Doing a GISH GALLOP on lefty feminists

November 26th, 2014  |  Published in Gender & Sexuality, Power & Privilege

gish10aHave you heard of the Gish Gallop? I hadn’t either until I was complaining to a friend (yes, complaining; well I am both a feminist and a lefty) about the sweeping generalisations and jaw-dropping assertions made by Mark Latham (former leader of the Labor Party) in his recent polemic against “left feminists” and their putative dislike of children. Here’s a sample of his missiles:

  • The left-feminist orthodoxy has been allowed to dominate the political debate.
  • A major part of left feminist campaigning has involved the demonisation of children.
  • Inner-city feminists spend a lot of time complaining. “More often than not theygish7 don’t like children and don’t want to be with them.”
  • It’s widely assumed that home-based life is pathetically menial. “You know the refrain: men have rigged the rules of society by dominating the workforce, while women are left with the agony of domestic duties, the nightmare of raising kids.”
  • Men have been sucked into thinking that work life is inherently superior to a life raising children.
  • Women [Mark Latham] speaks to in western Sydney regard child-rearing as a joy, and his own results from nearly a decade of being the primary carer for three children “have been splendid”. His male friends all want to swap places with him, and he wonders why these left feminists have children in the first place.

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Dodgy debating technique

I was getting a bit steamed up over all this when my friend found me a link to (moregish8 or less) the following:

The Gish Gallop is a debating strategy that involves bombarding the opponent with a torrent of half-truths, lies, straw-men and gotcha arguments, none of which may be particularly compelling on their own but take a long time to unravel.

The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Centre for Science Education, and named after Duane Gish, a creationist; these guys, it seems, are partial to a Gish Gallop (click here, and here).

Ah! Not only the creationists!

How do you respond to a Gish Gallop?

It’s tricky; you can’t just ignore a Gish Gallop; silence can be taken as acceptance.

Strong responses have already been made to Latham by several journalists including Annabel Crabb and Jacqueline Maley (Sydney Morning Herald), Amy Gray (The Guardian) Liz Conor (New Matilda) and Janice Reid (Financial Review).

gishI’m not going to add to these. Continuing to beaver away at bringing the galloper down to size, important as it is, can end up serving their purposes more than those of the target group. You get into a downward spiral over split-hairs that just provide more opportunities for more gish-galloping. (I do like the way this term hisses and spits around my tongue!)

What’s the main point here?

What I really want to do is make a point about the general importance of the Gish Gallop –and other debating/spin techniques that don’t give a nod to the need for evidence.

Have you noticed how often that happens in politics? At least Australian politics. It doesn’t just afflict has-been pollies with axes to grind against (some) women, but also current blue-tie boys with their attack on climate change, for starters, and right across the board to the treasurer’s inanities about the driving habits of poor people. They make assertions – all the time – totally unsupported by evidence.

I won’t bore you a long list of pollies’ Gish Galloping habits . I could assemble one though, if anybody wanted it – in less than three news cycles I would think.

Are politicians worried about how wrong it is to defend policy with their dodgy techniques? Seems not.

Should we be? Definitely. We deserve policy that at least has some evidence behind it.

Stay alert to the Gish Gallop!

Share your examples as comments…Joan Beckwith.

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10 comments on “Doing a GISH GALLOP on lefty feminists”

  1. The facebook pointer post to this website post also included substantial comments so embedding it here to preserve…Joan Beckwith.

  2. glynne sutcliffe says:

    Joan – I understand your defensiveness. All I can offer is the information that I was in Chicago in the early seventies, and in Adelaide in the late seventies, with children, and a strong sense of solidarity with other women protesting our exclusion from the world of the socially meaningful and acknowledged. I went to courses on ‘the sociology of gender’, I went to rap groups set up from noticeboards in laundromats, I researched family patterns in other cultures, etc. etc. etc. I became strongly aware of the impact of sex on intellectual assumptions and research frameworks, etc.

    AND I experienced the big freeze from women who thought that as a married woman with children I was sleeping with the enemy and obviously didn’t grasp the necessity for separatist life styles as well as politics, etc.The women’s movement DID NOT DISCOVER children until around 1980. And they are still theoretically marginal. How one can theorise a decent politics for woman that does not account fully for the presence of children in the lives of the great majority of women I have no idea. Mark Latham has voiced some very uncomfortable but nevertheless true and potentially useful observations. The greatest loss we can attribute to the women’s movement has been the loss of the companionate marriage – probably the key underpinning for large slabs of the most useful scholarship on sex and society that emerged in the early years – when feminist scholarship was certainly more creative and insightful than it later became. The greatest mistake the women’s movement made was to operate on the basis of seeking male approval for career development, and using Lenin’s highly undemocratic ‘vanguard’ theory to justify never seeking grass roots support from the great mass of women, who were delivered on a plate to employers seeking cheap labor. What happened is all theoretically understandable, but nevertheless regrettable. Women have lost touch with their bodies, and with their totally natural and socially needed impulses to nurture their babies. The whirlwind of alienation is now blowing through our society.

    • Thanks for your comments, Glynne Sutcliffe. My post is about Latham’s technique (the Gish Gallop) rather than the content. It is deliberately NOT about the content BECAUSE of the technique. To put it differently, quoting Ursula K. Le Guin (“The Left Hand of Darkness”):
      “To oppose something is to maintain it…You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road.”
      The different goal in this case might be to frame some research questions around Latham’s piece and/or your comments rather than engaging on his (unsubstantiated) terms…Joan Beckwith.

    • mcdonald says:

      Thanks for your response. You made more sense to me than most writers on feminism, especially in your statement about the loss of companionate marriage and the way the ‘vanguard’ ditched ordinary women, abandoning them to becoming cheap labor.
      Ordinary women now are forced to work AND do the majority of child care/domestic duties.

      • Your comment is directed to Glynne Sutcliffe, I gather, mcdonald. Hopefully she will return to the site and catch it. Thanks for joining the discussion…Joan Beckwith.

  3. Karen James says:

    Well, how is it possible to respond to or refute Gish galloping? Seems like we need to do something to counter such nonsense.
    Thanks for explaining what GG is about.

    • Good question, Karen James. Some suggestions have been made by George Baumann in another comment, and the journalists I’ve cited also draw on a range of ways of responding. I think just calling such tactics is a form of response, but more is certainly needed, given the importance to discussions of policy…Joan Beckwith.

  4. George Baumann says:

    Thank you for the email and your response, Joan. No, I didn’t get a notification. Yes, Gish Gallop is a good term, it’s polite too, unlike some near enough synonyms.

  5. George Baumann says:

    Thank you, Joan for Gish Gallop – a valuable addition to any vocabulary.

    Latham has always been a loose cannon, and while obviously very ‘brainy’, he’s always given me the impression of an aggressive, unpleasant person out to shock. Even his much-flouted domesticity and relationship with his children has a kind of scariness, not to mention creepiness to it.

    Unfortunately Gish Galloping is huge in politics (as well as in social media), and has reached unprecedented heights with this government.

    The thing that struck me in your above piece was not so much Latham’s tirade against ‘left feminists’, it’s what I would expect from him.

    But I find it a bit sad that so far it seems that only women writers have criticised his Gishing so far. Where are the feminist men?

    As you, and the first little cartoon point out, it is difficult and energy-consuming to argue with Gishers. You can easily play into their hands just by arguing your point conscientiously. Therefore, I feel that humour, Keatingesque sarcasm and the occasional one below the belt (playing the person) are all perfectly legitimate weapons.

    • Thanks for your comment about the Gish Gallop, George, and for showing the flag for male respondents to Latham’s tirade. There may have been articles by male journalists that I missed, but you are certainly right that women were on the front foot.
      I also like your point about ways of responding to gallopers (with humour, for example). Some of the responses I’ve seen were pretty funny; the one by Amy Gray for example.
      Just being able to name something as a Gish Gallop seems useful as well. The term itself almost has the effect (in my mind at least) of bringing the galloper down to size…Joan Beckwith.

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