“Why do you care?” This retort comes up with Newtonian-like regularity in class discussions on moral issues, especially on gender and preferred pronoun usage. When confronted with alternative viewpoints to the reigning orthodoxy, students reflexively punt to this question, wielding it against anything other than immediate acceptance of the popular shibboleth du jour. The question and its variation are often the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on response to anything stepping outside their ideological box. So you don’t think that a woman is anyone who says they are one? “Why do you care?” Perhaps you can already sense my disdain for this kind of response, because I’m laying it on pretty thick.
My disdain doesn’t come from the fact that I disagree with them about gender (they use the retort on other topics, but it comes up most often and quickly when discussing gender). That’s fine. It doesn’t come from the fact that their view is nonsense and completely unjustified (Why think that a woman is literally anyone who says they are one? I have yet to hear a solid justification. Usually the best folks do is to argue in a circle by repeating the statement, perhaps worded slightly differently.), and yes, harmful.
What gets me here is that this particular response--”why do you care?”--99 times out of 100 is not an honest query for the other person’s motives or personal investment in the issue.
It is a nicer way of saying “shut up.” They want to shut things down but appear nice and virtuous at the same time, so instead of saying shut up they opt for a passive-aggressive character attack instead, thinly veiled as a request for information.
They don’t really want to hear why you care. That question--if honestly asked--can easily be answered. They just want to ignore and dismiss, without engaging at all. It is nothing more than lazy sloganeering of the worst kind.
It is often an attempt to maintain a monopoly on the discussion, equivalent to saying “I speak, you listen.”
So don’t be intimidated by the response. Recognize it for what it is, just a way to socially shame and make you look bad.
Here are a few things you can say and point out if you run into this in the wild:
Ask a few questions: “What do you mean by that?” “Why are you asking?” This plays off of Greg Koukl’s “Columbo Tactic” and is a great place to start. Not only will the questions give you good intel to go off of, but they gently press the other person to justify the question and hopefully prods them to think about why, exactly, they asked the question, which typically doesn’t happen. Typically in these kinds of conversations, progressive leftist types get to play prosecuting attorney from start to finish and are not used to being in the dock themselves. You don’t need to sit in the dock immediately and answer the question. Make them shoulder their burden of proof too. You don’t need to do it with a snide, condescending or sarcastic tone--just ask the questions straightforwardly and wait for an answer. Their answers will tell you if you are dealing with an honest question or just an attempt to shut you up. You can then proceed accordingly depending on their answers.
Point out the asymmetry in the conversation: after you ask the questions and listen to their answers, if their answers tell you they are trying to passive-aggressively shame you, go on to just point that out. “It seems like you are not really wanting to know my thought process and emotions. You just want me to shut up. If someone doesn’t affirm your view, they don’t get to care? How is that?” A good follow up might be something like: “you get to confidently assert and assume what a man or woman is-- but if anyone doesn’t affirm what you say, they don’t get to care?” This is edgy, for sure, but not out of bounds if you approach it with the right tone. The fact of the matter is that you do not have to play by their rules and kow tow to their sensibilities. You need to make it abundantly clear in the conversation that they are playing a game, and the rules are not fair.
Even the playing field, and then yes, answer the question: “you aren’t the only one that gets to care. Other people, some of whom have different perspectives, have skin in the game. That doesn’t mean they are right…maybe they are wrong, but your voice isn’t the only one that matters. Yes, it impacts you, but this issue of gender impacts everyone. If you really want to know why I care, its because 1) I care about people, including you, and 2) I care about the truth.” Short and simple.
Make them sleep in the bed they made. Make them play by their own rules by pushing their hot button and then using their line. For example, if you bring up Rachel Dolezal--a white woman identifying as black--you are likely to evoke immediate, loud denunciations. Well ok. “Why do you care?” This will likely induce an eye roll, but the point is a good one--what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. They don’t get to dismiss you and refuse to engage on their pet issue, but you have to play nice on a pet issue they don’t want to address. Plus, if identity is truly self declared like they say, there’s no reason to let that fly with gender but cry foul when that is applied to race. If the body is irrelevant to identity, then it is irrelevant to identity. If gender is a social construction and can be self declared there is no reason to think race is anything different. I get why the activists insist this is not so, but that doesn’t mean they have a good point. Addressing that in depth is another post for another time, though..
Maybe the other person will soften their stance, maybe not, but if other people are listening in, you have a greater chance of reaching them and getting them to think with approaches like this.
Sometimes, silent onlookers in the audience might sympathize with you, but they lack confidence, are easily intimidated, and need a bit of courage. By gently but firmly pushing back and standing your ground in conversation, you can provide that for them. That is a major step forward, even if the person you are directly talking with digs in their heels and gets angry.
Perhaps you’ve noticed I tend to bring up relativism and gender a lot on this blog. You are correct--quite a few posts pertain to those two issues. Here’s why:
Gender *does* come up often, on its own. Might as well address it explicitly and directly, rather than letting certain ideas pass hegemonically unchallenged. I’m not in the business of bringing a fire extinguisher to a flood.
Gender currently is one area where the battle is fiercest and the propaganda of the world the most strident. The pressure for youth to conform here is savage and untamed.
Gender is the area where the social intimidation tactics the left uses to shame and dismiss show up the strongest. They will not try to defeat your view with reason and actual engagement. Instead, they will shame you socially and use sleight of hand rhetoric. It shows up in a lot of places but here it is legion. Unless you are trained, these tactics can fluster you.
With gender the stakes are high. Confusion in this area leads to harm downstream. Listen to any testimony of a detransitioner and you’ll hear that loud and clear. A very consistent theme in their testimonies is “when I was going through all this stuff, I wish someone would have loved me enough to just tell me the truth or even try to get me to just slow down. Instead all I got was affirmation of my feelings, which felt good in the moment but harmed me in the long run.” This is no mere debate about words or subjective preferences.
Gender is no mere peripheral issue. It is core, going straight to what it means to be human, running to the core of creation and God’s authority over it. The main question is: who calls the shots? Does the individual will have authority, or does God? If we side with the gender activists on this, the gospel melts away.
Gender is one area where it is very easy to intimidate Christians into going along to get along. A lot of us have been subtly taught that niceness--meaning avoidance of offending others and reputation management (ie, “the world is watching”)--is paramount. Add to that the fact that most have not been well equipped to respond to the times here and the result is that our courage ebbs while our willingness to speak lies intensifies.
So have courage, stand firm, and have a steady gaze. Speak not lies and live not lies.