Saturday, 8 March 2014

Liberal Feminist Trope 1: Ignorance Breeds Hate

Happy International Women's Day! I've been thinking of starting a blog devoted to discussing radical feminist issues for some time now and have been waiting for the right day to come. Now it has arrived! I do not claim to speak on behave of radical feminism, but I hope that radical feminists and their allies will enjoy my blog.
 “No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances … or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.” Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current in the post “Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition)”

Type: Argument Trope, Clearly Liberal

Definition and Uses

The Ignorance Breeds Hate trope is the assumption that anyone who disapproves of a particular behaviour or community must necessarily be ignorant of it and have some caricatured image of it in their head. The trope results in accusations of ignorance being directed indiscriminately at all critics of whatever behaviour is being defended. The critics are then deemed to be “hateful” and their hate is said to be inspired by ignorance, which is seen as the root of all prejudice within the liberal worldview.

In cases where a person’s ignorance is clear and obvious, pointing out their ignorance is not an example of this trope. It should be noted that the failure to mention a particular fact in one’s article, does not prove that the writer is ignorant of the fact. A person would actually have to say something that was clearly false (and could be shown to be false) about a particular behaviour or group in order for the “ignorance” accusation to be legitimate.

This trope is used most often by pornography/prostitution defenders, burlesquers and the BDSM community. It is also used by mainstream, liberal proponents of gay rights and by liberal feminists when promoting their “feminism” to the public.

Generic Examples

“You don’t really understand what it is you’re critiquing. You’ve clearly been influenced by media/government/conservative/psychiatric/radical feminist misrepresentations of it. You need to look into it properly.”

“You’re only looking at one (or the worst) type of porn/sex work/BDSM/burlesque. There’s a lot of diversity/subversion going on that you’re ignoring.”  


While criticisms of behaviours and groups can be based on ignorance and lies, some criticism is based on well thought out, well informed political analysis. The trope functions as an excuse to ignore such criticisms and denounce them as a form of irrational hatred.

Furthermore, there are cases where being ignorant of something prevents one from fully acknowledging its harmful nature. More knowledge gets you closer to a true understanding of the thing you’re exploring. It does not always bring you closer to approving of it. To assume otherwise is to argue that all controversial behaviour are perfectly good and thus nobody could genuinely disapprove of them without having an incorrect understanding of them.

There is also the issue of how much knowledge is necessary in order to not be “ignorant” of something. Human knowledge is quite extensive and it is nearly impossible for one person to know everything that humanity knows about a given topic (this applies to scientific, historical and philosophical topics as well as political issues). No matter how much knowledge one demonstrates regarding a particular topic, their opponent can always bring in new information (and say, “I bet you didn’t know this”), extend their definition of ignorance and demand a higher level of expertise. This strategy is an example of the logical fallacy “Moving the Goalposts”.

Another problem with the trope is that often times the information that one is ignorant of has no bearing on the argument being presented. Interesting facts are called “trivia” for a reason, they are often trivial. When putting forward an argument, one only needs to have enough knowledge to back up their argument and have it be relevant to the group being discussed. One does not need to know the entire history of certain behaviour or the trillion different ways in which it is practised in order to develop sound arguments against it.

Those who wish to avoid falling into this trope should recognise that when someone, especially someone who is invested in discussing feminist issues, says they are opposed to something, they usually mean it. Their arguments should be taken seriously, not seen as excuses to mask some inner hatred, and attempts should be made to refute them. Information relevant to refuting such arguments should be included. If a critic makes a statement which is clearly false (when applied to the behaviour/group as a whole) and which is essential to the critic’s argument, then evidence should be presented to counter the false assumption.

When it comes to subversion, the standard set by liberal feminists is really low. This means that radical feminists are most likely not ignorant of supposed “subversion”, they just don’t recognise it as such. Even if traces of genuine subversion do exist within a behaviour/group these are not enough to justify the practice’s existence. This is especially true if such traces or so rare that a large amount of research is required to uncover them.


“If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of, then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever.” Meagan Murphy of Feminist Current in the post “Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition)” 

Sometimes knowledge gained through reading about and discussing a particular issue is not good enough for users of the Ignorance Breeds Hate trope. They demand that a critic have personal experience with a behaviour or group in question before they make any statements about the topic at hand. Of course this same principle does not apply to supporters (or “allies” as they’re often called) of a behaviour or community. Liberal feminists will happily allow people to endorse behaviours they do not have experience with, but to be critical of them without personal experience is considered unacceptable.

The demand for personal experience can take on several forms. The critic might be asked to get to know members of the group whose behaviour they are critiquing. Since such criticisms are believed it be based on hate, interactions with the “hated” group are supposed to alleviate this hatred and therefore end all criticism.

Some trope users go a bit further and suggest that behaviours can only be criticised by those who practice them, leading to the conclusion that critics either need to reframe from expressing their opinions regarding the behaviour in question or “try it out” for themselves. The latter approach is usually employed by practitioners of BDSM and demonstrates the supreme arrogance of those who make up the community. They appear to be under the impression that radical feminists will happily engage in sex acts which do not appeal to them for the sake of “research” and will experience mind-blowing sexual arousal as a result, causing them to abandon all intellectual criticisms of the behaviour. This is not likely to happen.

It should be clear from the previous example, that the standard for “non-ignorance” is often set way too high. These standards usually exist to prevent valid criticisms from being made rather than to promote unconventional sexual behaviours (the BDSM community is unusually evangelistic.) The prevention of criticism is achieved through ensuring that only those who have an interest in defending the behaviour (e.g. those who practise it) and are therefore unlikely to criticise it, are given permission to do so. The few who decide to criticise a particular behaviour despite being involved in it (or having past experience with it) are typically dismissed as unrepresentative of the behaviour as a whole. Hence no matter how “non-ignorant” one is, liberal feminists do not feel obligated to take their opinion seriously.

In short, ideas should stand and fall on their own merits. If someone criticises something, the rational way to respond is by addressing the criticisms, not attacking the person for their failure to adhere to a particular lifestyle or associate with the “right” people.


While ignorance accusations can be made by adherents of any ideology, over reliance on this accusation is a classical liberal feminist tactic. Hence use of the Ignorance Breeds Hate trope, which involves wrongful accusations of ignorance, clearly marks someone out as a liberal feminist. Those who wish to argue honestly should do their best to ensure that they only accuse others of ignorance when they have actually said things that unambiguously reveal their ignorance. That said, accusations of ignorance made in relation to the beliefs of radical feminists are likely to be accurate, since radical feminist beliefs are marginalised within academic discourse and the culture as a whole.

Coming Soon: The Political is Personal (in which criticism of behaviours are equated with hatred of the people engaging in it.)
Feel free to leave comments, but be aware that I might delete them if I find them objectionable. Defences of liberal feminism are not allowed on trope posts (that means no defending pornography, prostitution, BDSM or gender.) Personal insults are never allowed (especially if they are directed at me or people I like.) In a later post I will discuss the rules for this blog in more detail.

If you have ever encountered the above trope, I'd really like to hear about it in the comment section (this goes for all tropes posts.) Constructive criticism is also welcome.

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