76

A bit of background first

I've been hanging with the same circle of friends for roughly 10 years now, we're quite a diverse bunch in terms of opinions, and it often sparks debates. Usually, everything just goes fine, even if debates get a little bit heated, it's never to the point of verbal abuse. But that changed recently, one of our friends became a feminist, while I have no problem with feminism (2 of our friends have been feminist for quite a while now, and it's never been a problem), she decided to meet any divergent opinion with, basically, verbal abuse.

The problem

The way she handles divergent opinions have been a source of conflicts for a little while now, but it's starting to escalate more and more the more she applies her opinion to each and every little thing. That behavior ended up alienating almost everyone, and now, when it comes to hanging out, instead of being excited people get tense since they know she will be there too.

A few examples of the problem

In our group of friends there's only one person whose skin color is black (we'll call him X), and as a joke, he's been calling himself our "token black guy", and it ended becoming his nickname. She recently took it upon herself to make us stop calling X that. Of course, if it was making X uncomfortable then we would have stopped, but the first one to stand against that was X himself. She then blew up on him saying things like "he doesn't know any better" or that "he should be thinking of the harm it causes to the black race as a whole".

Another example would be that, when 2 of our friends, which are a couple, announced that they were expecting, when they announced that they wanted to name their child "Lucie" if it was a girl and "Marc" for a boy, she, once again blew up and told them that "gender specific names were unfair, and they have no idea how it could ruin their lives in the future".

Of course, those examples are probably two of the most extreme examples of her behavior, but it gives an idea of how much no subject is "safe".

My Question

I'm usually asked to deal with the problem in our group since I don't often take a side, but here I'm at a loss. I'm searching for a way to ask her to calm down without having to cut our ties with her entirely. I've already tried asking her to stop treating us like garbage when our opinions differ but nothing works.

Is there any way for us to get her to become less aggressive about her opinion?

Note: I know that many people do not like feminism, but I don't think feminism is the problem here, so please refrain from answers putting the blame on that.

Little update on the situation

Our group is going to prepare the wedding of one of our friend and his soon-to-be wife, since it's an event we're all going to attend, we decided to make sure that things would proceed smoothly (that includes the wedding and the preparation).

So we decided to take the first step and have a long talk with her to make sure she would not try to ruin everything, and it seemed to be somewhat successful. Here's how thing went :

  • First: We told her that her new behavior started to be a major issue in the group and that, if it went on it would soon be a "her or us" mentality.

  • Then: We went into extensive details as to why her behavior was an issue (that included telling her how she was being offensive to most people of the group)

  • Then: We then told her that, she is entitled to her opinion, and has every right to defend said opinion. But doing so while belittling us and attacking us, was NOT okay.

So these three points pretty much sum up the discussion, while we basically already had a similar discussion, I think that the fact that we gathered together SPECIFICALLY to tell her that had quite an effect on her. I also think that, the fact that the two persons who were the most active in the discussion where feminists also, played a role in her realisation.

I don't know if her behavior will significantly change or not, or even if it will be a durable change, but we can always hope that it will be.

It looks like the problem has been solved

As I stated in my previous edit, we had a very long discussion with her, an explained to her as accuratly as we could how, and why she was hurting people in the group.

Since then we've met a few time, and we talked about topic that would have usually seen her blow up, but she did not. While she was passionate about her ideas, she was not aggressive, and did not belittle anyone for disagreeing with her.

She even apologised to the people she hurted the most, so, while she might change back in the long run, I think I can consider the problem as solved, thanks for the answer everyone provided, it was really helpfull.

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    when you say I've already tried asking her to stop treating us like garbage, did you pointed out to her that she was actually hurting you (as individual and group)? – OldPadawan Aug 28 '17 at 11:48
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    Possibly worth noting that, in my experience in social justice circles, what she's doing in some of these examples wouldn't normally be considered okay. Specifically, unless she experiences racism herself, she shouldn't be overriding him like that and speaking on his behalf about "what's best for the black race." She herself is making a race-based micro-aggression here. In other words, she's wrong on this one even within her own ideology. (Assuming nothing's been lost in the telling, of course.) – Mike Haskel Aug 29 '17 at 22:12
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    Considering your first example, I don't know that calling her a "feminist" is very descriptive. There are groups of people who use "feminist" as a pejorative and apply it overly broadly. I think that your disclaimer could be removed if you switched the phrasing to describe her as being "overly politically correct". This would encompass both of the examples while "feminism" doesn't really apply to either. – Catija Aug 30 '17 at 15:37
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    In fact, to add to my comment, it may be better to simply let the examples stand on their own, without pigeonholing them into a specific term. They do a really good job of explaining the problem without needing either "politically correct" or "feminist". – Catija Aug 30 '17 at 18:24
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    Thanks for the update! It's really helpful when people come back and describe how the situation played out. Glad this one has a happy ending :) – Em C Sep 5 '17 at 19:19
35

Handling it within a debate

Being in political circles and debate clubs in the past I know your pain. People are very passionate about what they believe and get themselves into a specific mindset, I am exactly the same on certain topics and there's no shifting what I believe through purely verbal debate (without verifiable facts). If anything it wants me to go against their opinion more. But, there's still hope on the horizon for a situation such as this, though.

As she's applying arguments purposely to strike up a debate just don't take the bait, we learned on the debate team when debating outside of an organised event and you want to metaphorically walk away from someone, you can use the simple phrase "Thank-you" adjacent to a relevant sentence to avoid further discussion with most responses. Don't try to refute the claims, don't try to debate them. Simply say something like:

Your opinion has been noted, which you're very much entitled to. Thank you.

if you're not feeding the beast (so to speak), there isn't much of a leg to stand on to continue the debate any further. That's a perfect cue to change the topic to something more enjoyable.

Luckily, PsychologyToday offer the same advice on the subject matter in Point 2 of 5 Keys to Handling Judgmental and Opinionated People, feel free to give that a read, it has some valid points (although they're very much more direct than what we got taught).

The bigger picture

There's a bigger picture here which you need to address; the way she's treating you guys as a whole. You and your peers need to have a civil conversation about the tone of voice and attitude towards these debates when you're next together. You've been friends for a long time and you know she hasn't always been like this. My friends hold the same values and can somewhat be controversial sometimes (I've even addressed these in a question to IPS also). Just show her that you understand she is passionate about what she believes but it doesn't need to be placed in every point of conversations where she sees fit. If she wants to hold a debate as a group, you're more than welcome to have them in a civil setting and when the group wants them.

Don't finger-point or put any blame on anyone, just express how the potential for arguments (between anyone in the group, not just her) is alienating the group as a whole. But make sure you express that she needs to pick her words carefully if she doesn't want to lose you guys as a friend. I know for a fact, I'd tone some debates down a notch or two if it was affecting my friendships overall.

If she carries on, then you're more than entitled to cut ties. But IMO, it helps when someone knows the impact they have on the friend group to learn from rather than just cutting ties, this should be a last resort.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer, i will very much give 5 Keys to Handling Judgmental and Opinionated People a read, as for cutting ties with her, that would only be our last resort, we'd rather come to a compromise with her, if possible. – user3399 Aug 28 '17 at 12:41
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    Also, regarding things to say, "You are allowed to think that" is a good one if you want to really annoy people ;) – Erik Aug 28 '17 at 13:24
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    "Your opinion has been noted, which you're very much entitled to. Thank you." - I couldn't possibly think of anything more passive-aggressive and mean. – Tomáš Zato Aug 28 '17 at 14:44
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    @TomášZato This isn't the beginning of such problems, so being overly polite isn't going to help. From what has been said, she'll only carry on. – Bradley Wilson Aug 28 '17 at 14:46
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    @BradleyWilson: if being overly polite is not going to help, something like the "Noted...thank you" line is going to make it worse. Instead of "not being polite", let's formulate that positive: "be direct". And keep clear of anything attackable. The other points from that 5 point list have some merrit, but this "Thank you" assumes that you are somehow in a place of power and putting the other person down (shutting them up). I can think of a few acquaintances of mine in the past which were similar to the OP's problem - something like that would not have helped at all. – AnoE Aug 29 '17 at 16:04
47

I agree with you, the blame is not to put on feminism, or any other of her ideologies. The problem is that she is offending people who don't agree with her, ruining the times in which you guys hang out together.

First of all try to point out how disrespectful her behavior is, and that there are other more appropriate ways to express her opinion. For example, when your friends announced, I imagine that it was a joyful time, and her comment ruined the atmosphere.

If she realizes that, she might stop being so extreme about her opinions (of course try not to sound rude, otherwise she will be defensive and things will probably get worse). If she doesn't eventually stop, you might consider dropping such a negative person from your circle of friends. Dropping a person is worth it to keep the group together.

EDIT: Note that the opinion of your other friends is important too. I am assuming that almost everyone (if not everyone) doesn't like her behavior.

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    Dropping a person is worth keeping the group together. I really hope you mean the other way around ;) – Mark Aug 30 '17 at 10:26
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    @Mark I don't see how the other way around would even make sense – Axel2D Aug 30 '17 at 12:46
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    Good answers should be more than just suggestions. Explain why your suggestions will improve the interpersonal situation. – user288 Aug 30 '17 at 14:30
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    @Axel2D I was confused for a moment, too. The group has worth, and the worth the cost of dropping a person. I think Mark's comment is based on a template like "[Result] is worth [the cost]." In that light, as written, it seems to say "in order to 'drop a person', 'keeping the group together' is an acceptable cost." Swapping that around makes sense. What's actually written (the more I look at it) actually gets more confusing to me each time. I wonder if it'd be more natural to say "dropping a person is worth it to keep the group together." – Joshua Taylor Aug 30 '17 at 15:37
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    "Keeping the group together is worth dropping a person" – Nacht Aug 31 '17 at 23:42
19

I work in the nuclear industry, and the way we treat radiation hazards is a pretty good framework for dealing with other caustic things. The general approach is to focus on time, distance, and shielding.

  1. Time - The longer you are exposed to radiation, the more harmuful dose you will receive. Limit time to limit the hazard
  2. Distance - The closer you are to a source of radiation, the more intense the effect is. Stay away from a source to limit the hazard
  3. Shielding - By placing something between you and a radiation source you can lessen the amount that reaches you.

These tennets can apply to a caustic participant to a conversation:

  1. Time - Spend less time talking to this person. This is always an option, but not necessarily the best for someone who is your friend.
  2. Distance - Stay away from topics likely to set this person off. If this person twists the conversation into something they see as wrong, gently correct their course, "I'm not disagreeing with you, but we're actually talking about X" If this person persists in twisting the conversation, refer back to Time.
  3. Shielding - Find a way for this person to have an outlet to rage that isn't focused on your group of friends. Perhaps introduce them to someone else who is particularly argumentative (and can serve as a punching bag), or maybe indulge this person's arguments privately or in smaller groups. If no one is willing to be the punching bag, again, refer back to Time.
12

Firstly, feminism is recently seeming to have some other connotation than the actual meaning of that word. The word itself in origin simply means to believe that women should have all the same rights and protections as men do. It means "equality" for women. In such a definition, I would hope all people I know are actually feminists, whether they seem to realize the dictionary definition or not.

The issues you have stated are completely unrelated to feminism, as they are not about women's rights at all. They are related to her feeling it necessary to attempt to "correct" her social circle on things she seems to believe you are lacking in social awareness. I am all for helping people be more mindful and aware of social inequities, in a way that is respectful and informative, which this doesn't seem to be the way it's happening as you describe it. Friendly debates and discussions should never end up feeling like a lecture. If her hope is to inform, it will likely end up ineffective in that form anyway and simply waste everyone's time and make everyone annoyed, including her.

An important factor that also seems overlooked in current discussion of people becoming zealous about social issues is that it is often be very similar in the way it feels to be with someone who is religiously zealous. I find I experience political zealous behavior as really no different. It leaves no room for discussion, only preaching. Often the preacher in such cases believes themselves to be a teacher when they are more likely to simply turn you off to even hearing them because you didn't agree to come sit for their sermon.

I wish I could tell you a way to get a zealous person to back down. I haven't found one yet and have been coming across various versions of the "newly converted" most of my life in one form or another. The only hopeful thing I can tell you is that the majority of such overzealous people I have known have eventually mellowed out with time. Not all do though. And in most cases I had to just distance myself from them during their hardcore time period because having any conversation with them seemed to always somehow revolve back around to whatever brand of preaching they were into at that time (religion, politics, etc).

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    This answer seems to be based on not understanding distinctions between first (and may be second) wave feminism and third wave feminism. – DVK Aug 28 '17 at 19:38
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    The OP makes no distinction about any "waves" and the answer I gave spells out that I speak to the dictionary definition, which I can assure is "equal rights for women". Any other connotations made as "waves" grammatically actually doesn't even make sense, but I am aware that the current climates seems to have attempted to blend the issue as if it is part of feminism. – threetimes Aug 28 '17 at 19:46
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    The OP seems to think (for justifiable reasons, since they live in 2017) that "real" feminism is third wave one. This answer instead ignores 3rd wave feminism alltogether and claims that the only real feminism is pre-third-wave. That's incorrect (and, intentionally or not, highily misleading in the context of the question, since the views and attitudes OP describes are 100% 3rd wave feminism). – DVK Aug 28 '17 at 19:57
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    I have a sister who is a bit mad. She has taken up with politics - this means she reads some political topic then rants about it endlessly. Then the next day it's another. We have found a way to deal with it; "no politics in the pub!" If she starts we all say it together. We have on occasion just gone off and left her. It works. – RedSonja Aug 29 '17 at 10:46
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    The discussion of feminism is at best tangentially relevant to the answer, and doesn't really necessitate an in-depth debate upon the various sub-factions that identify as "feminists". – Beofett Aug 30 '17 at 14:01
4

I'd attempt to deal with this privately, politely, and firmly. People behave differently if they're in a group or feel watched; often that they have to do the right thing, or that they have to be louder and dominant. Bring your friend aside and have a chat. Firstly ask if there's anything wrong. They may be acting out due to something completely unrelated. Regardless of whether this is true or not, you need to put things simply. Something like this:

Recently you've become very passionate about politics. That's fine, we like discussing politics as you know. But the way you're expressing your opinions is aggressive. It is pushing us away from you. Which is a problem because we do enjoy spending time with you. I understand these things are important to you, but being confrontational isn't going to convince anyone. All that will happen is you'll lose friends. I don't want that to happen.

Simply, you must put things clearly. Begin by acknowledging their feelings, and agreeing at least in part on something. Better to focus on a single point you do really agree with as an example.

You then stress that you enjoy their company and appreciate them. But that this is at risk because of their behaviour. If they have something to say, listen. Be patient. Attempt to see from their perspective. It often helps to parrot back things they say to acknowledge them. "This is demeaning to women." "I understand that you feel this is disrespectful to women... I just don't understand-"

Always bring it back to the point: it's not what you believe, it's how you're choosing to express this, which is driving us apart. Ask them if they understand that, and if they understand that being confrontational is the absolute least effective way possible to try and get people to see things from their perspective. These aren't rhetorical questions, you need to see if they are genuinely aware of what's going on. They may not be.

Ultimately your aim here is to re-establish respect and kindness between your friends. And you can't do that without demonstrating it yourself.

4

The issue isn't that she has these views, nor whether these views are right or wrong.

The issue is that she stops the conversation and won't allow it to move on until everyone agrees to discuss her view, and possibly block the conversation until people agree with her. Further, she's attacking members of the group, singling them out for perceived offenses of her new moral code.

So you need to identify the tactics that she's using that are caustic to the conversation, call those tactics out as she uses them, and make sure she understands that those tactics have no place in your group.

The primary things she's doing is calling out what she feels is bad behavior in other group members. When she does that, pause, don't respond directly, and then continue the conversation if no one else wants to pick up on her thread.

If she repeats herself, or attempts to force a discussion, say, "You pointed that out already. I don't have anything to add on that topic. Does anyone else want to contribute?" if someone does, then the conversation moves in that direction. If not, consider saying, "I'm sorry but it appears no on else really wants to discuss that right now. Maybe some other time." then move on.

If she starts insulting others just call it for what it is, "That's pretty insulting, and I disagree with your assessment of his/her character. If you have something personal to say to them, perhaps you could have a discussion with them in private rather than making such accusations in front of everyone."

In some instances it may be worthwhile to simply delay discussion, or take the discussion away from the group. "That a very unique perspective, but I don't feel confident enough to weigh in on it. Can you email/text me links to books or resources about it?" Then move on.

If you restrict the ability for her to redirect discussion towards her own personal hobbies you may be able to continue to include her in group activities without suffering the consequences of including her. You are essentially removing her fangs - all her tactics and methods used to snag the conversation and direct it herself.

2

As a feminist myself, I'm glad you saw that the problem isn't her feminism, but having become an extremist. I was once in her position, not as a feminist, and not as extreme as her, but what made me realise I went too far is loosing friends and time.

I can tell you that trying to debate with her most probably won't work, because of the backfire effect.

But if you want to give it a try anyways, what might help is to respect her as a person, but not tolerate her extremism. Maybe you can try to find out where she has her information? If she doesn't read Everyday Feminism(1), maybe it will help her to search for some articles and give her the information. On the issue about your black friend, I had to think about this article. I know it's about natives americans, but I think you can use a part of it on black people, or any other group of people.

  1. Don’t Ask Native Students to Speak for Their Race

Teachers often ask Native students about anything that comes up about Native Americans. Tell your child’s teachers that every tribe is different as are opinions among Indigenous Peoples, and your child cannot speak for everyone.

This can be said on every group of humans. I know there was an article saying more or less the same about black people, but I don't find it.

Since Everyday Feminism is also about feminism, there is a possibility she will be more open toward the information here, at least compared with "non-feminists".

(1) What I like about this side is that it talks about feminist issues, without forgetting that f.ex. men can also be victims on sexualised violence, etc. It also reminds that all members in a group are unique, which your friend seems to have forgotten.

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    What are "f.ex. men"? Web search thinks it's related to the X-men or Wolverine. (Anyone can be a victim) – Xen2050 Aug 29 '17 at 23:22
  • Maybe an abbreviation for "for example men" (as "e.g."). There are not only two genders nowadays, you know. – Gras Double Aug 30 '17 at 4:22
  • @Xen2050 "without forgetting that for example men can also be victims of sexualised violence". – DarkPurpleShadow Aug 30 '17 at 18:44
  • Ah, thanks. I've never seen "for" abbreviated before, it's already pretty short – Xen2050 Sep 1 '17 at 21:18
1

It would appear that this person was once happy with the make-up of the group of friends, but is now dissatisfied, for whatever reason.

Point out that fact - you never tried to 'change us for the better before', 'you were happy calling X the TBG before - and at the end of the day, that's actually his preferred title within our group of friends', 'you were happy with us as we were a few weeks ago.'

Another tactic, pre-rehearsed, might be for every single person in the group to suddenly remain silent for a whole minute, immediately she's said something untoward. No eye contact, no movement, until after that minute (or so), someone starts a completely different subject conversation. She may ask what it's all about, and that can be ignored. It should be fairly obvious after a few times, and after several periods of that, someone may say 'it's to save the friendship of the group.'

. Other than that, it's time to reform - that's re-form- the group.

  • Hey, do you have any backup for what you are suggesting? Did you try those two technics before and how did it work? – Ælis Jan 7 at 15:17
  • Eventually the group broke up, as the problem person couldn't change. Only to re-group eventually - with no sign of the perpetrator. Pity with this site there's no history of up and down votes... – Tim Jan 7 at 15:52
  • I'm lost here, are you suggesting that OP should try a technic that didn't work for you? – Ælis Jan 7 at 15:59
0

It depends on her.

If she has genuinely changed, is happy with her new character, has other friends outside of your group where she fits in better, then it may be time for her to move on.

It seems more likely to me that she has just slipped into some bad (disrespectful) habits. If her behaviour is alienating her friends, then she will be feeling that friction somehow. "Why isn't X returning my phone call?", "Why are Y & Z meeting for lunch but didn't ask me?" and so on. It may be that she hasn't made the connection.

Are the friendships that she is potentially losing worth more to her than whatever intellectual satisfaction she gets form brow-beating you? I hope so! Someone needs to sit her down one-to-one and explain this to her (and it sounds as though that person is you). Make her feel valued, loved, and aware of the choice she is making. A cynical worldview is a choice and it can be un-made. You're giving her another perspective, not an ultimatum.

I was this same person about 25 years ago and will always be grateful to the friend who opened my eyes with a stern but loving talk.

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