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Friday, 11 October 2013

Ensure Your Indignation Is Justified

I’ve been focusing on not letting things bug me. So it really bugs me now when things bug me.

Here’s what’s bugging me: unsubstantiated cases of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Battling these ugly warts has always been the right thing to do but now it’s also become the in thing to do. That in itself, I suppose, is a good thing. But it leads to ridiculous levels of political correctness, so much so that the facts of the matters are often completely overlooked in our rush to condemn a perceived offender.

It looks to me that it often starts with an opportunist eager to lead a lynch mob for no more legitimate reason than they want to lead. They see a situation where there’s a possibility to misinterpret someone’s innocent intent and contort it into a malicious deed. Once that’s accomplished, the mob slowly builds, then snowballs all over Twitter, and probably Facebook and whatever as well.

People don’t review the situation with an open mind. They don’t want to. They willfully ignore the facts that show the perception is wholly inaccurate because joining the mob and showing how they, too, are deeply offended by the situation shows off their moral character. But really, they’d show a hell of a lot more character if they examined the evidence – easily found evidence, usually right within the initial link – and asked themselves: is this really the situation I was told it was?

I bring this up now because it seems to be popping up more and more lately. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more. I don’t think so, though. I believe it’s a trend that is made convenient by Twitter. I believe Twitter is much more than a simple micro-blogging tool; it’s the evolution of the hivemind in its infancy, and as an infant, it’s prone to some pretty infantile behaviour.

A couple of examples of the trend I’m referring to:

Yesterday, I caught a retweet of the condemnation via Twitter of David Gilmour, a (former?) CBC personality who discussed the arts on his tv show. He’s also a distinguished author in his own right, and now a literature teacher at U of T. Here’s the article:

There’s nothing wrong with this piece. It’s just a neutral account of the reaction to how an interview with Gilmour related to the announcement of Alice Munro winning a Nobel prize. You’ll notice the tone of the tweets right away: smug, almost giddy. It was so glorious that Munro won the award right after Gilmour so viciously condemned female writers for being inferior and not worth reading. Oh, the brilliant timing! The thing is, he did NOTHING OF THE SORT. Doesn’t matter. The smug Twits take it as a fact that he did. So either they didn’t bother reading the interview, or they chose to stumble over the truth, and then picked themselves up and carried on as if nothing had happened (thanks for that one, Churchill). Either way, their indignation is wholly unjustified.

Recently, a similar uproar arose because a woman is playing a romantic game with her boyfriend that has to do with making sandwiches. The real situation was ignored then, too, and I watched the story as it morphed into one about The Worst Boyfriend On Earth, which didn’t even bother stating the facts. Why should it? They’d just go unnoticed en masse anyway so might as well leave them out and save valuable keystrokes.

There’s a commercial on the tv where a couple are shopping for something and a guy who is apparently a famous football player and reality show fixture shows up. The husband knows him from football. The wife knows him from the tv show. Neither are aware of his other job. Because husbands watch football and wives watch the other show - that's the joke. It’s not funny. It’s just a dumb commercial. But the producers are assuming stereotypical habits of both genders. Is there an uproar? I’ve no idea but I doubt it – unless Twitter sets its sights on it.

Yet, when someone at a local radio station harmlessly tweeted a similar joke about women not caring about football, there was a local little microcosm of an uproar about how ignorant the guy (or girl) was. People swore they’d never tune in to the station again, others responded with curse words and vile insults at the person, in caps no less. You'd think s/he had said women shouldn't be allowed to watch football.

In none of these situations did anyone disparage women in any way, yet in all cases there was an assumption that they did, and then the assumption was contorted into 'fact' that that they did. If this was once, I probably wouldn’t notice but it’s showing up a lot, the very same pattern.

Someone made a joke that women are less inclined to be good at reading maps than men. A stereotype for sure, but wholly innocuous. I happen to know the guy who said it has the utmost respect for women, yet he was cautioned that he’d “hear about that.”

I mentioned that I don’t like South Asian-style music, and was branded a racist. The inference, I guess, being that in order to not be a racist, I must like all styles of music.

And now my point!

There are so many actual cases of racism and sexism and homophobia out there that we need to contend with. It’s up to all of us to stand up and fight against it when we see it - and none of the three are hard to see at all. Sadly, they're all over the place. But when we become so politically correct that we shout sexist! racist! over every stupid little thing where they don’t even exist, then the genuine, ugly instances are just thrown in with the lot – and that only serves to lessen our capacity to fight them.

The next time you see an indignant tweet about a perceived slight to a race or gender or whatever, take the time to find out exactly what the truth of the matter is, then decide for yourself if it’s really worth condemning someone for. 

If we can eliminate the nonsense, the real assholes will be easier to find.


  1. A possible response to these innocuous incidents would be that sexism is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is creating unconscious mental constructs that pop out as jokes or statements that seem innocent, but are actually manifestations of these deeply sexist invisible mental monsters.

    There are unconscious biases for sure, but judging INDIVIDUALS and assuming actual sexism based on assumptions about invisible mental constructs? Not justified by the evidence. And like you said, there is enough outright, direct, conscious discrimination in the world to fight without muddying up the battle with fabricated motives.

    1. I'm sure such unconscious passive-aggressiveness is a legit concern, and we should be on guard to catch ourselves when we're guilty of it, though I don't think the examples I gave (map reading, sports) are indicative of it. The jokes are just as common about men not asking for directions and not liking dance shows and I don't think they're the case there either. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. Though, as always, I could be wrong.

      Thanks for the comment! Much appreciated.

    2. True. A joke isn't sexist because it consciously acknowledges stereotypes. Especially true ones. I'm pretty sure men DO watch football more than women do. I'm not sure why any gender would give a crap if a joke relies on that fact.