I have very recently discovered a man called Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay catholic journalist who appears to be a bit of a controversial figure because of his allegedly anti-feminist views and pretty real ego-manic persona. He recently appeared on the BBC’s The Big Questions program, and the episode in question included a debate on ‘whether social media reveals men’s hatred for women’. The panel also included two women named Kate Smurthwaite and Connie St. Louis, both self proclaimed feminists who were apparently arguing that yes, social media does reveal men’s hatred for women. They complained that women are still not allowed to express their opinions because they are being unfairly attacked on twitter and other social media platforms, and the attackers are men who make disrespectful comments and outright threats to their lives. I’m going to talk about that in due course, but first here is a little side note regarding Tim Hunt.
Connie St.Louis, one of the women involved in the debate, was the one who instigated the twitter backlash against Tim Hunt last year. She posted a particularly long tweet on the matter in which she accused Hunt of calling for segregated labs, accused him of living in the Victorian times and quoted the infamous ‘problem with girls’ comment. The infamous statement was: “There are three problems with women in science; you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and if you criticize them they cry.” This resulted in the elderly scientist losing his job and position in The Royal Society, and he was wildly condemned by journalists and on social media. Hunt claimed he meant this statement as a joke which was taken out of context. After the initial statement, he went on to say the words “now seriously” and then proceeded to praise and encourage present and future female scientists, and tell them not to listen to ‘monsters like me’ which was again quite clearly meant to be a joke. I do not believe the backlash would have been appropriate even if it had not been a joke, but as it quite clearly seems to have been intended as such it was completely unacceptable.
From what I understand of the context of the speech, the initial statement was meant as a satirical joke poking fun at sexism in science. His wife is a scientist, which is likely to have inspired the “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you”section of the speech. As more evidence has come out that Connie deliberately stretched the context of his speech to turn a harmless joke at the beginning of a short speech in praise of female scientists into a sexist rant, I am quite frankly appalled she has not been asked to apologize and her own position has not been compromised, especially that it appears she also fabricated large chunks of her own CV to make herself look more impressive . In her CV she stated that she has written articles for The Independent, Daily Mail and The Sunday Times, but according to several sources such as the Daily Mail, there is no record of her writing anything for these papers in the last 20 years.
There has not been nearly enough coverage on this considering the initial interest, but from what I understand it seems pretty clear that Hunt was joking and frankly even if he wasn’t it was still not nearly as big a deal as people made out. An elderly guy said that women cry and its suddenly the worst thing ever? Seriously? The whole thing was quite frankly pathetic, ridiculous and only backs up the misogynistic view of women as hysterical, emotional and illogical that these very people are apparently trying to fight against.
This brings me to the Big Questions debate. Connie St.Louis and Kate Smurthwaite spent far too much of the debate shouting over the other speakers, not engaging with the question and personally attacking Milo and then not allowing him to respond. They kept complaining that social media doesn’t allow women to express their opinions because of the fear that they will face online abuse, and then they accused Milo of calling for someone’s assassination, said he should go to jail and then did not allow him to defend himself or properly respond to the accusation. They did not appear to see the irony of complaining that women are abused for having opinions that men do not agree with when they were literally abusing a man for having opinions they did not agree with.
In direct contrast to this completely un-professional behaviour, Milo quoted existing studies to support his claim that men actually attract more abuse online then women, he attempted to stick to the question where possible and his repeated requests that Smutherwaite and St.Louis back up their claims with evidence were completely ignored.
The whole thing was somewhere in between infuriating and hilarious. I appreciate these women do not like the guy, a lot of people do not like this guy. This guy is a self proclaimed provocater who deliberately makes outrageous claims. But surely the worst thing you could do when in a debate with someone who you feel that way about is to act in such an immature and hysterical way that makes yourself look bad and makes him look good. To have the whole premise of your argument based on the fact that women are not being allowed to express their opinions and then shout down a man when he tried to express his was ridiculous.
Kate Smutherwaite in particular also kept talking over Ella Whelan, another panellist who actually had some pretty interesting and well thought out things to say which I happened to agree with. When Ella attempted to make a point whilst Kate had been speaking for ages despite complaining about how much air time Milo was getting (which was still less then Kate), she retaliated with a very rude “there is some annoying echoing in the back ground”. These people were complaining that women are not being allowed to express their opinions, and then they attempted to stop a woman expressing her opinion and deliberately spoke over her. They did not appear to see the irony in this, but the response on social media suggests it was not lost on the audience.
This was meant to be a debate. No matter how much you may disagree or personally dislike the person you are debating with, you do not shout them down and refuse to back up your own allegations. You listen, calmly, to what they have to say and then you retaliate with a well thought out and factually based argument, which neither of these women even attempted to do. If your response in a debate is to personally attack your opponent and not allow your opponent to speak, then you have already lost the debate. Any debate should allow both sides of the argument to be addressed, because only then can the audience come to a balanced conclusion. The question was whether social media reveals men’s hatred for women, so clearly for it to be a well rounded debate someone would have to question whether that is what it revealed, or if in fact it reveals the opposite. A debate isn’t about everyone agreeing with each other, it is about challenging each other and showing that your arguments stack up and are better and more logical then the other parties. I have been to a lot of amateur debates over the years with people of varying skill, experience and ability and not once have I seen such a train wreck as this.
Whether you personally like Milo and his opinions or not, you must agree that if someone is invited to a debate they have the right to speak, and if you disagree with them you should try to show that your argument is better then their argument. You cannot simply shout over them and not let them express their argument, because that just makes you look weak, petty and unconvinced in your own claims. Feminism is not above debate. Nothing is above debate, and this kind of attitude, this “I am allowed to say whatever I want, but if you ever disagree with me you are stupid and evil” is not helping your cause. The purpose of free speech is that people are allowed to express more than one opinion whether you like that opinion or not, and the purpose of debate is to challenge those opinions and force people to back them up in the hopes that if they can’t do so they will realize those opinions are incorrect and may be prompted to do some more research and/or change their views. You cannot say you believe in free speech but only for the opinions you like, or that someone is not allowed to speak because their beliefs challenge or are at odds with yours. You also cannot condemn a particular type of behaviour and then behave in the exact same way, but say it is fine because you are a woman and there is one rule for us and another for them. That is not how equality works. I’m not sure why these women are invited to debate when they clearly don’t know how to do so, but if they are an example of people who make it as journalists today I quite fancy my chances.
If you are in the UK and want to see the debate look no further: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06ymrby/the-big-questions-series-9-episode-2
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