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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.

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