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The dangers of women’s appeals to male authority


This blogpost is part mea culpa and part ‘What the hell are two grown women doing playing one-up with their fathers’ qualifications?’ 

Recently, the tenants in my building have been negotiating with the owner as part of a relatively minor but costly issue. In an inevitable way, having finally reached a resolution with the owner, we are now squabbling amongst ourselves. One woman in particular has taken point on a lot of the negotiations. And one other woman is behaving irrationally about the whole settlement. In any legal dispute, a bit of healthy “f*** you” to the other party is desirable, but those with delusions of the courts offering full vindication are dangerous. She is in the latter camp.

As part of her campaign for… I’m not sure what… she not only repeatedly hectored us all condescendingly about her view of the law — rise above it, rise above it — but she had her father (supposedly a lawyer in some capacity) email our point woman to attempt to bully her into refusing the settlement, indicating that he was “senoir [sic] counsel”. Counsel to our fellow tenant, one assumes. He’s certainly not senior counsel at any firm or in-house (because he runs a travel business).

I’m afraid that up with such bullying idiocy I will not put. I thought long and hard about it, but the opportunity to be snarky was too much for me, and I did it. As a fully grown woman with legal qualifications of my own, I leant on my father’s career and CV as a prop when I replied to our fellow tenant indicating that no, just because I accepted the settlement did not mean that I accept any liability for any future issues in her property.

Now, law, in general, is a domain constructed on the logical fallacy of the appeal to authority. So perhaps I can forgive myself for my “I know better lawyers than you” retort (although that might be a tu quoque self-justification…). But when I used to teach debating, logical fallacies were 101, and we hammered into students how to avoid them. And yet I just wasn’t able to resist. In part, my point was that we were both being ridiculous in having recourse to other people’s qualifications when we were both perfectly capable of reasoning our way to the proper course of action. But I was also quite genuinely participating in the dick-by-extension-swinging contest. If it had been her mother or sister who had sent the bullying email, it would probably not have occurred to me to bring my own relatives into it, or at least I would not have been so sorely tempted. 

Implicitly, particularly because we are women, we can treat our fathers as trump cards. They are supposed to be figures of protection, and stereotypically they are also the most highly qualified and professionally advanced of our family unit. Yielding to the temptation to resort to them as trump cards diminishes not only our achievements and capacity as women, but also reinforces these stereotypes. It is an actively damaging step that reinforces stereotypes about both us and them. It validates those who refuse to hear our ideas unless they are repeated or endorsed by a man, and each time we employ the strategy we believe in our own insufficiency a little more. 

Beware logical fallacies. 

And, so as not to end on too dismal a note, while we’re on issues of logic, Tim Minchin’s bit on post hoc ergo propter hoc remains one of the funniest logic-nerd bits ever performed as stand-up.

Image (c) YourLogicalFallacyIs.com, with some minor editing

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