Fighting the Important Fights: “Feminazi” is a hate term, bro.

 On Sunday, someone tagged Christina in this image on Facebook.  She then tagged me and Emmy. I’d seen it before and had in fact planned to blog about it, but when my computer(s) were stolen, I lost my copy of this image.   Glad to have it back again.   I would have simply stored it for the time being and continued procrastinating, but one of Christina’s FB friends made a comment or two that I felt the need to publicly (and non-anonymously) disagree with.

The person I have labelled as ‘John Doe’ is someone I am not FB friends with and know nothing about except what he presents to the public/friends of friends.   From my limited profile access, I gathered the following information:

–his Facebook name includes a first name commonly given to white men in the US; his last name reads as “non-ethnic” but not particularly WASPy.

–his profile picture is of a white male, over 18 and under 30 (i am bad at ages)

–he is affiliated with the most prestigious public university in our state

–he is affiliated with the secular student alliance (or something similarly named) at said university.

I don’t expect Christina to make excuses for him or for her friendship with him.  I don’t ask her to remove him from her friends list either, because that’s not my place.   If it were me and we hadn’t had any significant Facebook interaction in the past year or so, I would severely limit his access to my profile or consider removing him entirely.   But anyone who has met Christina in real life knows she likes to surround herself with the opposition.  😉

John Doe appears educated and articulate, and is more respectful than 90% of internet commenters who would publicly hold his stance.  There might even be a few issues on which we agree.  On this subject, however, he is completely wrong.

I stand by everything I wrote here and decided to stop engaging after a while, because I have better things to do than argue with a bigot, however unintentional or “informed” his bigotry may be. I also engaged in this argument because I hoped that others who read it would learn from my arguments, whatever opinions they hold.

a few comments  and I’m done:

1) to learn more about Godwin’s Law, click here.

2) Rush Limbaugh is not ignorant, he is deliberate.

3) No social scientist worth their salt would ever use dictionary.com to prove a point.  And Urban Dictionary  (the slang one) is relevant only anecdotally unless you have statistics on who writes the entries.

4) unsurprisingly, I also disapprove of the phrases ‘grammar nazi’ and ‘soup nazi’, although the latter is more acceptable in the context of Seinfeld than the former.

5) the original card also presents a false comparative.  On the list of the worst crimes of the Third Reich, invading Poland should be nowhere to be found.  Whether it was a poor military decision or a brilliant one is something I am not qualified to discuss.

5) if he said any of these things to me in person, I would seriously consider punching him in the face.  (OK, to be honest, I’d probably just walk away in the middle of the argument.)   And not a single member of my family perished due to the Holocaust, in any country.

[the only things that have been changed in this excerpt are the names.]

John Doe eh, in fairness though the word ‘nazi’ gets tossed around a LOT.. as in grammar nazi, soup nazi.. etc.., without those people much getting called on it.

Sunday at 4:51pm · Like

Queen Christina Sure, but I think feminism is a lot more important than prescriptivism and soup, and so I think it’s more important to protect it my going on the offensive and not letting it be dismissed and belittled by casual use of language.Sunday at 4:53pm · Like
John Doe I think I might be ok with the term, had it not been coined (afaik) by Rush Limbaugh as part of an ignorant conservative misogyny.Some feminists desperately need to be dismissed. Unless you are arguing in blanket fashion that anyone adopting the label “feminist” is immune to critical literary devices.Sunday at 4:59pm · Like
Lady Godiva I saw this months ago and have been meaning to blog about this since. Thanks for finding it again, because I lost the image when my computer was stolen.Yesterday at 12:34am · Like
@John — I am not OK with the term, because militant activism/political correctness is not the same as planned genocide.Yesterday at 12:35am · Like ·  3 People
Emmy Lazarus@John — Godwin’s law, man. Godwin’s law.Yesterday at 12:36am · Like · 1 Person
John Doe ‎@LadyG of course they aren’t the same. They’re compared metaphorically; in this case, a commonly accepted symbol of fascism is compared to militant activism. I find it unduly hyperbolic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the literacy device is not meant imply the literal meaning.Yesterday at 1:32am · Like
Lady Godiva @John, I understand this as well. As a linguistics major and an activist (civil rights rather than one particular minority), I reject sloppy language/false comparisons. One can express one’s deep revulsion for individual feminists without comparing them to fascists. The term “feminazi” insults not just the feminists described but also the memory of all those who perished at the hands of the Nazis.Yesterday at 7:16am · Like
John Doe I agree it is an insult to the feminists- it’s designed to be an insult. It isn’t necessarily an insult to victims of the Nazi’s because “nazi” has more than one meaning in our culture (and the divergence of meanings is organic and natural to language, not “sloppy” usage). One of the meanings is now simply “fascistic”.This newer, more generalized meaning is recorded in the dictionaries now as well, see http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nazi3. Sometimes Offensive. a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to control a specified activity, practice, etc.: a jazz nazi who disdains other forms of music; tobacco nazis trying to ban smoking.Yesterday at 10:05am · Like
John Doe I rather like using the word nazi in this sense, not the word “feminazi” which I never used but the more common terms like “grammar nazi”, which people immediately understand and, so far as I can tell, have not instantly devolved into fury over the way you seem to prescribe we should.I used to live in Germany and sometimes told my German girlfriend “stop being such a nazi” when she sounded demanding. I thought it was funny, and she, a freakin’ German, did too. The fact that I had personally visited Auschwitz with her changed none of this. It’s OK to relax sometimes. Every moment doesn’t have to be a desperate political battle. Every word doesn’t have to be a weapon.Yesterday at 1:31pm · Like
Lady Godiva It is more than OK to relax sometimes. Every word isn’t a weapon. The word “nazi” is a weapon. It is acceptable only when discussing history, political theory, or current events in fascism. You don’t want to argue sociolinguistics or moral relativism with me, bro.Yesterday at 2:19pm · Like
John Doe I’m not afraid.Yesterday at 2:23pm · Like
Emmy LazarusCute Auschwitz story, bro.Yesterday at 2:32pm · Like
Emmy Lazarus  lol @ the “yo the germans are cool with it” line of reasoning.Yesterday at 2:34pm · Like
Lady Godiva: T2wished to be tagged.Yesterday at 3:05pm · Like
Queen ChristinaI think the point is that ‘Nazi’ is still an incredibly loaded term, and should be used to make a point that is actually related to Nazis rather than just whatever we happen to dislike. Otherwise, we are making sloppy use of language. Even if language changes organically such that it can be used in such terms as ‘grammar nazi’ that is still world apart from the actual, non-joking, demonization of feminism as a whole.I think there’s plenty of room for agreement here. John, after all the work that we atheists do to stop people from comparing us to Hitler and Nazis, and also stop them from using arguments that rely only on people they know personally, don’t you think it’s reasonable to expect you to apply that similarly to other issues? If feminism is at all important to you as atheism, it seems like you can give the same respect that you’d wish religious to give us.Yesterday at 3:17pm · Unlike · 1 Person
John Doe ‎” such terms as ‘grammar nazi’ that is still world apart from the actual, non-joking, demonization of feminism as a whole.”Here we disagree. If using “grammar nazi” is understood not to impugn all of “grammar” (clearly, it isn’t), then feminazi can’t be interpreted as *necessarily* impugning an entire movement. I see no justification for that.”If feminism is at all important to you as atheism, it seems like you can give the same respect that you’d wish religious to give us.”Indeed I do care. It’s because I respect it that I want to avoid it being misconstrued as a humorless, inviolable, sacred cow which can bear no unsavory criticism. If people can use nazi as a descriptor in common interactions without becoming pariahs, then we have to permit its usage here, too, even if we disagree with the comparison. If we don’t, then we might be hypocrites, or appear to want the same sacrosanct protection we deride in theological demagogues.

Yesterday at 4:00pm · Like

Respectful comments are always appreciated, no matter how short or long.   I can’t promise a fast response, and if I think I’ve already addressed your point, I probably won’t repeat myself.  Other people can do that for me, though!  😉

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25 thoughts on “Fighting the Important Fights: “Feminazi” is a hate term, bro.

  1. anon says:

    You didn’t change a lot of the names within the comments: @soandso.

  2. Cookie Monster says:

    Wow, someone threw every SAT word they could think of into that last comment.

    Also, I think our Mr. John Doe is addressing a fundamentally different point than you are. You seem to be arguing that the word “nazi” is never appropriate as a half-joking synonym for “fascist” or “hardass”. He is addressing the idea that IF “nazi” is an acceptable term in other uses of conversation, should that also be true for feminism.

    A more interesting argument might be why it isn’t okay to use “feminazi” even if you are a person who DOES use terms like “soup nazi”. One might argue that because feminism is a much more serious issue or because it is a stronger identifier for some people, it is much less acceptable (given that Nazis identified people based on political beliefs and identifiers.)

    • LadyG says:

      Several other commenters pointed this out below as well.

      Reading this debate over, I agree that we’re addressing different points. I’d be more interested in engaging in his thought experiment if the use of “nazi” as an insult weren’t so casually widespread. I’m not in the mood to humor him, now or probably ever.

      Also, do people actually use the phrase “jazz nazi”? That’s really sad, not to mention offensive.

  3. chortlevork says:

    Hmm. So, I THINK your main point is that feminism is not like soup or grammar in this respect. I completely agree with you, though I think what is at stake here is John Doe’s pedantic and pseudo-dispassionate argumentative style, rather than his bigotry. He really wasn’t just some knuckleheaded misogynist. He wanted to make the point that criticism of feminism should be acceptable (I have to agree), and ended up failing to appreciate the impact of the word, which speaks volumes about his ability to use his imagination.

    Think about the potential differences between the word “feminazi” and the non-existent term “feminism nazi.” Isn’t that super different? The former is used almost exclusively by people who are trying to belittle not only all of feminism, but women in general. Its innovative morphology immediately betrays this fact. And crucially, also, it really catches on. Once coined, it quickly became a cliche. The latter, if it were to be coined, would still be offensive if you’re the sort who finds any out-of-context Nazi reference to be offensive. But, like soup, jazz, or grammar, it clearly refers to those sectors of feminism (not individual feminists, because what’s at issue are the ideas, not the people) to which the speaker objects.

    Given this, I guess I disagree with the claim that any use of “nazi” that doesn’t have to do with the historical Nazi Party is inappropriate. Soup nazi, grammar nazi, and jazz nazi all clearly metaphorize nazis not as the perpetrators of a horrific genocide but as the pinnacle of fascist authoritarian rule. The counterargument here is that in using the word to refer to fascism rather than racist extermination, you pay only partial acknowledgement of the terror inflicted by the Third Reich. This is true, though the genocidal angle is so frequently the center of discussions of Nazism that I think colloquial reference to other aspects–the dictatorial repression, the rigid nationalist ideology, etc etc–is not so objectionable.

    • chortlevork says:

      I did not fully make my linguistic point in the second paragraph. “Feminazi” is a word meant to semantically replace “feminist” and thus applies to all feminism, and thus inherently degrading women. Not so with the (non-existent) term “feminism nazi” in the same noun-qualified construction such as “grammar nazi” or “jazz nazi.”

    • LadyG says:

      I agree with you mostly. I like your distinction between “feminazi” and “feminism nazi” although obviously I dislike both terms.

      My reference to his bigotry is not vis a vis women actually — he’s pretty clear that he supports the “right” kind of feminism, at least in the later exchange with Christina.

      It was the comment about his German girlfriend (one woman’s approval solves all problems!) that actually upset me the most. Pendants are always annoying, but the argument that he’s been to Auschwitz and is therefore allowed to use the term is wrong on so many levels that it renders me inarticulate with disgust.

  4. vicuña says:

    i find the genocidal dimension inseparable from the other aspects of Nazism, so i think that any comparison using the term Nazi that seeks to select only a specific trait is missing an essential part of the term (imagine a similar case where someone said that John Bolton’s mustache is a page out of Hitler’s book). in this sense i agree with LadyG on the history, political theory, etc.,–though i’m willing to expand it into any field that actually deals with all of the crucial dimensions of the ideology, not just the selective ‘hardass’ one. Also, John seems to have made a category error in his defense of ‘grammar nazi’ and the like; the terms are not used to impugn grammar, soup, or feminism, rather they are designed to attack someone who is particularly uptight about the issue by comparing them to Nazis. and no, it’s not ok to use grammar nazi and soupnazi either, because you can’t get around the millions of deaths and skip to the ‘oh you’re a hardass just like the Nazis because the sign says ten items or less and you feel the need to correct them’.

    • chortlevork says:

      So, I guess I just don’t think it’s so bad to compare something to one aspect of the Nazi regime. Some Congressman compared one of his political opponents to Joseph Goebbels on the basis of the opponent’s constant stream of deception. In fact it’s perfectly true that stinky politicians the world over use propaganda techniques borrowed from the Nazis. If anything we should be frank about it.

      Admittedly, using “nazi” as a casual insult is unnecessarily hyperbolic. Using it probably a matter of knowing your audience, and so in many cases I would censor myself. But I also can’t abide the blanket “language matters” dogma that insists that offending people carries inherent political weight because it absolutely doesn’t.

      • LadyG says:

        “offending people carries inherent political weight because it absolutely doesn’t”.

        Can you explain more about what you mean here? Politics are people, etc. Doesn’t offending a section of the attentive population create political consequences?

  5. Alice says:

    Hey you missed changing one of the names in the middle of Queen Christina’s last comment. I’ll pop by later with something more substantial after I get off work.

  6. M Marian says:

    Perhaps part of the hang up in this discussion is the difficult involved with finding any suitable comparison to the historical effects of Naziism and its current use as a dismissive signifier. The use of McCarthyism/McCarthyist would seem to be somewhat similar (i.e. a group that wielded powerful social/political/moral influence, was eventually disavowed, and whose name is now used to dismiss other groups) but again, it isn’t even close to the same thing.

    I have to agree with Cookie: “If “nazi” is an acceptable term in other uses of conversation, should that also be true for feminism?” To this, I say yes. As to whether it is acceptable in other uses of conversation, I must say that I am not sure.

  7. Chatulim says:

    As a side note, his defenses of the separate point he addresses are pretty crumbly…just because one German finds it funny doesn’t mean that it’s OK…

    Also, on the term feminazi: what about the fact that it disgustingly conflates feminism, a rather nice liberation-equality-“it’s awesome to have ovaries” movement with a destructive movement that most people associate with total evil? It’s a pretty easy way to push aside feminists as evil, cruel extremists.

    • LadyG says:

      I ADORE YOUR MONIKER. Just as you predicted.

      And yeah, I mentioned my distaste for his defense in a comment above.

      As for the extremism — well, if he’s right that the term comes from Rush Limbaugh, which I don’t feel like verifying, then it was calculated to do precisely that.

  8. chortlevork says:

    @LadyG again the commenting function has some kind of bug. I agree with you completely about the Auschwitz comment.

    The issue of language and being offensive is one that, on reflection, I am not terribly sure about. But this is my thinking. On the one hand, causing offense does not have inherent consequences other than causing offense. It CAN also have all sorts of other negative consequences that have to do with context. For instance “feminazi” promotes hate for reasons that go beyond causing offense. Of course, offending people is bad in itself, but I guess how bad is the question. I think being offensive can often have no discernible effect on a relation of power. The ethical issue is, then, do you give a crap about the people you’re offending. I think if we’re going to be honest we have to admit that sometimes we don’t give a crap.

    • LadyG says:

      I think it’s not a bug — wordpress only lets a certain amount of replies, presumably to control arguments? I dunno, if we paid for this maybe it would be fixed.

      And I’m not terribly sure about my response to your response. 😉

  9. caelestis albinus bibaculus says:

    I really take issue with the assertion that using the word feminazi is a “demonization of feminism as a whole” because ” “Feminazi” is a word meant to semantically replace “feminist” and thus applies to all feminism”. At the very least the assertion that Limbaugh uses the term feminazi to show his hatred of ALL women is pretty unfounded. In fact he specified when coining the term that he was referring to “militant feminists”. Quoting Limbaugh makes me feel dirty all over, but “There are a select few feminists who I call feminazis, and you have to really work hard to earn your way into the feminazi status.” One could certainly argue, though I would disagree, that disliking feminism amounts to hating women. Even then, Limbaugh was pretty clearly NOT referring to all feminists, and that is certainly not what this term necessarily refers to. Basically, I am saying that I don’t see how one can make the assertion that feminazi is a SEMANTIC replacement for feminist. That is a claim about the intended usage and the working meaning of the word, which is frankly incorrect as far as I can tell.

    Certainly everyone here doesn’t agree with ALL feminists, and whether or not one agrees with the use of the word “nazi”, I am sure that there are people in the world that most of us could agree take feminism too far. Criticizing a particular subset of feminists by calling them feminazis is, in my opinion, silly for various reasons, but certainly it is possible to criticize only a subset with the word.

    It would be silly for me to describe super-adamant behaviorists as KGBehaviorists, not because that statement is saying that ALL behaviorists resemble Russian secret police, but because it is silly to say that something about their adamant belief in behaviorism somehow relates to the KGB.

    As a kind of side note, even if ALL Germans were OK with being called Nazis, that wouldn’t make it alright. Tyranny of the majority blah blah blah.

    • chortlevork says:

      1. Rush Limbaugh’s rationalizations are of no interest to me. I don’t trust his stated intentions or his stated positions. I also don’t believe he’s capable of sitting down with a reasonable feminist and having a civil chat about politics.

      2. We disagree about the working meaning of the word feminazi. I don’t know if that’s a solvable dispute but I’ve only heard it used in contexts where the point is to demonize feminism in general. Finally, I think demonizing feminism (if that is what it does, and I accept your dissent) implies demonizing women, and that should be pretty self-explanatory.

      • caelestis albinus bibaculus says:

        My point about Limbaugh’s rationalizations was more that feminazi doesn’t necessarily mean the whole group of feminists. Whether you care about HIS definition or not, his definition solidifies for me the POSSIBILITY of the word not being used to demonize all feminists. Whether or not he is using it in the way that he claims, and I think he is for the record, it is the definition used by many people, or at least some people. I guess what I am saying is that if someone used it to describe ALL feminists, then, yeah, it is being used to insult ALL feminists, but it needn’t be used to describe all feminists.

        Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that people are saying that by insulting some portion of a group you are inherently insulting the entire group. I really don’t think feminazi is like ‘fag’ in as much as that word’s use to describe LGBTQIA folks, since that word is a carry-over from a time when it WAS used to insult the whole group, or at the very least it is a hold-over from a time when the word may have indeed been merely descriptive, but also when LGBTQIA folks were heavily discriminated against. Feminazi is not such a word.

        It is plain to me that feminazi can be (and is) used to describe feminists (or perceived feminists) who are viewed as extreme or particularly fascist in their practices or beliefs about feminism, even though the usage is sloppy since Nazis are more than just fascists.
        If someone can explain to me why calling a particular feminist fascist is insulting to ALL of feminism, I would love to hear it.

        By the way, I would be interested to hear some of the contexts in which you (or anyone else) has heard or seen the word feminazi to demonize ALL feminism, as I honestly cannot think of any such statements that aren’t from the KKK.

        On a google search of ‘feminazi’ (in before ‘NOT A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE ROFL’) I get a couple of different things. First up on the list are the usual Wikipedia and Urbandictionary stuff (both sites disagree with the ‘all feminists’ definition, but fuck them and their lax posting regulations amirite?). Next up are some news articles about Limbaugh. Then a blog post ‘Will the feminists ever stop their incessant bitching?’, a youtube video with some girl talking and an audio track of Hitler playing over it (she is giving a speech or something? clever. . . ?), a weird site about Christianity and militant feminism and feminism being a sin, the homepage for the American Feminazi Party who calls for action via talking or “enlisting the aid of our friends Colt, Smith, and Wesson” and a questionable little article about Big Brother in Seattle and some particularly militant feminists described as “bigoted women”. Oh, and a google images link. In here there is a lot of extremist “all feminists are bad” shit but there is also a good deal of “these particular feminists are ridiculous” posts. I am NOT saying that this means that feminazi is used to always refer to specific people, because it clearly isn’t, but clearly it is at least SOMETIMES used to refer to specific people and not feminism in general. I depends on the context, everyone.

        And I am not gonna touch the whole ‘disliking feminism means you dislike women’ thing, especially since feminism means VERY different things to different people.

      • chortlevork says:

        “Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that people are saying that by insulting some portion of a group you are inherently insulting the entire group.”

        That isn’t what I, for one, am saying.

        “If someone can explain to me why calling a particular feminist fascist is insulting to ALL of feminism, I would love to hear it.”

        Not what I’m saying either. The term “feminazi” is the issue, let alone “feminist nazi” let alone simply calling someone a nazi who happens to be a feminist. Is it possible to use the word and not intend to insult either all women or all feminists? Yeah. You’re right to challenge the premises of my assertion that using this word demonizes feminism in general, because meaning is an especially contingent thing to capture.

        But your standard for what I’m claiming–it always means what I think it means–cannot be satisfied by any word ever. I’m just pretty incredulous at the idea of someone who finds this a useful term wanting to be thoughtful enough to distinguish between good feminism and bad feminism. I looked at your google search results and did one of my own. With few exceptions I thought the search results pretty much corroborated my incredulity.

    • LadyG says:

      As you’ve guessed, I’m bowing out of this argument now, because I’ve said my piece. I hope you and chortlevork* keep it going as long as you have something to discuss with each other.

      *Obviously, others are welcome to join in again as well.

      “As a kind of side note, even if ALL Germans were OK with being called Nazis, that wouldn’t make it alright. Tyranny of the majority blah blah blah.”

      A+

  10. Achilles says:

    My German teacher called people Nazis all the time, but I don’t choose my words with an eye to pleasing her so much as with an eye to their appropriateness in the context of the conversation I’m currently having. Maybe that’s just me.

    Cookie Monster, in my opinion, the difference between “soup nazi” and “feminazi” is that the latter has insufficient distance to work as a metaphor. The idea of a “soup nazi” is kind of funny because soup has nothing to do with nazis; they’re from totally different categories, so it’s obviously intended as fanciful imagery.

    “Feminists” and “nazis” however, are both political factions, so combining them isn’t really funny, it just looks like someone doesn’t understand politics very well. Particularly since in real life people actually do confuse nazism with marxism with feminism.

  11. Christina says:

    I’m late to all of this as I was out of the country, but I would just like to say a few things:

    1. LadyG, I love your response. I can’t say I agree with it all (such as the subtle dismissal I detect in your description of our John Doe – though I might be wrong) but you are in many ways uniquely qualified to handle this issue and I really appreciate your take and your support in the original facebook argument.

    2. Great conversation, folks. I know LadyG gushes about you all, but I too would like to extend my thanks to the respectfulness and the intelligence in our comments.

    3. I won’t address all the points made in this extended argument, but I would just like to say that I think inherent to the notion of ‘good’ feminists and ‘bad’ feminists is a dismissal of the whole project (oh, that’s fine, but don’t take it too far now) and an effort towards depoliticization (hold some beliefs, but don’t act on them in any way that inconveniences me). The part about John Doe’s comments that rubbed me most the wrong way was the “some feminists desperately need to be dismissed” which just reeks of women/activists needing to be fixed by normal people, but that’s just me. This is in no way to say that feminists should not be criticized, but rather than ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ thinkers/activists/theorists is a far different categorization than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones, especially when the mapping is one more of irritating conviction rather than actually being incorrect.

  12. […] LadyG believes in reasoning with opponents until they prove themselves unwilling to listen. […]

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