Believing in Feminism, Lovable Sexism

Rhetorical Inaction and Fallacies of Authenticity

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Abstract, Casus belli, Reading the Webtext, & Authors


Parks and Recreation expresses a metamodern feminist sensibility; however, the show also promotes a toxic metamodern masculinity. Character Tom Haverford illustrates the dangers of such a masculinity. He simultaneously embraces a “softer” more feminine side and is stereotypically sexist in his behavior towards women. Rather than take issue with his actions, feminist characters, like Leslie Knope, give Tom a “pass” because they believe his behavior isn’t “authentic” because he’s really a “good” guy. Such a “pass” on Tom’s behavior illustrates a dangerous fallacy regarding gender equality, allowing one to believe in feminism but not necessarily advocate for feminism.

Casus belli

The impetus for our webtext came from Katie Way’s controversial Babe article, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst date of my life.” For us, the article illustrates a superficial conception of feminism. Way describes “Grace’s” (pseudonym) experiences on a date with Ansari, focusing on Ansari’s repeated attempts to have sex with her, ignoring her verbal and non-verbal cues. Ansari responded to the article claiming he thought their interactions were “by all indications completely consensual” and that he was “surprised and concerned” about Grace’s experiences. His response ends with his continued support of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements. Ansari may “believe in feminism” but his behavior suggests otherwise, and his “support” doesn’t necessarily advocate. The problem, for us, is how support can just be “belief.”

We noticed that Ansari’s IRL (in-real-life) “feminism” is curiously foreshadowed in Tom Haverford—the character he famously played on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, a show lauded for its feminist storylines and characters. While we do not delve into the ways the media reacted to this story and Grace's experiences, we empathize with her and see the story as an illustration of a larger cultural-rhetorical problem: representing feminism and showing it in practice rather than paying it “lip service.”

Reading the Webtext: On Rhetorical Equity

Our webtext is composed keeping rhetorical equity in mind. Rhetorical equity is an ethic for making texts accessible to audiences in a variety ways in addition to web accessibility. If rhetorical equity were an equation it would look like this: textual diversities + multiple distribution channels + reading = accessible meaning. We do this because we know readers have different motivations, reading and sharing preferences, and knowledges when approaching a text. Thus, there are two versions of our webtext: the slideshow version and the plain text version.

The Slideshow Version
Each web page (except for “plain text” and “works cited”) offers readers  a slideshow version of the webtext. The slideshow version is intended for readers, who for whatever reason (e.g., time constraints, prefer a quick review, or prefer understanding the main points clearly and directly), want the gist of the webtext. If readers want to delve deeper into the arguments, they can click on the dropdown link to read more.

The Plain Text Version
For readers looking for a more “traditional” and “academic” form of argument, there is a plain text version. The plain text version is the webtext displayed as a article, all at once, black text on a white background. 

About the Authors

Paul Muhlhauser (Ph.D., Washington State University) is associate professor of English at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. His work has appeared in Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion, Women and Language, The Journal of Popular Culture, Computers and Composition Online, and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. He likes writing about digital technologies, interface design, zombies, The Avengers, and dating apps. He makes beautiful webtexts, loves his chickens, and is a gentleman farmer. Correspondence can be directed to pmuhlhauser[at]mcdaniel[dot]edu. Paul also has a sweet website: DoctaMuhlhauser.

Jedidiah Fowler has a Bachelor of Arts in English from McDaniel College. His specialties lie in the fields of creative nonfiction and blog writing and can be read at He is a compassionate scholar who enjoys consulting with students about their writing and teaching them about rhetoric. He is also an accomplished musician and has played with several Maryland-based bands, most notably withLove. Direct correspondence to jedidiahfowler37[at]gmail[dot]com.

Daniel Schafer (M.A., Washington State University) is lecturer of English at McDaniel College and the director of communications and development at the global health nonprofit HealthNovations International. His work has appeared in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Computers and Composition Online, Journal of Global Health, and elsewhere. His forthcoming book, Professional Writing and Design: A Guide to 21st Century Composition,will be published in 2020 by Babylon Farm Books. Direct correspondence to dschafer[at]mcdaniel[dot]edu.