In Defence of Irrationality: why Mehdi Hasan is wrong about sensible debate
The former New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan has announced that, when it comes to abortion, he stands with that noted advocate of women’s rights, the late Christopher Hitchens – that is to say, firmly on the side of the antis.
He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but by voicing that opinion on the internet, he has generated a considerable backlash. As an experienced journalist, he would have expected this, and, cynic that I am, I can’t help thinking that this might have been a calculated attempt to draw outraged traffic to the websites he writes for. In the twitterstorm that followed his article, Hasan has taken on a huffily offended tone, complaining that readers were quick to disagree with him, and even called him sexist. Oh, the indignity.
Hasan’s views on abortion are obviously objectionable to many women, but does this mean he’s a sexist? It’s a difficult question to answer, but the way he responds to his critics is typical of the subtle form of sexism that is prevalent in the intellectual Left. Like many highly educated men, Hasan believes that we should “debate [an issue] sensibly”; that strong feelings have no place in the discussion about serious and contentious issues. Coming from a man who cites the ultrasound images of his daughters in utero as one of his reasons for opposing abortion, this is something of a double standard. But this tactic of dismissing someone’s opinion because you think they’re being too emotional is one of the common, sexist tactics used to shut women up in a debate
This isn’t a university debating club, and it’s unrealistic for Hasan to expect women to treat it as such. His insistence on dispassionate, rational debate is at odds with many pro-choice women’s feelings on abortion, because within living memory women risked imprisonment, serious injury or death in order to end a pregnancy, and it’s terrifying to imagine that one day we might have to go back to that. The right to legal abortion is a fragile thing; in order for women to get that right, powerful men had to consent to it, so you’ll have to excuse us if some of us get a bit twitchy when an influential man starts opining about what women should or shouldn’t do with their bodies.
Although Mehdi Hasan can keep a calm and level tone when discussing my uterus, but I find that a get a bit more emotional on account of it being my uterus under discussion. However, according to him, it isn’t a sensible response to his points, and this gives him a convenient reason to discount thousands of women’s opinions. It’s patronising, it’s insulting, and it’s not even an original argument. Women have been denied education, property rights, and the vote because allegedly weren’t sensible enough to use these things wisely, and we’re still having to hear the same arguments from concern trolls to this day.
It’s not enough for Mehdi Hasan to tell women what they should do with their bodies – he wants to dictate how we should feel about being told that maybe we shouldn’t have so many rights. Take a good look, because this is what patriarchy looks like.
(I mean it’s not like using the wrong html tags inside the right ones. That would just be embarrassing.)
This is a great article and it makes a lot of good points — but the title makes me wince. It sets up the same false dichotomy that Hasan did in his tweet, and that you (implicitly) criticise him for in the text itself. There is nothing [i]irrational[/i] about getting emotional over a deeply emotionally provocative issue. And it’s perfectly possible to have a sensible debate in which emotions are taken into account.