"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men [and women] to do nothing" — Edmund Burke.
Our society is undergoing a cultural change from political correctness to a respect for true diversity. In this shift, individuals matter because culture changes one person at a time. Speak out. Stand up for the values that have been ravaged by PC feminism: freedom of speech, parental control of children, the rights of men and the ability to rise through merit alone.
Each day offers opportunities to transform the culture. When a friend launches into a male-bashing diatribe, remind her that she's talking about your husband or son...and object. When a co-worker loses a deserved promotion because of affirmative action, give him moral support. When public schools teach your child values you abhor, complain to the school board.
But be prepared to argue because political correctness will die as it lived — kicking and screaming ad hominem abuse as a substitute for arguments. If you defend your husband, you may be called anti-woman. If you protest affirmative action, you'll be slurred as a racist. If you don't want gay teachers "coming out" in school at taxpayers' expense, you'll be labeled homophobic.
The first step in arguing effectively is to ask yourself a key question in advance: "What do I want out of this exchange?"
Before interrupting your friend or challenging your child's teacher, pause and decide what you wish to accomplish. In talking to a teacher, your goal might be to have your child excused from an objectionable reading assignment. Keep this specific goal in mind and do not let the conversation wander or deteriorate into bickering.
If the goal has been achieved, then stop talking. The ideal end to any argument is for the other person to acknowledge error, praise your brilliance and beg forgiveness. That won't happen.
Instead, when you have accomplished your purpose, leave...either physically or by dropping the subject.
In defining your goal, be realistic. "To convince the other person" is a commonly adopted goal but it is usually an unrealistic one. Why? Because convincing the other person is out of your control and failing to do so can result from nothing more than bad circumstances.
During a 15-minute coffee break or at a loud party with constant interruptions, you are not likely to change anyone's opinion. But you might change her behavior. For example, if you firmly object to a girlfriend saying "all men are idiots," then she may well avoid making similar statements in your presence in the future. If others join in, the peer pressure may make her behavior change in a more general way.
The circumstances you should consider when defining your goal include:
— Where will the exchange take place?
— How much time will you have?
— What is your level of knowledge on this subject?
— How are you feeling — e.g., do you have a headache?
— Is the other person reasonable enough to listen?
— Do you have something to lose — e.g., in out-arguing a boss?
Try to make circumstances favor your goal. For example, don't challenge your male-bashing friend's in her home where she can reply with justification, "I'll say whatever I want in my own parlor." Do so in a public place or at your place. In first speaking with a teacher, do so in private because a public challenge could make her stubborn. It is always possible to "go public" if a private consultation does not work.
Even in good circumstances, an obstacle to achieving your goal will be the intimidation tactics the other person may use against you: you are anti-woman, racist, homophobic, etc.
Generally speaking, these tactics fall into two broad categories:
Psychologizing. The person attempts to intimidate you emotionally. For example, you contradict a diatribe about how "men only want one thing" by pointing out that the men in your life aren't like that. The speaker responds, "Why are you so threatened by honesty about sex?" The ground has just shifted away from your factual objection onto speculation about what is wrong with your psychology.
Don't let her get away with this: calmly repeat your objection and make her deal with it. Ask her, "Do you think your son fits that description? How about your next-door neighbor?" If she won't budge from analyzing your psychological inadequacy, then turn the tables. Inquire, "Why can't you answer my question? Why are you so threatened by having to argue your position? Is it that weak?"
Intellectualizing. The person attempts to intimidate you intellectually. For example, in the Q&A of a university class, you question whether gender is really "socially constructed": that is, you argue that urges such as motherhood are biologically based, not a matter of social indoctrination. The professor replies, "I assume you have Dr. X's essay on this question in the October '96 issue of Snob's Sophistry Journal?" Of course, you haven't. Now the focus shifts onto your intellectual inadequacies and away from the question you raised.
Stand your ground. Insist upon your right to advance an opinion on a matter affecting your life and demand a straight answer.
Good women must not let PC feminism continue to affect our culture. Speak out.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.