I’ll start this one by airing my own hypocrisy. I recently compared Donald Trump’s hair to a dead cat on Twitter. It was unnecessary and I regret doing so. I should have saved my criticism for his racism, xenophobia, and willingness to lie blatantly and repeatedly to the American people.
Thankfully, however, this post is not primarily about Donald Trump. It’s about the tendency of all of us to claim that the people we disagree with are ugly. I know that when I say I’m a feminist certain people will assume that I have a face like Medusa, legs like Chewbacca, and a body like Jabba the Hutt. Unfortunately, as justifiably aggravated as many feminists are with this offensive and inaccurate stereotype, we often resort to similar tactics. This leads some of us to categorize all anti-feminists as chubby, pasty, neck-bearded subhumans, which is both generally untrue and unhelpful to our cause.
The first reason we should refrain from snarking on people’s looks is that we wouldn’t enjoy having it done to us. We have made it abundantly clear that we don’t think “fat-shaming” or “skinny shaming” is appropriate when applied to us so we must also refrain from treating our detractors this way. If we’re hoping for a future where people aren’t distracted from rational debate by flab-pulling and zit-squeezing, let’s work to create it now by attacking our opponents’ ideas rather than their waistlines.
Furthermore, insulting those with whom we disagree only makes our own causes look weak. Good debaters know that if someone has to resort to insulting an opponent, particularly an opponent’s appearance, it is a sign that the insulter is too mentally feeble or defending a cause too unworthy to come up with a legitimate counter-argument. As it turns out, how easy or hard someone is on the eyes has very little to do with whether we should open our ears to what they have to say.
Finally, appearance based insults seem not to be a very effective way to reduce enthusiasm for people we disagree with anyway. Contrary to my initial plans, my critique of Trump’s coiffure has not crashed his campaign. Conservatives have also spent two decades proclaiming their disgust for Hillary Clinton’s appearance, but her continued political relevance shows how ineffective this tactic has been.
I’m certain that 2016 will give liberals and conservatives, feminists and anti-feminists plenty to fight about, but let’s not let physical appearance be one of those things. Doing so is irrelevant, ineffective, and degrading to us all.