I got a call the other day from a friend of my son's. He is a college freshman and is taking a course on feminism, which, according to him, he pretty much has to take. The course is taught by a professor with exactly the kinds of attitudes you would expect. My son's friend had been assigned to write a paper on masculinity for the class and wanted to know if I had ever written anything on the topic. I said that although I'd skirted around the topic obliquely, I'd never addressed it directly. Then I remembered this post:
I suggested he say that masculinity was often associated with toughness, but that toughness was more than just acting macho, that it took many forms, and then use some of the examples from the post, which included a few women. I told him that his professor would like those examples.
(When my son my son found out that his friend had asked me for help on the paper, his response was, "Asking you for advice about masculinity is a little like asking a midget his opinion on height.")
During the course of our conversation my son's friend mentioned that he was actually enjoying the course because although he disagreed with much of what the professor said, it had forced him to think about those issues and had crystallized his thinking.
I thought this particularly perspicacious coming from an 18-year-old. It's true: if you don't expose yourself to different viewpoints, you'll never learn to think for yourself. There are too many people who can only recite the boilerplate from their own side, because all they ever do is listen to like-minded people. If you want to understand an issue -- and if you want to be able to really lacerate your opponents -- you have to really listen to what they have to say. Then you can analyze their arguments, and pick them apart.
One of the things that makes Ann Coulter funny is that she really listens to what the liberals say. Love her or hate her, she pays attention, which is something most people on both sides of the aisle don't do. This is why she can turn her commentary into humor whereas a Keith Olbermann can only vent his bile.
There are times you can make your point by merely repeating your opponents' words. One time on Fox News Coulter looked straight at the camera and calmly -- and unflinchingly -- suggested, "If you want to hear what my opponents have to say about me, just go to the website 'Ann Coulter is a cunt dot com'." That was all she said, and that was all she needed to say. The name of the website told you everything you needed to know about the character and snarkiness of the opposition.
If you want to make someone look foolish, first listen to him.
I got an email from my son's friend yesterday saying that my advice had helped and that his project was well received.
I'm glad I was able to help him despite my lack of, uh, height.