Monday, May 18, 2015

Forests and Trees

I sometimes think it must be exhausting to be a young person with liberal tendencies. So many minefields, so much to remember in order to be sufficiently sensitive. A case in point is the most recent Accidental Tech Podcast (No. 116, "Women Aren't a Minority"). ATP has three guys in the tech industry talk about Apple news, software development, file systems, and whatever they feel like. (The start of episode 116 concerned the relative merits of raccoons versus ducks.) It's generally fun to listen to, even if I don't fully follow the technical details of some of the topics. (I was fully on top of the raccoons versus ducks discussion, I must say without false modesty.)

A big chunk of the episode was devoted to a reasonable enough question: what can the podcast do to attract more women listeners? Co-host John Siracusa acknowledged that the gender breakdown of listeners was just an educated guess. He also postulated that the best way of increasing listenership was to go after the relatively underserved market, i.e., women. I'm not sure that's true - as an obvious example, suppose there were a podcast called All Things Left-Handed, and consider whether the best way of increasing listenership was to attract a bigger share of right-handers - but there's nothing inherently wrong with trying to increase listenership, or even to target a particular demographic.

Siracusa (and co-hosts Marco Arment and Casey Liss) also get credit for rejecting the obvious suggestions, such as having women co-hosts. In their view, that would change the show sufficiently that it would be a different show. (I couldn't help but be reminded of the view of some Doctor Who fans that the next Doctor needs to be a woman. Nothing wrong with a show about a Time Lady, but it would be a different show. I suspect I will one day be on the losing side of that argument, however.)

Then the conversation devolved into the usual blather of more-sensitive-than-thou political correctness. The three hosts started discussing whether they should reject advertisements about products that are targeted toward men, such as Harry's razors. (My reaction to that: I don't drink beer, but I still watch the Super Bowl and even manage to enjoy some of the better beer ads.) They then discussed whether ad reads should be more "gender inclusive." My eyes rolled and I could feel my fingers twitch toward the fast-forward button.

The final straw was when a listener complained that the hosts of the podcast should not presume to "speak for all women." That's the kind of bullshit statement that makes me stop taking a topic seriously. To give Arment, Liss, and Siracusa credit, they never came close to suggesting that they spoke for any women, much less all of them. However, even acknowledging the comment cheapened the discussion to the point where I had to fast-forward until the segment was, mercifully, over.

I don't think I'm out of the mainstream when I make the following statements:
1. Criticizing a female or minority politician's policies is not misogynistic or racist. (It *is*, however, beyond the pale to suggest that a female candidate is a "serious" candidate only because of her gender, as Washington Post columnist wrote about former H-P CEO Carly Fiorina.)
2. Stating an opinion generally carries with it the implication that the opinion is that of the speaker, and not of an entire group of people, such as an entire gender. If the speaker prefaces the remark with "all [group] believe," then the foregoing statement does not apply.
3. A man who states an opinion is not "mansplaining." A statement can be condescending in either words or tone, but, without more information, I will take statements at their face value.

Relatedly, the idea that groups of individuals are, collectively, fragile flowers that need special protections from the mean world, is itself an insulting one deserving of mockery. The feminists in the UK who needed "safe spaces" and found that clapping was alarming and therefore suggested the use of "jazz hands" to indicate appreciation were deserving of mockery. Campus liberals who demand "safe spaces" when conservatives speak on campus or the school screens the movie "American Sniper" are deserving of mockery. The First Lady, who recently said that blacks don't go to museums because they don't "feel welcome," is most certainly deserving of mockery. (Has she ever been to the Smithsonian museums on the Mall in Washington? Lots of minorities, many of whom are children, don't seem to feel that they're not welcome.) Back in the real world, your boss might give you a bad performance review, or a peer might object to your ideas. Some people may react poorly to criticism, but it is insulting to think that entire *groups* need coddling.

My advice to the ATP guys: keep making a good podcast, don't worry about the composition of your listeners, and you'll increase the size of your audience. Let the discussion devolve into who best passes some test of political correctness, and listeners will go elsewhere.

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