Imagine a woman is at a party. She meets someone who appears friendly and engaging at first glance. However, she pays attention to certain cues that could indicate potential risks. Are they using aggressive body language? Are they evasive when answering questions? Are they slurring their speech? She trusts her gut feeling. If something about the person makes her feel uneasy or unsafe, she takes that feeling seriously, as intuition can sometimes pick up on subtle cues that the conscious mind might miss. We have all, at some time or another, been that woman at a party.
"Thin slicing" is a concept that originated in psychology and has relevance for me as a feminist student of philosophy, particularly in discussions related to perception, intuition, and decision-making. In psychology, thin-slicing refers to the ability to make quick, accurate judgments or decisions about a person or situation based on a limited amount of information. This concept was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Blink," where he explored the idea that our subconscious mind can rapidly and accurately process small amounts of information to form judgments or make decisions. In the field of epistemology, which is concerned with the nature of knowledge, there is a debate about the reliability of intuition as a source of knowledge. Thin-slicing can be seen as a form of intuitive judgment, where individuals quickly assess a situation or person based on the limited information available.
The world of online activism has undoubtedly reshaped the way we engage with social and political issues. It has provided a platform for marginalized voices to be heard, but it has also given rise to a disturbing trend – the harassment of feminists who don’t tow the gender ideology line. We’ve all experienced it…the ubiquitous “TERF” name-calling, the threats of cancellation (often ironically from people who aren’t exactly high-ranking on the social hierarchy), the messages sent under safe cover of FB messenger so reminiscent of junior high…delete her or we can’t be friends!
Often, these harassments are rooted in the rapid judgments and stereotypes that underlie thin-slicing, exposing the insidious ways bias persists in the digital age. Thin-slicing as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Blink," refers to the human ability to make snap judgments based on limited information. It's a cognitive shortcut that helps us navigate complex situations quickly. This tool, innate in us humans, has been a powerful one that women especially have used for generations to mark danger. Imagine you are walking down the street at night, alone, and you briefly encounter someone you've never met before. You exchange only a few words, and you notice certain physical characteristics like facial hair, a deep voice, and a masculine clothing style. Based on these limited cues, you may quickly infer that this person is male, and that you should be wary of your surroundings. We women have been doing this from the beginning of recorded history. Our brain is like a computer which processes knowledge instantly to give a first impression. Thin-slicing allows us to make decisions in person, quickly, that can be as good as those made cautiously and deliberately. This technique can be learned through practice and controlled to the point when you know you can trust your instincts or not.
Part of the problem with gender identity ideology is that we are told to no longer trust our instincts, our natural gut reaction, thin-slicing, and to train ourselves to lie. No, this isn’t a man, this is a WOMAN. The “real self” is something other than the physical body, in a new form of Gnostic dualism, and we must disregard what we see in front of us. Gender identity can sound a lot like religious identity, which is determined by beliefs. But those beliefs don’t determine reality. A person either is or is not a man, regardless of what anyone—including that person—happens to believe. I find it hard to believe that, a few years ago, feminists’ rallying cry was #BelieveAllWomen. How times have changed.
Thin-slicing can be a very powerful tool that allows us to get below the surface of a situation quickly. However, it becomes problematic when these judgments are tainted by preconceived biases and stereotypes, which is often the case in online spaces. In the digital realm, feminists who question gender identity ideology often find themselves at the center of intense debate.
Here's where thin-slicing comes into play: when individuals encounter anti-genderist feminist ideas, they may immediately resort to quick judgments and stereotypes, without delving into the nuances of the arguments. These judgments may stem from society's deeply ingrained biases about feminists, especially those who challenge the status quo, and gender ideology. The giant computer that is our brain silently crunches all of the data given us: that good people are compliant and faithfully repeat the mantra “transwomen are women”. Those who question it are BAD.
The harassment of feminists online can take various forms, including doxxing, threats, trolling, and character assassination. These attacks often result from thin-sliced judgments that dismiss their ideas and instead target them as individuals. Such harassment has a chilling effect on free speech, as it discourages people from speaking out on controversial issues. It also shows, disturbingly, that one's stated values (acceptance, inclusivity, love) can be utterly incompatible with their attitude (violence, threats, personal attacks) and how they behave in the world.
Thin-sliced judgments often reinforce existing stereotypes about anti-gender feminists, labeling them as "radical extremists." These stereotypes can be used to justify harassment and discredit their arguments without substantive engagement. Instead of engaging in constructive debate, harassers resort to personal attacks, dismissing anti-genderist feminist ideas based on preconceived notions. This stifles important discussions about gender inequality and social justice. Harassment discourages many other men and women from participating in online discussions, limiting their ability to advocate for change and share their perspectives. Rather than engaging in open and respectful dialogue, some individuals resort to quick judgments and stereotypes, dismissing important ideas and contributing to a hostile online environment.
In the past, there was a movement to #BelieveAllWomen and trust our instincts. Today, we find ourselves in a profoundly changed world, where a new generation of young women is being instructed to suppress the fear they might experience in potentially dangerous situations. They are advised not to rely on their intuition and, if they express discomfort in environments like bathrooms, changing rooms, or shelters for survivors of sexual abuse, they are sometimes met with accusations of bigotry and even receive threats.
The message today’s young women are getting is that if their inner voice says it feels wrong when someone with a penis undresses in front of them, or is present when they undress, in a space designated for women, there is something wrong with them. It appears that institutions, politicians, and so-called progressives are happy to sacrifice women at the altar of inclusivity. They demand we keep quiet when we feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Ironically, instead of teaching us to keep ourselves safe and fear violation, the women’s movement teaches us to fear being labeled as bigots.
We are setting a dangerous precedent. Think about the young women watching the way that those of us who speak out are being treated. They will surely conclude that they must suffer to accommodate the small handful of males that want to make everything about them. They are now being given access to female prisons, domestic abuse shelters, rape centers, locker rooms, spas and public toilets, as well as changing rooms.
It would be unreasonable to assume that all individuals who identify as transgender are seeking to harm girls or women. Conversely, it is also unwise and overly optimistic to believe that there are no male predators who may exploit this system. They have, they are, and they will continue to do so. What is particularly disconcerting, however, is that we are pressuring women in general to doubt their own judgment. We are advising girls and women to disregard the discomfort that arises at a subconscious level and to suppress their instincts. When a woman perceives danger, the last thing she needs is for her ability to make sound judgments to be compromised by the additional fear of facing social consequences if she takes steps to protect herself.
And all of us who are abused or who witness the abuse that women who speak up are being subjected to are expected to remain silent. All of us whose little voices, our thin-slicing, are telling us that there’s something wrong with prioritizing men’s feelings over women’s safety are told we are wrong. Undermining our ability to thin-slice, this fluid, intuitive, non-verbal kind of experience that helps keep us aware and safe, makes us vulnerable. Insight isn’t a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It’s a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out. We have to keep the flame burning.
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