Researchers exploring whether or not fear based appeals influence people’s behavior found no clear consensus, and decided to conduct a meta-analysis on 50 years worth of research into the topic. They looked at ‘127 research articles representing 248 independent samples and over 27,000 individuals from experiments conducted between 1962 and 2014’, and discovered something very interesting indeed.
There are three conditions under which fear based appeals work:
- The appeal included a one-time behavioural change
- The target audience contained a large number of women
- The appeal describes how to avoid the threat
An example of this might be a public health campaign aimed at avoiding STDs. If the campaign describes a one-time change (get vaccinated), includes a huge number of women (the Gardasil anti-cancer vax comes to mind), and describes how to avoid the threat (don’t have sex with people whose sexual history you do not know), then the fear approach is likely to work.
An aside relating to the HPV vaccination in Canada: Health Canada originally funded the vaccination for girls, but forced boys who wanted protection from anal, penile and oral cancers to pay, despite the fact that about half of all HPV cancers occur in men. On October 21st, 2015, Health Canada backed down and agreed to fund the vaccine for both boys and girls. A group of young gay men, incensed at the blatant disregard for the health of men and boys were critical players in forcing Health Canada to care about boys as much as they care about girls. Bravo, gentlemen, not only for proving real life, potentially fatal discrimination against men and boys, but for making the government change its policies.
Pay attention, feminists. There will be more of that to come.
Let’s consider fear based appeals and feminism: feminists have been extremely successful at enacting fear campaigns to influence the behavior of women, deploying the three strategies noted by researchers. They suggest a one-time behavioral change, target women (obviously) and suggest ways to avoid the threat. Or rather, they used to. Modern feminism has gone off the rails, and repulses women precisely because modern feminism has rejected the idea that women should evaluate risks and manage threats by changing their own behaviors.
An ad campaign designed to make women terrified of men, that offers a one-time solution and teaches women how to avoid the threat is likely to be successful, and indeed you can find examples of this kind of thinking everywhere when it comes to self-defense classes for women.
These fear based posters are quite typical:
These posters offer a one-time solution (take these classes), target women specifically, and offer the hope that women can avoid the (largely manufactured) threat of being attacked by a man by learning some basic self-defense. When this kind of activism is framed as feminism, a lot of women find it appealing. This is an iteration of feminism that positions women as capable, strong, smart, intuitive, reflective and active, and unsurprisingly, many women find this an appealing image of themselves, however unrealistic it might be. If you want to sell women the story that men are dangerous predators, and have a significant number of women embrace the narrative, you have to cast women as capable of taking actions to mitigate the perceived threats.
This is where modern feminism has completely fallen off the rails and alienated almost all women. Feminism is often cast as toxic to women because of its man-hating bent, and certainly, misandry is as disgusting to most women as misogyny, but I think the real reason the overwhelming majority of women reject the feminist label is because they refuse to see themselves as helpless victims acted upon and incapable of reacting, forcefully, back. Domestic violence stats indicate that women are more than capable of physical violence, even when that violence is dumb and ends with the woman in the ER. As commenters pointed out, women love to imagine themselves badass, butt-kickers who can wipe the floor with any man. It’s not true, but the fantasy is appealing: wickedly strong and skilled against any and all comers.
Who doesn’t love imagining themselves as powerful agents of their own life, capable of kicking the snot out of all who would oppose them?
Oh, wait! I know! Feminists.
Feminists despise the idea that women can, and should, protect themselves against threats, perceived or real. They call this ‘victim-blaming’. Others call it the ‘cult of victimhood’ or the ‘Oppression Olympics’.
I’m going to christen it Sippy Cup Feminism ™.
The fear appeal of feminism (men are rapists, oppressors, toxic, dangerous, etc. etc.) no longer works because feminism has divorced the fear narrative from the ‘active agent of your life’ narrative. That’s why it no longer works. The more feminism insists women are sniveling, delicate, fragile, emotionally unstable, hysterical nitwits, the more average women despise them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Venker at the ICMI14 in Detroit, and Suzanne is one of the least threatening people you will ever meet. She’s a charming, lovely, very pretty and a very pleasant person. She’s also quite small, and there is nothing about her that suggests she might fly off the handle and attack you, although I don’t know. She might be a Black Belt Judo artist, for all I know. She is welcoming, inviting and not at all prickly or intimidating.
A university panel called Uncomfortable Learning invited Suzanne to speak in a student run series, focused on, well, uncomfortable learning. The series was designed to challenge ideas and dominant cultural narratives, and Suzanne was scheduled to give a talk called One step forward, ten steps back: why feminism fails. Here’s how one student reacted on Facebook:
When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological and physical harm to students, but you are also — paying — for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters … you are dipping your hands in their blood.
My goodness! Suzanne murders transwomen with her speeches? Who knew? I guess she is a little badass.
How absurd is that comment? The fear narrative reaches hysterical proportions (Actual harm! Dipping hands in blood! Violent ideologies!), clearly targets women, but completely divorces any notion of taking active steps to avoid the perceived threat (Don’t go, maybe?). The student organizers, anticipating violence from students made uncomfortable by Venker’s thoughts, cancelled the event, although reluctantly.
The concern, Wood explained, was that “people would get riled up while she was speaking,” maybe even throw things, and there wasn’t time before the event to organize security. “You never know,” he said. “We’re just trying to think ahead here. The last thing we wanted to do was do something destructive.”
“If it was just my decision, I would have brought Venker to campus …. Suzanne Venker’s views are views that are held by millions of Americans whether we like it or not, and if we want to push back against them, we have to try to understand them.”
Some might say, but Janet, attending an event and throwing stuff at the speaker is taking action against a threat. No, it’s not. The threat here is Suzanne’s idea that feminism will never succeed. Throwing things at Suzanne does nothing to challenge her idea. These students are the very epitome of Sippy Cup Feminism ™. They are having a tantrum, rather than identifying threats and engaging in specific strategies to mitigate and address the perceived threat.
I would be fascinated to hear what Suzanne has to say, although I suspect I can guess because I’ve read all her books, but I think the Sippy Cup is the key to why feminism is, and will continue, to fail utterly.
Sippy cups are for babies. Grown adults do not want to be considered so fragile they can’t handle words, thoughts and ideas that make them ‘uncomfortable’. Heaven help these simpletons when they get out into the real world. I recommend learning to love homelessness, little darlings. The first time you throw something at another adult because you don’t like their ideas, expect to get fired on the spot. Good luck earning enough to feed yourself, never mind your cat. You think ideas are scary? Wait until you meet your first utility bill. Hint: throwing it across the room won’t help. Grow some balls, take off the bubble wrap, and get rid of your sippy cups.
Unless they’re for wine.
That’s totally okay.
Lots of love,