Tone policing: Am I allowed to put Regnerus, Wilcox, and Hitler in the same headline?

Sir, are you aware you were using a caustic tone back there? (photo: Thomas Hawk)

Nicholas Wolfinger reviewed my book Enduring Bonds for Social Forces (paywalled [why paywall book reviews?]; bootlegged). It would be unseemly of me to argue with a two-page book review instead of letting my life’s work stand on its own, so here goes — but just on one point: tone policing.

This is the opening of the review:

Philip Cohen has a lot of beefs. Hanna Rosen is an ”antifeminist” (p. 134) prone to “errors and distortions” (p. 146), and a “record of misstating facts in the service of inaccurate conclusions” (p. 185); W. Bradford Wilcox offers an “interpretation not just wrong but the opposite of right” (p. 76) and elsewhere gives a “racist” interview (p. 175); Ron Haskins, a “curmudgeon” (p. 175), presents a meme that’s “stupid and evil” (p. 47); David Blankenhorn is the author of a “deeply ridiculous” article (p. 80); Christina Hoff Sommers speaks in “[a] voice [that] drips with contempt” (p. 200) and is deemed to be an “antifeminist” (p. 155), even though she’s later identified as a
feminist (p. 197).*

He adds:

Also making the list: Paula England, for her “disappointingly mild” review of Cohen’s Public Enemy Number One, the “obtuse, semi-coherent” (p. 106) and “simply unethical” (p. 91) Mark Regnerus. Indeed, 29 of the 209 pages of Cohen’s book are spent excoriating Regnerus for two different studies.

This makes up his argument that, “Cohen writes so tendentiously that the useful bits get carried away in a torrent of ad hominem asperity,” and his conclusion, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Over my many years as a caustic person, I have heard this a lot, mostly from academics, bless their hearts. Which is cool, that’s my career choice and it would be unseemly to complain about it now, so here goes.

Listing the bad words I used doesn’t mean anything. And telling me I spent 29 pages on Regnerus (Wolfinger doesn’t mention that his frequent co-author, Brad Wilcox, is featured heavily in those 29 pages, or even that Wilcox is his frequent co-author), is not a meaningful critique unless you explain why these people don’t deserve it. I’ve heard, for example, that people have written very good whole books about specific individuals and the bad things they’ve done — including, off the top of my head, Hitler. The meaningful question is, am I wrong in those assessments, and if I am, why? In other words, you catch more flies by telling the reader why it would not be unacceptably harsg to write a whole book about Hitler but the same cannot be said about 29 pages on Regnerus and Wilcox. Or why it’s wrong to criticize Rosin, Haskins, Blankenhorn, Sommers and (lol) England in harsh terms.

If you want to enjoy a world where entire reviews are written about the use of harsh words, reviews that don’t even give a hint — not even a mention — as to the content of the issues and disputes that prompted those harsh words, then I can only suggest a career in academia.

Ironic aside

I tweeted a link to Wolfinger’s review, even though it is completely negative, because I’m scrupulous and fair-minded.


This led him to go on a multitweet journey, complaining that “he took words like ‘formidable’ out of context to suggest a much more positive review,” and exploring my motivations — responding to someone who said, “That was clearly a joke” with, “You see a joke, I see mendacity,” and concluding, “‘‘Just a joke’ is a weak, all-purpose way to cover up a fuck up like getting caught twisting the evidence.”

I hate to bring up Hitler again (not really), but the last time someone spent so much time pretending to not understand I was joking it was actual nazis, quoting a tweet where I joked that Jews were devoted to “eradicating whiteness and undermining its civilizations” (not linking, but you can google it). This led to a lot of online grief and some death threats, including posting my address on Reddit. So it irritated me.

The online nazi mob technique is to pretend things Jews say aren’t jokes, then pretend they themselves are joking when they talk about genocide. I’m sure many Jewish readers will recognize that failure to understand sarcastic humor is actually a common trait among rank-and-file anti-Semites — the people who have a hard time differentiating “New York” from “Jewish” — something that leading anti-Semites are very adept at manipulating. So that resonated with me.

(The above is labeled “aside” to make it boringly over-clear that I’m not saying Wolfinger is anti-Semitic.)

* Correction: Sommers is not “identified as a feminist” on p. 197, I just reported the name of her video series which is, absurdly, the The Factual Feminist.


4 thoughts on “Tone policing: Am I allowed to put Regnerus, Wilcox, and Hitler in the same headline?

  1. I am proud to share a name with you Phillip, frequently in awe at how productive you are, impressed beyond measure by your work, thoroughly enjoy using the Family textbook, and encourage you to keep airing those beefs. They are legitimate and factually accurate.


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