I get a lot of pretty hateful messages through e-mail and social media. No matter how much time I’ve devoted to educating myself on gender issues—including re-learning and exploring uncomfortable concepts, like my own privileges—there will always be that person who approaches me with the very misogynistic messaging our society is built on (thus already perpetuated in every day life and taught by the state) as if it is something that will dazzle me and bring me to my senses. They usually argue that if I do not listen and believe what I’m being force-fed, yet again, that I’m the one who’s close-minded. And by the way, they are only playing devil’s advocate.
We’ve all been there.
“Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth. But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new,” writes Juliana Britto Schwartz in her article An Open Letter To Privileged People Who Play Devil’s Advocate. “They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence.”
Schwartz expands that people who play devil’s advocate see what they are doing as playing. When a person in an oppressed group is forced to dance and prove their argument yet again, only to be dancing to blind eyes, they are being played with; they’re experiences, their pain, their work fighting is all being reduced to a play thing for the dominant group. There’s also this cowardice factor to the devil’s advocate: they don’t need to own up to what they say because, they tell you, they are simply advocating the other side.
Advocating a different opinion—especially if it is already the dominant, oppressive one—isn’t revolutionary. It’s bullying.
Notice how freedom of speech only applies to bigots?
More often than not, as soon as someone says “Playing devil’s advocate here,” that they are going to attempt to shame you, and many times this is done publicly. If someone were really curious, they wouldn’t need to hide behind “the devil” they would have solutions to problems, or perspective without denying the problem’s existence. They would say something new.
Thankfully, if someone feels they just need to play devil’s advocate, Mallory Ortberg at The Toast has prepared this handy rejection letter.
A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her first year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.