The Double Bind

A double bind is a conversational or rhetorical tactic designed to put the receiver in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  To go waaaaaaay back, we’ll quote pickup artist Fader:

“If a guy is trying to [diss] you…tell them, “Hey man, you don’t have to try so hard. I like you just the way you are.” If they accept the frame (that is they are trying hard to impress you), you have socially dominated them and thus they are beta to you.  If they push back and say, “Hey, I am not trying hard to impress you,”—[then t]hey are trying hard not to try hard, if that makes sense.”

(For those of you desperately trying to find “the answer” to this, it’s to just laugh and go, “Cool man,” and carry on.)

One way to create a false dichotomy is to take a four-sided issue and play them off against each other.  Since that sentence did a terrible job of getting the meaning across, I’ll give an example:

“Men have to scrape for everything they get.  If they don’t work they don’t eat.”

“I feel like whereas I have to prove myself before anyone will take me seriously, my male peers are just assumed to be competent.”

“It’s very aggravating to not be taken seriously in the workplace just because I’m a woman.”

“It’s men that do the real hard work in society.  They do the dangerous jobs, the dirty jobs, the lonely jobs.  Over 90% of workplace deaths are male.  Women get a free pass on this.”

Those are two pairs of statements.  All of them are true.  They are “paired” in that each pair describes an issue from both sides.  I’m certain men are assumed to be competent more than women—part of the reason for that is because incompetent men will not be coddled, where incompetent women might be.  Choose your poison.*  Adam and Eve got different curses, but they certainly both got cursed.

The double bind comes when you take the same side of two different options.  From the above:

“Men have to scrape for everything they get.  If they don’t work they don’t eat.”

Men do all the dangerous, dirty work.” 

Remember—these statements really are true, by and large.  If you just take them at face value, you’ll conclude that men have a pretty raw deal.

Of course, you can flip it:

“Women have to prove themselves before anyone will take them seriously—but they often aren’t given the opportunity to prove themselves, because  no one takes them seriously.”

If you just take that at face value, now you’ll think women have a raw deal.

I mention all this because one of Sunshine Mary’s posts really got to me.  In “Subsidizing Insanity,” she quotes Ann-Marie Slaughter’s recommendations for a “caring” economy:

“If we truly valued breadwinning and caregiving equally…”

Stop right there.  In the past, we did.  Now care of children and the elderly is menial work to be done by immigrants.  That one’s got a lot of momentum on it, Ann-Marie.  Good luck.


This particular double-bind is structured as such:

The value of the work women do cannot be overstated. (when trying to show how important women are)

Marriage just means a lot of menial work for women—dishes, ironing, cleaning, caring for small children.  And none of it is paid or prestigious.  (when trying to garner sympathy for women)

Again, both statements are true.  Women do do important work.  A lot of it is menial.  But it is not important in the same way that running a Fortune 500 company is, nor is it menial in the same way that being a janitor is.


Because this really is a genderblind thing, here’s the male version of the above:

Men keep the economy going—the sewers, the planes, the electrical grid, the water—and what is more, men invented 95% of those things.

While women may work hard at home, at least they are out of danger and their work doesn’t actively cause injury.  No one cared about worker safety until women entered the workforce.

Again:  both of those statements are true.  But they ignore the reality that they had women to help them while doing all this economy-maintenance, and they were recognized in society for excellence.


The moral of the story is: If you extend the SMP to a generalized life marketplace, then you’ll start looking for symmetries like this.  Markets generally move toward equitable outcomes.  Men have been getting shafted for the last 50 years or so, and so they’re withdrawing from society to achieve balance.  The current SMP is hard on everyone, for different reasons.


*Actually, just take the one you were born with.

5 comments on “The Double Bind

  1. Acksiom says:

    No, just very good. Misses excellence due to the goalpost moving. In the original 4, the subjects and agency in the men’s statements are about objective, replicable reality; the subjects in the women’s statements are about their subjective, personal feelings.

    However, when it comes time to use those statements, the subject and agency of the female ones get changed to the male pattern — now they’re suddenly supposed to have been about objective, replicable reality all along.

    But they weren’t, and so the entire argument collapses from that flaw.

    • Yes, as I was writing it I could feel some missing parallels.

      The concept I was trying to distill was: readers should be aware that it is possible to use the same facts for contradictory arguments, by the same person.

  2. […] A double bind is a conversational or rhetorical tactic designed to put the receiver in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  […]

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