Good Question: Respecting Women

What are we generally thinking of when we say ‘Respect Women’?

i.e. are we simply asking for the status quo to stop acting as if women must earn basic human rights, or are we selfishly demanding special female rights (with chivalry sprinkles on top)? Because it sure seems like some people think feminists are asking for one thing while other people are damn sure they’re hearing feminists demand the other thing.

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38 comments for “Good Question: Respecting Women

  1. Asia
    January 17, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I think a basic acknowledgement that women are equal humans while understanding that present society affords men more power or standing in the world. It’s wrong to use that power to hurt or be reckless with someone’s well-being.

    Of course, I think not hurting people and being mindful enough to avoid indirectly hurting someone when you can is the basic level of decency for anyone.

    • John
      January 20, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      “A basic acknowledgement that women are equal humans.” The first line of the thread is the best. “Respecting women” or “respecting” anyone is simply an acknowledegment of the Golden Rule. That seems to be pretty simple.

      Some of the rest of this thread has gone off on really technical tangents. I think Aziz Ansair’s quote applies here, just substituting “respecting women” for “feminist”:

      “So, I feel like if you do believe that, if you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work,” he says, joking, “You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”

      • ludlow22
        January 20, 2015 at 5:44 pm

        The problem is that by this definition, everyone up to and including Carol Tobias would define themselves as feminists, which makes it a near-useless term to actually discuss.

        Which is actually a pretty good argument for not having debates over what words ‘mean.’ Linguistic prescriptivism is silly.

  2. January 18, 2015 at 1:40 am

    I think that for a man to genuinely respect a woman, he must make at least two commitments: to examine and understand his masculinity and to use his privilege in support of women rather than in support of male entitlement. For instance, because men’s voices are listened to and supported more than those of women, men should help women gain visibility, ensure that their voices are louder so that they can convey their perspectives and experiences under patriarchy. He should also acknowledge the reproductive labor that women do and not treat it as inferior to or less worthy than waged productive labor, as labor that is only fit for women. Basically, he has to be committed to supporting women as a class.

  3. Hugh
    January 18, 2015 at 7:06 am

    The word “respect” is pretty hazy.

  4. AMM
    January 18, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    In the USA, at least, when we speak of “respecting” someone, we mean something rather different than

    asking for the status quo to stop acting as if women must earn basic human rights,

    I’m going to reply to the excerpted question.

    or are we selfishly demanding special female rights (with chivalry sprinkles on top)? Because it sure seems like some people think feminists are asking for one thing while other people are damn sure they’re hearing feminists demand the other thing.

    The confusion comes because the second group is under the misapprehension that women already have “equal” rights, so when feminists start detailing what needs to change, they see it as asking for extras.

    The reason for that misapprehension is usually that they enjoy some sort of privilege and thus (a) don’t have to see the ways in which women get screwed over and/or (b) they see the status quo as in their interest and thus rationalize their opposition to change by claiming that those changes would be “special rights.”

    When I hear this sort of thing, I feel like the pot of petunias in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “here we go again.”

  5. snorkellingfish
    January 18, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    I feel like part of this is to do with respect having two different meanings. On one hand, “respect” can be talking about respecting women’s humanity, which should be a basic given. On the other hand, “respect” can be something that’s earned: for example, respecting a person’s opinion, or respecting a person’s achievements.

    In this context, the meaning should be clear, but isn’t because there are people who don’t want to recognise sexism or who want to obfuscate the issue to disguise that they’re against respecting women in both senses of the word. They pick a fight saying, “I believe in equality, not giving women special rights,” because it gives them an excuse to disagree with the statement. It’s not that they really don’t understand what’s being said–it’s just that the vagueness gives them plausible deniability to argue.

    I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons we use a vague word is because we scared of the backlash if we speak too plainly. Feminists get attacked for being angry (like sexism isn’t something to be angry about). We get told that women already have rights, so what are we complaining about? A vague word like “respect” can leave us less open to that than something specific, and is harder to argue with than something specific because all people deserve a vague level of respect in the first sense of the word.

  6. Errol
    January 19, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    All of you say that women are being screwed over, however I would none you actually say how. The reason so many people are against feminist is because too many feminist are afraid of words. Too many don’t enjoy people using their first amendment right because they don’t like their opinion and that causes you to believe there is a lack of respect. Words like bossy and B****, there not pleasant but you cant tell people not to say it. Respect is earned nobody is just respected unless they set up an image of themselves for others to see. Also Aalayiah, how can you ask men to do the work for you. You want women to be respected yet your trying to rely on a man to do it for you because it should be his duty? That’s hypocrisy

    • January 19, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      Also Aalayiah, how can you ask men to do the work for you. You want women to be respected yet your trying to rely on a man to do it for you because it should be his duty? That’s hypocrisy

      Of course I don’t need to rely on men in that sense. All I’m pointing out are the ways in which men can have genuine respect for women. I should note that women should respect each other as well, for women are capable of perpetuating misogyny against marginalized women and so on.

      Also, we need a giraffe here. [Thank you for sending a giraffe alert ~ mods]

      • January 19, 2015 at 4:08 pm

        I like to employ the 3-comment rule before loosing the giraffe, Aaliyah. Errol is being antagonistic, but he’s not breached the comment policy as yet.

      • January 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm

        Ah, ok. Nevermind then.

      • January 19, 2015 at 4:34 pm

        It’s always OK to send an alert, Aaliyah.

    • Donna L
      January 19, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      Perhaps you can’t tell people not to refer to women with offensive slurs and expect to enforce your demand, but you can sure as hell tell people what you think of them for using those slurs. The first amendment works both ways.

    • EG
      January 19, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. Of course I can tell people not to call women sexist slurs–it’s not at the top of my feminist priority list, but it’s on there. That’s my freedom of speech. Their freedom of speech is that they don’t have to obey me.

      “Too many feminist are afraid of words,” my ass. Don’t confuse anger with fear.

      I think I’m actually stupider for having read this comment.

      • PrettyAmiable
        January 20, 2015 at 12:25 pm

        I cower in the face of a dictionary.

    • Matthew
      January 19, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      Does anyone think this commentator sounds like a rather infamous commentator from the past? Maybe it’s not, but it’s definitely his level stupid.

      • PrettyAmiable
        January 20, 2015 at 10:15 am


      • Donna L
        January 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

        The thought occurred to me as well. Errol, you wouldn’t happen to live in Poland, would you?

      • Matthew
        January 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

        haha – that’s exactly who I thought! Maybe! ;-)

      • January 20, 2015 at 2:51 pm

        Amusing though the speculation might be, you’re all now actively assisting Errol in derailing the thread.

    • ludlow22
      January 19, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Q: maybe this post talks around the comment policy, but does anyone really thing the poster has anything to contribute here, and do we gain anything from not banning him (or her, I guessss)?

      • January 19, 2015 at 5:56 pm

        Getting a bit meta/off-topic – belongs on spillover rather than on this thread.

  7. January 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    I think there are two different things (perhaps more) that mean ‘respect women’. The first being respecting (or not) each woman you encounter, and the second being respecting (or not) women as a percentage of the population of a government (i.e. enacting laws for/against women’s rights.)
    I try to aim for both but I’ve certainly noticed that they don’t always go hand in hand.

  8. a lawyer
    January 20, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    are we simply asking for the status quo to stop acting as if women must earn basic human rights, or are we selfishly demanding special female rights (with chivalry sprinkles on top)?

    Um… neither? If I had to choose one, I guess the second one is closer.

    I feel like I rarely see “respect” used to mean “act as if we are entitled to basic human rights.”

    I feel like “lack of respect” is used more commonly to attack someone who is opposing your argument or position. As in, “these ideas demand respect” or “this position demands respect” or “I demand respect” or “these voices demand respect.”

    Which rarely works, so I don’t feel like it’s that common these days. The irony is that (as most parents can probably attest) if you were to list a lot of things which you can actually demand at will, “respect” isn’t one of them. You CAN demand silence; deference; accord; concession; resigned acceptance; and so on. But respect, not so much.

    Besides, “respect” is one of those ridiculously subjective “it means what I want it to mean” words. If I want to say “all women should be provided with specific taxpayer-funded birth control and abortion services” it’s a lot more effective to to actually say that, instead of just saying “respect women” and assuming the other folks know what I mean.

    Because it sure seems like some people think feminists are asking for one thing while other people are damn sure they’re hearing feminists demand the other thing.

    I don’t know if they’re a conflict; they may both be correct.

    I don’t know who is familiar with motte-and-bailey here, but platitudes like “respect women” are prime candidates for that problem, because their meaning is so flexible. That is why some men and women alike prefer inaccuracy: they can claim (in one conversation) that respect for women requires _____ to happen, and retreat (in another conversation) to a “what, don’t you think all humans are generally deserving of respect?” bailey.

    I’m inherently wary of that sort of generic phrase. Even something like “basic human rights” can vary widely, from “the negative right, not to be imprisoned without due process” “the positive right not to be offended or have one’s religion/beliefs maligned.”

    • January 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      For those who’ve never heard of “motte-and-bailey doctrine” before, it was described in this 2005 Metaphilosophy paper critiquing post-modernism and was recently popularised online in a critique of social justice rhetoric by Scott Alexander.

      [eta: edited to modify link to a followup post on Alexander’s blog rather than the original post, which he himself describes as “a post so controversial that it probably can’t be linked in polite company”. Just google “motte bailey scott alexander” and choose the July 2014 post if you really want to see why.]

      • a lawyer
        January 20, 2015 at 5:24 pm

        I didn’t link to Scott because I was (a) not trying to critique social justice generally; and (b) trying to point out that “motte and bailey” gets used by EVERYONE across the spectrum.

        I’m not sure I did well enough on (b) especially now that you’ve lined to Scott, so let me be crystal clear: I think everyone does it, not just liberals.

        For those who don’t want to get embroiled in Scott’s article, here’s a partial quote:

        [think of] a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.

        So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement [(the “bailey”)]. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you [(the “motte.”)] Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

        Some classic examples:

        1. The religious group that acts for all the world like God is a supernatural creator who builds universes, creates people out of other people’s ribs, parts seas, and heals the sick when asked very nicely (bailey). Then when atheists come around and say maybe there’s no God, the religious group objects “But God is just another name for the beauty and order in the Universe! You’re not denying that there’s beauty and order in the Universe, are you?” (motte). Then when the atheists go away they get back to making people out of other people’s ribs and stuff.

        If you want some more examples, read Scott’s article.

        A right-wing example might be the phrase “supporting democracy.” Which is one of those phrases that gets used to justify a whole lot of troublesome shit like wars and such (the bailey), but when you challenge it, the speaker starts talking about the benefits of democracy generally, because it is pretty hard to argue AGAINST democracy, right? (the motte)

        And so on.

      • ludlow22
        January 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

        Also from that post: I think the idea of tabooing words is super, super useful.

        To be clear, it’s not a sneaky anti-‘politically correct’ idea that we shouldn’t be offended by certain words or debate whether certain words are acceptable. It’s the idea that many conversations get stuck not because the people having them disagree, but because there are undisclosed referrants in their language.

        Cf: debates over whether an action (or set of beliefs, or ideology) is ‘feminist,’ whether a group of people are ‘terrorists,’ whether people are ‘real Christians,’ and so on. It’s way, way more productive to taboo the word at hand and replace it, which has the effect of dissolving a lot of disputes. Instead of using feminist to mean ‘anyone who supports letting women vote’ we’ll say arflgarbl, and instead of using feminist to mean ‘anyone who supports specific policies X, Y, and Z’ we’ll say snufrgrab, and look, all of the sudden we don’t have anything to argue about (or if we do, at least we’re arguing about something real- does Jane support passing legislation X?- as opposed to something with no actual answer- is Jane a ‘feminist?’).

        This had the side benefit of preventing people from using emotionally loaded words like ‘terrorist’ to make arguments for them, instead forcing them to be specific about what they believe.

  9. ludlow22
    January 20, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Maybe instead of ‘respect women’ we should just say ‘oppose the passage of legislation that would restrict abortion’ or ‘default to believing people who say they’ve been raped’ or ‘don’t assume women are less competent in your office.’

    Seems less likely to require explanation.

    • EG
      January 20, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Yeah, I generally don’t say “respect women.” Respect is a feeling. I don’t give a flying fuck how random people feel about me or other women. I care how they treat us interpersonally, systemically, and institutionally. Respect me, don’t respect me, I don’t care; just treat me with a modicum of human decency and empathy.

    • January 21, 2015 at 1:38 am

      Yea, but sometimes your not talking about or referencing a specific issue. I mean when your talking about a specific issue then you should use specific language to focus the issue.

      Respect is a cultural value, that many people share. I think it useful to point out a shared value to start a conversation about women’s rights.

      • ludlow22
        January 21, 2015 at 2:43 am

        Respect is a cultural value, that many people share. I think it useful to point out a shared value to start a conversation about women’s rights.

        Is it a shared value, though? It seems that people use the term in such wildly varying ways that it conveys no actual semantic content. In other words, what does someone saying ‘I respect women’ actually tell you anything about their beliefs/preferred policy outcomes/ideological leanings? Can you imagine any (for example) member of the US Congress refusing to say ‘I respect women?’ As such, the phrase has only performative value- it suggests allegiance to a noncontroversial moral standard.

        Like I said above, linguistic prescriptivism is silly. If the goal is to actually understand each other we should start by acknowledging that words are referents, not entities with their own properties.

      • Broseidon King Of The Brocean
        January 21, 2015 at 10:13 am

        I’m in love with your comments here Ludlow22. Pretty much everything you write makes sense to me.

      • asia
        January 22, 2015 at 12:39 am

        Yea, no member of congress will state I don’t respect women.
        Therefore you can start/frame your conversation on that shared. Focus on the fact that whatever your talking comes from your desire to respect women. It’s easy to use this for abortion. I respect a women’s right to choose to be a mother. If you respect her you have to respect her choice even if you disagree with it.

        Even if her choice makes you think “she’s a total ass hole”. And you fundamentally disagree with her choice.

      • ludlow22
        January 22, 2015 at 3:18 am

        If you respect her you have to respect her choice even if you disagree with it.

        Do you respect the human rights? Then you have to respect a fetus’s right not to be aborted.

        I don’t believe that, obviously, but my point is that there’s nothing talismanic about ‘respect.’ If people don’t believe respecting women includes being pro-choice, you’re not going to be able to change that with linguistic sleight-of-hand.

      • Asia
        January 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

        Yea it can be used both ways. I don’t think it’s a linguistic slight of hand. It’s communication where both parties meet over a shared value.

        The preceding conversation is normally about how specifically ones political viewpoints uphold respect. I personally have had this conversation with quite a view religious people. Normally, they retain their religious views but accept the fact their are good people and legitimate viewpoints on the other side. Sometimes they retain their religious view and accept that allowing others to follow their conscience is fair.

        Also, the conversation illuminates the issue for everyone in the room without strong feelings on the matter.

      • a lawyer
        January 21, 2015 at 9:24 am

        I present Exhibit A in the “why statements of respect are meaningless” argument:

        I respect John Boehner.

        Of course, I think he’s a total asshole. And I disagree with all his political positions. And I think he’s generally a nasty horrible person. And I wish he would lose his seat in the House; and that his statements would be mocked by every publication; and that he would be driven out of politics entirely; and that he would get the hell out of everyone’s life. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to wish he would get hit by a bus, but I wouldn’t be very upset if he did.

        But he’s the Speaker of the House. And he holds a Constitutionally important position. And he’s therefore an integral part of a political-legal system which I love and respect; which I have sworn to uphold; and in which I have focused my career. So in that sense I respect him, even as I despise him.

        I am also 100% confident that if asked, Boehner would state that he “respects women.” Which I’m sure is equally limited, i.e. (“I respect them too much to let them have the harsh experience of choice.”)

  10. TomSims
    January 21, 2015 at 11:30 am

    @ a lawyer

    “Of course, I think he’s a total asshole.”

    I agree completely. And I do NOT respect “Boner”.

  11. AJM
    January 23, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    As the father of 3 girls, I am the only male inhabitant of my house. As parents, my wife and I share the same belief and try to instill it into our children: human rights and equality are bestowed on us at birth regardless of gender, but respect is earned through hard work, building of trust and the establishment of integrity. Simple, perhaps, but it has worked for us.

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