When feminists rage defiantly as adversaries of the patriarchal nature of Western society, they regularly fail to account for all of the matriarchal structures throughout it.

Whether feminist activists are vehemently denunciating “patriarchy,” “rape culture,” the “wage gap,” or “male privilege,” there are significant issues in terms of external perceptions which they all have in common. Regardless of their relentless promotion of themselves and feminist values and social theories, the impression of feminism gleaned by a rising segment of the general public, including numerous liberals, is that feminists are excessively extreme (and perhaps even repugnantly sanctimonious and delusional, indoctrinated, or disingenuous), and that feminism is outmoded or out of touch with reality.

To an extent, this reflection is based on a faulty generalization: that individuals each constitute a population or rule, or that what is true of one part of something is true of the whole, and vice versa. But in various cases, the parochial mentality of the herd, and the rapid, meandering, and episodic nature of our media and its contextual frameworks (“outrage du jour”) are such that collective navel-gazing between feminists is all but inevitable, as are apathy and antipathy toward their causes.

In this, I seek to elucidate the problem to some degree, but only analytically—in a sense akin to a stargazer describing the constellations of the night sky—as opposed to prescribing a solution as a doctor would to treat a disease. Typically, it is a fool’s errand to endeavor to sway a fanatic, which many feminist activists are. Fanatics sustain their dogmata with unshakable conviction, and this conviction influences all of their actions and behaviors. They pledge themselves entirely to what they believe, and believe that their actions in relation to those philosophies are epoch-making. The more important they believe any particular action is, the more arduous a task it will be to undo their belief in that action’s foundation.

This resistance to change or growth, even in the face of evidence which contradicts their views, is what has led many who would ordinarily align with feminist pursuits to move away from, or even to denounce, feminism at large. Detachment from, and rejection of, reality and its truths, in certain instances, render most feminists well-nigh impossible to reason with. Whether the subject is the argument that the United States is a rigid patriarchy, the contention that the West is a rape culture (a culture wherein rape is an epidemic and sexual violence is excused and normalized by popular culture and the media), the assertion that a wage gap based largely on sexist discrimination exists, or the claim that all men are privileged because of their sex, feminists remain unwavering in their resolve to preserve their commitment to these concepts.

Their beliefs, which fail to be sufficiently specific and necessarily concerned with the real world, cannot be, for them, unequivocally refuted; such indisputable disconfirmatory proofs must occur and garner their acknowledgement, and yet this cannot transpire due to their severance from reality (notwithstanding their unfortunately powerful influence on it). Under normal circumstances, a rational person, when confronted with appreciable amounts of contradictory evidence, would feel compelled to, at the very least, reconsider their position(s), if not to dispose of them entirely.

But for a number of feminists, this process is absent, and even further, they lack an imperative element for self-evaluation: social support. The echo chambers—spaces in which there is nearly total agreement between each individual involved—that many feminists often confine themselves to produce an environment wherein they have no encouragement from their peer group to reassess, modify, or discard core tenets of their personal ideologies, or the ideology of their collective, no matter how mistaken said ideological components may be.

A singular person might struggle to maintain a fallacious or erroneous belief when met with a plethora of opposing evidence, yet when a fervid adherent belongs to a group of committed individuals who feed not only their own dogmata, but the dogmata of the whole, even the most ludicrous of their perspectives is frequently preserved. Through this, principally when their beliefs are undermined or contradicted in a manner which they cannot fully ignore, they continue to proselytize and work to persuade not only their allies and enemies that they are correct, but themselves as well.

This tapestry of interpersonal and intrapersonal dysfunction is intricate and, on a fundamental level, as ancient as complex belief amongst human beings itself. The question, however, is what drives feminists to carry on in misguided crusades even when the reality that they have lost the plot in several respects is palpable. To better understand these proclivities, a book entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by professor of psychology and marketing, Robert B. Cialdini, may be of some value.

In this work, hereafter to be referred to as Influence, Cialdini describes a concept known as “social proof,” which is a principle that states that we determine what is correct by discovering what others believe is correct. (“We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”) The actions of many others providing the proof generates the most effective example of this principle. In the fourth chapter of Influence, Cialdini employs the participant-observer research of Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter, documented in their 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails, on a Chicago-based doomsday cult known as the Guardians to illustrate the power of belief despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary.

The cult, composed of fewer than thirty followers, prophesied that a flood would inundate the world, but the members would be spared annihilation because a spacecraft would rescue them at midnight on the morning of the deluge. The followers of the cult demonstrated a profound dedication to their cult’s ideology. (“The group members had gone too far, given up too much for their beliefs to see them destroyed; the shame, the economic cost, the mockery would be too great to bear.”) Prior to the flood, members of the cult likewise did not engage in a great deal of action (i.e., proselytizing).

The collective awaited the appearance of the craft and did not obtain any information until 4:45 AM. When that time came, the message from on high was that “the little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Subsequent to this divine affirmation, and at the moment that the physical evidence did not coincide with their beliefs, members of the cult altered their behaviors, turning to the sole proof which could save them: social proof.

In spite of the fact that their beliefs had been exposed as unsubstantiated, the sense of uncertainty motivated the members to act, to preach, and to converse with the media and answer inquiries, whereas their prior confidence had permitted them to remain inactive. The group members had surrendered so much for their beliefs that when physical proof undercut their worldviews, they felt the need to reinforce their perspectives through the use of social proof. When they could not change the physical evidence of the fallaciousness of their doctrine, they worked to alter the social evidence to conform to their outlooks. (“The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.”)

Though Cialdini did not aver it outright, this model of zealous social proof could be held as an allegory for all of the instances of quixotic or even delusional belief throughout the ages of humanity’s development, including the progression, and current abysmal state, of feminist activism, which has become increasingly desperate and fervent in the present era as so many are turning away from, and against, feminism.

When feminists rage defiantly as adversaries of the patriarchal nature of Western society, they regularly fail to account for all of the matriarchal structures within and throughout it, and overstate the modern power and general status of common men, while understating the advancements and social, political, and economic strength of women. When feminists march to combat rape culture, they fail to rebut the fact that we live in a society which, in the mainstream, universally decries the evils of rape and violence against women overall, incessantly reinforcing these condemnatory notions in the media and everywhere else it can, and never genuinely functioning directly or inadvertently to, in any way, normalize or condone either.

When feminists prattle on about male privilege, they are often confronted with statistics which reveal that men, in various fashions, suffer far worse than women, particularly where violent victimization, suicide, unjust incarceration, and economic decline are concerned, not only in the West, but across the globe. And when all of these stars align, what actions do they take? They buttress the boundaries of their echo chambers, circumscribe and prohibit dissent, create, encapsulate, and disseminate their social proofs, and, somewhat paradoxically, work ever-harder to proselytize in an effort to reshape the world in their image. As Cialdini said of the Guardians: “The group’s assignment was clear; since the physical evidence could not be changed, the social evidence had to be. Convince and ye shall be convinced!”

Numerous feminist activists, much like ardent cultists, work to retain the convinced, to influence non-believers, and to subjugate and eradicate the cognitive dissonance in their heads when challenged by the immensely contradictory reality which surrounds them each day. In their minds, whether they are cognizant of it or not, they have devoted too much to their faith, they are hopelessly bound to it, and they no longer have the mental (or emotional) fortitude to relinquish it.

Relenting would be to surrender all that they hold dear, and no matter the cost, they cannot allow their cherished worldviews to unravel. (“It was necessary to risk the scorn and derision of the nonbelievers because publicity and recruitment efforts provided the only remaining hope. If they could spread the Word, if they could inform the uninformed, if they could persuade the skeptics, and if, by so doing, they could win new converts, their threatened but treasured beliefs would become truer.”)

Herein lie the answers to a count of questions. Why do feminists persist in espousing the tale that the West is a patriarchy, in spite of the fact that ours is a predominantly, and demonstrably, egalitarian society? Why do feminists insist that we live in a rape culture, despite the fact that violence against women and girls, rape in particular, is at the forefront of essentially every discussion of social issues, especially in election cycles? (And in spite of the fact that only a minuscule percentage of men commit rape, and that women and girls have far more resources than men and boys for virtually everything.)

Why do feminists obstinately declare that there is still a prevalent wage gap based chiefly on sexism today despite years of comprehensive invalidation? Why do feminists state that male privilege exists, but female privilege does not, in spite of all of the appalling adversities that men face around the planet, most of which make being a woman, by comparison, a blessing?

Similar to the Guardians, many feminists continue to advocate their narratives, no matter the proofs of the real world which confute them, because they require their beliefs, they benefit from their beliefs, they are ensnared by and within their beliefs, and the hope that their beliefs are true, even if that means perverting reality and the minds of those around them to fit their needs, however irrational, must live on.

Krista Milburn is the Editor of Trigger Warning. She is an interdisciplinary researcher and criminology student with an interest in a variety of fields ranging from sociology to biology. She is, additionally, a commentator on sex and gender issues and problems related to crime. You can find her writing here.

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