Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Sexism: Pogobat vs TheAmazingAtheist

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

2 enormous YouTubers disagree. I've seen this before when thunderf00t addressed pogobat's video on education but now pogobat is addressing TheAmazingAtheist. For simplicity I will refer to them by the names they normally go by: Dan (pogobat) and TJ (TheAmazingAtheist).

Dan is addressing a relatively old video of TJ's about an incident involving a man who had his penis cut off by a woman. Sharon Osbourne made fun of the incident on TV calling it "fabulous". Among the immediate TV audience,the response was laughter, but it also sparked understandable outrage, best summed up by TJ's video: that if a man had mutilated a woman's genitals and a man had made fun of the incident on TV, his career would die pretty much instantly. At the very least, he would be ruthlessly condemned for his comments. Dan's problem with the video is that, although he agrees with the central point, he views TJ's approach, which he paraphrases as whipping his audience up into a frenzy over the issue and calling Sharon Osbourne a "cunt", as divisive and counter-productive, and that true equality is more nuanced than TJ is making it out to be in the video.

First, as always, I need to explain where I'm coming from so all possible bias is out in the open. If you're not interested, I fully understand, and I'll save you the trouble by saying skip this paragraph and the 2 after. I've been subbed to TJ literally since the day I started my channel nearly 4 years ago. There was a period in Spring 2009 where I had unsubscribed from him for reasons similar to Dan's 1st criticism (long story short, he made a slew of what I perceived to be uncharacteristically aggressive and needlessly personal pwnage videos) but I gained a new perspective on everyone's videos in the middle of the year, and I forgave him, resubscribing. Since then, I have watched TJ's videos, agreeing with him the vast majority of the time but having a few issues now and then. A lot of them did, in fact, revolve around his views on feminism which, until a relatively recent video (where he makes plain that his only criticism of all feminists is in their choice of label, which focuses on only 1 gender) I thought were simplistic generalisations.

I discovered Dan through his mini-drama with thunderf00t. As I was at uni at the time, I was intrigued by what Dan said in his video "An Open Letter To Educators" (even just from watching the parts played in thunderf00t's video) because I could relate to a lot of it. As I watched thunderf00t's video I got a whiff from it of something deeply unpleasant. When I watched Dan's video afterwards, my thoughts were confirmed. Legitimate criticisms of education were ignored or presented in a deeply unsatisfying form in thunderf00t's video while thunderf00t did not miss a single opportunity to make Dan look as idiotic as possible. I didn't subscribe, though, until a few months later when I had seen a video by him made not long after "An Open Letter To Educators" called "DON'T BE A ZOMBIE!" (the video no longer exists on the internet from what I've seen).

I have a lot of respect for both YouTubers. They both make topical videos in an entertaining manner. Having said that, I always step back and look at the arguments. Of all the people I've encountered on YouTube, only Dan himself has put a comparable amount of effort as me into condemning the mindless drone behaviour of standing by a YouTuber simply because you like them, so I'd be a huge hypocrite to do that myself. Anyway, let's get to it.

Whipping Up A Frenzy

It's very easy to see, as Dan suggests, the comparison between the style of TJ and the style of Rush Limbaugh, or perhaps even people like Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann. The thing is, the loudmouth talk-show host style appears to get results. It tends to polarise people but the point is that they watch. If the content is sensible, I don't personally object. As TJ's content is topical and reasonably sensible most of the time (there will always be exceptions) I don't have a problem with how he chooses to make his videos. As to whether it whips up a frenzy, this is where I feel Dan's position lacks nuance. The end result is only guided by TJ, the viewers themselves decide the final reaction. After a cursory glance at a few pages of comment section on TJ's video, the number of people who seem visibly "whipped up into a frenzy" is pretty small. The vast majority are discussions between commenters, others talk about other things Sharon Osbourne has done, insults towards TJ, and more mild agreement. But perhaps my most significant point is that TJ's approach has changed since the Cody Weber era when this video was made. He does still let people have it, but the videos tend to be more substantial and not many are directed towards a particular person, instead he comments on current news and, in my opinion, tries to get people to really care.


This is the more important part of Dan's first criticism. He says "you can't fight sexism with more sexism". In a comment discussion with TJ, Dan points out that "cunt" has more of a history of being used by sexists for sexist purposes, whereas words like "dick" don't. My response to that is that it doesn't matter.

First, a bit about how language works. Typically, someone coins a word or phrase. This could be in academic publications, or just an influential figure of some sort who put a twist on an already used word or blurted out something new. The next part is when it catches on. People hear the word or phrase and start using it themselves. This won't just happen with any word or phrase, although the exact characteristics of successful propagation of a particular word or phrase are very complex. "Cunt" is used in 2 ways. First, as a synonym of vagina, and secondly as a dehumanising insult. Using the word the second way is to essentially reduce her to a body part. It is like saying "you're good for making babies and that's it". At least, that's what someone defending Dan might say. The exact same logic applies to the word "dick", yet the 2 words are treated very differently. We could argue over why, but as long as they are treated differently, the defence argument falls.

Ultimately what matters is the degree of offence taken. A lot is taken over the word "cunt" but not much is taken over the word "dick". This is what really matters, and this is all we need to know to change things. I take the greatest issue with this part of Dan's video because it is feeding into the mindset that keeps words like this powerful. To me, if all it takes to be considered a sexist is to say a certain word, something is wrong. I've dealt with a situation like this before in a video called "Variablast and the All Powerful N-Word".  People were squeamish then, I'm not expecting much of a difference here, but the principle is the same. When we chastise others for using a word or censor ourselves from using it, we are giving the word more power. To make it less powerful, you need to use it, and not chastise others for using it. Simple in theory, problematic in practise. You see, the views that people have about such words come from years of being told they're very very bad, or instances of extreme reactions when someone has used them. But, as with swear words, the words have no power in and of themselves. Their power depends on us treating them as if they do. We create the illusion and maintain it. If you've even read what I've just written, you are now aware of the illusion if you weren't before, and that's the important first step. The next part is up to you. How powerful the word becomes depends on the collective decisions of everyone to either treat it as this great evil, or to be able to say it and diminish its power just that little bit. It's a start.

True Equality

On Dan's second criticism, I agree with the general sentiment. True equality, I think, is neither practical nor desirable. There are all sorts of differences between the genders. There are some organs unique to each gender. Men tend to be taller and physically stronger. Men tend to have deeper voices. The list goes on and on. Some people have been accused of sexism for simply pointing these things out but stating empirical truths is not sexist. Sexism is looking down on the other gender. Sexism is valuing them less because of superficial differences. Mentally, everything that's unique about being human is common to both genders. We are as intelligent as each other, and we feel the same emotions, and these are the 2 things that seem to matter most when valuing life. We place less moral value on other animals specifically because they lack the self-awareness or emotional capacity that would lead them to be able to suffer or feel pain, and how we value each animal tends to depend on how much of these 2 characteristics they possess.

The Suffering Involved

I'll finish by looking at the man who had his penis cut off, that Sharon laughed about. Cutting off the penis means the man suffers in 2 different ways.

1. The physical and mental pain involved.
2. He is sterilised, and so has permanently lost the ability to have kids.

TJ draws an analogy with a woman having her tits and clitoris cut off. What suffering is involved here?

1. The physical and mental pain involved in 2 different parts of the body.
2. Possible sterilisation, depending on how much and what parts are cut off.
3. The inability to breastfeed (even in sterilised cases, adoption is still viable).

Ultimately, it's difficult to compare them and say which is worse, but I'm sure we can both agree that significant suffering is involved. Even if you believe the woman's suffering is greater, the man's could not be said to be insignificant enough to warrant ridicule of the type dished out by Sharon Osbourne. I have to conclude, then, that in this case, the specific equality which TJ is calling for is perfectly reasonable. You either laugh when it happens to both man and woman, or neither. Personally, I'm going with the latter.


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