I don’t, won’t ever and it doesn’t make me intolerant.

    It says I have a very, very small number of absolutely inviolable principles I run my life by and I also believe that doctors who would torture any single person on this earth have no place practicing medicine……

    We didn’t compromise with Hitler, after all, did we??

  • Swanky

    Ed, I do believe this is the most insightful thing you’ve ever written.

  • anosrep

    This is quite possibly the most inanely patronising article I have ever read.

    • Swanky

      To the contrary: it’s right on the money. Maybe in a few years you’ll understand….

      • Marie Louise Noonan

        Do you have to work at this or does it come naturally?

      • anosrep

        And that’s the most inanely patronising comment.

  • Sarka

    I don’t get about much on social media, but I read blogs and comments and have no real sense that feminists are more unpleasant to each other than members of other rather broadly defined constituencies of opinion. So Ed is offering us explanations of something he hasn’t really proved or even defined. I’d agree that leftwing “progressive” ïntersectionalist” feminists are a very squabbly and heresy hunting lot,
    but that is just the characteristic of “progressive” ïntersectionalist” lefties in general.
    Feminism is considerably broader than that…and with my (admittedly limited) experience of Twitter, and greater experience of just discussion sites, I find most “feminists” no more uncivil than anyone else.

  • Colonel Mustard

    A good article. I don’t believe Harriet Harmon – ‘Labour as political wing of the women’s movement’ – is a good role model for any politician seeking to represent ‘people’ rather than identity groups in perpetual pecking order warfare with each other. In fact from a progressive concept of diversity that is ridiculous. How can a party boast about ‘One Nation’ but then be relaxed about its deputy leader asserting that it is the political wing of a minority movement that discriminates on the basis of gender?

    The women’s movement is political anyway so the assertion was nonsense and only served to cynically attract feminist voters to her party. A party that seems to have as its prime aim the creation of multiple combative identity groups each with a grievance agenda.

  • StephanieJCW

    Is Feminism really singleton heavy or are you inventing that Ed? I am not sure what age has to do with being single (unless you count anybody not married as being single.)

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      And why would that be a problem anyway? Especially for Mr West given that in his other life he is editor of The Catholic Herald?

      Does he have MPD or DID or something?

      • StephanieJCW

        MPD / DID??

        Yes even if Feminism was singleton heavy I don’t see why that would matter. I also find comments on young people being more intolerant, funny. What did a recent survey on British attitudes towards mixed marriages and homosexuality show – age wise…?

        • Swanky

          Oh dear, talk about looking at the little acorns and missing the oak tree. The article is perfectly coherent. Try reading it again?

          • StephanieJCW

            I suggest you follow your own advice

          • Marie Louise Noonan

            Nicely patronising there.

    • Swanky

      No, he’s not inventing it. His point about married women being more classical liberal and conservative than single women is correct, and the verification is out there if you seek it.

      • StephanieJCW

        His point about married women / unmarried women (in the USA) is utterly irrelevant. The comment was on the extent to which Feminism (not liberalism – the two are not synonyms) is filled with singletons.

        It is not for me to seek it, it is for the person making that assertion to prove it. So is it true that most feminists are not in relationships? If you have the data provide it.

        • Swanky

          Google is your friend.

      • Marie Louise Noonan

        He’s Catholic though. Do you know anything about Catholic nuns. You can’t get any more conservative than that.

        • Rupert_Napier

          Or more liberal. Google “magisterium of nuns” for examples. It’s closer to Wicca than Catholicism but still fascinating to read.

  • Marie Louise Noonan

    Were the Boomers ever told that ‘self praise is no recommendation’?

  • John Lea

    Feminists don’t want equality they want power over men and their pick of the best jobs, regardless of ability. That’s why you will never see them picketing dockyards/building sites demanding more ‘female representation’ in said establishments. They are twisted, nasty and – increasingly – setting the political agenda.

  • Wangchuck


  • Perseus Slade

    Feminism is rooted more in jealousy and spite than fairness and justice.
    It has overshot its target and is heading for outer space.

    I call for boring compromise and finding common ground.

    Take the example of feminist icon Germaine Greer the author of The Female Eunuch.
    Word on the street has it that, an Australian doctor`s daughter, she had a hysterectomy as a result of a botched abortion when a teenager.
    If this is true, that would really make her a tailless fox.

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      So you disagree with Mr. West then?

      His argument was that it’s a generational thing not a ‘feminism thing’ (illustrated by a pic of someone wearing a Che Guevara T Shirt. Heaven knows why because he didn’t exactly spring from the ether yesterday.)

      Germain Greer is truly a child of the baby boomer years.

    • StephanieJCW

      A tailless fox??

      • Perseus Slade

        Aesop`s fable “A fox lost its tail in a trap, then tried to persuade the other foxes that it was the new fashion etc.”

  • sfin

    Jeez Ed! As a ‘musings’ article, that was bloody well written!

    Feminists are unpleasant to each other because feminists are unpleasant.

    Spot on with the youth/ ideology/ intolerance connection – it explains why the left attack everything from an ideological standpoint, insult rather than debate if you disagree and display an intolerance which has become fascistic…

    …They’ve never grown up.

  • Eddie

    “And Twitter is full of angry, self-righteous eejits. But there is also something uniquely intolerant about feminism in the online age”

    Yes, but it’s usually only the men who get arrested and charged for posting stuff on Twitter/Fbook/Emails. How about we start rounding up some rude feminists then in the name of gender equality?

    How about we scrap silly laws that make online squabbles somehow illegal anyway? The police are always moaning and whingeing about a lack of resources, and yet they seem to spend most of their time these days toddling round in their vans arresting people (i.e. men, because they believe in chivalry still, as does the law) who have posted opinions online – because victimhood craving professional victims (mostly women) have reported them in order to wreak revenge on the whole make species. Meanwhile, real criminals rob and stab and mug with gay (well, vibrant and diverse anyway) abandon. Seems the police have too much money and time on their hands – I hope they get more cuts – and less pay too.

    And,er, you can ALWAYS block others on Twitter. I have blocked a particular nasty piece of work who is a manipulative, spiteful, vindictive old hag. Easy. Yet professional feminist victims do not. Why? Are their technology skills so very bad? (Ask a man for help then, love…) Or do they just really really enjoy playing the pity part victim?

  • Eddie

    Good article. So shock horror, young people are immature. Indeed. And these days they are very infantalised too, because they have from birth been worshipped by parents, teachers, media in our Kidocracy and told how wonderful and special they and their precious self-esteem is!

    I remember being more mature aged 14 than many 24 year olds now – though we had less access to adults things – girls, dope etc. And we had way less stuff and money.

    Young people now have too much self-esteem – they think they are wonderful and right and thus should never ever be offended. I have met so many really mediocre and thick youngsters who think they are geniuses because they have a few GCSEs.

    Is this just the arrogance of youth? I think not. These youngsters are products of a self-esteem age, and demand not to be offended, all while demanding the right to offend others of course!

    Perhaps we need to make their childhoods harder? Tell them how rubbish and average they are all the time, instead of praising praising praising kids every time they do a whoopsie in the potty of life…

    • David

      I find a punch in the face works

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        So how are those anger management classes going, Dave?

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      Didn’t that start with the boomers?

    • Marie Louise Noonan

      ‘I remember being more mature aged 14 than many 24 year olds now – though we had less access to adults things – girls, dope etc. And we had way less stuff and money.’

      But this means nothing. This is your individual experience.

      I take it you didn’t go to the same uni as Peter Hitchens.

      The Baby Boomers were a right bunch of spoilt little pieces of …

      • Eddie

        No – that is the experience of MOST of my generation (I was a teenager in the 80s). I know this from years of experience teaching teenagers from the early 90s on. So no, it is most certainly not just my personal experience.
        It also seems to be the view of the psychiatric/counselling industry – as stated by that character on The Sopranos. To misquote: ‘they say 25 year olds these days have the maturity 16-18 year olds of our generation had.’
        I was walking to anf from school aged 8. Aged 10 I was travelling by myself on the train to visit my father. So many kids these days are infantalised by paranoid parents and it shows – many do not leave the house alone until they are teens.

        • Marie Louise Noonan

          The Sopranos eh? Oh well, that settles it then.

          • Eddie

            I was not arguing that the scene on The Sopranos was definitive proof – I stated that because many here (probably not the girlies) would remember it and thus use it as a reference.

            • Marie Louise Noonan

              ‘There are many academic writings on this phenomenon – perhaps you should do some reading to address your ignorance before criticising those whose opinions you are prejudiced against?’

              then why not use evidence from those academic writings instead of the Sopranos.

              And it has nothing to do with being ‘a girlie’. I know plenty of men who wouldn’t touch that vacuous nonsense with a ten foot long barge either.

              Have you ever read The Drama of Being a Child by Alice Miller?

      • gerontius

        Sorry to butt in but I’m a baby boomer (class of ’51) and I wasn’t spoilt – there wasn’t much money or inclination to spoil me with. Eddie’s desription is accurate for the vast majority.

        • Marie Louise Noonan

          I’m just going by what members of The Greatest Generation said.

          Eddie is not speaking on behalf of The Baby Boomers,by the by, he is speaking of behalf of Generation Xers.

          Personally, I’m with Christopher Hitchens on the generation thing.

    • John Smith

      That is a long piece about Owen Jones

  • IainRMuir

    “In fact one of the major attractions to politics for young people is that they get to become the ideology police, driving out unorthodox thinkers and heretics.”

    Perhaps they should do a little more research before choosing their heroes. Che Guevara (1952):

    “The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or
    drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him
    as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even
    independently of his own individual aspirations.”

    • rob232

      I object to the word ‘black’ preferring a more respectful racial description. Besides that what is your problem? The former lifestyle is so much more attractive than the latter. The Protestant work ethic has haunted me all my life and I most certainly wish as I approach sixty that I had spent my life in frivolity and drink. One advances himself only to an untimely death.

      • IainRMuir

        “I object to the word ‘black’ preferring a more respectful racial description.”

        Fine, object away.

      • Colonel Mustard

        What would you do then – censor the historical fact of this 62 year old quotation?

        • rob232

          Why do you say that?
          Spending your life in frivolity and drink sounds fine to me.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Clearly a fully paid-up member of UK trash culture.

  • Ben Cobley

    I agree contemporary feminism is highly ideological, but it has also become incredibly powerful by establishing itself within institutions, especially on the left, and especially within Labour – to the extent that Harriet Harman says Labour is the political wing of the women’s movement (and she isn’t young and unmarried, I might point out)

    Some more thoughts here:

    • Colonel Mustard

      I wish more lefties were like you.

      “Turning groups against each other isn’t a great idea generally and, personally, I can’t see this ending well, neither for relations between sexes nor between Labour and the electorate.”

      Turning groups against each other seems to be more a consequence of Labour policies than an imperative, unless one is very cynical about it which I admit I tend to be. Ironically the imperative appears to be promoting equality, by force if necessary! But too often the means to do that seems to be to empower disproportionately, as your excellent article infers. It worries me, seriously, that extremism – or at least a very polarised form of ideology – has captured the Labour party.

      The gender war that is being stoked up puzzles me because in my youth men and women here seemed much more relaxed and adult about their differences. There was inequality but it was rooted more in those accepted differences than in discrimination or oppression per se. The differences have now been reinvented as discriminatory in order to push an extremist agenda that creates strife rather than a tolerance for and celebration of diversity. If the acceptance of diversity is to mean anything surely it must be applied to the inherent differences between men and women? To force an absolute and arguably artificial ‘equality’ between them seems to be the very opposite of accepting and celebrating diversity.

      • Ben Cobley

        Thanks Colonel – very kind of you.

        I agree that Labour doesn’t intend to turn groups against each other. Our main problem in my view is that the narrative which justifies separation is very rarely questioned, publicly, in and around Labour circles. And this is largely down to the social power and impressive campaigning strength both in and outside the party that the feminist movement wields. If you say something they don’t like, they come down on you with admirable force and coordination. They have also proved very good at building up momentum and pressure for change in their direction.

        I understand where you’re coming from about your youth, but I don’t think the changes we’ve been going through are all bad by any means, just that it will take time to settle down and for people to get used to changed ways, or find new ways to define male and female roles. I also don’t think there is that much that is intrinsically different between men and women. But, yes, the movement that is leading the feminist charge is basically authoritarian – they want to tell everyone what to do and dictate who goes where down to the minutest detail. They are therefore against freedom for both women and men and should be opposed.